Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas During Advent?

I used to be more of a stickler for Advent than I am today.

I read a post this week by a pastor bemoaning the invasion of Christmas into the Advent season.  Advent, is the four week preparation time before Christmas.  Technically, the Christmas season for the church begins on December 24 with the Christmas Eve services.

Traditional worship spaces change the paraments or altar cloths from blue or purple to white at this service to denote the change of liturgical seasons.

The original poster thought it sad that Christmas Carols were being sung during Advent at a particular church.

While I understand this feeling, I sometimes get the idea that society at large has left us behind on this.  The culture we are trying to reach are ready to celebrate Christmas and are doing so in the weeks leading up to December 25th.

They are listening to Christmas music on the radio as they shop for presents and head to Christmas parties.  There is usually some obligatory Christmas movie released in the theaters which may or may not have any religious value!

I'm not advocating that we throw out Advent.

I'm not suggesting that we don't include the importance of the waiting or repentance included in this season.

But we do have important Christmas elements that happen during Advent.  Such as beautiful cantatas or musical celebrations such as Handel's Messiah.  

Our own church is presenting a Christmas musical, Open Hearts in Bethlehem by Kenneth E. Bailey on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  We are presenting it during the Sunday school hour (9:45 am) this Sunday, December 21 in order to capture people from both services as well as providing for a change of pace for the Sunday school experience.  We are also offering a 3:00 pm performance time for those in the area attending other churches or traveling to see it.

I think that it will be spiritually rewarding to those who see it even if it precedes Christmas!  While the majority presenting the play are adults, as a father, I can't pass up the opportunity to give a plug for my children.  Kyla will be playing Mary. Her brother also plays a shepherd so it will be interesting to see him coming to give honor to his sister.  We'll see how good an actor he is!

I must also confess that we sang Christmas carols last Sunday.  We did stick to Advent hymns for the first two Sundays and I did stay on theme with John the Baptist.  But I think our worship was authentic and focused upon God.

As we get ready for Christmas, I would remind us to adopt the attitude of the shepherds who "...made known what had been told them about this child..." (Luke 2:17, NRSV). This means that the birth of Christ should be celebrated far and wide.  And I won't even mind if you open your presents before December 25th!

This Sunday, we'll share in the fourth Sunday of Advent at 8:30 and 11:00 am as I'll be preaching from Luke 1:26-38 with the message, "What Kind of Greeting is This?"  I hope you'll join us if you are in town for worship and for Spirit Act's performance of the Christmas story.

In Christ,


Monday, December 8, 2014

The Joy of Getting

Charlie Brown's little sister Sally is writing an English theme entitled, "The True Meaning of Christmas."

She then begins to write, "To me, Christmas is the joy of getting."

Charlie Brown, reading over her shoulder informs her, "You mean 'giving'.  Christmas is the joy of giving."

She looks up at him and replies, "I don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about!"

This comic strip first appeared in newspapers in 1972 and it may be more appropriate today than it was even then.

I love opening presents, but I do realize that
there is more to Christmas than this!
Have we moved more toward a consumer culture where each individual becomes the sole "reason for the season"?

Or does this show that each generation faces the problem of selfishness and must overcome it on its own terms?

My guess is that the latter is correct.  It's always easier to take potshots at the younger generations rather than face my own shortcomings.

For instance, I like to bemoan the fact that a lot of nondenominational .tv churches advertise their worship as "experience times" which takes the focus away from God and puts it squarely on the individual.  Worship then becomes less about God and more about what you got out of it - what you experienced.  It is easier to critique this change in our culture than it is to critique our own congregation.  After all, we can all agree on how bad the other guy is getting!

This Sunday is the third Sunday of Advent and the Gospel reading for the Revised Common Lectionary is John 1:6-8, 19-28.  In this text, John the Baptist seems to be convincing us that he is not the Messiah (Christ in Greek).  He is pointing toward the Christ.  That's his job.

As we explore this text, we may also discover that we are not the Messiah either.  What if our real job this Christmas was not to get all that we could but to point toward the birth of Christ?

I think quite a few have more than a slight idea of what I'm talking about!

In Christ,


Photo by Niklas Nordblad via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Repentance is Better For You Than For Me

I always like to watch A Christmas Carol sometime during the holidays (After writing this sentence, I realize how much society has changed as I’m sure that reading the original book by Charles Dickens was what most people use to do!).  The story gives us a wonderful look into the life of the fictional Ebeneezer Scrooge, a rich old miser who wouldn't give a glass of water to a man on fire.  He sees the ghost of his old friend Jacob Marley which he blames on indigestion.  The ghostly Marley tells him that he will be visited in the night by three more ghosts which show him the past, present and future.  These visions are not to Scrooge’s liking and he awakens to find that he can change how he treats people and begins to do so.

This is a classic story about repentance.  Scrooge repents of his greediness and begins to live generously.  This actually makes him a more cheerful person!  It makes us wonder how we can end up miserable in the first place.  Usually, the problem lies with following the easiest path.  For Scrooge, the easiest path was considering only himself.  But when we end up focusing on ourselves, we lose sight of all that life has to offer.

John the Baptist by Mathis Gothart Grunewald.
The Latin is from John 3:30 which states,
"He must increase, but I must decrease."
This refers to the ministries of Jesus and John.
Much of the time, we don’t consider how our actions may have adverse effects on others.  When we hear about repentance, we may think of other worse sinners than ourselves who obviously need to repent more than we do!  

Throughout the entire Bible, different people speaking for God have called us to repentance.  In Advent, we look at John the Baptist and his call to the Judeans of Jesus’ day.  John’s call came before Jesus began his public ministry.  In the classic Christian understanding of entering a relationship with Jesus, the confession of sin comes before the profession of faith in Christ.  Our model fits the Biblical witness of the call to repentance preceding the ministry of Jesus.

As we continue to take the Advent season seriously, this Sunday, the Revised Common Lectionary's Mark 1:1-8 lets us examine what repentance means for our lives just as we consider what it meant for the people in John’s day.  We’ll see how this discipline really does “prepare the way of the Lord” just as John was called to do.  Maybe it won’t even take a ghost to scare you into belief!

May you continue to have a holy season as we approach Christmas.  Don’t forget to make time for God so that the waiting and the season take on new meaning!

In Christ,


Monday, November 17, 2014

It's the End of the Year As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)

My mom tells that when the doctor gave me a shot as an infant, I had a look of rage on my face as I cried.

The surprised physician exclaimed, "Boy, he gets mad!"

My parents used to tell this anecdote to me with the idea that I didn't just lie there and whimper at something happening to me.  They told me that I had spirit.

This became a part of my identity - an independent nature that resists perceived abuse (even when it was really good for me like inoculation).

Is this something that I was born with?  The story seems to indicate this.

Or has it developed and strengthened with the telling and re-telling?

I kind of think it might be both.  Our stories are a strong part of who we are and how we perceive ourselves.

For those strong, independent-minded people, how do we come to grips with the theological declaration, "Jesus Christ is Lord"?

A nurse vaccinates Barack Obama against H1N1.jpg
Even the President of the free world has to submit sometimes.  But it doesn't look like he likes it!
Can we really accept God's reign in our lives or does it only work when it fits with what we had in mind already?  Are we really shaped to become more Christ-like or do we subconsciously shape our image of God to become more acceptable to what we already believe?

The reign of Christ is something in which I believe.  It is something for which I strive. I've made it my life's work.  And yet, there is a strong sense of the self.  When my will is in conflict with Christ's will, how do we learn to submit?

Submission seems weak or even belittling.

But it might just be good for us - like getting a shot for protection from disease.  It's a little painful but the long-term gain outweighs the initial discomfort.

This Sunday is the final Sunday of the church calendar year.  It is often called the Reign of Christ Sunday or Christ the King Sunday.  At First United Methodist Church of Edmond, we'll be exploring the separation of the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25:31-46.  If you can't join us for worship, check out the sermon on the front page of the website.  It'll be posted a few days following.

In Christ,


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Don't Bury the Passion

During my senior year at Sapulpa High School, my favorite class was honors English. Interestingly enough, it was also the toughest class I had that year!

Before this, English was not my favorite subject.  In fact, it would have been somewhere toward the bottom of the list.  

What made this particular class stand out?  

It was the teacher.  

Dotty Merchant taught our class, giving me an education on how to write about literature.  I won’t say that every book we read was great.  I certainly didn't enjoy the weekly papers analyzing these books.

So why was it such a great class?  It was a great class because Mrs. Merchant taught with passion!  She truly loved her subject and it showed up in her teaching.  She believed in what she taught and it helped me develop an interest in literature.
One of the many books we read.  I discovered a lot of the
nuances of psychology in literature as well as in the human
venture from this book.

I still use some of the analysis that I learned in that class.  All the paper writing served me well in college and especially seminary.  Maybe it was getting me ready to write sermons and blog articles on a weekly basis.  I am thankful for this teacher that helped me learn.  I am grateful for her passion.

You can always tell when someone is passionate about something.  They talk about the subject with an energy that they may not have for anything else.  Their eyes light up.  You can see that life has more meaning when they are thinking and speaking about their passion.

Sometimes you may encounter a passionate Christian that is new to the faith.  They want you to have the same relationship with Christ that they have discovered.  You may tell them, “It’s different for me.  I was raised in the church.”  Maybe it’s like the difference between a newlywed and someone celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary.  Some of the initial excitement may be gone but the relationship is hopefully much deeper than it was 45 years ago.

As Christians, we will be more effective in our walk of faith if we can find our passion in the faith - that area or place where Christ touches you in a profound way.  Not only is this vital for us to find, it is vital for us to share.  The thing about faith that excites you to share it with someone else might cause them to look at their own faith again.

This Sunday, we will continue to examine the parables of Matthew 25, looking this week at the parable of the talents.  If you are in the Edmond area and don't regularly attend worship in a church, I would invite you to worship with us at First United Methodist Church.  We meet at 8:30, 9:45 and 11:00 am.

In Christ,


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Something to Teach Jesus

My latest round of books for my January Doctorate of Ministry courses has arrived and I've begun to read them in preparation for my assignments.

As I engage in being graded once more, I find that I am remembering how subjective the evaluation process actually is.

Exams can be stressful!
Some of my work seems golden while other professors see it as lacking.

For one course last summer, I didn't receive timely feedback on several papers.  I had actually turned in four papers before finding out what I had made on any of them.  I was disappointed to find that I had not been living up to the expectations of the instructor as reflected in my grades.

After the feedback, my grades did improve but not to the level of my own expectation.

Of course for the final grade, I felt as if I was being docked for the instructor's lack of attention in letting me know where I was as to my work.

Yet, there it is.  I got what I earned.  I can cry or whine about it but in the end, it was her assessment of how I did in her course and that's what counts (okay, I did learn some things as well but I'm not feeling especially gracious about it to mention that part).

I think that I was looking for a little reciprocation.  We had deadlines for turning in our papers - where is the deadline for the instructor?

This was never stated in the syllabus that we would get grades before any of the due dates.

So as an example of merit over mercy, this has me looking for grace.

Our Christian faith is one where we have long touted salvation by faith rather than salvation by our good deeds.  This may have come back to bite us in that our standards as Christians may have slipped.

As Protestants, we assume that since Martin Luther said we are saved by faith that everything in scripture would surely agree.

That is until you read the Gospel of Matthew.  It is full of teaching about our good works. In the lectionary, we are getting ready to spend three weeks in the 25th chapter of Matthew.  There are three parables or examples of works righteousness that are begging for us to examine in light of our own beliefs about grace.

This Sunday, we'll look at the parable of the foolish bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13. When we read this, it seems as if Jesus has never even heard about Martin Luther's theology!

As I look at this parable, I am reminded about my work this summer.  It may be that Jesus would say, "Quit whining and work harder."  In the end, that's probably not bad advice.

Maybe I did learn something after all.

In Christ,


Photo by U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Bookwalter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

For All the Saints

My Aunt Nell passed away this summer.  She was actually my mother's maternal aunt but since there was only six years difference between them, they were more like sisters.

My grandfather died when my mother was only two and so she was raised with my Aunt Nell on the farm in Houston, Missouri.  Mom remembers making presentations in high school when she got to wear Aunt Nell's nicer outfits.  Aunt Nell was working at the time and so Mom had access to a wardrobe that was unavailable to other high school girls at the time.  Mom shared recently that it was nice of her to lend her outfits like that - she had a generous spirit.

The bonds we have with family are special and when they pass into the life eternal, we grieve the hole that their loss leaves in our lives.  To mourn someone is to acknowledge the love we shared has now changed.  We continue to love them but we no longer experience their presence.

The adjustment can sometimes be difficult and our emotions may be rather intense.  The time it takes to come to a new normal usually varies per person and there is no set amount of time for someone to "get over it."

Within the church, we recognize All Saints Day on November 1.  In worship (usually the first Sunday in November), we print the names of those church members who have passed away since last year's All Saints Day in our bulletins and as each name is read, a candle is lit.

This can be a helpful visual reminder of their continued vitality in the life eternal.

As we receive Holy Communion, one of our beliefs is that as we commune with Christ, we do so not only with those who are physically present with us but also with all the saints of the past who also join us in this sacrament.  This can be especially comforting to those who are grieving.

To recognize that a loved one who may have knelt side-by-side with you at the altar rail is also receiving the elements - communing in heaven - can be an understanding that eases the ache.

As we worship together in Edmond this Sunday, there will also be a time when you can write the name of a loved one you want to remember on a card in worship and leave it at the altar rail.  This will be symbolic of how we continue to commune with our loved ones when we receive the sacrament.  It will hopefully be meaningful and helpful to those who are missing the newly departed.  I'll be writing down my Aunt Nell's name.

In Christ,


Photo by Matthew Bowden via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 20, 2014

He Was Provokin' Me

Recently we've seen a rise in the number of children being diagnosed with autism.  While this might be loosely tied to older men fathering children or environmental toxins, the actual truth seems to be that we really don't know why this is the case.

Many children diagnosed have high I.Q.'s and function well in mainstream classrooms academically.  The problems for these children are more social.  They often do not respond as well to regular interactive cues.  Many don't smile very often.  They are often bullied by other children because they don't pick up on the subtle nuances that occur in everyday communication.

Children who don't get a response to their overtures from an autistic child may feel somewhat slighted.  If they have poor self-esteem themselves, they may pick on the autistic child because they don't understand why they are being ignored.

Most people appreciate some type of reaction or response from others.  One of the worst things in life is to be ignored (anyone remember Ally Sheedy's character from The Breakfast Club?).

One of my faults is the ability to find the sore spots on people that trigger a reaction. Finding and exposing a person's vulnerability was a gift (curse?) that I try not to use anymore.  Some people call this "pushing the right buttons".  It is likely a defense mechanism along the lines of the best defense is a good offense.

Regardless, responses are important as part of the social covenant.

I believe that even though we are influenced, we are still free to decide our response in any situation.

When I tried to give Sheryl her ring during our wedding,
she dropped it.  It was probably self-preservation trying
to kick in on her part!
When two people enter the marriage covenant, they respond to the query of whether they will be
faithful to one another with the affirmative (usually "I will" or "I do").  If their response is negative (this hasn't ever happened to me in all my years of officiating), this would be a good sign that their commitment level is not at the appropriate level for a life-long marriage!

When it comes to God, many people respond to the forgiveness and grace we've received by making a commitment of faith.  Within United Methodism, we pledge to support Christ through the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness.  It is no small thing.

This Sunday, I'll be preaching on the parable of the two brothers - one is faithful and one is not - contained in Matthew 21:28-32.  Their response shows that human beings really haven't changed much in 2000 years.

If your own response to God has been lacking lately, I hope you'll remedy this on Sunday.  I promise I won't try to intentionally push your buttons but I may accidentally trod on your toes!

In Christ,


Photo by Petar Milošević via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 13, 2014

Can You Inoculate Against Abundance?

Suzi Bryan was sharing stories of her mother Patsy as we discussed her funeral arrangements last week.  She told me that once when she had Chicken Pox on her birthday that her mom went ahead with the birthday party and just called all the mothers of her friends and said, "If your child hasn't had Chicken Pox, you'll want to stay home but if she's already had it, bring her on out to the house!"

I thought this was a wonderful example of living our lives regardless of the circumstances.

Short term pleasure is often short-sided.
I don't really remember much about my own Chicken Pox except that I had a lot of pock marks that
scabbed over (probably from my scratching - remember, don't scratch!).  I may have been covered in pink calamine lotion at one point but that's a little fuzzy as well.

Neither of my kids have had it and I'm not so sure that it's been a good thing to deny them of this important rite of passage from childhood:

     staying home from school
     being itchy all day
     hearing the constant "quit scratching" reminders from parents

Germs are something we share all the time with one another but without intent.

I remember the slogan of The United Methodist Church in the 1980's was "Catch the Spirit".  Maybe some of you even had one of the bumper stickers on your cars.  I ran across an old video on YouTube of a "Catch the Spirit" commercial that ran on local television:

I love how they show some people's anger just melt away when they "catch the Spirit".  It reminds me of a Different Strokes episode.  I wish it was that easy.  The ad campaign for our denomination caught a lot of flack for comparing the Holy Spirit to the type of spirit you catch at a sporting event or worse, a common cold!

This Sunday, my sermon title will be "Catch the Spirit" and I'll be using a very short parable by Jesus as relayed in Matthew 13:33.  Rather than link it, I can print the whole thing here:

<Jesus> told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”    (NRSV)

This parable speaks to a sense of abundance but also has a darker side that we may not get at first glance.  I'm looking forward to preaching on this as we celebrate the abundance of grace we have in God!  If you are in the Edmond area, I hope you'll join us and if you are otherwise engaged, you can subscribe to our church Youtube channel.

In Christ,


Picture By Orrling and Tomer S [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Matter of Trust

I have a dark secret to share and I'm just going to out myself.

I am a Survivor junkie.  

You know, the "reality" show where contestants compete to outwit, outplay, and outlast one another.  They usually begin with 16 to 20 individuals that form separate teams that perform in challenges with the losing team voting off a member.  This goes until the players dwindle enough to merge into one group where they begin to compete on an individual basis and continue to vote one another off.

I've watched every season for the past fourteen years on CBS.

Sometimes it can be kind of a train wreck of personalities. CBS seems to find success with putting some fairly unstable people in the mix in order to cause some fireworks - like when Russell Hantz burned another player's socks in the campfire while he was asleep just to sow dissension among the other players. 

Usually you have a lot of backstabbing in this game.  If you've ever watched the show, you know this is the case because people make alliances and then routinely break them in order to further their own part in the game.  It would be different if you could take your whole alliance to the end but the game is not constructed that way and tough choices have to be made.

The interesting thing is how people continue to be surprised when they are blindsided.  It is the mark of each season that someone completely trusted their alliance only to be voted out.

I'm not sure how you would trust anyone going into the game, knowing the nature of what happens in each episode.  I understand being hurt in the first few seasons but it seems like by now, if you are planning on participating in the show, you would have watched a few other seasons before you go out to a remote location to spend 30 days in the jungle with strangers all competing for the same prize.

I think that most people want to trust others.  It may be in our nature as social animals. We are hard-wired to trust one another - especially those we like.  When we feel a betrayal, it gets to the core of our human condition.

What does it mean for us to trust in God?  We believe that God will provide and at the same time we believe that God expects us to use our resources and will not hand us anything we are capable of doing ourselves.

We trust that God wants what is best for us.  

We may believe that God will allow us to fail in order to grow from it.

In these moments, do we ever lose our trust in God?

This Sunday, we'll see how Abram (before he started going by Abraham) trusted God to move his family to an unknown land and then wavered in his trust when he ended up in Egypt (as recorded in Genesis 12:1-20).  

You may have your own trust issues that you are working out.  If you come to worship this Sunday, I will do my best not to blindside you!

In Christ,


Monday, September 29, 2014

Can Others See Your Gratefulness?

I was so excited to start out in full time ministry after I graduated college.  I was the full time Youth Minister at New Haven United Methodist Church.  The fun part of the job was relating to all the kids there at the church.  The time I spent with the actual youth was what I did the best and what felt the most meaningful.

But some of the rest of the time during the week - the time I spent in the office was a little rough.

After planning the lessons for Sunday school and the youth group, I was unsure of what to do next.  I had been a full-time summer intern for two different churches in college but those weeks are full of camps and activities.  There was never any time to breathe let alone plan for the long-term.

Is this person happy or sad?
Who can say?  Communication is complex.
Ken Tobler was our Senior Pastor at New Haven and I was too embarrassed to tell him that I didn't really have a clue on how I should be spending my time to be most effective.

Eventually he called me into his office.  He closed the door and asked me to sit down. I could tell that this was a serious conversation because he was normally joking around all the time.  I think I began to sweat at this point.

But I didn't expect the question that came out of his mouth.

"Are you on drugs?"


Ken seemed to think that my attitude was reflective of someone who smokes a lot of dope.  I seemed despondent around the office - lackadaisical - uninterested.

I was really just confused and embarrassed.

But I certainly didn't realize that I was coming across like I was stoned!

I learned an important lesson in how we interact with others.  I learned that we sometimes unintentionally portray feelings that may be the opposite of how we actually feel.  

This can be true of the gratitude we think we show.  Do our actions reflect what we say we believe about God?  Can we actually practice what it means to be grateful and will this make us happier people?  This Sunday, we'll begin a four-week series in a foray outside the lectionary as we gear up for our pledge Sunday on October 26.  Our first theme will gratitude and we will be exploring the woman caught in adultery from John 8:1-11.

I appreciate Ken's willingness to have the difficult conversation with me.  I hope that my gratitude shows in my actions to do the same with others.

In Christ,


Picture used through creative commons from jtneill from wikimedia commons.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Got Bread?

My older sister Becky and her family moved to the state of Washington when I was about ten years old.  This was a fun place to visit and I still remember my first time on Seattle's wharf.

We were walking around and some people had fishing lines over the side.  I still remember one pulling up a pretty good sized crab!  The smells of the salt air and the fish along with the chill of the northwest Pacific all combine to produce a good memory of my childhood.
Sheryl and I got to take Kyla and David to experience this in 2012!

As we walked along, my favorite memory of the wharf was stopping for a bowl of clam chowder.  It was fresh, hot and steaming as I spooned bite after bite.  The best compliment to this was the fresh baked sourdough bread.  The sour taste of the bread accented the creamy chowder in a way that I still find delicious!

When I think about bread, I like all kinds.  But my top choice to this day remains sourdough.  It may be that I still associate the flavor with that good time in Washington.

Bread is a basic staple of life.  It can be very bland but it can also provide important sustenance.  When you have nothing, bread can be a feast!

This is what God's people learned as they began to wander in the wilderness after fleeing from slavery in Egypt.  How do you feed so many hungry mouths?  On Sunday, we'll finish our time in the Exodus with the story of manna from heaven in 16:2-15.  This is a pivotal story in the history of the Israelite people as they learn to discover that their abundance lies with God.

If you're in the Edmond area and don't already have a regular church home, join us for worship on Sunday morning at First United Methodist Church!

In Christ,


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Even Change for the Better is Resisted

As I celebrate another birthday, I am reminded that change comes all the time - sometimes in large ways but often in small, little ways that seem to make no difference at the time.
This kind of change is okay but I have a lot less of it
than I used to - because of change!

It was good to see all the Facebook posts from friends new and old and to see that my life spans many different places and times.

There are areas in my life when I've been change resistant.  You don't spend almost 14 years serving one United Methodist congregation unless you have a little of this in you.

But I've also embraced trying new things.  Most of the people in the congregations I've served have been willing to come along for the ride - even if begrudgingly.  Some of them have worked out while others have only worked for a season.  Of course, some failed miserably.

Change can be difficult and most people resist it.  In fact, almost any system whether it is religious, business, political, educational or even familial will resist change initially.

Even when the change is beneficial.

One of my favorite stories is of a United Methodist congregation where the pastor wanted to move something around in the order of service.   I think it was the prayer of confession.  The worship committee cried out the familiar tagline, "But it has always been in this spot!  We can't bear to change it!"

The wily pastor then said, "Well, what if we moved it for just six months and then we can evaluate it and see if we need to move it back."

The committee reluctantly agreed.

When the pastor convened the group again six months later, he asked if they wanted to move it back.

The committee replied, "Move what back?  We've always done it this way!"

This Sunday, we'll be continuing with Moses in the Exodus.  This time we'll look at the parting of the Red Sea in 14:19-31.  The freedom of the Hebrew slaves was a massive change for the Egyptians.  We can see that even after enduring the plagues, they changed their minds about staying in their unjust system.

How does God help us with our own capacity to resist changes that should be resisted but also to accept the changes that are helpful?  We'll explore this on Sunday morning at Edmond First United Methodist Church.  If you're in the area, come and join us!

In Christ,


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Lectionary Always "Passes over" the Previous Plagues of Egypt

My first experience with a Seder or Passover meal was when I was living at the Wesley Foundation at OSU.  I was one of the two live-in janitors for my final two years in Stillwater. Admittedly, I was probably better at hospitality than cleaning!  Of course, the Passover is the time when Jewish people remember their Exodus from Egypt.

The Jewish Student Association regularly met at our building since they didn't have one near campus and they asked to hold their Seder meal.  We were happy to let them do this and they invited any others active at the Wesley Foundation to participate.

To keep all the food preparation kosher in accordance with the dietary laws of the Hebrew scriptures, they came in ahead of time and gave the kitchen a real scouring.  I was certainly glad to let them do this and wondered if we might have them host kosher meals every month!

As we celebrated the Passover, I noticed that the foods we ate all had symbolic meaning related to the story.  It was a way of remembering their history and gave impact to the way the story was told.

There was a lot of wine consumed at the Passover.  For Protestants that come out of the temperance movement, this can be a little eye-opening at first.  But no one got out of hand and it allowed for the evening to lengthen without dragging too much.  It allowed laughter to come to a serious ritual without taking away from it.

For Christians, we have moved the Passover ritual into a different kind of story-telling.  We celebrate the Lord's Supper as  we remember that Jesus instituted this during the Passover meal.  The bread and the wine (grape juice for us) take on different symbolism as we understand them to be the body and the blood of Christ in a spiritual manner.

This week, the lectionary turns to the Passover in Exodus 12:1-14.  Leading up to this final plague were many other plagues that the lectionary never touches on.  Maybe the plagues are seen as too difficult for Christians who are called to love their neighbors to incorporate into their faith.  But if we can handle the death of the firstborn, I think a few flies and frogs won't hurt us!
Martin, John - The Seventh Plague - 1823.jpg
"Martin, John - The Seventh Plague - 1823" by John Martin - http://www.artmagick.com/images/content/martin/hi/martin14.jpg. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

This Sunday, I'll be examining the plagues and what they mean for the story-telling of a people who were freed from slavery.  If you are in the Edmond area, you are welcome to join us for worship!

In Christ,


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What's In A Name?

When I was a little boy, I went by Sammy.

Everybody called me Sammy and even though my name was Samuel, I didn't feel the need to go by anything else.  As I grew older, my elder brother started going by "Bob" rather than Robert.  This may have influenced me to drop the 'my' at the end of my name and just go by Sam.

However, when you make a name switch, just be prepared for your older relatives to never get it.

Okay, never is a bit strong.  My parents finally switched.

My grandmother never did though.  I think I was Sammy to her until she died.

And Bob was always Robert.

What is really in a name?

When I was in college, one of my friends Bryan Foster gave nicknames to everyone.  I was "the Sham" from Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.  Some of his names were better than others!

Identifying in a positive way is important.  It is important how we name one another in a positive, respectful way.  Anyone who ever had a nickname that was demeaning understands this!

This Sunday, we'll be looking at God's name from Exodus 3:1-15.  The name, "I am" is somewhat mysterious.  I've also heard it translated at "I am becoming who I am becoming".  How that unfolds for us as finite human beings is important.  We too are becoming who we are becoming.  If we allow God to be a part of this becoming, we are likely on our way to being more than we would be alone.

What happens when a lot of us get together to help each other do this?  We call it church and if you're in the Edmond area and don't currently go anywhere, I hope you'll join us!

In Christ,


Name tag picture by Eviatar Bach (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What if Subversion is your Only Option?

Dictionary.com defines "subvert" as a verb that means to overthrow, to cause the downfall of or to undermine the principles of.  A synonym it gives is "corrupt".

Wow, that sounds pretty negative.

To be subversive is to work against the establishment which also sounds rebellious.  To be subversive is counter-cultural.  For younger generations, there may be a cool factor involved in being subversive.  Think James Dean or for today maybe, Anonymous breaking down the standards set by the government and society.

Sometimes being subversive is the only option for those without any real power.  Br'er Rabbit stories were subversive stories disguised as animal tales for children.  They were told by slaves in the United States as stories where the white master is tricked by "Brother (Br'er) Rabbit."

As a child, I remember a particular class where the teacher yelled extensively.  To be fair, we were not the easiest of classes to teach.  We had more than our share of ornery kids (the "angelic" author excluded of course). But the yelling got worse and it seemed to more readily become our teacher's first option rather than a last resort.

Cassette recorders were fairly new at the time and one student brought his new battery operated recorder from home.  He put it in the desk and recorded our class.  It picked up our teacher's yelling quite nicely and the students all got a kick out of hearing it.

The original intent was not to provide change.  There was not an overall vision of activism or subversion.  But it soon got out to adults and it quickly changed the nature of the action.  The school administration became involved.  The tape was confiscated.  I don't remember the student getting into trouble, though.

One consequence was that the teacher didn't yell quite so much as she did before.

Was recording her unknowingly a subversive act?

It seemed to be in that it challenged the authority of the teacher to discipline the class in quite this manner.  It is one thing to yell at a class for motivation but it is quite another thing for this to become the normal mode of communication.

Tank Man" temporarily stops the advance
 of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989, in Beijing, China.
The Hebrew people became slaves in Egypt. They were treated harshly and Exodus records genocide as a method for their population control.  There are acts of subversion by the Hebrews against the authorities in this week's lectionary text (Exodus 1:8-2:10) for the Old Testament.  The midwives and the mother of Moses use trickery to save lives.  How does God work to achieve justice in society?  It seems that God is willing to do things in an unorthodox manner.  Maybe this is because orthodox ways do not always work.  In any event, we'll be looking at issues of justice and subversion in worship and think about what God might be calling us to do today.

In Christ,


Photograph Published by The Associated Press, originally photographed by Jeff Widener. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dogs Under the Table

When I was appointed to Drummond, all the clergy used to gather for worship each month.  We would go over announcements, we might have some type of learning component and then we would worship with one of the pastors preaching.  Once in particular, our District Superintendent, Stan Warfield was preaching on this upcoming Sunday's lectionary text, Matthew 15:21-28.

We venerate dogs a lot more today than they did in first century Palestine.
In this passage, a Canaanite woman (Mark's gospel refers to her more specifically as Syrophoenician) comes to Jesus for healing for her daughter. Jesus puts her off with an implied slight that she as a Gentile is a dog. Her reply is that even the dogs feed on the crumbs under the master's table.  Jesus seems impressed with her answer and announces that her daughter has been healed.

When Stan was preaching on this text, we had a wide variety of pastors present including some older retired pastors serving smaller churches in the district.  One in particular liked to "Amen" the points Stan was making during his sermon.  As Stan told the details of the story, the pastor kept right on with "Amen!"

Stan was building up to the shock of Jesus's response to her and finally concluded with, "Jesus called this woman a dog!"

Right on cue, the pastor replied, "Amen!"

It kind of reduced the dramatic effect that Stan was going for on this particular point!

So what do we do with this text?

How do we reconcile this treatment of the Gentile woman with our belief that God so loved the world?

It is a difficult passage to be sure and we'll continue to wrestle with it on Sunday.  If you have some thoughts about it, please comment below!

Picture by darwin Bell from San Francisco, USA (waiting under the table  Uploaded by Fæ)  via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Wild cats and Rhubarb Cobbler

I found that I could predict my grandparents' behavior from an early age.  This came from our travels to Houston, Missouri to see them along with various uncles, aunts and cousins.  Grandma and Grandpa lived on a small farm in the country a few miles from town.  No matter when we arrived, Grandma would have food for us (my favorite was her rhubarb cobbler).  A big glass of fresh milk (that Grandpa milked from one of his cows) would accompany the dessert.  
Cobbler with ice cream is one of the best things there is.

As good as the cobbler was, my favorite thing to do was to play outside.  Grandma had plenty of what they called "barn cats" roaming around.  These cats were not used to being handled and so were pretty difficult to catch.  When you actually accomplished catching one, you could expect LOTS of scratches.

In addition to all the claw marks on my arms, my one allergy as a child was to cats.  It wouldn't be long before I began to sneeze my head off.  You would think that natural consequences would keep me from handling the cats but I was what you would call a slow learner.  
Petting this type of cat is not so much relaxing as it is a contest of will.

This would exasperate my grandma to no end.  I can still hear her saying, "Sammy, why don't you leave them cats ALONE!"  She hated seeing me so miserable - snorting around the house with my eyes watering.  I don't think that she realized that I found the allergic reaction an acceptable trade off for the conquest of actually catching one of her wild cats!

Another thing my grandparents enjoyed was watching religious television.  This usually meant some type of TV evangelist.  My cousins and I did not enjoy this type of programming at all and with nothing on television that interested us, we would find that being outside was a lot more fun.  I remember one time in particular that the channel was turned to something other than religious broadcasting and my cousins were glued to the set.  I wanted to play outside but they wouldn't budge.  I went in to Grandpa and said, "I think the 700 Club is on."  He immediately went in and said, "Why don't we watch this!" while turning the channel.  My cousins soon joined me outside!

As our loved ones become somewhat predictable to us, this may evolve into a basic kind of trust.  As we spend more time with God whether in worship, devotion, Bible study or prayer, we find that it becomes easier to trust in God.  Sometimes when life disappoints us, we might even be angry with God.  But rather than abandoning the faith, we work in out like we would with an old friend.

How does the church help to relate this trust in God?  This Sunday, we'll be looking at trust as we encounter Jesus walking on the water reflected in Matthew 14:22-33.  If you don't yet see God as an old friend, maybe this is a good time to start the habit!

Cobbler picture by Ralph Daily (Flickr: Peach Cobbler) via Wikimedia Commons
Barn cat picture by By Usien via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Death Sometimes Brings Clarity to Life

Dr. John Rusco was my campus minister when I attended college at OSU.  He was a serious man whose eyes twinkled when he smiled.  He often saw the humor in life and enjoyed the students.

But at the same time, he could often ask serious questions that penetrated to the heart of the matter.

Once when we were studying the feeding of the 5,000 (where Jesus feeds a multitude with only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish), John told me about one idea of interpretation that said that as the example of the boy's willingness to share what he had, others began to come forward and share what they had until they realized that they had enough for a feast!

This is similar to the idea of stone soup.

Naturally, the inclination is to be scandalized by this interpretation.  It seems to take away the miraculous intervention of Jesus into the world.  This interpretation feels kind of like seeing a magic trick explained.  We want to believe in the impossible - if only rarely.

The brightly colored stole you see me wearing during
Ordinary Time was one that John often wore and was
given to me by his family after he died.
Did Jesus physically multiply the loaves or did his teaching inspire sharing among humanity?

Whichever interpretation you favor, the feeding of the hungry as well as sharing what we have with those in need are both Christian values.

On some days, I prefer the miraculous but on others I see the true miracle is when a heart feels compassion and gives up precious resources so that someone else may live.

John had a way of keeping things stirred up and keeping us talking about different ways in which we might live out our faith.

Years later, when I found out John had cancer, I went to visit him in the hospital.  We shared Holy Communion and in this way, I was able to share the bread of life with him just as he had done with me.

When he decided that the cancer wasn't going to go away, he asked me along with another minister, Scott Sharp, to meet with him and to plan for his funeral service.  We shared in his life until he grew tired and needed to sleep.  It was a good afternoon but it was kind of bittersweet.

His death was sobering to me.  It really made me examine my own ministry and look at what God was truly calling me to do.

As we look at the feeding of the 5,000 this Sunday, we see that Jesus has just learned about the death of the man who baptized him, John the Baptist.  Jesus truly believed that John was a great man.  He was upset and sought to withdraw - maybe to examine his own ministry in light of John's death.  But the people followed him and this may have validated his own sense of identity.  He begins to teach them.  Instead of sending them away when he is finished, he feeds them.

This tells us much about the identity of the one we call Lord.

It gives us an idea of who we are to be for the world as his followers.

I'm looking forward to being back in the pulpit this Sunday and hope you'll join us for worship Sunday morning if you're in the Edmond area!

In Christ,


Picture taken at Edmond First United Methodist Church on 7/27/2014 by Robert Bost

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Kingdom of God is like a... weed?

Mustard plants are not trees.
This Sunday's lectionary scripture for the Gospel focuses on a lot of the smaller parables in chapter thirteen of Matthew which includes the famous parable of the mustard seed.

I know, I know, being faithful in a small thing can lead to something large.


But as we look at the parable, there may be more there than this particular truth.  In fact, the mustard plants were seen as weeds by the Hebrew people at that time and they tried to get rid of them.   They were not trees as Matthew mentions so why would he name them as such?  We can see that Matthew has included Mark's definition of the mustard plant as a shrub and evolved it into a tree.

It could be that this is a play on the comparison of Israel to a mighty cedar in Ezekiel 17:22-23.  It is also mentioned as a home to various living creatures.

But if the mustard seed was seen as something invasive - something that was hard to get rid of - does that change the reading of the parable?

What if Jesus had said, "The Kingdom of God is like crab grass that someone deliberately spreads in your Bermuda lawn and it takes over and you can't get it out!"

Have we let the Kingdom of God invade our lives like this?  Or do we use too much spiritual Roundup to keep our lives neat and tidy?

I'm looking forward to this Sunday as we explore these particular parables as told by Matthew.  Steel-toed boots might be appropriate wear in case Jesus decides to step on them a little.

In Christ,


Picture By Amit Kaushal via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I'm Not Opposed to Separating Out the Weirdos Until I'm One of Them

There's a great dichotomy among Christian parents when it comes to values raising their children.

On one hand, we like to stress that we prefer our children to be surrounded by friends whose parents have similar values to ours.  We prefer their friends to be clean-cut with good manners and even better grades.

Then at church, we often remind children that a Christian value is to include those on the outside looking in.  We talk about befriending the new kid at school or sitting with the one who is left out.

We often assume that these are just the lonely nerds - the different ones who are awkward socially.  But what if they are the kids who get in trouble?

What if they are the kids whose parents don't give them curfews?

What if these are the kids with an extended vocabulary or, worse yet, an extended knowledge of all things R-rated?

Then we begin to stray away from this value.  The biggest difficulty comes in trusting that our kids will be the ones doing the influencing rather than being influenced.

This strange tension is what we'll be looking at in worship this Sunday.  Our lectionary passage will be from the parable of the weeds and the wheat as told in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

What do we do when the weeds are allowed to grow among us?

And what if (with apologies to Pogo), "we have met the weed and he is us?"

Monday, July 7, 2014

Cast Your Seeds Indiscriminately

One of the best seeds Sheryl and I ever planted was by accident.

We were in Drummond at the town park for the annual watermelon feed.  It was a lot of fun and I think I ended up getting into a seed spitting fight with the youth.
Does anyone else see ammunition when you look at this picture?

In the summertime, everyone loses when this happens.  You end up sticky and covered in watermelon juice and this attracts mosquitoes like nobody's business!

Before all of this, we would mingle around the park with the residents, meeting new people.  I remember running into John and Tammy Curtis and visiting with them for quite a while.  They were members of the First Baptist Church in town and quite active.  I didn't even think of them as prospects since they already had a church home.

Imagine my surprise when they showed up at our church that January unannounced. Their daughter Ashleigh was a sixth grader and we had a large contingent of her school class enrolled in our confirmation program.  It was starting and they declared that Ashleigh was going through it with the other students.

I was a little stunned.  I didn't want to take active Christians away from a smaller church that needed them.  But if they were determined to give us a try, I was not going to make it difficult!

They soon became active members of our church and discovered that The United Methodist Church was a better fit for them.  They were at the church whenever the doors were open and John eventually became our Lay Leader.  As we shared in Bible Study together, John answered God's call to pastoral ministry and began to serve as a Local Pastor in some of our churches in Oklahoma.  His daughter Ashleigh went on to work as a Youth Minister in our conference as well.  This seed has sprouted 100 fold and I didn't even know I was planting it!

But God knew.

I didn't think of our conversation as sowing seeds.  I didn't think of our activity in the community as sowing seeds.  I didn't think about going to school functions as sowing seeds.  I didn't even think (ironically) of spitting seeds at kids in the park and allowing them to return fire as sowing seeds.  But all of these things work together with God to speak to people about our church.

The culture of a church is impacted by how you speak of it to your neighbors.  It is impacted by how you let it influence the way you treat others.

The thing about the parable of the sower is that he is not sensible at all in spreading the seed.  He tosses it this way and that as if he has an endless supply.

Maybe the point of the parable is that it is sometimes difficult for us to identify what is good soil and what is rocky or thorny.  What looks like a hard path might just be receptive to what we are planting.

Only God knows.

So spread that seed far and wide.  You never know when a conversation will make a world of difference.  Maybe even 100 fold!

In Christ,


Picture by Caroline Ford (Secretlondon) - Own work, used under Creative Commons

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Baby, We Were Born to...Sin?

Okay, the title is a take-off from the old Bruce Springsteen song, "Born to Run".

But my spoofed title speaks to the Christian doctrine of Original Sin.  Sometimes this is called Birth Sin in that it is inherited as human begins pass it down from generation to generation.

It is the sin of Adam and Eve when they disobeyed God and were exiled from the Garden of Eden.

As the archetypal humans, they then pass on this exiled or fallen state to the rest of humanity.  The "cure" is that those in Christ are as without sin before God.
"The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise" by Benjamin West

This was the doctrine of the Church for a long time.  Within the United States, this has taken hits from two major schools of thought: the Enlightenment and Democracy.  The former in the way we know and the latter in the rise of the individual.

As we are used to the American court system, we can't imagine the injustice of being found guilty for what someone else did.  Why must we bear the sin of Adam and Eve?

Although derived from the Bible, the doctrine of Original Sin is not spelled out in the Bible but comes from theologians and church councils.

Augustine was a chief proponent of original sin.  He carried this to another level altogether.

In fact, Augustine believed that the souls of babies that died before they were baptized went to Hell.  This was a belief of the Roman Catholic Church for a number of years before the church decided on a theological position that did not reflect so poorly on God.

As United Methodists, our Book of Worship states that "...United Methodism does not teach that infants who die before they are baptized will be denied full salvation.  United Methodism has always strongly affirmed the biblical teaching that Christ died for all, and that God's prevenient grace is available to all and is sufficient for such children." (The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 83).

Is sin a state that we are in or is it merely something we do?

How does being "in Christ" make a difference with regards to sin?  Certainly, Christians continue to sin after baptism and after justification.

This is an important topic that comes from the epistle reading in this Sunday's lectionary: Romans 7:15-25.

I'll be dealing with this in my sermon on Sunday entitled, "Sometimes This is the Message We Hear from the Church: 'You're a Really Horrible Person but Luckily Jesus Loves You Anyway'."

What do you think, are people inherently evil or innately good?  Or something in between?

In Christ,


A little musical reflection on the topic:

Benjamin West [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Does God Grade on a Curve?

Tests aren't so bad if you are ready for them.

In college, I took an Economics course my senior year.  I had studied for the final exam and I had the correct classroom and building for where it would be.

I made my way confidently to the room and found that I was the first to arrive.

I began to look over my notes for a little bit of last minute cramming.

I kept looking at the clock and my watch.  No one else was showing up.  I started to get a little nervous as it was getting close to test time.  Was I in the wrong room?

Was I even in the right building?

The time came and went and I was the only person there.  It is at this point that you get that sinking feeling in your stomach that all is not right with the world.

I sought out my instructor's office and found out that I didn't have the wrong building or the wrong room or even the wrong time.

I had the wrong day!

The exam had been given the previous day.  This was unfortunate in that I needed to pass this class in order to graduate which I was scheduled to do in just a few days.

I pleaded for mercy from the instructor and he allowed me to take a make-up test.

I was so thankful - it was amazing how fast that feeling of anxiety went away.

Testing is difficult in life.  Sometimes we face it well and sometimes we need a little help. Sometimes we are totally unprepared and we get the curve ball when we were expecting the slider.

As Christians, where does God enter into the mix on testing us?  In the lectionary reading for this Sunday, Abraham truly believes that God is testing his faith in a way that is beyond our comprehension.  Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac on an altar to God.

Since blood sacrifice is not something in which we participate on a regular basis, this doesn't fit within our regular view of how life works.  Sacrificing a child seems monstrous and someone who would do this would not be deemed faithful but rather insane.

Do you believe that God tests us in life?  If so, how?  I would be interested in your comments.  I'll be wrestling with this text this Sunday and if you are near the Edmond area, I would love to have you join us for worship at 8:30 or 11:00 am.

In Christ,


Photo By KF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wait Up, I'm Your Leader!

Have you ever been in a meeting that went on forever?

I've seen them last far longer than necessary and at the same time accomplish very little.

Most people are willing to follow a leader if there is clear purpose and direction set that is congruent with their own sense of identity.

One of the things I enjoy is hiking.  I especially enjoy hiking at our United Methodist Canyon Camp which is located within the Red Rock Canyon chain in Oklahoma.  This is a great setting to see and most people don't realize the beauty available to us for only about an hour's drive.

At our various church camps, I have become notorious for exploring while taking youth hiking.  We may get off trail a little bit.  We sometimes see things I've not yet encountered.  Sometimes it even seems as if we are lost.

That's the interesting thing about the canyons.  I don't always know where we are specifically.  But I always have a sense of where we need to be.

In other words, we may be hiking a new trail, alongside a cliff.  There is no way down that we can see.  I know that we need to be on the other side of this valley - on the cliff opposite of us.

Are we lost?

Yes and no.

We are lost in the sense that I don't know a way down the valley and up the other side - yet.

But we know where we are in the sense that we know where we need to be.  The adventure comes in getting there!

It is inevitable that some don't enjoy this dichotomy.  They usually ask me more than once, "Are you lost?"

The unknown is fearful and this "adventure" may bring more anxiety than serenity.

Others are comfortable in the journey.  They are able to trust in me as a leader and see the wonder of new parts of the canyon they haven't seen before.
Going down?  The way from the top of the cliff to the bottom is not
always obvious and when we find one, we try it out!

Some are a little of both. They may need to go with me on an outing or two before they begin to trust me as a leader. They realize that I've always brought everyone back. No one has ever died on one of my hikes even though some playfully refer to them as "death hikes".

Sometimes trust just needs to be earned.

This is very similar to our gospel reading for Sunday from the lectionary.
Matthew 10:24-39 speaks of not being anxious at the same time that it speaks of conflict within the family!  So which is it Jesus?  Are we lost?

Yes and no.

The Christian faith is a journey that requires trust.  If you are in the Edmond area on Sunday morning, I hope that you'll join us for worship at 8:30 am or 11:00 am as we share in the journey together through this particular scripture.  We also have a smaller, more intimate worship service at 9:45 am where we celebrate Holy Communion.  In this alternate service, we will continue to look at the Trinity as we see God expressed as the Son.  May God's blessings abound in your life this week and if you get lost along the way, we'll help you find your way back to the path!

In Christ,


Picture by Madison Harry from North Oklahoma City District Camp 2009 at Canyon Camp

Monday, June 9, 2014

Got Milk?

"I gave you milk to drink instead of solid food, because you weren’t up to it yet.  Now you are still not up to it because you are still unspiritual. When jealousy and fighting exist between you, aren’t you unspiritual and living by human standards?"
                 Paul of Tarsus, 1 Corinthians 3:2-3 (Common English Bible)

Some situations cause you to grow up faster than you might expect.  As a 7th grader, I had my left Achilles tendon torn up in a motorcycle accident.  This left me off my feet or on crutches for about six months as I went through several surgeries in recovery.   

At this time, hospitals put juveniles four to a room and parents didn't stay the night with their children.

I remember that first night when visiting hours were over and my parents left for home which was about 30 minutes away.  It seemed a little lonely even though there were other kids in the room.  I suppose it would have been worse if I had been by myself.

As I lived through this, I found that I was able to handle other situations that arose without too much difficulty.  It made me mature faster than I would have otherwise and I faced other things with the confidence that experience brings.

Unfortunately, this didn't mean that I was mature in all things.  We all have areas that we can improve upon.  I think that is what the Apostle Paul means when he is telling the church at Corinth that they were not quite ready for solid food in a spiritual sense.  They were jealous of one another.  They fought with one another.  They needed to continue to grow in Christ.

Got Milk?
A good question for us to consider is where do I need to grow the most spiritually?  What are my strengths and what are my weaknesses?  Do I love my neighbor as much as I love myself yet?  

As we look toward the lectionary passages, this Sunday we'll be focusing on the idea of the disciples inheriting the ministry that Jesus had developed in his physical time on earth.  Were they ready to face the challenge?  

Are we?

Photo by Keven Law (Flickr: Got Milk...) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Word, Sacrament, Order and Service

For the first time this century, I will be the pastor of a new United Methodist congregation. June 8th will be my first Sunday to preach at First United Methodist Church of Edmond although I had previously officiated at a wedding there.

As I consider this change, I've been thinking about my own call as an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church.  Elders are ordained to Word, Sacrament, Order and Service.

Of course, I started as a lay person just as any clergy does.  As I grew up in the church, I began to understand God's call upon my life to ordination - to allow the church  to set me apart for this important work.  I've always felt that this is a rare privilege to live into - the setting oneself apart for the good of the church.

Word is something that I've come to enjoy - preaching, teaching and writing are all areas that I love.  They are organic things that are dependent upon the community and I learn and grow through these from our interaction in worship, study and conversation.

Sacrament is my call to baptize and share in Holy Communion with the world.  I will be offering these sacred sign-acts of God primarily through the locale of Edmond First UMC. Baptism connects us to the Body of Christ in a universal sense.  Holy Communion nourishes us as the Body and pulls us back into service for Christ.  Both of these are joys in my life that I look forward to sharing in this new (to me) setting.

Order is my call to administer the unique Wesleyan heritage that we've embraced as United Methodists.  Our denominational name implies that we are methodical and organized.  Providing structure while allowing God's grace to move through us in this way can sometimes be a balancing act.  Order becomes more important for larger churches and I will be looking forward to growing in this part of my call as we grow together.

Service is not unique to ordination.  Our Baptism calls all of us to Christian service.  Yet, this is important for the style of leadership that elders are to embrace.  We are to hold up Christian service as a living illustration for all the congregation to see.  Leading by example is the clear expectation.  This is not an easy calling and it will be important for us to hold each other accountable as the Body of Christ.

Only by God's grace will I be effective in these four areas of my ordination.  As I come to experience these in a new setting, I'm confident that God will continue to work through the laity and clergy so that we all might grow more closely into the likeness of Christ.

One thing I've learned is that God is continually doing a new thing all the time.  I think we are about to be caught in the middle of one - how exciting!

In Christ,