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.