Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Looking for Assurance

Lectionary Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8 (NRSV)

Last week, we had a vision of the prophet Ezekiel as he experienced the valley of the dry bones.  This week, we have a vision of the prophet Isaiah as he is in the presence of God in heaven.  He doesn’t envision the angels as young men dressed in white.  Rather, they seem much more other-worldly.

In the midst of this holiness, Isaiah has a strong impression of his own unworthiness.  He is afraid that he will die.

This may come from the tradition of Exodus 33:20 where God states directly, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”

There was a strong sense of danger in coming too close to the divine.

Is Isaiah actually fearful for his life or is he possibly looking for some assurance through his statement?

He may have been thinking, "I'm not dead yet, maybe there's still hope for me!"

As we think about interactive worship experiences, touching a live coal to people's lips is not one that we have repeated!

Once at a church camp worship, however, we did use Icy Hot applied to people's hands to give them a sense of the burning sensation that Isaiah must have felt.  It was a reminder of the cost of the cleansing we receive while at the same time an assurance that we do not have to have the sin burned out of us in such a dramatic fashion to answer God's call upon our lives.

As we gear up for camp, I want to say "thank you" to all the people who have donated for our youth to attend this summer.  Church camp is such an important part of our spiritual formation and I love each of our retreat settings that we have in Oklahoma as a part of The United Methodist Church.

Here's our church getting ready
to attend Camp Spark in 2019. 
Everyone looks a lot younger!
Last week at a meeting, we heard that Camp Spark (the church camp that our youth attend at Canyon Camp) led our camping program with 200 registrations.  Edmond FUMC is leading the way with 40 of those!  To keep in line with safety, we will be having more outdoor activities this year so you may need to pack more t-shirts if you are planning on attending!  I will be going and this will be my last time to spend as Edmond First's senior pastor - I find it fitting to do so since this was such an important part of who I've been as a pastor.

Interestingly enough, I will spend my first week as a district superintendent (the very next week) at Camp Lead which is designed for leadership for youth in middle and high school.  I truly believe that this is the perfect place for us to nurture young leadership for the church of today.  My hope is that I can continue to support camps financially as well as through my presence.  If we can generate this kind of interest in camping through the variety of churches that I'll help oversee, I will consider it a job well-done.

As we consider Isaiah's call by God in today's text, my own call was realized through our church camps.  The template of retreat and re-entry into the world is modeled by Jesus and continues to work for people today.  

Because our church camps operate on income received from non-church revenue throughout the year who utilize the space as a retreat center, we have unfortunately operated at a loss through the pandemic.  If you would like to make a contribution to sending our kids to camp, you may do so here.  If you would like to contribute directly to our camping program, you may do so here.

On Sunday, we'll worship together as we consider our own need for assurance these days.  God's presence is not feared in this day as it was in Isaiah's.  But God's call continues to come to our lives in lots of ways. 

I hope you'll join us for worship on Sunday at 8:30, 9:45 (outdoors - weather providing) or 11 am.  We'll be live-streaming on YouTube at 8:30 and Facebook at 11 am for those out of our area or who aren't ready to join us in person.

In Christ,


All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Can These Bones Live?

Lectionary Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NRSV)

It's been exciting to see people return to in-person worship.

Each week I hear another person tell me, "This is the first time I've been in the church in over a year."  They are obviously moved and it is moving for me to be a part of this sacred moment.

Our church followed the guidelines from the Oklahoma Conference early on when all United Methodist churches suspended in-person worship.  

We re-opened on Father's Day of 2020 in our Christian Activity Center and slowly moved back into the sanctuary.  Mask-wearing and distancing have been key components to our safety measures for meeting in person.  As Oklahoma cases began to really increase and our hospitals were at capacity late last fall, our local church suspended in-person services once more.

We re-opened this spring after seeing the case-levels and hospitalizations ease to more manageable levels.

It should not come as a shock that we've lost people to churches that have a more libertine policy on mask-wearing and meeting.  Some have expressed their disappointment to me directly but more have slipped away without any communication.

Fortunately, we have seen the case levels in our state continue to drop.  Within our own congregation, we haven't had an active case reported to us in months.  I am also happy to report that we never had to alert anyone who has attended any of our in-person worship that they were unwittingly exposed to the coronavirus at one of our services. 

Now the Centers for Disease Control have loosened the guidelines on mask-wearing for those who are fully vaccinated.  In my conversations with those who have been attending in person, I would guess that our congregation has a much higher rate of vaccination than the state of Oklahoma right now.

Because we have been following CDC guidelines, some have felt more comfortable in attending worship in-person.  For others, the church's mask policy kept them from attending for a variety of reasons.  In fact, the church may be the only place where they still wear a mask.  

With the vaccine now available to ages 12-15,
we now have a wider population accessible.

As fully vaccinated attendees take off their masks, some who may have felt comfortable attending may now revert to watching online again.  It feels like being between a rock and a hard place as far as trying to meet expectations of a diverse membership.  Most families that I know have somewhat differing views among their own family members for their own safety response to COVID-19.  This should illustrate the problem any large group will have in addressing these policies!  

Amazingly, this Sunday, we will be celebrating Pentecost - which we think of as the birthday of the Church!  The lectionary text I have chosen will be the valley of dry bones from Ezekiel.  As Ezekiel finds himself amid all the signs of death and decay, God asks him, "Can these bones live?"  Ezekiel properly responds, "God, you know."  In one sense, this gets Ezekiel off the hook but in another, it is a fundamental realization that it is out of his control.  For some reason, I think this is an appropriate text for our times!

We will continue to worship together.  Some will wear masks and other vaccinated people may forego them.  As we know that outdoor activities are safer, we will continue to offer our outdoor service at 9:45 am backed by our Worship on Hurd band.  The last two weeks we've had inclement weather that has moved us into Wesley Hall - to let people know in the future, we'll try to post on our Facebook page if we are going to be inside or not.  Of course, we will continue to offer live stream on YouTube at 8:30 am and Facebook at 11 am for those that are not quite ready or able to return in person.

While this is a stressful time to be in leadership, I am still excited to lead in worship for our congregation.  Sunday mornings have always been the highlight of my ministry and they continue to be so for me.  There is a blessing in gathering together and I've missed seeing everyone!  

Can these bones live?  

God does know.

In Christ,


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

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

When Do I Get to See God?

Scripture Reading: 1 John 5:9-13

When we all get to heaven,

what a day of rejoicing that will be!

When we all see Jesus,

we'll sing and shout the victory!

This hymn was composed by Eliza E. Hewitt and Emily D. Wilson in 1898.  According to C. Michael Hawn, this was composed under the influence of Methodist camp meetings at Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

This enthusiastic hymn speaks to me of God's prevenient grace where God reaches out to all humankind.  It is optimistic in its nature and inclusivity.  There are many times when Christianity has emphasized the limited nature of salvation and encouraged others to doubt whether or not they would make it to heaven.  I think this was done in order to challenge people in their faithfulness.  This would theoretically keep people from backsliding.  Fear was designed to keep us on the right path.

Personally, I don't like this approach and prefer the idea that heaven is something that we can't achieve until we're all present.  I'm not sure how this works but I believe that this is God's desire as well.

The butterfly is often a symbol of the
resurrection and the new life we have in Christ.
The epistle reading for this week reminds us that we have eternal life in Christ.  Sometimes we get caught up in the idea that this doesn't start until we're dead.  In essence, this is true.  But we have to look at our death on a different time line.  When we are in Christ, we die to sin according to Paul.  We die to our old selves.  We die to a world that wants to define us as less-than or as not-quite-good-enough.  

Rather, when we are justified to God in Christ, we are born anew.  We begin to live the life eternal in the here and now.

When we do imagine God, many people envision what they might ask God in person when they actually get to heaven and see God for the first time.  Rather, as Christians, we are learning to see differently.  We begin to see God working all around us in the here and now.  We work on God's behalf to shape the world as we envision heaven to be.  

So we don't wait for eternal life as if it was something we achieve in the life to come.  We have already begun eternity.  Some theologians say it begins at our baptism.  If this is the case, when we sing, "When We All Get to Heaven", it may take on a different meaning for us.

We'll continue to look at this text and subject matter in worship on Sunday.  We are still getting our live-stream chops back but you can join us in person or online.  Some of our Sunday school classes have started back up at 9:45 am and we also have our more contemporary offering (Worship on Hurd) outside at 9:45 as well.  

If you are not able to sign up online in advance, we would love to have you join us regardless!

In Christ,


 Photo by Heidi via Flick.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, May 3, 2021

I'm King of the World!

Scripture Reading: 1 John 5:1-6 

I like how this passage declares victory for those of us in the faith!  I'm reminded of the iconic film Titanic when Jack spreads his arms wide on the bow of the ship and yells out, "I'm king of the world!"

There are times in life when we feel like we are indeed masters of all we survey.  But if we are honest with ourselves, we may not always share the same enthusiasm in quite the same moment as those around us.  This picture laughably reminds us that our sense of victory may not be a communal feeling!

As I am winding up my time as senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Edmond, I am excited about my upcoming post as the Crossroads District Superintendent.  But when people ask me about it, I have not always responded very enthusiastically.  A part of this is the weight of responsibility that I feel in taking on this position.  As we come off a pandemic in a very divisive time in our country, I recognize that pastors are more stressed than at any time in my life.  Of course, we also have the divisiveness within The United Methodist Church with some pastors, congregations and individual church members seeking to start a new denomination.  

So with my job largely being to bring stability during anxiety, I may sometimes feel like the man in the picture above!  

Another reason for downplaying my new appointment is the sense that I don't want my current congregation to feel jilted by my leaving.  There is always going to be some of this when a pastor moves from one congregation to another whether the system is done by appointments like ours or in a call system like a Baptist church.  But it is important that a congregation do not see themselves as victims in a system that is out to get them.  If this were the case, I would never have been appointed to this congregation in the first place.  Rather, pastoral change is inevitable.  The reason may be a church opening, retirement or even death.  For the congregant, unless they are trying to oust the pastor, these changes do not come at times of our planning!  We often experience grief at these changes just like we do at the loss of a loved one.

While there are now different stages of grief postulated, the classic five are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  It is quite natural to experience one or more of these emotions during change in our lives and we've experienced a lot of change in the last couple of years!

So how does our faith allow us to be victors during a time when we are experiencing change?

One of the main things is to realize that God is not going anywhere.  It sounds kind of simplistic to remind us that God remains with us through our changes but we might actually forget this important fact sometimes!

Another thing that is kind of exciting is getting to know a new pastor.  It is not cheating on me to like the new pastor!  I have every confidence in Scott Keneda and my hope is that he'll continue to nurture you in the faith, picking up right where I leave off.  

Our conquering in the faith is different than conquering in a military skirmish or in the business world or even in a pickup game of basketball.  In faith, we recognize that change happens all the time and while we may grieve it for a time, we don't fear it.  We understand that change promotes growth - in fact, our spiritual growth often comes during times that we never asked for!

We'll continue to explore this idea of being victorious in the faith on Sunday.  Catch us in the sanctuary at 8:30 and 11 am or outdoors at 9:45 am with our Worship on Hurd band.  We'll also be live streaming on YouTube at 8:30 and Facebook at 11.  I hope you'll be able to join us.  Worshipping with your church family in some form or fashion will be a wonderful way to celebrate Mother's Day together!

In Christ,


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