Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Why Not Start a New Year with Worship?

Unfortunately for American pastors, Christmas falling on a Sunday means that New Year's Day also falls on a Sunday as well.  For those that ring in the new year at midnight, this makes it a little difficult to rise and shine for church the next morning.
Eating black eyed peas on New Year's Day
is supposed to bring good luck.  Keeping our
eye on good consequences usually means
a little more effort on our part though!

Within the Methodist tradition, John Wesley would often encourage his churches to hold Watch Night Services on New Year's Eve which would sometimes last three hours or more.  These were a type of covenant service that allowed for the participants to renew their faith before God and one another in the coming year. These would also be held on New Year's Day.

Within Methodism, we understand that sometimes people fall away from the faith.  They quit attending as regularly and may discover other pursuits on Sunday mornings.  This was commonly referred to as backsliding in the 19th century and is a term still used today but not as frequently.  It involves our ability to turn from God and move along our own path.  Those Christians of Calvinist persuasion would say that there is a perseverance of the saints that prevents those of real faith to backslide.  It means that backsliders never had real faith in the first place.

Of course, this means that outsiders are interpreting your faith for you.  How do they know if your faith if real or not?  I do know that backsliding comes to me in all kinds of ways.  I've had plenty of times in my life when I didn't exercise as faithfully as I might. Did these lazier times diminish the work that I put in when I was more determined? Within an understanding of free will, we recognize that change comes to human beings all the time.  Renewing our covenant is about recognizing that I do need God's help to become a more regularly faithful person.

This Sunday, we will celebrate a Wesleyan Covenant Service at 8:30 and 11:00 am in the Sanctuary and at 10:50 am in Wesley Hall at First United Methodist Church of Edmond. It won't be our most crowded service due to the intersection of the holiday but it will undoubtedly be very meaningful for those who come (and it will be an hour, not three!).  I will be preaching on Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 and my sermon title (with a nod to Chicago) will be "Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?"  Many blessings to you as we close out another year.  May we renew our faith and may it give us strength for the coming year.

In Christ,


Photo used via Flickr.com under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

What Are You Doing This Weekend?

During Sunday school, we had a good discussion on various Christmas traditions.  Some are overtly religious such as going to the Christmas Eve Candlelight service while others could be perceived as fairly secular like shopping for presents or looking at Christmas lights.

There is no good Biblical rationale for celebrating the birthday of Jesus on December 25.  In fact, there have been celebrations during this time of the year that pre-date not only Christianity but also recorded human history.  Pagan festivals were celebrated during the darkest time of the year near the winter solstice when the sunlight was at a minimum.  These gave hope that the longer daylight would eventually begin to return. 

Mistletoe was originally a sacred plant used
by European druids before being re-appropriated
as a Christmas tradition!
Some claim that the observation of Christmas merely replaced pagan celebrations such as the Roman cult of the Sol Invictus or unconquered sun.  However, this should not keep us from celebrating during this time of year or even enjoying traditions that have been co-opted such as the Christmas tree.

The story of the Incarnation fits very well with the celebrations following winter solstice that observe the return of the sun.  Both have to do with hope coming during a time of darkness.

Christianity, by celebrating the Incarnation of God, gives us an understanding of the love of God which penetrates the human condition.  As God comes in the flesh as Jesus Christ, we see from the story of the death of infants at the hand of Herod that God is made vulnerable in a world where suffering is very real.  While he escapes this immediate danger to his life, we see that it does catch up to him at the cross.

But this suffering and death is never the end of the Christian story.  Even these are transformed in the Christian worldview.
And so we celebrate “God with us” at Christmas.

We recognize that this story transcends culture as it relates to all people because all people are in need of hope.  All people struggle with darkness.  All people need the light of the world!

If you are in the Edmond area this coming weekend, we will celebrate with candlelight worship.  We will have a special live nativity this Friday (Dec 23) at 6 pm followed by Worship on Hurd, our contemporary worship service in Wesley Hall at 7 pm.  On Saturday (Dec 24), we will have three separate Christmas Eve services at 4:00 pm (which will be geared more toward children), 7:00 pm and 11:00 pm.  Then on Christmas Day we will combine all of our Sunday morning services at 10:00 am in the sanctuary.  This will be a "come as you are" service for a more relaxed feel that morning as we celebrate Christmas together as the body of Christ.  Nursery is available for all of these worship services except for the 11 pm service.  The sermon and worship will be unique on Friday, Saturday and Sunday so for those who like to collect the whole set, there's something each day of the weekend.

If you have someone you would like to invite, this may be a great way for you to share your faith with them.  After all, we all need hope!

In Christ,


Photo from Flickr.com, used under the Creative Commons license. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Pride can be a tricky thing.

Pride may keep us from admitting defeat and spur us on to overcoming adversity.

Animals definitely exhibit a sense
of pride in their accomplishments.
Pride may allow us to exceed others’ expectations of us.

Pride can let us lift up the successes of a loved one’s achievements.

So we can see how it is a positive trait.

But at the same time, pride may keep us from accepting help when we need it.

Pride may cause us to take a joke more personally than intended.

Pride may keep us from reconciling with a friend.

This Sunday’s lectionary reading is Matthew 1:18-25 which is the story of Joseph seeking to dismiss his betrothed because Mary is with child and he knows the baby is not his.

In any relationship today, if there is perceived infidelity, pride becomes wounded and it becomes very difficult for the relationship to recover.  Joseph, however, dreams about Mary and sees the truth.  He re-commits to their relationship and will serve as the earthly father to Jesus.

Even with the dream, I think it would be difficult to serve in this role.  When they moved to Nazareth, would Joseph claim Jesus as his own child or would he try to tell people that Jesus was the son of God?  How believable would that be?  

Joseph would have had to wrestle with his pride over paternity if he told the truth of the relationship.  He might feel as if he were being unfaithful to God if he didn’t. 

Jesus later learns not to let pride hamstring him as he handles criticism with polish.  Did he learn this from Joseph? 

This Sunday, we will finish our series, “Preparing for Presence” (I can’t believe this already the fourth Sunday of Advent) as we look at how the Incarnation may help us choose compassion over prudence.  My sermon title will be “Pride Can Be a Lonely Road.” 

In Christ,


Photo via Flickr.com, used under the Creative Commons license.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Evangelism and Confirmation

Boston Avenue United Methodist Church
As a two-time winner of the Denman award for Evangelism in the Oklahoma Conference, I have been asked to share the formula or program I use to have larger than average numbers each year for professions of faith of both youth and adults.  As I remember my own profession of faith, it was made at a Sunday morning worship service at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa following my confirmation class.  I remember taking these classes on Sunday afternoons when I was in the 6th grade.  I learned about the Christian faith and we had to jointly develop our own affirmation of faith to explore what we believed.  We used this creed in worship on the Sunday we were confirmed.

When I became a United Methodist minister, the bishop ask me the vow, “Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?”  I took this seriously and have offered confirmation classes every year I have been in ministry.  I have found that there are always families in the communities I’ve served who have been interested in their children learning more about the faith, taking the vows for themselves and receiving baptism if they never have.

Confirmation service in 2001
I have moved the classes to the Sunday school period.  This is important in that I emphasize to the class and to the parents the importance of regular worship.  Our expectation is that the student attend not only the class but worship as well.  Occasionally, you have a student or parent who has a pattern of only attending Sunday school and while this may be all they are willing to commit to at this point in their lives, the rhythm of regular worship is a vital part of becoming a full member of the church.  It is less likely for the student or family to skip worship if the classes are held during Sunday school.  Inviting the confirmands to serve as liturgists or to help the pastor serve the elements during Holy Communion are important ways for them to grow in their faith during this time. 

I utilize twelve class sessions.  We begin in January when many families are ready to make a new commitment to regular worship and learning in their lives.  They experience this regular pattern together and for twelve weeks, they attend both Sunday school and worship.  Some Christian educators prefer a longer confirmation time of 15 or 20 weeks and some go for a full year.  I’ve found that for people outside the church who are new to the faith, twelve weeks is just long enough to be a significant commitment but not too long to scare people away.

We offer adult confirmation classes at the same time.  Since I am at a larger church, I am fortunate to have an associate pastor to lead this.  He leads the parents or other interested adults in the very same material during Sunday school each Sunday morning.  If these parents went through confirmation themselves, it has likely been years since they have studied this material.  This is helpful as a time of faith renewal for the whole family.  Parents can have conversations during lunch after church about what they each learned in class that day.  I often find with a  class of fifteen to twenty students that we have at least a few parents who are not members of our church and some who have never made a profession of faith or been baptized.  During the confirmation worship service, the parents are invited to renew their vows along with their children.  Many of the parents will join the church during this time with their children, making their own profession of faith and even being baptized alongside one another if they have never received this sacrament.

For smaller churches, I would advise inviting the Lay Leader or some other adult leader of the congregation to teach the adult classes.  Some years a new adult Sunday school class is formed from this group after the twelve weeks together.  We also invite other adults to act as mentors to our confirmands.  They share with them throughout the confirmation time notes of encouragement and may see them in worship and even help out with youth fellowship for an evening or two, arranging with the confirmand these outings.  This is helpful in the faith formation of our adults who serve as well as to give our youth a larger comfort and connection within our congregation. 

Our 2016 class at the cross at Canyon!
We take several field trips on Sunday afternoons or after school throughout the class period.  Because I serve in an urban setting, field trips are easier than for a rural church.  However, the road trip would still be a helpful thing for the class to bond if you live farther away.  Visits can be made to various extension ministries which show some of the different ways we interact with the world as United Methodists.  On the confirmation Sunday, we take an afternoon hike at Canyon Camp to show them this wonderful United Methodist setting for ministry but also to let them be comfortable with the facility as we hope to return with them later in the summer for one of our week-long church camps.  We sometimes invite other youth on these field trips who have already experienced the confirmation classes themselves in order to help our new confirmands feel comfortable in the youth group.  Membership in the church means being active and the youth group is the most natural way for our confirmands to continue to grow in their faith as they move on to sanctification!

We market our class.  We keep a database of all families who visit throughout the year and contact those who have youth.  There are always families on the rolls that we haven’t seen for a while who have children the appropriate age.  We make our best attempt to invite all of these through letters, emails and calls to participate in this wonderful time of faith formation.  Other avenues that may be available in your community would be to invite members of the Scout Troops that may meet in your churches.  Some middle schools publish class directories and if you can acquire one for your church, you can send a letter to all the parents in your community.  Social media is a wonderful tool that will let you market your ad to parents in your setting for very little cost.  Ask the students you’ve enrolled to see if they have friends who do not attend church who they would either invite themselves or be willing to let you invite on their behalf.  Since we offer ours in January, an emphasis during the announcements before the Christmas Eve worship service is especially helpful.  There are many people in every community with a school who have experienced confirmation in their youth but have fallen away from regular church attendance.  Sometimes your letter or contact will serve as God’s prevenient grace, nudging them back to the community of faith.

That is it.  I love Easter and Christmas Eve but Confirmation Sunday is my favorite worship service of the year.  It has become a time of celebration in the churches I’ve served for the entire congregation.  As an ordained elder who has vowed to instruct the children, what a joy it is to share our faith with others who need it at this critical juncture in their lives.  I can’t imagine what my middle or high school years would have been like without my faith lived out through my church home.  Although I made plenty of poor choices in those years, I know that my faith kept me on the right path, knowing what was expected of me as a faithful Christian.  Sharing this faith with others who are beginning in middle school is life giving.  It renews my own faith and renews the church.  If you are a pastor or lay member of a congregation reading this, I would encourage you to begin planning for your own confirmation class for your church.  It is never too late to start!

Picture of Boston Avenue via Flickr.com, used under the Creative Commons license. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

What Kind of a Winning Team is This?

This Charlie Brown Christmas tree
may be more Biblical than
at first glance.
The Third Sunday of Advent is on the way.  The lectionary’s Gospel reading is Matthew11:2-11.  As we continue with Matthew’s passages dealing with John the Baptist (to help prepare the way of the Lord), we see John asking Jesus if he is the Messiah. 

Jesus responds with a message about helping the blind and the lame.  He also mentions the poor.

This is not exactly a recipe for a successful revolution.

If you want to overthrow a government, you should be courting friendships among the rich and the powerful.  Political allies would be nice as well.  How about some dinners with some foreign dignitaries?  Okay Jesus, let’s see who is on your event calendar for your next meal.

Um, the lepers?

Jesus has some work to do if he’s going to become any kind of Messiah.

As we Prepare for Presence this Advent, this may solidify our understanding of the Kingdom of God being substantially different to earthly understandings of kingdom. 

The Incarnation keeps connecting us with people that we would unconsciously avoid.

At the very least, people in need are not people that we seek for advantages in life.  Their friendships are not cultivated for our gain.  Maybe this is helpful for us to contemplate.

As we look to the coming of Christ in our lives again this Christmas, what kind of Messiah are we looking for?  One clue is that ours is not born in a palace but rather a barn.

In Christ,


Photo used via Flickr.com under the Creative Commons license.