Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Changing the World

"Well, she still tends to go out to the clubs with her friends a little too much, but I'll have that stopped after we are married."

"Well, he doesn't have very good sense about spending, but I'll change that once we tie the knot."

This is not what any couple is looking for when
they are meeting to discuss their upcoming marriage!
Sometimes when I'm visiting with a couple looking forward to their marriage, I hear privately from one or the other that there are certain tendencies that they plan on changing once they are wed. This is a red flag for sure!

Once we are convinced that we can change someone, neither one of us will likely be happy.

If these situations are not discussed and worked out to an agreeable stance for both parties, the health of the relationship will begin to deteriorate.

In dealing with relationships, I observe the rule that the only person we can really change is ourselves.  If we are unhappy with someone's behavior, we might change how we react to that behavior but we also understand that our own actions are all that we control. If the person's behavior will not change and it is truly offensive, what remains is the decision to sever ties with the individual.

Is the relationship worth putting up with certain things?  Another way of thinking about this is, what is my level of tolerance?  Each person must decide this for him or herself.

As United Methodists, we are trying to Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.  That is a rather large task!

We understand that we can't really change the world until we change ourselves.  We seek to do this by being faithful to the call of God in our lives.  United Methodists respond to this call through our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.  What does it mean to be faithful in each of these ways?

The faithful example from scripture for Christians, Jews and Muslims is Abraham and Sarah.  We'll be exploring their different stories in worship each week as they relate to one of these five responses.  This particular Sunday, we'll begin with their story in Genesis 12:1-9 and my sermon title will be "Holding Nothing Back".  If you are unable to join us in person at First United Methodist Church of Edmond, you can catch our livestream of the 11:00 am service here.

And if you don't attend anywhere regularly, you can begin that change in your life this Sunday!

In Christ,


Picture by Jennifer Pahlka from Oakland, CA, sfo [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, September 21, 2015

It's Never Too Late to Start

Lectionary Text: James 5:13-20

As we finish the letter of James, we see that it ends with a look at the power of prayer in the community of faith.  This is really about our relationships together and how God is the one that binds us together.

A community of faith cares about one another and we lift each other up in prayer to God when we find one of us hurting or anxious.

In case we miss the relational tone of the passage, we find this rather odd statement in verses 19-20:

My brothers and sisters,if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (NRSV)
Now this does remind us to reach out to those who may be backsliding or slipping in their faith.  All may agree that this is important work and that we shouldn't write anyone off.

But what is fascinating to me is the term, "cover a multitude of sins."

Is James talking about covering the wandering person's sins or covering the sins of the one bringing back the lost sheep?

Even our Lord fell and needed the help of Simon of Cyrene
to carry the cross for a while.
Either way, it seems to move the focus of salvation to the work of the individual and away from the work already accomplished in Jesus Christ. You can see why Martin Luther with his emphasis on salvation by faith, called this an "epistle of straw."

But if we look at the act of bringing back a wandering soul into the fold, how could this important work cover a multitude of our own sins?

Maybe it doesn't diminish the work of Jesus but rather allows us to understand our own sins in perspective.  As we see one who is wayward, we may offer, "You aren't that much different from me."  After all, we've all had doubts or times when we were less than faithful.  As we offer the grace of Jesus Christ to another who is hurting, this reminds us of the grace we all need.

In this instance, our own multitude of sins is covered not by our good works but by our own realization of our own great need for salvation ourselves.

It shows us that it is never too late to start when it comes to redemption.  Sometimes we need others to bring us back and other times we are the ones showing the way.  As such we are partners with Christ in the grace that permeates the world!

In Christ,


Photo by Tomas Castelazo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, September 14, 2015

Retaining an Identity

Lectionary Passage: James 3:13-4:8

What does James mean when he tells us to submit ourselves to God in verse 7?

Submission is not a popular concept in American society.  We think of it as losing and no one likes to be thought of as a loser.  This leads us to associate weakness with submission.

If we seek to be more Christ-like in our lives, this does cause us to mute those parts of our lives that would be contrary to God's will for humanity.

Do we imagine that submission to God involves a violent
suppression of our deepest selves?
For instance, I might be in the habit of raising my voice in anger to others when I disagree with them.  Does shouting down an opposing view help to promote peace or does it make me a bully?

It might be important for me to submit this angry reaction to God and to work with God to develop better responses that are more in line with how we might imagine God interacting with us.

I don't believe that becoming Christ-like means that we give up our own identities.  It doesn't mean being absorbed into the Borg or becoming unthinking robots.

I believe that the wide variety of our different personalities expresses God as creator as well as anything.

Rather, submission may have more to do with trust.  If I trust in God fully, I may not experience anger quite so quickly.  If I see my needs being met in God more readily, I may not be as selfish or greedy.  If I find joy in the deep and abiding peace of Jesus Christ, I may find that my joy in other things is more expansive.  If anything, we find our truest selves as we deepen our relationship with God.

I'll be exploring this more in this Sunday's sermon.  We are now live-streaming our 11:00 am worship service and so if you can't join us in person, you need only an internet connection:


I hope you will join us if you are not otherwise committed!

In Christ,


Photo by Scott Finkelstein [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Watch Your Mouth!

Lectionary passage: James 3:1-12

This week's reading from James gives some pretty standard advice - watch your mouth! It resonated with people in the 1st century and it still resonates with us in the 21st.

As we see the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican primary race, he brings with him a brash, no-nonsense kind of talk.  He's not afraid to step on people's toes.  Quite frankly, this is what is making him attractive to many Republican voters at this point.  He is a political outsider that is willing to tell it like it is (or at least tell it from his outsider's prospective).

James says that we've tamed all manner
of ferocious beasts except for the tongue.
However, the very thing that makes Trump a contender in the early race is alienating him from some of the constituency he seeks.  While some find him refreshing, he is also viewed as brash, arrogant and rude.  Is it helpful for the leader of the free world to identify people as 'losers"? Yes, it is within your political rights as an American, but is it expedient to do so?  Trump identifies himself as a Presbyterian.  Conversing with people - even people you disagree with - in a respectful manner is something Christians promote.  This is a value we also promote in our nation's schools.  If you served in the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, you learned it.  There is power in rhetoric.  There is power in how we address one another.

If Trump continues to lead in the primaries, his Christian brothers and sisters must press upon him the importance of this lesson.  If Americans begin to emulate his style in their interactions with one another, my fear is that the polarization of our country will get worse before it gets better.

I see this lesson so clearly in Trump because we are alike in a lot of ways.  There have been times in my life when I have verbally abused other people.  Some of it was done in jest and other times I was actually seeking to injure with my words.  Even though I may have come out on top in the individual encounter, I never won because when I resorted to this kind of behavior, I became the "loser."  

As I continue to grow in Christ, I find that I no longer have any enemies. I only have people that see things differently.  How I communicate with these people makes all the difference as to the reign of the prince of peace in the world - or at least our corner of it.

In Christ,


Photo taken by the author in Kruger National Park, South Africa, August, 2011.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Overcoming Our Tendencies

Featured Lectionary Scripture: James 2:1-17

What would the reaction of our congregation be if Kevin Durant attended worship?

As a perennial All-Star in the NBA and the key member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, I dare say that he would likely garner some attention.  At almost 7 feet tall, he would be noticeable if he entered our sanctuary (likely he would have to duck through the main entrance).

I would guess that many in our congregation would call me, asking me if he was going to return, excited about the possibility of worshiping regularly with this local giant.

However, if someone who was homeless attended, I might get a call but it would more likely be surrounding safety issues.  We wouldn't be so giddy about this possibility (which is actually much more likely).

As we consider both scenarios, it is human nature to seek after fame and fortune.  We might think of the benefits to our church such as the question, "What if he tithed?"  Would his presence attract other followers who would benefit from regular church attendance? There are lots of reasons why we might seek to pull in such an attractive prospect.

But this can be done to a lesser degree for anyone.  A medical doctor could be pursued for some of the same reasons.  If a wealthy person garners more attention than a poor person, is this any different than the selling of indulgences by the church in the middle ages?

As we consider the mission of the church, we often try to balance the needs of the membership versus the needs of the community at large.  A mission-minded model would say that the needs of the community outweigh the needs of the congregation because we are called by Christ to serve.  This becomes evident in our scripture for this week. As difficult as this question may be to answer, it remains important as a vision of what we could be.  Without it, we will never arrive.

In Christ,


Picture by By Keith Allison (Flickr: Kevin Durant) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons