Monday, January 26, 2015

As a General Rule...

In order to become an ordained minister in The United Methodist Church, there is a lengthy process that one must endure navigate.  The conference's Board of Ordained Ministry grants the final recommendation and then all of the clergy in that conference give the final approval by voting for the candidate at the clergy executive session of the conference.

Within this session, the Bishop asks John Wesley's historic questions of the candidates.  

One of them is, "Do you know the General Rules of our Church?" followed by "Will you keep the General Rules of our Church?"

These are rules that every Methodist used to know by heart.  They are not hard and there are only three.

The first is to do no harm.

The second is to do good as one has the opportunity.

The third is to attend upon all the ordinances of God.

This last rule would define ordinances as prayers, devotions, worship, Bible study, fasting, etc.  

It's not difficult to buy meat today that hasn't
been offered as a sacrifice to an idol.
These aren't that difficult but I would guess that the majority of Methodists don't know them or that they should have these as rules for their lives.

As I look toward the final three Sundays before the Lenten season begins, the lectionary texts allow us to really examine these three General Rules. This Sunday, we'll consider "Do No Harm" as we consider 1 Corinthians 8:1-13.  I would invite you to read this passage and make your own connection.

It sounds easier than it really is.  I think as we dive into the text and then see how this relates to issues of the day, we'll find that we may need God's help in keeping this rule on a daily basis.  Of course, that's where rule three comes in which we'll get to on Transfiguration Sunday. 

In Christ,


Photo by Alx 91 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, January 19, 2015

Public Speaking Or Death?

Sheryl and I diving this summer.
It's difficult to preach underwater.
The first job I ever wanted was "Diver Man" because I used to watch Jacques Cousteau on television. Although I do scuba dive occasionally, I didn't make a career out of it.

I also wanted to be a garbage man because the trash trucks were so cool.

Other jobs I considered before ministry were anthropologist, psychiatrist, police detective and computer programmer just to name a few.  

I flirted briefly with being a preacher as a child because I thought it would be a sure ticket to heaven.  However, when I started thinking about coming up and delivering a speech on a weekly basis, I thought there had to be better jobs available!  Most studies show that people actually fear public speaking more than dying!  

Then as a freshman in high school, we had to give oral reports in Spanish class over our projects.  Mine was a comparative study of the Aztec and Mayan cultures (remember that anthropology?).  I was very interested in the subject and so speaking on it came pretty easily.  I did so well that Senora Reynolds asked me to speak to her other classes as well.  I never did take her up on that - I thought, now wait a minute, here!  It was fine for my class but let's not get carried away!

Because I did well on this speech, I under-prepared for another speech my senior year and blew it.  That put me back in the "no way" category for preacher.  It took preaching an actual sermon to get over the hump of the fear of being in the pulpit. 

We often don’t realize what we are capable of until presented with the opportunity.  Some of us dive right in while others test the waters with our toes.  Many decide that it is too cold to make the effort.

This Sunday's lectionary reading is Mark 1:14-20 where Jesus calls the disciples.  They were fishermen at the time and they drop everything to follow this traveling rabbi.  Did you ever wonder what their parents thought about this decision?

What do you do if God calls you to do something?  Could you be happy doing anything else?

I believe that all Christians are called to some form of service by the very fact of their baptism.  It is a washing of sin but it is also a call upon our lives.  It marks us as different - just how different may be up to your call!

In Christ,


Monday, January 12, 2015

The Psalms are Full

The first Psalm I ever memorized was the 23rd.  As a child, I remember thinking, why wouldn't I want the Lord as my shepherd?

As I have grown in the faith and in my depth of Biblical knowledge, my favorite Psalm is likely the 139th.  It is full of richness and was likely composed after the Jews experienced Exile in Babylon.  "Settling at the farthest limits of the sea" in verse nine certainly speaks of the diaspora which established Hebrew communities across the Mediterranean world.

We see the presence of God being transient rather than stationary in Israel.  This theological understanding is important and is also mirrored in the story of Jonah.

As Jonah seeks to flee from God's presence, he finds that he cannot.  The covering of darkness as well as making his bed in Sheol could refer metaphorically to the belly of the whale.

Many times, we end the reading with, verses 17-18:

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
    I come to the end—I am still with you.

These are comforting verses and it seems as if they are an appropriate end to the Psalm. However, if you continue to read, you find that this author is dealing with hatred of God's enemies.  In fact, it is a prayer for God to annihilate them.  The emotion is real and raw and if we are honest, we actually feel this way at times in our lives.  They are the same emotions that Jonah expresses after God relents and forgives the Assyrians in Nineveh. Jonah goes and sulks on a hill, angry enough to die.

Jonah fled on the sea from Joppa.  Here's a picture from Jaffa, the
modern-day location.  The farthest limits of the sea look very much the same.
Many who challenge some of the ethics of the Bible point toward verses like 19-24. However, we must be wise enough not to see these as instructional but rather confessional in nature.  God allows us to express our innermost thoughts (as expressed in verse 2).  The community of faith allows us to share them but then also shapes them.

Many think that the story of Jonah was also composed during the post-exilic period. Could it have been written as a response to the entirety of Psalm 139?  It seems to me to be an excellent rabbinic response to the confessional nature of the faith.

After all, none of us what to be seen as pouting on a hill.

I'm looking forward to preaching on this text on Sunday.

In Christ,


Picture by By Deror_avi via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I Prefer My Chaos to Be Less Tornadic

My daughter, Kyla shown here living out her baptism
as we worked in Moore after their latest tornado.
In May of 2011, we were very thankful for the new storm shelter the church had put in the garage floor of the parsonage. As we huddled with the kids and the dog and a few belongings, we emerged unscathed and it seemed that our community had averted disaster.

When I went to check on the church, I was thankful that it was okay.

As I drove further north, I began to realize that not everyone made it out so easily.  When I got to our lay leader's home, I saw that most of it was gone.  I found Jim and Judy both healthy but very shaken up.  Most of their home was gone and we were walking through their possessions.

We found one of their horses in the creek and had a difficult time getting it up a muddy bank and around the fallen trees. When we finally did, it felt like asserting some order to all the chaos they had experienced.

I tried to give them some reassurance through all that they had lost.  I don't even remember what I said but I was doing my best to be pastoral.

Jim responded with a true sense of faith when he said, "Sam, at the end of the day, it's all just stuff."

I felt like they were going to be okay, freeing me up to go forward and check on others.

How do we handle life in the midst of chaos?

How can we find order when all seems to be falling down around us?

I believe that our faith is reminding us that we will get through all of the dangers, toils and snares.  It may be difficult to believe but hope is a powerful thing.

The sign of this hope comes in our baptism.

The water washes away the past and the hurt and marks us as chosen by God.

This Sunday marks the Baptism of the Lord in the church calendar.  It is a powerful reminder of the love and grace of God in our lives.  It gives good perspective about what is truly important and what is finally just stuff.

In Christ,