Sunday, May 25, 2014

It's Hard to Ride into the Sunset if you're Heading East

When I came to Piedmont, Craig Stinson was the district superintendent.  He showed me around the church and when I came to the sanctuary, I asked him, "Is this the chapel?"

He smiled and said, "No, this is the sanctuary.  This is why they need to build a new facility."

That was in the late fall of 2000 before I came that January.

It took a while to build up the congregation for moving.  Needless to say, there were setbacks along the way.  When we finally decided on a plan, it took a while to build the new facility.

Our first worship service in the new building was Christmas Eve in 2008.  We packed the place out and it was standing room only.  I'm still not sure how many we had in there.

Shirley saw a mouse that evening while she was sitting next to the organ.  She said that if it had run across her foot she would have screamed but it didn't.  Our church mouse had likely come in from the cold during the construction.

Kyla and David in the Skyline booth in 2005.
I'll always be grateful to this congregation for helping us raise
our children.  They have learned what it means to serve others from
their time in Piedmont which are lessons that will serve them
throughout their lives.
It's hard to believe that we've been in the new building over five years now.  We've already created so many memories.

I think one of my favorites was the Sunday worship service following the tornado in 2011. Our congregation and community really came together in the aftermath and showed the world how discipleship can alleviate suffering.

We've taken a lot of trips together in mission which I have always enjoyed.
We've studied the Bible in many different formats and with lots of different groups.

We've brought in many new members to our church.  Not all have stayed active but I feel that we have been consistent in our hospitality of the Gospel.

I've taken more children and youth to camp than I can count.  I love our camp setting and feel confident that this ministry will continue to be a strength for Piedmont.

I'll miss each person as I feel that each relationship helps us to see God a little more clearly as God works differently in each life.

This Sunday is Ascension Sunday as we look at the church calendar.  The Ascension is the doctrine that Jesus ascended into heaven forty days following the resurrection.

This preceded the birth of the church at Pentecost by ten days.  The disciples must have been afraid and probably stressed at the thought of moving forward in ministry alone. Except that they weren't alone.  The Holy Spirit continued to be the presence of God then and continues to be the presence of God today.

I'm certainly not Jesus and the congregation certainly understands that God isn't going anywhere.  Nevertheless, there is always fear and tension when leadership changes.

Probably my greatest gift to the church has been to be a non-anxious presence in the midst of some of the chaos we've faced together.  I have always tried to encapsulate "the peace of Christ which passes all understanding" in my ministry.

I hear the words of the risen Christ, "Peace be with you."

They are the words for this age that we need just as they are needed in every age.

As I leave this place, I hope to leave just as I arrived: in Christ's peace.

I hope that you know this peace and that this peace will continue to settle on this congregation for years to come.  There is a strength in it that draws people in.

This Sunday will be my final time to lead in worship as Piedmont's pastor.  Worship will be a time of celebration and we'll share in Holy Communion together.  Later that evening, we'll join together in fellowship for a cookout.  If you're in town, I hope to see you there!

May God's peace be with you.

In Christ,


Monday, May 19, 2014

Keep the Church Weird

"Keep the Church Weird" means simply that we should be an alternative to the mainstream community.  Our values should look a little different because of the Gospel we proclaim.  This makes others think of us as a little weird - or it should if we're doing it right.

Years ago, I remember being a cabin leader for a sixth grade camp and the boys were settling down in Crutchfield at Canyon for light's out.  We were trying to get to sleep and I was letting them tell a few jokes from their bunks in the dark.

It's not a bad idea to let children laugh a little at night because homesickness can set in during this time.

Things were winding down, when the boy in the bunk above mine started out, "There were these two.." and then he used the plural of the N-word.

I don't think I've ever come out of my bunk that fast!  I let him know that this was not appropriate for joking at any time.  It is disrespectful of other people in general and it has no place in the church.

I think he got the point.
The cross itself is a little weird.  Who uses such
a terrible image of suffering as their main symbol?
It is a way for us to proclaim that we
share in the suffering of others while looking
toward resurrection for those in despair.

I hope I tipped the balance toward teaching a valuable lesson over setting his prejudice in stone.

How is the church different?

Paul reminds us that there is no "Jew or Gentile" in Christ in his letter to the Galatians.  He is not removing the uniqueness of our cultural heritage - he is merely saying that it is not used for establishing priority with one another.

When we are in Christ, we go out of our way to be respecters of other people.  We do this because we are all created in God's image.  We do this because we see Christ in the stranger.  We do this because Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves and that "neighbors" includes anyone within our reach.

So what does it mean for the church to be an alternative community to society at large?

Join us this Sunday for worship online or in person in Piedmont or Cashion on Sunday or simply visit our YouTube page later in the week.  This will be my last Sunday for video in Cashion and my second-to-last Sunday in Piedmont so if you're local,  I hope you'll come out in person!

In Christ,


Photo By Mith (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Confirmation is Not Graduation

As a pastor, I find the concept of grace important to share but difficult to grasp.

I'm constantly led back to merit.

For instance, don't the vows we take with one another rely on the merit or work of the ones making them?

Considering that Oklahoma has one of the highest divorce rates in the country, I wonder if this shows that people don't take vows as seriously as they once did.  Does this show too much of a reliance on the grace of others to us?

This Sunday, many of our youth who have been involved in confirmation classes will be taking the vows of the church for themselves for the first time.

I've tried to explain integrity to them.  I've tried to explain the importance of follow-through after taking the vows.  I've tried to explain that confirmation is not graduation from church.

Rather, this is a new starting point for their faith journey in Christ.

Yet as I look back on our past confirmation classes, I have to wonder, what's happened to all of the youth we've confirmed through the years?

Many of them have moved outside of our community.  But there are also quite a few living in Piedmont that simply choose not to attend.  The church hasn't done a very good job in reaching young adults - even those raised among us.

It is frustrating as I think back to all of those youth that I've confirmed.  Of course, all pastors would love to have every church member become more active in the faith - to truly take seriously our discipleship in Jesus Christ.

When we vow to support the church with our presence, this means that if we are not sick or out of town, we need to be in worship.  There is merit in this!
Is your word your bond?

As I consider the confirmation classes, I know there are always some that I likely won't see again after we confirm them.  Their parents check it off as if baptism or church membership is a commodity to be gained for their children.  My struggle has always been the question of do I confirm a youth if they haven't taken it seriously?  If they've missed multiple classes?  If they haven't attended worship?

I've always erred on the side of grace.  I realize that the choice to attend at their age is not entirely up to them.  If this is the main exposure to the church that they receive as minors, I don't want it to end in rejection. And so I confirm all those desiring to take their vows before God and God's people.

My hope is that the seed is planted for each of these.  For some it grows almost immediately as they take leadership roles in youth group.  We've raised up leadership for our church and for our conference and even beyond!  This is always a joy to witness!  For others, maybe it will lie dormant, waiting for someone else to water it.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with Dr. David Lowes Watson who was our Wesleyan expert at a clergy retreat.  I was lamenting the lack of disciples that we actually make as the church.  He answered that when Jesus fed the 5,000, not all of them dropped what they were doing and followed him.  In fact, probably not even a very large percentage of this crowd became his disciples.

But they were hungry.

And Jesus fed them.

And this is the difficulty when we get caught between grace and works.  We lead with grace and hope that people will see that works do indeed follow.

As I said, grace is important to share, but difficult to grasp.

Yet we continue to try.

In Christ,


Picture by Doug Gansler (swearing_in) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, May 5, 2014

Moms are Shepherds Too

This coming Sunday is Mother's Day.

As I consider the lectionary readings for Sunday, the common theme seems to be about sheep and shepherds.
Sometimes pastors are called the shepherds of the flock.
Rev. Ken Tobler always said, "Jesus is the Shepherd.
I'm just the sheep dog!"

I think back to the many times my mother shepherded me as a child, keeping me safe and free from harm.

And yet, she let me be myself and learn from mistakes.  I think it took a lot for her not to be overprotective. She tells me that when I was a toddler, she would sweat me to death because she was always cold!

But we did have a jungle gym and when I climbed and stood on the monkey bars, she didn't cry out, "Sam, get down from there!" like I know she wanted.  Instead, she just made over my ability to balance.

Whenever I would get into trouble, it always seemed to be a surprise to her.  She would admonish me by saying, "Sam, that's not like you!"  It was as if she couldn't imagine me being selfish or stupid.

I wish everyone would have someone in their lives that only sees the best in them.

As we think about Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd, we remember that as we are in Christ, God sees us for our best.  In Christ, God doesn't count our sins against us as Paul reminds the church at Corinth.

Sometimes it is good to start with a clean slate.

We see in John's Gospel passage for the week that Jesus is also the Gate.  As we enter in Christ, we find new life.

But what if we don't enter in Christ?  Does this gate ever close or lock?

Is it designed to keep people out?

Like any metaphor, it can begin to break down with too much analysis - that is our problem with poetic language as a post-enlightenment culture!  My thought is that it speaks more toward protection than exclusion.

We'll be looking at this passage in worship this Sunday and I hope that you'll join us either in person or online.  Mothers that come in person will get a treat!

In Christ,


Photo by Rosendahl [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons