Monday, February 24, 2014

In the Light

Transfiguration by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1880's
via Wikimedia Commons
The season of the Epiphany ends this Sunday with the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-9.

We've dealt with many different themes of light during Epiphany and they seem to culminate in this story of Jesus on the mountaintop before we begin the season of Lent on the following Wednesday.

Peter, James and John seem to be confused by the scene and more than a little fearful. I'm a little reminded of Paul's encounter on the road to Damascus where he is blinded by the light of Christ.

Within the Gospels, we are more likely to find the blind able to see rather than the reverse.  We can interpret the modern encounter with Jesus Christ metaphorically, allowing us to "see" as we discover the truth.  Christians attest to this insight quite often in John Newton's "Amazing Grace" as we sing, "I was blind but now I see."

The transfiguration is a little different.  It leaves the disciples mystified.  They wonder at the depth of the one whom they have decided to follow.

Peter wants to stay and sing some praise music but Jesus directs him down the mountain.  This is an indictment on human nature in general.  As a pastor, there are plenty of people I've encountered who aren't quite ready to serve in some capacity because they feel as if they are not:

                  good speakers

                  educated enough

                  Biblically knowledgeable


Could it be that sometimes our encounters with the divine leave us feeling inadequate?

Sure, we have forgiveness but we know that we needed this mercy in the first place because we've messed up.  Deep down, we may sometimes doubt if we are capable of more.  In spite of grace, are we stuck?

In the midst of this self-crisis, Jesus directs us back down the mountain.  Because ultimately, the work to be done is greater than our luxury of apprehension.

In Christ,


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Not Perfect Yet

Portrait of John Wesley
by William Hamilton [Public domain] 1788,
via Wikimedia Commons
When I was ordained an Elder in The United Methodist Church, I had to stand before all of the clergy in the Oklahoma Conference as the bishop asked me the 19 historic questions from John Wesley.

Near the top of the list is a tough one to understand: "Are you going on to perfection?"

This seems like an easy question and most people think that the logical or humble answer would be "no."

However, the word "perfection" was loaded with all kind of meaning for the 18th century and strangely enough, the correct answer is "yes."

Christian perfection is a doctrine of Wesleyans that has been lost due to atrophy.  You may hear it spoken of as sanctification or in terms of sanctifying grace.

The third historic question is, "Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?" and once again, the correct answer is "yes."  Fortunately for the married candidates, the spouses are not present when the affirmative is given!  (Clergy couples being the exception)

The key to understanding what Wesley meant by perfection is the prepositional phrase "in love."

As a post-enlightenment culture, we like our perfection to add up.  We think that we can know when something is right or wrong and perfection is not something we ascribe to human beings.

For Wesley and for Methodists today, we see that perfection in love is more about our intent toward others and our use of time.  If our intent toward others is love, we may fail in practice but succeed as we confess our sins and seek to do better.  If we can learn to return love when we've received hate, we are getting closer to perfection in love.

This concept does not mean that we are without sin.  It means that we are striving to seek the best for all people - even people we may not particularly like.

I'm certainly not perfect - have you seen my desk?  But I do believe that I'm getting better at loving other people - that I want what's best for all humankind.  Sometimes I have to check my cynicism at the door but I think I'm making progress.

This Sunday, we'll be looking at what this concept means for us today.  Is it realistic?  Jesus seems to think so.  Check out this Sunday's reading from the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:38-48.  The last verse is a doozy.

In Christ,


This song by Alanis epitomizes the negative connotation of being perfect.  Generation X especially pushes back against this as an expectation.  Can we re-define it?

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Big 12 and Angry Men

Marcus Smart is the preseason choice for player of the year in NCAA basketball. Unfortunately for OSU fans, he's about as far from this award as you can get right now. Things haven't been going according to the script he imagined in his mind (or my mind for that matter).

The stress had already started to show with kicking a chair in the West Virginia game and storming off the court.
It's just a game but in the heat of the moment,
it seems like so much more.  Doesn't it always?
On Saturday night, the stress once again got the better of him as he shoved Texas Tech fan, Jeff Orr, toward the end of the game.  No matter what Orr said to him, Smart definitely lost his cool.  Smart continued to rant at the official after he received a technical foul.  After a review of the situation, the Big 12 suspended Marcus Smart for three games.  He's probably lucky that he gets to play at all this season.

Both of the men were in the wrong and both have apologized to the other through public statements.

Marcus Smart said, "This was not how I was raised.  I let my emotions get the best of me."

Jeff Orr has voluntarily suspended himself from attending any more Texas Tech basketball games this season.

As we let our anger flow, sometimes we say things that would embarrass us if we saw them broadcast later on the internet.  If our anger causes us to "see red", violence can erupt which leads to later regret.

The consequences of Smart and Orr's actions were not considered by either of them before this confrontation at the end of the game.  I'm sure that if Jeff Orr could have seen the future, he would have kept his mouth shut.  He loves Texas Tech basketball games and has been declared a super-fan for his devotion.  It will be sobering for him to watch the next game from the couch.

Smart's actions have not only cost him basketball games but the respect of the nation. Quite probably, the shove has cost him a lot of money too as the NBA evaluates everything with a fine tooth comb.  He'll still play but his stock has taken a hit.  If you were a head coach, would you want to deal with a player with anger issues?

The good news is that no permanent injury happened in this altercation.  It should be a wake-up call for both men.  The even better news is that anger issues can be overcome.

As I find myself angry at times, maybe I'll think about this story before saying or doing something I'll later regret.

This Sunday, we will be continuing to explore the Sermon on the Mount with Matthew 5:21-37.  These particular verses deal with anger, adultery, divorce and oaths.  My sermon title will be "Reconciliation is Next to Godliness" and if you can't be present with us in Piedmont or Cashion, I'll post a link to the sermon here or you can subscribe to our Youtube page.

In Christ,


This song is lyrically one of my favorites from Billy Joel.  I have this album somewhere on vinyl.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Some Like It Hot

My very first pepper felt like this in my stomach!
I threw up the first jalapeno pepper that I ate.

Those who know my love of all things spicy may be surprised to hear that.  Why on earth would I have ever eaten another?

It was a rite of passage for me.

My dad and his friend Troy would often get together over Mexican food.  One of our restaurants of choice was Ricardo's in Tulsa near 41st & Yale.  I can remember each of them eating hotter and hotter salsa and just sweating.  Neither would admit it was too hot!

As a family, we liked to frequent Mexican restaurants and eventually I began to indulge in the salsa just like the big boys. I thought I could handle my salsa pretty well and so once when we were on vacation, we stopped at the drive-thru of a fast food chicken place.  It may have been a Popeye's but I don't remember.

For a nickel, you could get a whole jalapeno pepper with your chicken (this was the late 70's).  I told my parents that I wanted one and they scoffed at me but I insisted.

Be careful what you wish for.

They gave in and it was a large green jalapeno that was slightly pickled.  I took a bite off the end and chewed it and swallowed.


It was like an explosion in my mouth!  But I couldn't really complain because I had made such a fuss about it.  I continued to eat it with my chicken but as I did, my stomach started to protest.

Pretty soon, I found that it burned on the way back up as well.

I didn't finish that one but there came a time when I did.  I still enjoy them to this day.  I guess I saw it as a bonding experience with my dad.  Today I'm slightly addicted to them but I guess there could be worse things to crave.

As we consider seasoning, we live in a time and place where we have all that we want available to us.  It wasn't always like this.

In the time of Jesus, salt was one of your choices to season your food.  In the time before refrigeration, it
Salt can make a bad meal palatable
 as well as ruin a good one.
was also used as a preservative.  Following the Beatitudes, Jesus tells the disciples, "You are the salt of the earth."

How do we as Christian disciples today season the world in which we live?  Do we improve the flavor?  You know, too much salt can ruin a good meal!  How does this metaphor work for us?

We'll continue to engage with the Sermon on the Mount this Sunday as we look at Matthew 5:13-20.  Check back here after Sunday and I'll post the sermon link.

In Christ,


The jalapeno picture is from the Plants vs. Zombies wiki and the salt picture is from wikimedia commons.