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,