Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Christmas is Holy Time

Are there any places that you find holy?

As I ponder that question, I find that my mind returns to places of my childhood and youth.  Growing up at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church, my images of holy places revolve around this sanctuary and building.

Some of my holiest moments growing up were during the Advent and Christmas seasons in that church.  There was one particular Christmas Eve that was bitterly cold.  The wind would blow the heat right out of your body.  Our youth group had made luminaries out of paper bags, sand and candles.  Lucinda Scheldorf, my youth minister, recruited me to light the luminaries on that cold Christmas Eve.

These luminaries look nice and straight - 
I don't think the wind was blowing for this picture!
I did get some of them lit.  Most of them stayed dark because the wind kept blowing out my light!  One of them actually caught on fire making it interesting for me as well as those trying to hurry from the parking lot to the church!  But even amid my failure, I still felt that this was an important job for me.  It was a distinct way for me to share in the Christmas message.

The youth choir would sing at the 11:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service.  The choir loft was decorated with greenery and the college students returning home for Christmas break would also sing with us.  It was always fun to see them again.  They seemed to add to the special quality of this late night service.  One year, one of the youth dropped a hymnal off of one of the top spots in the choir loft.  It made a very large thump as it hit the ground - probably when Dr. Biggs was trying to make an important point!  We knew that we were leaders in worship but this only made the accident that much funnier!  All through the service, one of us would make eye contact with another and start cracking up all over again!

As I got older, I remember hearing our adult choir perform Handle’s Messiah.  This soon became the highlight of the Christmas season for me.  My favorite year was when I got to sing with them as I returned from college.  I sat next to Dad in the tenor section.  My brother Bob was a row away and Mom sang with the altos.

All of these memories combine to accentuate the holiness of the sanctuary for me.  When I walked through the doors earlier this fall for my Dad's funeral, God gave me a very real sense of calm and peace.  My hope for you is that you have already built memories in a sanctuary that add to the serenity and reverence of the season.  If you are away from home and near Edmond, we have special opportunities for you to worship with us.  On Sunday, December 23, our choir along with instrumentalists and Spirit Act will be presenting The Voices of Christmas in the sanctuary at 8:30, 9:45 and 11:00 am.  For those that are not as inspired by music as I am, I will be preaching in Wesley Hall at Worship on Hurd at 10:50 am.  In fact, we would encourage our folks to attend both if this works for your schedule!  Then on Christmas Eve, we will have four services available for you to worship at 4:00 pm (labeled family friendly because we feature a shorter service that is geared more toward children), 7:00 pm with full choir, 9:00 pm in Wesley Hall for a more contemporary feel, and 11:00 pm with our handbell choir.
Whether you have worshiped with us many times or if this will be your first, I hope that you will be able to create new memories of the holy to cherish for years to come!

In Christ,


Photo by Ryan via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Cultivating Joy

Lectionary reading for Sunday: Philippians 4:4-7 (NRSV)

Don Vaught mentioned the other day that between the two schools, OSU and OU now have 8 Heisman trophies together.  Of course, he was referencing OU winning another Heisman trophy on Saturday night.  Interestingly enough, this is OSU's 30th anniversary of our lone contribution to the conversation.  I was fortunate enough to watch Barry Sanders when I was in school.

This season has been more dismal than that one.  We won 6 and lost 6 and will play Missouri in the Liberty Bowl to determine if our season is in the winning or losing column.  While many talk about how bad this is, it is certainly not their worst season.  I sat through all of that one as well in 1991.  The Cowboys were still on probation and didn't win a single game.  They had one tie with Iowa State and we didn't even get to see this highlight as it happened in Ames.

So I think about that season and how it correlates to today's scripture reading.  When Paul writes, "Rejoice in the Lord always" I know there are some times when life is not going my way.  How can I be expected to rejoice in the middle of an 0-10-1 season?  

Yet, I did have a good time at the games.  I came back for all of the contests even though I was already a year removed from graduation.  Sheryl was still a student and we attended the games together.  Somehow this took the sting off the losses!

At this point, I can remember just looking for a good play and celebrating it.  Any touchdown was a big deal and we acted as if we had just won the game!  Lots of consecutive losses can really change your expectations and your perspective.  It also seems to bond the fans together.  Something about shared suffering can do that!
Here I am participating in a dunk tank
for Founder's Day in Piedmont in 2004.
Sometimes we can find joy even 
when we are cold and wet!

As I watched the ups and downs of this season, I was up when we won but down when we lost.  I had to ask myself about setting my emotional fortunes on the backs of 18 year olds.

This begs the question, "Is our joy dictated by circumstance?"  

On one hand, if we are honest, we have to answer, "Absolutely!"  And many of us have much more consequential suffering than watching your team lose a football game.  

But on the other hand, we also know that circumstance doesn't have to set our emotional agenda.  Joy is a spiritual fruit according to the apostle Paul.  How can we cultivate this fruit in our lives?  How can it crop up even when others would tell us that it shouldn't be anywhere in sight?  

As we prepare for Christmas, I hope you'll join us for worship on Sunday as we seek to discover how joy can be as spiritual for us as it is emotional!  

In Christ,


Monday, December 3, 2018

I Would LIke to Be Blameless...

Sunday's Lectionary Reading: Philippians 1:3-11 (NRSV)

Growing up, I was taught to watch my mouth.  Cussing was especially prohibited.  There were lots and lots of words that I was not allowed to say.  One time, I ventured into some verbal country that was restricted.  In response, my mom washed my mouth out with soap.  For our younger readers, this meant my mom put a bar of soap into my mouth and made me rub it around until it started to create suds.

Of course, this tastes awful!  Even after rinsing your mouth out with water afterward, you can still taste the soap for a while.  It is considered harmful today and I am not advocating this as a disciplinary method (just to be clear). 

Of course, I professed my innocence!  I was being subjected to an injustice!  I didn’t even know that word was bad – I was just trying it out!

Except that this was not true.  While I wasn’t 100% sure the word in question was on the naughty list, I was probably 90% sure.  I was pushing my luck.

Later when I was in college, I went through a profanity phase.  It was my little rebellion as I was trying to figure out who I was as an adult.  I can remember offending other students in my classes.  They must have been too sensitive!  I was just toughening them up!  My intrusion on their ears was actually good for them, you see.

Essentially, I was putting my own desires (I can talk any way that pleases me) above the common good.  There was no personal responsibility to check myself or to make sure I was not harming someone else.

At the time, I wouldn’t have considered myself guilty of anything wrong. 

Except that I never spoke that way to my parents or grandparents. 

So there was some semblance of knowledge of right and wrong or I would have trod over their feelings as well.  Eventually, I matured and realized that words hold power and some words have the power to offend or hurt.  I (mostly) try to use my language to help and heal now which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

As Paul writes to the church at Philippi in Sunday’s epistle, he wishes for them that their love would overflow with knowledge and insight that would lead to discernment toward the correct action.  In this way, they will be blameless.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be blameless?

To have a “Get out of jail free” card?

In today’s society, it sometimes feels like we are moving away from personal responsibility and replacing it with the outright denial of guilt.  If you are wrong, just don’t ever admit it.

Except somewhere inside you know.

This Sunday, we will look at Paul’s encounters with the church at Philippi.  These certainly influenced his letter and how they read it.  As we prepare our hearts and minds for Christmas, “doing no harm” would certainly keep us from blame better than outright denial.  I hope you’ll join us for worship as we figure out what to get Jesus for his birthday this year!

In Christ,


Monday, November 26, 2018

Growing in Love Together

Lectionary Reading for Sunday: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 (NRSV)

One of the blessings for me this year was on Mother's Day.  Mom was living in Bradford Village and was close to the end of her life.  We gathered around her after church and she knew each of us.  She was happy to eat the candy that we brought her!  As we continued to visit, I could see her getting tired.  She and my dad were sitting on the couch together and she leaned over against him and fell asleep with her head on his chest as his arm was around her.  You could see that both of them appreciated this quiet moment when they could just be near each other again.  They were companions for the majority of their lives.

They had ups and downs.  There were times when each was exasperated with the other.  There were times when they asked themselves, "Who have I yoked myself with?"  But there were also times when they celebrated the joys of life together that reminded them why they had married in the first place.  Over the years, they grew in love with one another.  After Mom passed, Dad didn't quite last 5 months.  I think it was that when she died, he was ready to go too.  After 63 years of marriage, he may not have been able to adjust to life without her.

As we consider romantic relationships, we hope to have someone that we grow to love completely - someone who really knows us and loves us anyway!

As the Advent season arrives, we find ourselves waiting on Christmas once more.  We may be searching for Christmas gifts for those whom we love.  There are some we love and know quite well but still are not sure what to get!

But if we move to a more spiritual understanding of Advent, we would think about our relationship with Jesus.  It is an odd season as we await the birth of Jesus because he has already been born!  He is with us as the risen Christ even as we look toward celebrating Christmas again.

So much of the time, we hear lamenting over the commercialization of the season.  Sometimes we are the ones doing the complaining!  How could we focus more on Jesus during this Advent?

Does Black Friday shopping ever help us 
in our good will toward others?
As Sunday's reading indicates, Paul bids Jesus to make us "increase and abound in love for one another and for all."  I think about my parents' marriage and how they grew in love with one another through their lives.  I believe that my own marriage is moving in this same direction.  But what about my love for all?  Do I love others more completely than I did last year?  Have I grown distant in how I feel about others - maybe as a result of the polarization that on the rise?

If we are reluctant to answer or are unsure how we feel, I think this is a good time for us to re-examine what we can do to remedy this.  How can we approach our relationships with others like we would a marriage relationship?  The failure of a marriage is when it ends in divorce.  This is a painful ending that I wouldn't wish on anyone.  So how can we weather a relationship when we find it difficult so that we can find our good will deepening rather than lessening?

If nothing else, this would be a good gift to offer Jesus this year.  Join us on Sunday as we strengthen our resolve to follow the apostle Paul's will for our lives for our love for others to abound!

In Christ,


Photo by Craig Dugas vis Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

What's a Punch Card?

Lectionary Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 (NRSV)

As Thanksgiving approaches, it is almost time to look toward Christmas.  There will be lots of things vying for our time.  But some things will always win out.  For example, when our preschool presents its Christmas program, I would dare say that it will be the most recorded event in FUMC history!

Our phones allow us to capture remarkable amounts of data that we assume will be around forever.  However, technology is changing so fast, will the file formats become outdated so that they are next to unreadable?  Surely not, we say.  Of course, I still have some old cassette tapes and nothing to play them on.  And if I did manage to get them transferred to CD or DVD, my latest laptop doesn’t even have a drive on which to play them!

Some may have trouble using
this today.  They might ask, 
"How does it take a picture?"
Following the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, the National Opinion Research Center conducted a survey of citizen reactions.  They kept it on the latest technology of that time – punch cards for the large mainframe computers.  After 9/11, they wanted to conduct a similar survey but when they went back to look at the data from 1963, they found that there was no way to read it!  They eventually went to an outside source but their machinery was in need of refurbishment before they could access the punch cards.  Eventually, they were able to look at the original research.

There are things that we assume will be around forever.  Of course, this comes from our self-centered perspective because we can’t imagine life changing so radically beyond what we know.

How does that relate to the word we hear from Daniel this week?  He speaks of an “everlasting dominion that shall not pass away” in verse 14 of today’s reading.  As we approach the Reign of Christ Sunday, we interpret this dominion to be that of Jesus Christ.  But just as we ascribe eternity to this reign, churches in the United States are seeing less people active in them.  More churches are closing and most churches will see less people attending this Sunday than they registered for the same Sunday one year ago.

Does this movement away from church belie the statement from Daniel?  Or are we seeing the expression of faith and spirituality change to something different? 

We trust in an everlasting dominion but we must also understand that the expression of it may change to look like something we may not recognize.  How do we incorporate change into our faith while still maintaining what we consider crucial?  I will wrestle with this question all week and hopefully bring some insight to it on Sunday!

In Christ,


Photo by Joybot via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Have I Got a Deal for You!

Lectionary Reading: 1 Samuel 1:4-20 (NRSV)

This is a fascinating look at how women were viewed in antiquity within the Middle East.  In it, we see the backstory of the prophet Samuel's mother, Hannah.  Most scholars place Samuel in the 11th century before the birth of Jesus.  The book was likely edited sometime after the Exile but this still gives us a glimpse into gender relationships.

We see the story from Hannah's perspective which is revolutionary in itself.  A woman with no children?  This is problematic as a woman's worth was correlated to how many children she bore.  We see this in verse five as it describes her husband's love for her in spite of the fact that she was childless.  He doesn't seem as concerned about this because he already had another wife, Peninnah with whom he had multiple sons and daughters.

It must have been difficult if you measured worth by children and you had none.  Rather than a supportive relationship between the two wives, they had a rivalry, likely because Hannah was perceived as the favorite even though Peninnah was the one who bore Elkanah his children.

We also see the strong belief that God was the one who allowed women to conceive.  They understood how babies came to be, but this was thought to be a blessing from God.  Deuteronomy 7:14 declares to God's covenant people, "You shall be the most blessed of peoples, with neither sterility nor barrenness among you or your livestock."  Of course, this is conditional upon verse 12's understanding that the people will "heed these ordinances, by diligently observing them."

The difficulty of this theology taken on the surface is that it places the guilt of childlessness upon the couple.  Either the husband or the wife was faithless to God in some way, resulting in sterility.  For a culture that prized large families, this could be doubly disheartening.  Not only might you have a physical reason for not conceiving, you would find yourself distanced from God.  Of course, we can always come up with ways that we could have been more faithful or sins that we might have committed.

Hannah is not the first woman in the Bible to be highlighted in this condition.  She joins some of the great matriarchs of the Bible in Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel.  Each of these was childless and then blessed by God with a son.

If we attempt to bargain with God, shouldn't 
we already be offering these things in the first place?
Hannah bargains with God by dedicating her future son to the service of God.  Since he would not be the first-born male for Elkanah, her husband would not likely stand in the way of this idea.

Sometimes our desires are congruent with God's will.  Sometimes they are not.  We may often have the notion that if we want something badly enough, then we can bargain with God to get it.  This comes most often with the healing of a loved one (or ourselves).  What if we worship more regularly?  What if we increase our prayer life?  What if we read the Bible more faithfully?  Have we given enough money or time?

How do we appropriately understand God's blessings for our lives as grace and not something earned or bargained for?  It's a good question worth pondering together.  I'll be dealing with this more on Sunday morning!

In Christ,


Photo by "haven't the slightest" via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Knowing God

Scripture Reading: Psalm 146 (NRSV)

It is not possible to prove the existence of God from a scientific standpoint.

The photographer titled this "On the 
ontological nature of high winds..."
This is not something that people of faith should worry about.  And this is not a dig against science or those who employ the scientific method.  As a way of measuring and discovering things within our universe, science has carried us to new heights of knowledge.

But how we know sometimes moves beyond the measurable.  Some people have a strong sense of intuition.  Science may say that this way of knowing simply comes from the subconscious acquisition of data.  The brain processes it in ways we may not recognize and so we say that we rely on our intuition.  We may not be able to explain how we came to the answer or decision but we may often discover that our "intuitions" prove correct.

Faith is another way of knowing.  We may come to faith in God through what we read in scripture such as in today's Psalm.  Faith also comes through our experiences of God that may seem mystical in nature.  Some of my most profound experiences of God leave me feeling connected to others (all of creation, really) in a way that transcends my normal existence.

Faith may also be experienced in the traditions of the church.  When we pray the Lord's Prayer, for instance, it may sometimes just roll off the tongue.  We don't think of it much and we can finish it without pondering what we are really saying.  But other times, a phrase of it may come to us unbidden in just the right moment.  Because it is ingrained in us, we can rely on it when life is difficult.

Faith can also be systematic and rational.  It can make sense.  For instance, if we believe that God does indeed love all people, we may discover value in persons that might otherwise seem disposable.  Our faith then drives us to emulate that same love.  This can become more challenging than comfortable.

So while I don't doubt God's existence, I do acknowledge that the way I know God is different from how I would know the temperature or the time (and for those who are young, there used to be a phone number you could call that would tell you both).

This Sunday's scripture enlightens us as a psalm of praise.  But it does more than that.  It shares characteristics of God that Jesus later picks up on.  And if Jesus thinks they are worth studying further, that is good enough for me.  I hope you'll join us on Sunday as we explore our faith together.  And if you do, you may intrinsically know that you made the right decision!

In Christ,

Photo by Rich Anderson via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

When Those Saints Go Marching In

Lectionary Scripture: Mark 12:28-34 (NRSV)

Mark's reading for Sunday is what I consider one of the key passages of the Bible.  Sometimes, we play the game of "God, what is it you want me to do with my life?"  We just want to know.  Just tell us and we'll do it.


If you could ask Jesus, what is the most important passage in scripture, this one pretty much wraps it up.  However, loving God with all our being is not original to Jesus.  He gets it from the Shema which is partly from Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Loving our neighbor is also from the Torah.  It is found in the second part of Leviticus 19:18.  So while neither of these was unique to Jesus, he does combine them in a way that helps us to focus our faith.  It was the original mission statement for the church!

This Sunday, many churches will celebrate All Saints Day and we are no exception.  Within the Protestant tradition, we refer to the saints as those who are in Christ rather than those especially good people who are now deceased.  So within this understanding, we honor and remember those members of our local churches who have passed away since the last All Saints Day was held.

One of our local traditions has been to have cards available to write down special people or relatives who have passed on but were not a member of our local church.  These are left at the altar rail following Communion and we pray for these families.  It is especially helpful for us to share in Communion on this day because of our eschatological understanding of the sacrament.  We are sharing in faith with one another in the congregation but also with all those Christians who share in the meal together.  Furthermore, we extend that understanding to all those Christians who have passed on to the life eternal.  This Holy Mystery, the United Methodist doctrine on Holy Communion states, "We commune not only with the faithful who are physically present but with the saints of the past who join us in the sacrament."  As we share in Christ, we connect one to another.  And so this remembrance is a way that we seek to connect with our neighbors as we love them just as we love ourselves.

Here I seek to walk as my dad walked at 
an early age.  I later learned there was more
to it than this!
As I consider my own saints who have gone on before me, both my parents have passed on this year.  Since they were not members of my local church, I will be writing their names on cards and leaving them at the altar.  Both have epitomized the Christian faith for me each in their own way.  I stand taller and see farther because I stand on the shoulders of these giants that have preceded me.

I hope you will consider this week those who have impacted you but no longer walk this earth.  May we give thanks to God for their examples.  And may we seek to follow as best we can!

In Christ,


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Take Heart, Get Up, He is Calling You

Lectionary Reading: Mark 10:46-52 (NRSV)

How we find a relationship with Jesus presents itself in today's reading.  Blind Bartimaeus is a good representation of you and me.  We are generally unenlightened until we are called forth by Jesus to a new life of discipleship.

Of course, this doesn't apply nearly as well when a person has been raised knowing Jesus within a church culture.  It is hard to repent of a lifestyle if that lifestyle has always included elements of worship, study, prayer, service and repentance.  Can you be blind if you have always known Jesus?

Sometimes, we can be so comfortable with our faith that it is no longer challenging and we adapt Christianity to mirror our lives.  In the old days, churches would hold revivals so as to wake people up (or let them see again).  Often, someone other than the regular pastor would be brought in to preach - likely so the preacher could assume the role of the prophet rather than the priest.  

Within these roles, the priest is often the one that brings comfort to the listener while the prophet is the one who seeks to bring transformation.  Of course, no one likes change.  The prophet is likely as not to step on some toes.

My particular role dips back and forth between the two hopefully in a way that moves the congregation forward while keeping the majority from deciding that my style is not too abrasive.  It can be a bit of a tightrope at times.

As we remind ourselves of our vows to give, this is an area where we may all need some movement.  I know of plenty of examples where pastors have flubbed the stewardship message.  It is not too difficult to offend people by talking about money.  And so, many pastors ignore the subject all together because they may decide that it is too risky.  However, Jesus talks quite a bit about money.  If I am to be faithful, it needs to be addressed.

Giving is about our priorities.  When we talk about our priorities in life, we usually rank God first (at least when we're talking in Sunday school).  Then comes family and maybe country or work or school depending upon the person.  But if God were really first in our lives, wouldn't our spending better reflect this?  As we pledge, there may be too many years where our pledge remains the same.  Occasionally, our income may go down and so keeping it the same is a sacrifice as we are giving a greater percentage of our income.  It may be that our resources have largely remained the same in which case, this might also be appropriate.  Most people grow in their earning capacity and so our giving capacity should also reflect this.

One of the most common reasons for a lack of increase has to do with whether or not one likes the pastor.  If the pastor is well-liked, the giving may increase.  If the pastor is not appreciated, sometimes people begin to withhold their money.  Their hopes may be that if the church begins to tank, this will put pressure on the powers that be to send a new pastor.  Unfortunately, people are confusing their gifts to God with gifts to the pastor.  If you go to a restaurant, you may skimp on the tip if the service was bad but you still have to take care of the bill.  And so, if you withhold your gift, it is kind of like giving God a bad tip.

I believe that our gift to God should not be influenced by the likeability of the pastor.  If this is the case, there are always things to be upset about.  The length of the sermon, the color of the carpet, the new programming - all of these variables may or may not please.  God's faithfulness is eternal and deserves better than our gift changing with our mood.

These last few paragraphs were an example of prophetic writing.  As I shift back into the priestly role, I do want to praise our congregation on how we have moved forward in our giving.  Our percentage of e-giving likely leads our conference if not our denomination.  Our percentage of active members who pledge is also outstanding!

This Sunday, I'll finish our stewardship series as we examine our love of our neighbors, ourselves and God.  We've already covered neighbor and self and so this Sunday we'll examine our love of God.  Blind Bartimaeus gives us a clue on grace and our response.  I hope you'll join us on Sunday and I'll do my best not to tromp on any of your toes!

In Christ,


Photo by Mike Schmid via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, October 15, 2018

I Know What's Best For Me (and Maybe You Too)!

Lectionary Reading: Mark 10:35-45 (NRSV)

Many have the drive to lead.  Not everyone has the capacity!  Sometimes you don’t find out until after a person is leading whether or not he or she actually has the ability to do so effectively.  There is a sense in successful companies today that you should not stigmatize failure but should actually allow people to crash faster so that you can move on when something doesn’t work.  This will hopefully foster innovation.

I can think of many services, programs and classes that I’ve instigated that are no longer running.
Sometimes following the leader can get 
you into trouble if you can't swim!
Some of these had a small season of success before dying out.  Others never took off the ground.  I always appreciated congregations for allowing me to try though.  Sometimes we struck gold!

I think we appreciate leaders who will look out after our best interests.  We want to be able to trust them with our livelihood.  If a leader lines his or her own pockets before helping the constituency, we often think less of this person.
James and John are seeking positions of glory.  If one thinks about being at the right and left of the Messiah, these would be earthly leadership positions.   You are not looking toward the heavenly kingdom but one that would be established right here on earth!

Jesus quickly fills them in on what true leadership looks like.  You serve those for which you are responsible.  Ugh.  That is not near as glamorous!

When Jesus has glory and power and leadership offered to him when he was tempted in the desert, he is able to turn it down and point to God.  We get the idea that if we are serving God, we are serving others too. 

And yet, is all ambition wrong?  What if you have a natural gift to lead others?  How can we strive for leadership while at the same time staying humble? 

Whether or not we are leaders, we all have some type of autonomy.  We self-govern.  Most people at least believe that they know what’s good for them.  And yet, how many times do we make ourselves miserable?  If we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we might really do them some harm!

This Sunday, I hope to explore what it means to love ourselves in a way that is healthy.  How do we enjoy the life God has given us to the fullest?  I hope you’ll join us in person or online!

In Christ,


Photo by rainjelly via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Am I My Neighbor's Keeper?

Lectionary Reading: Mark 10:17-31 (NRSV)

One of my favorite shows when I was pretty small was Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.  It came on right as I got home from preschool and I would watch it while my mom fixed me lunch.

He always opened the show by coming in and changing into his more relaxed outfit including some comfortable shoes all while singing his opening theme song.

I think the line that stuck with me was, "I always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.  I always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you."

Fred Rogers taught some important lessons about being a good neighbor such as how it is better to build someone up rather than tear them down.  It is more helpful to point out what a person is good at than to highlight their weaknesses.

"I think those who try to make you feel less than you are - that's the greatest evil," Rogers said in the film, Won't You Be My Neighbor?

I wonder if this is what Jesus perceived to be the fault in the rich man in today's reading.  Maybe he kept all of the laws just like he kept all of his money - to put himself above others.  To truly relate and follow Jesus, he would have to set aside his wealth which became a barrier.

Unfortunately, he couldn't do it.

We don't often imagine that people could turn down Jesus.  When he calls the disciples, they seem to drop everything and follow - almost as if Jesus has this magical sway over them.  But the man in today's reading shows us that this is not the case.  He freely rejects Jesus.

What does it mean for Christians to be neighborly to one another?  How do we love our neighbors as we love ourselves?  As we become more connected online, we also seem to be less connected with the people who inhabit the homes around us.  It could be that we are only really interested in being neighborly with the people who have more in common with us.

As we think about our Christian stewardship, it is interesting that the money we give to the church goes to help us fulfill our call to be good neighbors.  While we can't pay someone to be a Christian for us, we can support ministries that change the lives of people we won't even meet.  Maybe this is how we can be the neighbors that Fred Rogers always wanted to have!

In Christ,


File photo posted via Flickr.com by Rogelio A. Galaviz C. through the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

But I Was Waiting for Jesus!

Scripture Reading: Mark 9:30-37 (NRSV)

What do you imagine Jesus to look like?  Most of us will think back to paintings we have seen from our childhood.  Jesus might be praying in the garden or carrying a sheep (although there isn't any evidence that he was ever a shepherd).  Some of us picture him standing at the door and knocking!

I don't remember any pictures of him being clean-shaven (he was most likely bearded).  He is also in fairly good shape in all of the portrayals.  In some he might be thinner (which was also more likely for a peasant in that age and locale) but you never see him overweight.  You may not have even imagined a larger Jesus but Matthew and Luke both agree that some called him a glutton in his day so I suppose it is possible.

In a class in seminary, I saw how Jesus was portrayed in art throughout the world.  While he seems to be blond and blue-eyed in America, I have seen him as black, Asian or Native American.  What any of these do is speak to the incarnational aspect of Jesus.  Jesus is God-incarnate.

Jesus is someone we can simultaneously identify with and yet, gives us the best example of what our human potential holds.

This incarnational aspect is broadened by Jesus himself when he begins to identify with other categories.  In the Judgment of the Nations in Matthew 25, Jesus connects his followers with the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned.  We begin to see people in these conditions as in need of our help because who wouldn't want to help Jesus?

Our ability to place God on the cross means that this incarnational ministry is willing to suffer rejection and violence.  God is somehow present with us when we are suffering.

Today's reading in Mark also has an incarnational aspect.

Where do we see Jesus today?
Children are identified with Jesus.  It is important to note that we hold children in great regard in our culture today.  This was not so in first century Palestine.  It is a definite contrast for his disciples arguing over who was the greatest.  Many would overlook a child because this association might actually lower your status in the eyes of the community.  So when Jesus says that welcoming a child is the same as welcoming him, it is shocking.  He might as well have dropped a rattlesnake in their midst when he presents to them a child.  Okay, this last is an exaggeration but you get the point I'm trying to make!

I like the idea of serving Jesus in theory.  I'm not sure I serve Jesus as concretely as he states that I am able.  It is easy to let the homeless shuffle on by as I declare, "I'm saving this place at my table for Jesus!"  How do we identify Jesus with the vulnerable?  Isn't solidarity with the outsider a part of the betrayal and death of which Jesus speaks in today's reading?  We are there some of the time but not all of the time.  So what does the incarnation mean when we are on the inside?

We'll continue to examine Mark's Gospel in worship this Sunday.  I hope you'll join us if you are in the vicinity!

In Christ,


Photo by catherine patacsil via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

I Didn't Sign Up for This!

Lectionary Reading: Mark 8:27-38 (NRSV)

I prefer to know what is expected of me in advance.  When someone has a sales pitch, they often want to make small-talk first in order to soften me up.  Once we've established a friendship, it will be harder for me to turn them down (in theory).  I'm not such an easy mark though.

Once, Sheryl and I somehow got signed up for a time-share pitch in Mexico.  We both went into the pitch adamant that we were not purchasing anything.  They worked on us and showed us around.  They took us to a nice breakfast and they had comped us with tickets to various excursions.

They tried to get us to participate by writing down the things we were looking for in a vacation.  Since this was past the time limit they had originally given us, we were no longer playing around.  They even had two sales reps playing the "good cop, bad cop" routine with us.  We would not be coerced or shamed into buying!  The rep playing the role of the good cop mentioned to us when we were alone, "I've never seen anyone with a blank sheet of paper before!" indicating their inability to move us toward a purchase.

While this may be unethical to waste their time knowing that we were not going to go through with it, I will say that they were very pushy to get us into their resort to begin with!  We were very up front about our intentions so they shouldn't have been surprised that we kept to our word.  So I guess, let the seller beware!

Sometimes the main thing gets diluted!
As we read today's scripture, we see that Peter seems to have buyer's remorse when he finally realizes what discipleship under Jesus is leading him toward.  I can hardly blame him.  If you were looking for glory, fame and honor tied to an earthly kingdom and then found out that you might end up dying, you might be a little disillusioned as well!  Peter may have been thinking, "This is more than I bargained for!" or "I didn't sign up for this!"  Jesus is speaking a bit cryptically when he talks about saving and losing our lives.

It seems as if the spiritual life is not as straightforward as the material world.  Sometimes I wish it was.  In the material world, I can make a purchase and know what I'm buying before I get it.  I know how many hours I'll have to work to earn the money for that purchase.  As far as my investment of time and work, I can estimate if it is worth the effort.

But how often do we really make these calculations?

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

What does it mean to follow Jesus today?  There is no physical manifestation and so it is much less tangible to us than it was for Peter.  What are the rewards?  More importantly, what are the costs?

I hope you'll join us as we consider these questions together in worship on Sunday!

In Christ,


Photo used from Flickr.com via Creative Commons.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Talking Past Each Other

Lectionary Reading: Mark 7:24-37 (NRSV)

I’ve served as a mediator several times in my life for people.  Usually, it is because I am the pastor of both parties but sometimes it has been for ministerial colleagues. 

Sometimes we silence those
who need to be heard.
The difficulty of communication that oftentimes calls for a mediator is that when we are emotionally charged, we often talk past one another.  It becomes difficult to hear the other person because we are defensive and feel that what they are saying will somehow be costly for us to acknowledge.  This occurs in family dynamics quite often.
It feels like a win when we can have real communication take place.  One of the functions I perform is to repeat back to the person speaking what I think I hear them saying.  If I got it correct, I ask for a response from the other person.  We try to avoid blaming language with absolutes such as “You always…” or “You never…” because this stirs up the emotions and puts the person on the defensive rather than getting to the heart of the issue.  A good mediator is really a referee that keeps things in check by stating, “These are the rules that we will play by during this conversation.”  Then I sometimes have to call a foul if someone violates the rule and ask them to restate it in another way.

I find out more often than not that when we can get to the heart of the issue, reconciliation is possible.  This doesn’t mean that agreement takes place but it does mean that people feel heard and thus respected.

At first glance, we see two somewhat unrelated stories in today’s lectionary reading of Mark.  But as we look further, we may see how a connection is made.  Jesus and the disciples fail to hear the Gentile woman when she is first encountered.  Yet she seems to redefine the mission to include her sick child as well.  They hear her and Jesus allows her to redefine it by healing the child.

Then we see Jesus heal a man who is deaf and mute.  Now that he can truly hear, he begins to proclaim the good news.  It is a miraculous story but it can also be an allegory for Christian discipleship.  We must really hear (connect) with Jesus before we can really proclaim the message.  And according to the first story, hearing may include leaving our assumptions about others at the door. 

This goes along with the old adage that before we open our mouths to speak, we should listen.

I look forward to preaching on this passage on Sunday!

In Christ,


Photo by Amy Messere via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

What is the Bigger Picture?

Lectionary Reading: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 (NRSV)

We hear a lot of frustration with our political system being ineffective.  It is difficult to pass legislation that is clean.  In order to get this vote or that vote, you must agree to certain riders that benefit individual states rather than the country as a whole.  I was more vocal in my dissatisfaction until I started attending The United Methodist Church's General Conference as a delegate.

In 2012, I was astounded at the amount of time we spent amending the rules.  It seemed to go on all evening.  We finally adjourned and the next day we would begin to vote on all of these amendments.  These were not changes to our Discipline which would move us forward as a global church.  These were debates over how we would treat each other in the limited time we were conferencing.  In my past experiences, we never had time to finish all of the work proposed and so I felt the clock ticking.

The next morning, I went to the microphone and proposed that we postpone indefinitely all of the amendments to the rules that were before us.  This would effectively make them go away and so we could simply vote on all the rules as presented by the committee.  I was actually in favor of many of the changes that were proposed but I was willing to go with the presented rules in order to have more time for the important work of dealing with all of the legislation written by United Methodists from around the world.  I felt that as a delegate, I must be a good steward with the time allotted.  These members had paid our way to serve on their behalf and so it seems that we should attend to as much legislation as we possibly could.
Some trees are so interesting,
they prevent us from seeing the
overall forest.

One of the arguments was that we should not just rubber stamp what the committee has approved.  I agree when it comes to legislation for the church.  However, I felt that the rules committee had overall developed a good way for us to conference together.  My proposal passed 491 to 367.

Sometimes we need to look at the bigger picture.  We need to prioritize.  All human beings get caught up in this - we see it reflected in our Gospel reading.  Jesus seems to recognize this as the Pharisees were so concerned about purity laws that it was leaving people in the dust.  Many of the common daily laborers would not have been able to observe all of the cleanliness laws.  In an effort to distinguish themselves from the Roman occupiers, the Pharisees cut out a wide swath of society who would like to be faithful but unable to comply on a daily basis.  

When the law of purity supersedes the law of love, Jesus seems to remind us that what God really wants us to pay attention to is how well we interact with one another.

I'll be looking at this passage on Sunday.  If you are out for Labor Day weekend, we'll have a video archive online for you to check out!

In Christ,


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Universal Access to God

Lectionary Reading: 1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43 (NRSV)

King Solomon is particularly gracious in today's reading.  Within the last few verses, he names Gentiles (foreigners not of Israel) and implores God to hear their prayers.

It is done for a missional purpose - so that all people may come to know God.  If other people see the power of God, they, too, will want to revere God.

Even though it is more comfortable for Solomon - if all worshipped God, there would be less trouble for Jews in the world - there is a graciousness that would make friends of strangers rather than see them as enemies to be destroyed.  

This goes against the territorialism that was rampant among humanity at the time.  Each geographic region had its own gods and deference was given to the gods of a conquering country over those of a defeated country.  This is as simple as liking the winning team.

Solomon understands the blessings that God has bestowed upon his country and wants to extend these blessings throughout the world so that the worship of God may spread across this same world.  The remarkable movement in this logic is that he doesn't ask God to smite his enemies but rather convert them.

It is similar to the quote from Abraham Lincoln: "Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?"

Territorialism usually occurs when we are afraid of losing what we have.  It comes when we are fearful of the stranger and it sometimes turns ugly when we perceive that someone or some group is going to usurp our way of life.  One can look at the post-Civil War lynching of African Americans as an example of a dominant group refusing to allow another group to gain economic or social traction in their region.  

At times, even the seemingly harmless practice
of using prayer beads has come under critique.
Sometimes territorialism is religious.  In 1980, Dr. Bailey Smith, of Del City, Oklahoma and President of the Southern Baptist Convention, set off a firestorm when he declared to the SBC that God did not hear the prayers of Jews.  This set up quite a debate at the time with many Southern Baptists disagreeing with Dr. Smith.  HIs claim was that if a prayer was not in the name of Jesus, it was ineffective.

More recently, a similar controversy among Christianity and Islam occurred when Wheaton College professor Dr. Larycia Hawkins was suspended because she made a public claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.  Her wearing of the hijab during Advent in support of unity likely contributed to the suspension.  Interestingly enough, Dr. Hawkins also has an Oklahoma connection in that she received her Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma.  

What does it mean for us today to pray in the spirit of Solomon that those who are dislike us in so many ways would have their prayers answered?  Is there a perceived danger in this?  If my enemy prospers, will I then be diminished?  

It is hard to be gracious in this matter.  If it were easy, I suppose, world peace would already be at hand.  And yet, I do pray for world peace so maybe this is a good subject to examine.  I hope you'll join us for worship this Sunday either in Edmond or on the web!

In Christ,


Photo by Essam Saad via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Do Not Make Room for the Devil

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (NRSV)

What does verse 27 in today’s reading mean when it says, “and do not make room for the devil”?  Is it referring to anger as the previous verse indicates?  If we allow anger to simmer, does this lead us toward forgiveness and reconciliation or more likely to confrontation and conflict?

I think I know how I would answer that for myself.

I don’t often preach about the devil and this verse has a lot to do with that.  I believe that the more we dwell on what we shouldn’t be doing, the more we are thinking about those things.  Forbidden fruit becomes more enticing simply because it is disallowed.  And just out of curiosity, I thought I would google “Forbidden perfume” to see if it is already in existence (it sounds like the kind of cheesy whisper-intoned name that you would find on perfume commercials).  Wouldn't you know, both Calvin Klein and Victoria Secret have a scent using the name “forbidden”!
So my lack of clarity on the devil or the personification of evil comes from the school of thought that we can only think on one thing at a time.  I would prefer us to think on God. 

As a child, I remember my mother 
didn't allow devil costumes for 
Halloween.  I don't think she
wanted me imagining myself
that way.
In fact, chapter 5 begins with the idea that we should be imitators of God.  We can only do so if we partner with God and shun the things of evil. 

Of course, there is the wisdom that says, “If you don’t warn your kids about the traffic in the street because that is too negative, they will end up getting hit by a car.”  So am I being negligent in a lack of attention to Satan?  Is there demonic power that can capture us and hold us against our will?  How can we fight against it?  What gives us protection from it?

I absolutely think that there are paths that lead to darkness in our lives.  As I mentioned in the beginning, holding onto and stoking our anger may be one of these.  If you have ears to hear, you may understand that I quite frequently mention these in my preaching.  I may just name them in ways that I make no room for the devil. 

As we are in Christ, we are protected against powers and principalities that arise to thwart the goodness we experience in life.  Ephesians names them in verse 31.  We should put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and slander and malice.  We should be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving.  If we focus on the latter, we won’t have time for the former.

I look forward to exploring this in worship on Sunday.  Whether in person or online, I hope you’ll find time to join us!

In Christ,


Photo by Mathilda Samuelsson via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, August 6, 2018

You Can Lead a Horse to Water...

but you can't make him drink!

Scripture reading for Sunday: Proverbs 9:1-6 (NRSV)

This is a saying is a proverb – it relates wisdom – but it is not biblical from the Book of Proverbs.

Of course, it refers to the difficulty of teaching someone.  Sometimes we maintain our ignorance through sheer stubbornness!  It is similar to the story of the man who resented the lessons his English teacher tried to instill.  He stated later in life, “She tried to get me to read all those classics.  I showed her – I haven’t picked up a book since!”

One of the stories I remember my pastor (Dr. Mouzon Biggs) telling was when he came upon a radio preacher while he was traveling in his car (this preacher was not Methodist).  The preacher was telling his audience that the trouble with people today is that they are getting ahead of themselves through education.  When referencing a pastor’s continuing education, he mockingly sneered, “I’m working on another degree!”  He said this as if this were something to despise.  Then he stated, “I thank God I’m ignorant!  And I pray to God every day that I’ll get ignoranter still!”

I remember Dr. Biggs saying something along the lines of, “I bet he gets his prayer answered!”

When I worked on my doctorate, I felt that it had as much to do with endurance as it did the acquisition of wisdom.  But there was something to be learned in the midst of all that reading and writing that was beyond words on a page.  The innate lessons one learns from study are sometimes as important as the lessons themselves.

This week’s scripture reading comes a little early (it is taken from August 19’s reading) but we do so because we are featuring the blessing of the backpacks for students and teachers in worship this Sunday.  Wisdom is personified in this reading and we imagine coming to her table as to a feast!  I didn’t always think about learning in this way while growing up, but there were certainly times when that imagery was apropos. 

Proverbs allows us to understand the sacred nature of learning.  Knowledge is life-giving.  It is often associated with light (as the light bulb representing an idea).  Just as grace is available to all, wisdom is also seen as universally achievable if one is willing to come to the table.

As we begin a new school year, we are inviting all people to see wisdom in this unique light – as a gift from God for those willing to seek understanding!

In Christ,

Photo by "las - initially" via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.