Monday, December 23, 2019

Confirming Christmas

Lectionary Reading for Christmas Eve: Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)

I think it is difficult to re-read the Christmas story without bringing our own history to Bethlehem with us.  By this I mean that we all have some experience with Christmas - traditions, memories, songs, family, etc.  All of these things color the nativity in ways we may not even realize.

One of our assumptions may be that Mary really had it all together. 

She was the faithful one that responds to the angel Gabriel's announcement of her impending pregnancy: "let it be with me according to your word." (Luke 1:38b, NRSV)

She would have heard of her husband Joseph's dream concerning her child - we are assuming that he told her of it and his confidence in the strange situation.

But even the most prominent of religious experiences have a way of fading. 

We may doubt that we had them at all.

They may seem more to us a "fragment of underdone potato" to quote Charles Dickens than an actual encounter with the divine.

Is it possible that Mary had her own doubts about the parentage of Jesus at times?

I think that with her being human, the answer would certainly be "Yes!"  This doesn't mean she wasn't faithful or didn't also have times of great assurance.  It simply means that the religious experience is not part of our everyday life.  It is difficult to categorize and easier to explain away.

So when the shepherds came and related to her about what the angels had said about her baby, Luke says that she was amazed.  At first glance, we might think, "Well, shouldn't she have expected this?"

But she treasured their words and pondered them in her heart.

It is nice - even for the mother of the Lord - to have confirmation of what she knew to be true.

Their story validated her understanding of who Jesus was for her.  You can almost hear her whisper, "So it is true."

I'll be preaching on this passage at Christmas Eve.  There are lots of opportunities to celebrate with us.  I'll share the story at 4 pm (family friendly service), 7 pm and 11 pm while Trey will be preaching at Guthrie at 6:30 pm and in Wesley Hall in Edmond at 9 pm.  While we can't leave our assumptions completely behind as we come, I would invite you to see the story with new eyes once more.         

As we share in the carols and fill our space with candlelight, may it confirm Christmas once again for you!  And as you leave the church to go home, my hope is that you'll treasure the Christmas story and ponder it in your heart!

In Christ,


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Christmas Spirit in Music

This Sunday, I will be singing my sermon rather than preaching it!

I'll not be singing any solos but I will be joining with our choir to present the Christmas selections of Handel's Messiah.  I have joined with the tenor section of various choirs in my life to give our best effort for this majestic piece.  One of my favorite memories was being home from college on Christmas break and joining my parents and my brother in the adult choir at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church.

The three Powers men sang tenor and my mom was the lone alto from our family.  It was one my parents' favorite pieces to sing and if they were not singing in it each year, they marked a special spot on their calendar to attend.

As I listen to the power of the words sung with such dynamic intensity, I still get chills.  One of my favorite parts is the chorus, "And the Glory of the Lord" where we sing "and all flesh shall see it together" and then respond, "for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."  There is such a declaration in this simple phrase when sung in parts by the choir that it seems to brook no doubt or argument - at least in the moment!

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, wrote in his journal on August 17, 1758:
I went to the Bristol cathedral to hear Mr. Handel's Messiah. I doubt if that congregation was ever so serious at a sermon as they were during this performance. In many parts, especially several of the choruses, it exceeded my expectation.
This was a mere 16 years after its premier.  It has gone on to become very popular and is one of the most performed choral pieces in Western music.  We will share this work in each of our three sanctuary services on Sunday morning at 8:30, 9:45 and 11:00 am.  I know that there are some within our congregation that are just not moved by music and would rather hear a sermon.  Fortunately, Rev. Trey Witzel will be preaching at Worship on Hurd in Wesley Hall at 10:50 and I would encourage those who are in need of some great preaching to worship there this week!

The light shines in the darkness, and the 
darkness did not overcome it.  
John 1:5 (NRSV)
I would also remind you that we will be gathering on December 24th for our various Christmas Eve services.  At 4:00 pm, we will have a family-friendly service in the sanctuary.  Come a little early to view the live nativity before entering the sanctuary (only at this service).  At 7:00 pm, we will have our adult choir singing.  At 9:00 pm, we will meet in Wesley Hall for Worship on Hurd's Christmas Eve service and at 11:00 pm, we will feature our handbells as well as our Spirit choir from 9:45 am.  At Guthrie, we will worship at 6:30 pm.  In each service, we will feature Holy Communion (all friends and family are encouraged to fully participate in the Open Table).  As we partake in the sacrament together, we will be singing the great Christmas carols of the faith.  Each of these services will also end with the lighting of each person's candle as we sing "Silent Night" to close out our worship together.

I hope that you will put these services on your calendar this year - they will enrich your celebration of Christmas!  And we would encourage you to invite someone you know to join you!  I think sharing in worship together by creating memories that last will help the Christmas Spirit to endure for you long after we have finished putting the decorations away!

In Christ,


Photo by c_neuhaus via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, December 9, 2019

But I'm Good at Grumbling!

Lectionary Passage: James 5:7-10 (NRSV)

This is the time of year when I can't believe that we are staring the Third Sunday of Advent in the face.  How could it be?  The season is going way too fast and I still have way too much to do!

As a child, December just crawled along.  It seemed as if Christmas would never arrive.

Now, it rushes along like a freight train and there is no use trying to slow it down.  Best to just enjoy the ride and enjoy the wind in my face!

The letter of James also looks toward the coming of the Lord.  

He is speaking more of the Parousia or Second Coming of Christ rather than the observance of the birth of Jesus at Christmas.  This is sometimes called the Second Advent which is fitting since both have to do with waiting.

Sometimes we put more preparation into the gifts
we give than into our relationships with those we love.
If we apply this scripture to our own waiting for Christmas, the theme seems to fit.  I especially like when James reminds us not to grumble against one another.  Sometimes when I'm stressed, this is what I do best!

When we have anxiety in our lives, we may not have permission to take it out on the source.  If it comes from our boss or our teacher or someone with authority over us, it may not be appropriate to grumble directly at them.  So our grumbling may come out against others we know.  Unfortunately, our family members often get the brunt of our anxiety.

Pastors sometimes experience this during funerals or funeral preparation.  People outside the church that are involved with a loved one's passing may be feeling anger at their loss.  Sometimes this anger is directed at God (often subconsciously so) and the pastor makes for a good stand-in.

Being aware of this and ready to receive it without responding in anger is important.

There are other times when I receive the brunt of someone's anger over something and I may not respond with the same grace.  It could be that this may come more from left field and I'm caught off guard.  Many times when we are attacked, we defend ourselves by biting back rather than taking the time to analyze where this might be coming from.  As we encounter relatives over the holidays, this is a sometimes common occurrence in larger families.

What if we patiently asked ourselves from where their stress may be originating?

Sometimes we need to pray for patience.  This is not necessarily some random prayer.  The way we find our help is to think about those people who try our patience the most.  You likely know who they are and could come up with a list without thinking very hard about it!

So in praying for patience, what if you prayed for each of these people on your list?  What if you asked God to show you what is stressing them out?  What if we tried to understand them better?

It is far easier to grumble about them.  We can readily find allies in this cause.  After all, we are in the right, are we not?

But does this help us capture the spirit of Christmas?  Does it make our holiday bright?  Does it increase peace in our world?

As I step on your toes, please know that this topic has already bruised my own!

I hope you'll join us for worship on Sunday as we worship together online for your convenience or in Edmond or Guthrie.  I believe that you'll find it helpful to your preparation for Christmas!

In Christ,


Photo by Kent Kanouse via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

I See You

Lectionary Reading: Romans 15:4-13 (NRSV)

Even though it seems like The United Methodist Church just had a General Conference (last February), the next one is only five months away.  There is a lot of anxiety within the denomination surrounding what will happen there.

Some of the first business done at The United Methodist Church's General Conference is to perfect the rules by which we will operate during our time together.  Utilizing Robert's Rules of Order, we set certain rules for our time frame by which we agree to abide.

I remember with dismay the opening of the General Conference in 2012 where I served as a delegate.  We had 41 proposed rules on which we were to vote.  Our first evening was spent proposing amendments to all of these rules.  Everyone had some tweak or adjustment that would really allow us to function more efficiently.  It took over an hour just to record them.  Then we were going to begin voting on them the next day.  Of course, each amendment would have speeches for and against.  They may also have amendments of their own which would also have speeches for and against.  

Our time together was limited and we were tying up a large percentage in just debating how we would covenant to spend our time together!  I ended up moving to effectively do away with all of the amendments so that we could adopt the rules as presented.

It passed overwhelmingly.

This ultimately had to do with trust.  Can I trust the rules committee to place guidelines for us that will be fair to all those involved?  And maybe even more so, can I trust my neighbor not to take advantage of me with these proposed rules?  Can I trust enough to put down my amendment?

Can I give my neighbor the benefit of the doubt?

Trust is difficult to come by these days.  It seems that we are constantly looking for an advantage over our neighbor.  Of course, the Christian outlook should be that we seek to advantage our neighbor in a wide variety of ways.  

As Advent continues and Christmas approaches, we see this passage from Romans speaking a lot about Gentiles.  We may forget that the early church would have been populated by Jews who saw Jesus as the Messiah (the Christ).  Gentiles were beginning to be a part of the church and the founders of every church community had to determine if they would embrace them or not.  

Paul seems to be asking them to give the Gentile believers the benefit of the doubt.

This kind of security check is common among large
events today.  We have them at General Conference now.
This would have been difficult as they were so different.  They were raised differently.  Even if they professed faith in Jesus, they still had alternate belief structures.  They viewed God differently than the Jewish Christians.

And yet, Paul reminds the early church that God comes to the Gentiles as well.  Can God be a part of their lives as well?

Today, we say, "Of course" and "Without a doubt" because we are the inheritors of this faith stance.  But it was a hard decision to make in the first century when the church was in its infancy.

The difficulties of the denomination - the lack of trust that we sometimes experience - isn't it reflective of the larger difficulties of polarization that we are seeing in our country and around the world?  Diplomacy is a lost art and we find that allegiance to our own group is greater than any shared sense of common humanity that we may have.

Our time of Advent is a preparation for the birth of Christ once more.  We celebrate anew the peace on earth that Jesus brings.  What does it mean for us to worship in Christ together when Jesus gave us two primary rules to live by: to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves?

Join us for worship on Sunday as we explore this idea through the Romans passage together.  You can find us in Edmond or Guthrie on Sunday morning or at your convenience online for Edmond or Guthrie.  I'll give you the benefit of the doubt as to which is the best option for you!

In Christ,


Photo by Chris Hamby via  Used under the Creative Commons license.


Monday, November 25, 2019

But What If I'm Right?

Lectionary Reading: Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)

This Sunday, we will begin our looking toward the birth of Jesus Christ with the first Sunday of the Advent cycle.  During Advent, I would like to examine the theme, "Waking Up" and specifically within this Sunday's epistle reading, we are thinking about "Waking to the Light."

As I write this, we are still approaching Thanksgiving.  I think about Paul's advice for us.  It doesn't sound bad in that we can mostly count ourselves innocent of the charges of verse thirteen until you put it in context for the upcoming holiday, which for most of us consists of quite a bit of feasting (or reveling).

I'm not worried about drunkenness although I realize that some families include a lot of drinking on Thanksgiving - some for celebration and some as a tonic for relatives they may not see eye to eye with!

I'm thankful for taste buds!
Debauchery can be defined as "excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures."  While this usually seems more sexual - especially when combined with "licentiousness", I suppose it could also refer to taking that third piece of pie!

Finally, we have quarrelling and jealousy.  My hope is that these don't visit you within your wider family gatherings!  Sometimes we imagine that it is really only considered quarrelling if we're wrong.

All of these are written "tongue in cheek" but they do remind us to check our own house before we throw stones at the neighbors'.

I sincerely hope that you celebrate Thanksgiving by counting your many blessings.  Share at least one thing with a family member for which you are truly thankful.

Then on Sunday, we'll begin looking toward Christmas.  I like the theme of "Waking" and it reminds us of the reality that when Christ comes, we see differently.  We interpret differently.  Our very awareness is different.

I hope you'll join us in some fashion for worship on Sunday.  Until then, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

In Christ,


Photo (which includes a recipe) by master phillip via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Shepherds Go Before Us

Lectionary Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6 (NRSV)

Leadership is a tricky thing.  Centuries ago, people knew the difference between being led by an autocratic king and being led by one who adopted the attitude of a shepherd.

Over 3,000 years ago, the prophet Samuel pointed out all of the abuses that people suffer at the hands of kings.  Now, in Jeremiah's time, several hundred years after Samuel, the people are looking once more for leadership.  We see the line of David who was considered the mightiest king of their history being called upon once more to produce a leader.

However, this king will have more of the attributes of a shepherd.

A shepherd goes before the sheep to ensure safety and safe passage.  

Shepherds may even put their lives on the line when the sheep are threatened.

A king is often seen more as directing others to make the necessary sacrifice.  

What if a shepherd becomes a king?

When hiking, I never ask anyone to follow where I have not gone first.
As I think about leadership in my own life, I can remember the Rev. Dr. John Rusco asking lots of questions.  He was my campus minister as an undergraduate.  In dealing with college students, you can't always just direct through telling them what to do.  It helps when they come to the realization themselves.  Or at least for me, that would stick better.  

John was the master of asking probing questions that would allow us to determine our own best course of action.  Too often, young people may balk at being told what to do and sometimes they do the opposite of what you tell them!  And as we know, young people grow up and I don't think we handle being told what to do any better as middle or older adults than we did as young adults.

How do we lead like shepherds?  Going before and creating safe spaces to explore and find the right path?

We'll continue to explore this theme as we worship Sunday.  It is the last Sunday of the Christian Lectionary Year C.  In December, we will start a new lection cycle with Advent.  But before we get there, we celebrate the Reign of Christ Sunday.  It is a celebration of how we see the world and I hope you'll join us in some form or fashion!

In Christ,


Photo by Sheryl Heaton Powers, taken 11.16.2019 at Canyon Camp near Hinton, Oklahoma.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Instilling Hope

Lectionary Scripture: Isaiah 65:17-25 (NRSV)

Many people may not know that I'm not a native Oklahoman.  While I've lived most of my life here, I was actually born in Minnesota and lived there for the first six weeks of my life.  My parents then moved to Oklahoma so I decided to go with them.

I do root for the Vikings in the NFL but haven't given much thought through the years to the Golden Gophers of the Big 10.   It may have been because they were never very good (okay, no shots at the Vikings here).  I did watch them beat Penn State on Saturday and jumped on the bandwagon.  It was fun to celebrate with their fans because they haven't had a lot to cheer about.  They are 9-0 for the first time since 1904.  They may not make the playoffs or even the Big 10 championship but at this point, they have a shot.

Their fans can dream with more possibility (and probability) than most seasons!

They have real hope.

What does it mean to instill hope in people?

I think it is a powerful thing - it is no small thing at all.  When that hope can translate to people's lives for things that make a solid impact - much more than rooting for a sports team - it begins to bring about the world God is seeking.

Our faith reminds us that we partner with God in our interactions with the world.  We are supposed to offer compassion and help to people because our faith reminds us to look at the world through God's eyes.

I remember working on a house in Mexico.  It was not one that we would think twice about here in the United States.  It had no electricity or running water.  It didn't have carpet.  But it wasn't down in the dust.  It kept the wind and rain out.  The woman we built it for was sweeping out her new floor as we drove off for the last time.

She seemed to have a sense of pride in this simple chore.  Her future would look differently because of work that we did.

It was powerful work - no small thing at all.

Isaiah speaks of a new future for God's people.  We see them returning from exile to a land from where their ancestors hailed.

Isaiah lines out a new future for God's people and when we see the lion lying down with the lamb, we move into imagery that allows us to see beyond the literal.   A person can look at the history of the Jews and understand that there has been further weeping and cries of distress in Jerusalem no matter what verse nineteen says.  What we are looking at is a vision of the preferred reality for God's people.

We'll continue to examine this passage in worship on Sunday.  How are we living into a world that reflects Isaiah's message?  How does our church incorporate this into our life together?  How do we offer hope?

I invite you to join us as we explore these questions together!

In Christ,


Photo by Ahqib Hussain via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

God Grant Me Capacity

Lectionary Reading: Psalm 17:1-9 (NRSV)

One of the great truths is that systems resist change.

I say this a lot.  

I try to say it as a reminder to people who are dealing with large changes in their lives.  I may also be saying it as a reminder to myself.

We are a culture in the midst of change.  Change occurs faster than we can keep up with.

For example, the first iPhone was released just 12 years ago in 2007.  

Now 81% of Americans own a smartphone.

So as we seek to keep up with the changes swirling all around us, we seek stability in our lives.

For many, they look to the church to be the stabilizing force that resists change.

However, we are seeing change come to the church from the outside.  At a recent district meeting, Rev. Dr. Rockford Johnson, the Crossroads District Superintendent, identified five adaptive problems that the church is facing.  Adaptive problems are different from technical problems in that we may not have the immediate expertise to deal with them because they are new and wide-reaching.

These adaptive problems are:

1)  Digital Church - as people consume more online, how do we provide access to spiritual seekers and form meaningful relationships?

2)  The Shifting Population Dynamics Regarding Age - the Baby Boomer generation is retiring (and dying).  They are not being replaced by the next generations at the same rate.  What does the church look like in the pews in 10 years?

3)  Diversification of the Mission Field - Oklahoma is racially diverse.  This hasn't always been the case - just ask Charles Barkley what his perception was of Oklahoma City a few years ago!  Our United Methodist churches do not reflect our neighborhoods.

4)  Growing Disinterest in Church - as I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday, society at large is more likely to view the church as obsolete rather than significant.  Younger people are not returning to church to raise their children with the same numbers as they once did.

5)  Civic and Cultural Divide - we are seeing a worldwide polarization taking place.  We seem to be forcing people into a binary choice regarding politics today.  This either/or mentality has bled into the church.  I often regard the church as one of the last places where people of differing viewpoints gather voluntarily to spend time together and have relationships with one another.  What happens to our country (and world) if churches begin to self-select along these same kinds of lines?

Whew!  Are you tired yet?

The difficulty for congregations is that while we face all of these problems (which seem to be interrelated), we may not have the capacity to handle the adjustments we need to make.

When we are facing problems of our own (creating loss and anxiety for us), we have less capacity to engage in adaptive work.  If you have lost a loved one and are grieving, your capacity is diminished.  If you are dealing with family conflict, your capacity is diminished.  If you are having difficulty at work or financial problems at home, your capacity is diminished.  In facing all of this, Christians often look to the church for stability which is normal.

The problem for the church is when it makes an idol of this stability.  We forget the call of God upon our lives to love those people who may even be rejecting us.  We may cry out to God for help and God may remind us to look outside ourselves.

Sunday, we'll be wrestling with this idea from the Psalmist.  We cry out to God to save us from our adversaries.  How does this work from a Savior who picked up a cross?

I believe that our worship actually enhances our capacity for change.  I hope you'll join us either in person in Guthrie or Edmond or digitally at a time of your choosing!

In Christ,


Photo by Nicolas Nova via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Expressing Grief

Lectionary Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 (NRSV)

As I've led various presentations with different church groups lately, they have all had similar themes.  The church has experienced loss as it has experienced change.

Change in and of itself may not always be bad.  Sometimes we need to change our lifestyles to become healthier.

Many people have to adjust their diet as they age because they are burning less calories.  I've had to make this adjustment several times as my metabolism slows down.

But even change that is good for us means a loss of some kind.  For me I eat a lot more turkey burgers than beef burgers these days.  My taste buds prefer cow but my blood pressure cries fowl!

Some expressions of grief give us a sense of peace.
For our church, we have experienced changes due to technology.  Projection is a part of most congregations these days.  Music continues to change in worship - even in traditional worship services.  Sermons seem to be getting shorter.  Okay, so maybe not all changes are experienced as loss!

One of the most telling changes we express within the life of the church is the loss of our loved ones in a funeral service.  We grieve and it is important for us to recognize that our lives are diminished without them.

The church has another way of acknowledging this beyond the standard memorial service.  We celebrate All Saints Day each year on the first Sunday of November (technically the day falls on November 1 but we make allowances).  We light a candle during worship for each church member that has passed away since the last All Saints Day.  As we celebrate Holy Communion during that service, we recognize that they are communing with us in the church eternal.  This can be a powerful moment of healing for people.

One of our other expressions of loss in our local setting is to provide a card for those in attendance.  They may write the name or names of others who have also passed away who may not have been members of our church.  Then when they receive Holy Communion, they leave the card on the altar rail as their commemoration.  In this we are thankful to God for their being in our lives.

Grief is a difficult thing.  Since I lost both parents in 2018, I recognize more acutely the times when it sneaks up on you unexpectedly.  But I also know that to pretend I am not grieving is to cover up something that needs my attention.  I think when we ignore our grief, we do not properly honor those we loved.

Paul writes that we give thanks to God for the church at Thessalonica.  Their faith and love were increasing.  We also give thanks to God for those who have shaped us in faith and love.  May ours continue to increase as well as we express our own loss and share it before God.

I believe this time of remembrance will be especially healing for me this year as I hope it is for you!

In Christ,


Photo by Larry via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, October 21, 2019

I'm Humbler Than You

Lectionary Reading: Luke 18:9-14 (NRSV)

Within the scripture today, the reversal of the righteousness of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector would have been astounding within first century Judaism.

Because we have grown up with this parable, it is not so shocking for us today.

We have come to accept humility as one of the traits that at least Christian leadership should exhibit.  Well, technically, all Christians should show humility but at the very least the clergy should make an attempt.

There are still some strands of Christians who embrace the more judgmental attitude reflected by the Pharisees.  When you see a preacher lashing out against sin that he stands above (women may do this as well but most of the denominations that emphasize this style of preaching do not ordain women), it doesn’t reflect the kind of humility shown by the tax collector in the parable.  To include oneself in the sin that is being exposed is more likely to get people to identify with their own vulnerability to it.

Have you ever seen a pastor that preaches a lot of 
judgment participating in ceremonial foot washing?
I'm sure it happens but I believe it's rare
compared to those that emphasize grace.
And yes, this whole caption is ironic.
If I throw stones against you for something that doesn’t bother me, I elevate myself above you in righteousness.  As we both remain “in Christ” I fail to connect that our righteousness is equal regardless of our faithfulness with regards to this particular sin.  It is the faithfulness of Jesus Christ that affords our righteousness before God.  This doesn’t mean that right behavior or faithfulness in the face of temptation is not important.  But it does mean that these are always responses to the grace we’ve received.

“How do we lift each other up?” becomes the Christian response to sin. 

And if we are really not bothered by this particular behavior?

In other words, “What if I really am empirically better than this person with regards to this sin?”

It may be that we need to confess our own weaknesses.  To come to a place where we all recognize that we struggle at times with who we are called to be seems to be what Jesus is calling us to acknowledge within today’s parable.

I hope you’ll join us on Sunday as we continue to wrestle with this scripture in worship!

In Christ,


Photo by John Ragai via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Bloom Where You're Planted

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 (NRSV)

Sheryl and I made our way to First United Methodist Church in Duncan in 2006 to celebrate the 100th birthday of Reverend Phil Wahl, pastor emeritus of that church.  He had been serving in some type of pastoral role in that congregation since 1968 and Sheryl had grown up with him as her pastor.  We didn't know if he would recognize us or not when he saw us but he called each of us by name.

His greater gift was to not only recognize people but to really know them.

He asked us several pointed questions that indicated he not only remembered our faces but knew what we were about.

There were some great stories about Rev. Wahl through the years.  He was famous for driving over the speed limit wherever he went and most people learned to get out of his way!  I heard a story that he told the church secretary to call the highway patrol:

"Tell them I'm headed to Oklahoma City to visit people in the hospital so don't stop me for speeding."

There were various times he ended up in the hospital himself.  The great thing about him was that he wouldn't stay in bed while he recovered.  He would move from room to room, visiting others who were there in need of prayer.  He definitely bloomed where he was planted!

His attitude exemplifies the scripture from Jeremiah today.  Jeremiah tells the people who have been forcibly removed from their homes to not only prosper but to help their new nation prosper.  What does it mean to pray for a place when you don't necessarily agree with their philosophies?

Can we find a greater good?

This Sunday, we will explore this important scripture in an age and culture where we are so partisan as to consider it anathema to seek the good for our opposition.  I hope you'll join us as we grow in faith together!

In Christ,


Photo by Laurel F via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Power of Touch

Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-14 (NRSV)

There is a longing that people have to be touched.  It is ingrained in us from our birth.  In fact, premature babies that end up in natal intensive care units are found to grow and improve more rapidly with gentle touching and skin-to-skin holding.

Watching Trey hold Sloane at lunch on Sunday reminded me of how my own children touched my face so often when I held them.  Touching is fundamental to us.

When both of my children were born, I was able to wash them for their first bath.  I remember gently holding them and gingerly putting the cloth on their skin.  I think I probably took a long time for the task because I was afraid that I would be too rough!

This picture reminds us that joyous
experiences are even better shared!
My own parents gave me plenty of hugs growing up and as they grew older in recent years, I realized that they needed the hugs from me.  Prior to their deaths, it was important to see them and touch them each day.

As I think about how we ritualize touch, I remember my wedding day.  When we join hands in the ceremony, it is a formal acknowledgement of the relationship.  At the end of the ceremony, the permission to kiss publicly is a declaration that this romantic touch is now validated and even encouraged by society.

As an ordained pastor, the bishop laid hands upon me.  Bishop Blake implored as he did so, "Samuel, take authority as an elder to preach the Word of God, to administer the Holy Sacraments and to order the life of the Church, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  

Today when praying for someone in the hospital, we touch the person with whom we are praying for healing.

In the scripture reading today, we hear the importance of the laying on of hands.  This is done to rekindle the sense of mission in the people of God.  In verse seven, we shrug off cowardice and replace it with power, love and self-discipline.  But this comes within the Christian community.  It is done when we hold hands and create a circle of prayer together.  This binds us together.  This clarifies our purpose.  This allows our mission to continue through the generations.

I hope you'll join us on Sunday as we worship together.  My hope is that you will renew in yourself your own sense of power, love and self-discipline which are life-giving!

In Christ,


Photo by Robert Couse-Baker via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

There's Your Sign

*For the next few weeks, we will look at the lectionary passage from the previous week.

Lectionary Scripture: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 (NRSV)
Oklahoma got hit with a double whammy when we experienced the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression in the mid-1930's.  When drought set in and the dust storms were more common, the decreased prices for agriculture and livestock forced many Oklahomans to migrate west to California.

Land was not worth much and was often abandoned.

Even years after the drought had ended, dust storms were still common.

Sheryl's grandparents returned to Oklahoma after living in Vermont for a number of years in the 1940's.  They lived in the Panhandle in Guymon and her grandmother told about hanging wet sheets over the doors and windows when a dust storm blew through.  This would help them breath a little better but there were still layers of dust to be cleaned after it blew through.

Years later in the mid-1990's, when I was appointed to Drummond in the north central part of our state, I can remember dust storms blowing through the town.  We had clothes lines in the backyard and would sometimes hang sheets to dry.  Once the red dirt turned them pink!  You learned to bring them in if you didn't want to redo your wash.

In our scripture today, we see Jeremiah looking to redeem land.  His problem was not environmental but rather a foreign military power besieging their gates.  The effect on land price was the same.  It was worthless.

Yet Jeremiah is invited by God to redeem the land.  This was a family option instilled by the covenant to keep a family from losing their ability to make a living.  He has the option to buy his cousin's land.  He does so publicly with great show to make a statement.  This was a sign act.  It was done to indicate hope in a future that only God could provide.

It was a statement that God was still present even though appearances spoke to the contrary.

What kind of sign acts do we make today?

I would say that attending worship is one such sign act.  We gather together even when the culture at large is beginning to abandon Sunday morning worship.  We are declaring that God will have a future here after all.  In doing so, we offer encouragement to ourselves and to one another.

This Sunday, we'll continue to explore this passage as we celebrate World Communion Sunday together.  This is one of my favorite days of the year as we recognize our solidarity with other Christians around the globe.  I hope you'll join us as we embrace the hope that God gives us!

In Christ,


Photo by via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Adjusting to a New (Unpleasant) Reality

Lectionary Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 (NRSV)

When our son David was five years old, we were hosting an afterschool tutoring program at our church in Piedmont.  He was on the playground as the day was finishing, enjoying the older children for some unscheduled time together.

Unfortunately as he was standing atop the slide, getting ready to go down, another child pushed him in the back and he went off sideways.  His arm was obviously broken and we rushed him to the hospital.

It was a rather bad break that required surgery.  As Sheryl eventually took him home from the hospital, he was looking rather despondently at his new cast.  He asked his mother, "How many more minutes do I have to have this thing on?"

Sheryl said that it broke her heart to tell him that his expectations were off by a magnitude.

There are times in our lives when we must adjust to difficult circumstances.

While a broken arm is not ideal,
we often eventually recover from it.
Sometimes it has to do with our health.  There are diagnoses that we recover from and others that we must learn to live with.  Even worse are those that cause deterioration and are fatal.  Our attitudes in dealing with these new conditions may factor into our recovery or they may contribute to our demise.

In this week's reading, we see Jeremiah reporting on the perceived absence of God.  Times had turned and a tyrant was knocking on the door.  Independence would quickly change to suffering and subjugation.  This was a reality that the people of God couldn't quite grasp.  It seemed to them that God had abandoned them.

It is difficult to know in today's passage whether this is God speaking through the prophet Jeremiah or if it is the feeling of Jeremiah himself.  As the two voices are often intertwined, it may make no noticeable difference for us.  We see the lament.  We can almost feel the tears falling from eyes moist with heartache.  Jeremiah weeps for his people and so does God.

When David broke his arm, he suffered quite a bit of pain.  He was comforted somewhat by the presence of his parents who loved him and sought to alleviate his difficulty.  At the same time, as parents, we are stricken worse than if it had happened to us.  Love for a child is like that.

When we suffer with our own ailments, we turn to passages like this to remember God's love for us is akin to the love of a parent for a child - even when we may not perceive that love clearly.  When we cannot find a physician to give us comfort, we resonate with the frustration in verse 22.  Faith retains the belief that God is indeed on our side even when reality points to the contrary.

This Sunday, we'll explore this theme in worship together.  Join us in Edmond or Guthrie or online so that we may renew our faith together and stand up to the frustrations that are so common to the human life.

In Christ,


Photo by Sandor Weisz via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Sometimes I Need to Convince Myself

Lectionary Scripture: Exodus 32:7-14 (NRSV)

Christians often utilize the image of Jesus as the advocate for humanity standing in the way of an angry God that is all-too ready to smite us.  Within this view, our atonement comes because the mercy and faithfulness of Jesus off-sets and overcomes the wrath of God.

I don't personally hold to this view as I think that it pigeonholes God into someone who is one-dimensional.  The Hebrew scriptures reveal quite often the characteristics of love, mercy and compassion for God.  Christians also ascribe these to God but often from within the person of Jesus.  As Trinitarians, we often forget our own doctrine that no one person of the Trinity has characteristics that aren't shared by the other two! 

But in looking at today's text, I can see where the view of Jesus standing against the wrath of God might have emerged.

Moses stands up for the Hebrew people that have been freed from Egyptian slavery.  They have sinfully adopted idol-worship in making a golden calf.  The local Palestinian deities were influencing them as they would throughout the biblical witness.  God is understandably disgusted with them.  Moses feels that he must intervene.

It is not without precedence.  

Moses is adopting a similar stance of mercy for humanity that Abraham exhibited when God was set to destroy Sodom in Genesis 18:16-33.  

Both of these stories portray God as a judge ready to carry out a sentence.  Moses and Abraham operate as defense attorneys that seek to plea for leniency.  Moses doesn't dispute their guilt.  He doesn't try to explain it away.  Rather, he seeks to persuade God that genocide would be a public relations nightmare.  What will people say about you?
Moses by Michelangelo
San Pietro in Vincoli, Italy

God seems to be ready to start over with the line of Moses.  When presented with this idea, it may have been that Moses knew his own offspring weren't any better than the rest.  After all, Joshua was chosen as his successor to lead rather than one of his own sons.  Jewish Midrash gives explanation that the sons of Moses didn't give much time to their study of God's word.

If the line of Moses were used as a template, how long would it be before we were right back here with the people going astray?  

Could it be that Moses needed to work out his own issues with God?  It is possible that God didn't need a cooling off as much as Moses did.  If we continue in chapter 32, we see in verse 19 that "Moses' anger burned hot" which mirrors language written about God in verse 10.  As he continues in his anger, he calls the sons of Levi (of which tribe the priests would come) and orders them to kill those that we must assume were the greatest offenders.  About three thousand were put to death by the sword and while Moses speaks of ordaining themselves at the cost of a son or a brother, his own brother Aaron was spared even though he was in charge of the mess!

It may be that the conversation with God was God's design that Moses would curb his own wrath against his people.  Could this great slaughter have been restrained in comparison to his original desire?

When we pray with God, we are often seeking God's will.  Sometimes we pray for mercy in circumstances that do not favor us.  Even if we do not imagine God to be the author of our difficulty, we would like for God to take it away.  But sometimes we may need God's help to stay our own wrath.  We sometimes imagine that God mirror's our own anger so as to justify it.  Yet the longer we stay in conversation with God, the hope is that we will remind ourselves of the love, mercy and compassion of God.

And sometimes we may just need to bounce our thoughts and feelings off God until we come to what we know is right.

We'll continue to meditate on this passage in worship on Sunday.  You're always welcome to join us whether in person or online if that fits better with your schedule and location.

In Christ,


Photo by Patrick Rasenberg via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

What is Shaping Me?

Lectionary Reading: Jeremiah 18:1-11 (NRSV)

Our culture shapes is in lots of ways.

For a while, we were very body-conscious and the best-sellers all had to do with diets and exercise trends.  While there is still emphasis on being slim and trim, I'm not sure the subject carries the weight it once did (pun intended)!

Quite frankly, it is easier to be more conscious of our bodies than our spiritual lives.

We see our bodies in the mirror on a daily basis.

We know when we are having trouble catching our breath after the flight of stairs.

We encounter lots of advertising using men and women of particular body types.

But as pervasive as body-consciousness is, there may be a new sheriff in town with regards to what captures our attention.  This is because the way we process information today continues to change.  The use of screens has become obsessive for many people.  We gather and are exposed to more information than we were in the past.

While reading a novel written in the 1970's, I was surprised that the characters in the book were waiting for the 6:00 hour with anticipation so they could learn about the latest national disaster on the evening news.  We are so used to the 24-hour news cycle and its immediate consumption that it sounds strange to think that people used to make it a priority to watch the news at a specific time.

The average amount of screen time for Americans seems to vary widely depending on the study you read but the consensus is that the average continues to increase.  There is so much that we can do on our tablets or smart phones that it boggles the mind.

What are the likely consequences?
How does this shape us?  I don't think we can definitively say yet.  It is so new that it is difficult to process the good and the bad.

This Sunday, we will let Jeremiah remind us that God will shape us if we are willing.  But it clearly looks like our choice (God will not force our cooperation) in this week's scripture reading.  Our actions will bring consequences and Jeremiah seems to indicate that we should be more willing to count the cost.

Join us for worship either in Edmond or online and we'll continue to explore this important topic!

In Christ,


Photo by Malingering via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

But I've Got Some Very Good Reasons...

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 2:4-13 (NRSV)

The sheer scope of history in examining the prophet Jeremiah boggles my mind.  When I think about the time frame, we know that he is preaching to a specific moment in history - likely here at the end of the 7th century BCE.  This is a little over 600 years before the birth of Jesus.  

The southern kingdom of Judah was facing a threat from the Babylonian empire.  Unfortunately for God's people, they occupied land that was the preferred route between Egypt and Mesopotamia.  While this might allow for prosperous trade to flourish during certain points in Israelite history, the land often becomes coveted by whichever larger nation or empire becomes greedy for expansion.

In today's reading, we see Jeremiah berate his people for turning away from God.

This seems to be a common theme with humanity and it still rings true all of these centuries later.  While in Jeremiah's day, there were tempting idols from other exotic cultures to worship.  We may scoff at them out of our own sense of superior knowledge.  We know as in verse 11 that idols "are no gods" and our temptation is not to worship anything else.

We might want to belay our scorn for a moment.  

While we aren't tempted after literal alternate deity worship, there are many things that capture our attention, time and resources.  

Many people today are looking for meaning in life.  We seek it out in many ways.  It may be similar to the journey of the person looking for themselves only to find their identity after they return home.  

Sometimes we seek what is not ours
to our eventual detriment!
The largest idol that we have ever worshipped is the self.  We elevate our own desires above the will of God and then we remake God into our image so that our will coincides perfectly with God's will.

Giving in to the self will not refresh or quench our souls.  It is not living water.  Rather, we find that it is more like a cracked cistern that leaks.  We may find that we are empty more often than not.

These are difficult words to hear and they would have been no easier for Jeremiah's original audience all of those years ago.  Self-examination is never easy but it may be profitable if we are willing to pursue it in earnest.

If you have come this far, maybe you'll come a little farther.  We'll explore this more in depth on Sunday.  I know it is Labor Day weekend here in the United States, and so if you can't be here in person, join us online for worship!

In Christ,


Photo by mliu92 via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Is Respect a Right or a Benefit?

Lectionary Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10 (NRSV)

Jeremiah is called at a very young age.  He is worried that he will not be taken seriously.

I know how he feels.

When I started out as a pastor, I grew a beard before taking my first appointment.  After being there for a while, I shaved it off.  One of our parishioners smiled at me and exclaimed, "Oh, you look just like a little boy!"

I heard lots of comments from people I met outside of our church along the lines of "You're too young to be a pastor."

It may be that they believed that old pastors were just hatched and came out of the egg with wrinkles, grey hair and life experience!

It has been my experience in life (and my guess is that this is your experience too) that some people have automatically afforded me respect and others have waited until I proved myself.

There are many in the world with the attitude, "You've got to earn my respect."

This is likely the world in which Jeremiah lived and the reason for his trepidation.  Who is going to listen to me?

I understand the view of earning respect and have done things to prove myself in the eyes of others so that my voice will be heard.  After all, a preacher that no one pays attention to is doing a lot of preparation for nothing!

But as I think about this idea of earned respect, it makes me realize that we may often be telling the world that I will disrespect you until you deserve otherwise.

Both donning and removing your
hat is a sign of respect depending
on your culture!
This is not a healthy way for us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

As I mentioned that I have experienced those that have given respect and those from whom I had to earn it, I can tell you with which I prefer to deal!

Respect for others should be a fundamental thing that is our starting place.  What if we adopted the attitude that people are to be respected until they prove otherwise?  And even then, it may be that we disrespect behavior rather than people.

One argument for earned respect is that it sharpens us.  Would I have been as effective if I didn't have to prove myself?  This may be important for positions of authority that don't have prior certifications.  Leadership is often this way in that we want to follow someone who is going to be effective.

So while I may reserve judgment on a leader based on his or her ability and track record, I will still fundamentally respect them as a person.  This means allowing them a voice until they do or say something that would be harmful to those they encounter.  Fortunately, I live in a country that is set up to allow the people being governed to have a voice through our representative democracy.  This country fundamentally respects its citizens through the Bill of Rights.

This philosophy was not shaped in a vacuum and comes out of the Christian idea that all people are deserving of respect and love simply because they exist.  As I mentioned, our behavior is not always to be commended but we continue to respect human beings.  This is why we treat prisoners humanely.

So as we explore this passage from Jeremiah, we'll discover that the message God gives him to relate is not one that will be popular or well-received.  No wonder he was nervous!  Are you sure you want me to do this God?  I hope you'll join us for worship as we reflect upon Jeremiah's call story together!

In Christ,


Photo by Aaron Tait via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Jesus Christ, Prince of Division??

Lectionary Scripture: Luke 12:49-56 (NRSV)

What was your family like growing up?  Did you experience an easy childhood where everyone got along with one another?  Or was it more difficult?  Was there a lot of conflict and chaos?

Likely it was somewhere in the middle.

Family systems operate on cycles.  They achieve a type of balance (theorists call this homeostasis) that may or may not be healthy.  Sometimes there are larger family gatherings that upset the applecart.  Old systems that have been escaped through family members moving out or moving away sometimes rear their ugly heads and you have heated arguments arise.

I've heard people tell me as a pastor, "I'm never going back to Thanksgiving dinner as long as it's at so-and-so's house."  I've also heard of people cutting off their relatives from communication because their relationship is unhealthy or emotionally abusive.  Yet at the same time we mourn the loss of contact with people with whom we've grown up.  We may even feel somewhat guilty about making a specific stand with relatives even if we believe it is for the best.

I grew up in a home that included a family business when I was a teenager.  All of us worked the business - both parents, my older siblings and me.  Money was tight and the stress of making ends meet was always present.  Harsh words were often spoken between my father and brother on a cyclical basis.  I often felt the need to play peacemaker between them.  The words said in anger did not help relieve the stress all of us felt.  Eventually, they would make up and we would continue to work together.  This lasted for years until my parents retired.

Who is the witness to how we disagree?

When I received my psychological evaluation as a part of my preparation for ministry (all candidates go through this!), I was labeled as a peacemaker as a large part of my identity.

So when I read today's text, I am at a loss.  It doesn't sound like what Jesus would say!  We more readily identify Jesus as the Prince of Peace rather than a cause of division.  When we identify Jesus with service and love, our reading for Sunday seems to run contrary to those characteristics.

Before preaching my last sermon, I mentioned that our scripture was a part of the genre of eschatology or end times theology.  We see that continue in this reading.  Luke in particular relayed the words and deeds of Jesus in an orderly fashion to share specific theological points.  Luke wrote these things in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome which directly affected the leadership within the early church.

In a way, I believe that Luke is trying to normalize the stress and conditions that the early church would have been under.  The violence and upheaval that they experienced were seen in the light of the Gospel as something to be expected.

This may actually be comforting when we are going through difficulty.  If we experience family conflict and then find out that most families go through this, it can actually help relieve the stress we are under.

We do know that our relationship with Jesus when taken seriously changes our lives.  We also know that changes are disrupting to the balance and patterns we already regularly experience.  So in a very legitimate way, Jesus does cause division for those who would like for us to remain unchanged!

This Sunday, we will explore this passage further in worship.  As I read it again, my first instinct was to say "let's choose an easier passage to work with!"  But I find that the greater fruit may lie with tackling the tougher scriptures.  Luke included these for our benefit after all!  I hope you'll join us as we discover what that may be!

In Christ,


Photo by Thomas Halfmann via  Used under the Creative Commons license.