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.