In The Midst of Advent

•December 17, 2016 • 1 Comment

peace

We’ve had a lot going on in our life lately. Everyone does.  It can be seen in the faces of folks who are driving in the lanes next to you.  Or those who are checking you out at the grocery store.  Or those who will circle the parking lot six times to find a parking space closer to the entrance of the store.

You see it especially in the hospitals and the care facilities right now.  Especially in a season where everyone is looking to be joyful and bright, and you are just trying to figure out if your loved one will live the night, it’s tough.

I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals and care facilities lately.  Fortunately, I have managed to stay out of them as a patient, although at times it seems like it would not take much health change to put me there.  I see the stress in the faces of others, and I hear in their hushed voices in the hallways their concerns and worry for their loved ones.

I know some folks whose grief cannot adequately be expressed during this season.  Some have lost children to death this year, and now have had to say good bye to a parent as well.  Still others have seen their spouse go into the hospital time and time again, and worry if they will survive the year.

I know of others who are struggling to pay their bills. They are trying to be responsible budgeters, but the unexpected expenses of life are catching up to them.

I know of others who are struggling with their addictions, and trying to understand the consequences of their actions as they are caught in the grip of something that is greater than themselves.

Then, when you add car troubles, family troubles, relationship troubles, and cold weather, it can get exhausting.

It was into a time very much like this that Jesus came to us.  The government was in trouble, lives were unstable, and folks were tired. It was at a time like this when an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, who was trying to figure out his next move in life when his beloved announced to him that she was pregnant, and the child was not his.  And not only this, but this child was to be the Holy One of God who had come to save the world.  And the angel didn’t really tell Joseph what to do.  But the angel did say, “Don’t be afraid.”

Is that enough when folks are afraid?  To hear a divine voice tell us not to be afraid?  I know it is a central theme of our Holy Scriptures.  “Don’t be afraid.”  More than 100 times this phrase is used in our English translations.  And every time this phrase is used, there is a promise from God.  “I’ll help you.”  “I’m with you.”  “I’m here to save you.”  ‘It’s me.  Don’t be afraid.”

Consider how you can let your fear go during this time.  I am trying to do the same.  I am spending some time in prayer.  I’m listening to beautiful music.  I am reading books and stories that build up.  I’m baking bread for communion.  I’m practicing my part for the cantata.  I’m breathing as often as necessary.  And I’m giving thanks for all those people in my life – present, past, and even future – who will give meaning to my days.  It’s bringing me to a place of peace.

Making A Difference in Your Part of the World

•July 26, 2016 • 2 Comments

I’ve pretty much tried to stay off Facebook and Twitter during this presidential campaign, but most especially during the Republican and Democratic conventions.  I know that all of the rhetoric about each party / candidate is just part of the process, but truthfully, this year, I have a hard time with the meanness.

I am not interested in debating which candidate is best for the country.  I believe it is your right to vote for the candidate of your choice.  I plan on doing the same.  But I have realized that the openness of social media has allowed us the opportunity to bring out both our best and worst sides.

In times of national and world crises, or even local ones, this allows us the opportunity to get word out very quickly.  We can use this information to support folks who are in need, and genuinely be the hands and feet of Jesus when someone is hurting. But it seems like we want to blame someone, anyone.  Yet when that becomes our focus, our intent, then we likely end up doing more harm than good.  At the very least, we let ourselves off the hook.

I realize that I look at life very simply, and that the issues facing our country and our world are quite complex.  But what if we, especially in the midst of all the political rhetoric flying about, did something to make the world better?

If a student in your local school is having trouble reading, offer to listen to them, to help them learn to read.  If someone in your neighborhood is having trouble keeping their yard mowed, mow it for them.  If your neighbor is having a hard time, bring them a little food and a little compassion.  If your community is struggling, consider what you can do that will make things better.  If the sign welcoming folks to town is needing repainting, offer to your city office to repaint it.  If the elderly person on your block is needing groceries, offer to take them.  Or pick up for them.  If young parents are getting overwhelmed with all the responsibilities of taking care of their children, offer to help.  Maybe you can wash their dishes or clean their house or do their laundry.  Or sit and hold their newly crawling baby.

Every one of us has something we can do that will make the world better.  And if we can do something to make the world better, then we need to do it.  Today would be a good time to start.

Our Common Ashes

•February 9, 2016 • 1 Comment

They are in an old Hiland cottage cheese container.  So old that the lettering has worn off and the expiration date is many years past.  I use it to hold the ashes after they are burned each year. Since I tend to use a lot less ashes than the amount of palm leaves burned, there is a bit of a surplus each year.  So much so that the container now has the ashes from five different congregations from all over Oklahoma.

I know that I get a bit reflective during Lent, maybe a bit too much so.  I also know that most of us can use a little reflecting on the course of our life over the years.  As I get older, maybe I reflect a bit more.

So I thought a bit this morning as I burned the ashes for Wednesday night’s services.  I had to think fast because the winds have been pretty strong in Oklahoma these past couple of days, and I had to pay attention.

I thought about these past five congregations I have served:  First United Methodist, Edmond; First United Methodist, Cherokee; Newcastle United Methodist; and now Luther and Wellston United Methodist Churches.  Each congregation having had both joys and challenges.  In each of these places, there are folks who are dear to us.

Yet even with all the differences in locations, resources, needs, and gifts of each of these churches, we have a lot in common.  Not only does our faith and common heritage connect us, we also have similar concerns.  We all want to have lives of purpose, of strength, lives spilled over with so much love and memory that we can hardly catalog it all in our minds.

And it is symbolized for me in the mingling of all these ashes.  On Wednesday evening, I doubt that I, nor anyone else, will be able to tell which batch of ashes are placed on our heads.  That’s a good thing, a God thing, if you will.  Because during Lent we could all use a reminder of our common yearnings and our common heritage.

Blessings to you all during this holy time.   IMG_0524

Back From The Edge

•January 25, 2016 • Leave a Comment

This week’s Gospel reading from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 4:21-30) is one with which I identify.  I can go to the edges pretty easily in my life.  Maybe I might not do that in a physical way, but I can go to the edges of existence in my mind.  I might imagine in a split second a scenario that is not real, and will not likely ever happen.  I know all the reasons for this kind of thinking, or at least some of the significant ones in my life. Sometimes when I have anticipated the best, some of the worst things have happened.

But is that enough reason to keep going there?  Why does my mind play these tricks on me?  Is there something within me that is so broken or so strange that I can go there so easily?

What I do know is that I can take a step toward the irrational.  And when I do, I have to step back from the precipice, from the edge.  I am still in the process of learning how to do this, but I can say that I don’t get as close to the edge as I have been.  I can and do step back.  I may not be as courageous as Jesus and as able to pass through the crowd unharmed, but I can step back.

Jesus took a big risk in speaking to his hometown congregation about what he believed as he read to them from the book of Isaiah.  And they got mad.  They all went to the edge – with their anger, their frustration, their inability to change things.  But Jesus passed through the midst of the crowd – unharmed.

Is the Gospel lesson this week only about facing up to what is before us?  Is it about our shortcomings, our fears?  Yes, and even more.

It is about knowing that we can go to the edge and come away unharmed.  Passing through the midst of all the dangerous thoughts and irrational ideas that tumble through our mind.  Because we are loved by God – in every moment, irrational or rational, in every circumstance, whether it is a peaceful place or a wild place.  We are loved by God.

And that is enough.

04ato_c(Image from Misioneros Del Sagrado Corazón en el Perú.)

Objects of Prayer

•November 23, 2015 • 1 Comment

Today, as I was getting dressed, I pulled a pair of socks out of the drawer.  They are not my socks, but a pair that I borrowed from my late wife’s dad several months ago when my socks and shoes were very wet.  As I put them on, I thought about Mel and what he is going through now.  He is in declining health, and he is having to say goodbye to the one he loves.  She is entering hospice care today, and her time with us in this world is drawing to a close.

And I have this cap.  It belongs to my brother in law.  We traded caps with each other a few years ago.  He is a long time member of the Baptist Church, and has a heart for one of the particular missions of that church called World Changers.  Apparently believing that he needed a little Methodist influence, I took him a cap from my church.  And he gave me a World Changers cap.

And I have these shoes.  Two pairs. They are hand-me-downs from our oldest grandson.  They are incredibly comfortable tennis shoes.  Named after basketball players like Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant.  I like them because they are comfortable.  And I didn’t have to pay for them.

So, today, I am wearing all these items.  I am praying for Mel as I wear his socks.  He needs my prayers, all our prayers, as he faces the next few days and weeks.  It is my privilege to pray for him.

And I am praying for my brother-in-law.  Some changes are happening in their lives and he, along with his family, are in my daily prayers. But today, as I wear his cap, I am praying each time I see the cap on my head.

I pray for our grandchildren along with all our family every day.  But today, as I wear the shoes, I am praying for the one who was kind enough to share his shoes with me.  He’s old enough now that he is having to make some decisions in his life, and some of those decisions are not easy to make. So today, I pray for him.

The obnoxious part of me wants to insert a little note here like a televangelist saying that if you want me to pray for you, please send your object to me along with a small donation.  But the truth is this:  If you need my prayers, let me know.  I am honored to pray on your behalf.  My prayers are not any more powerful than anyone else’s prayers, but when I pray for folks I like to spend some time thinking about them and what they are going through currently.

For a great many years, folks have prayed for me in my times of need.  It is my honor to think of others in the changing times of their lives.  IMG_1345

Getting Life Back to “Normal”

•September 8, 2015 • 1 Comment

“Normal is just a setting on the dryer.”  So says one of the little photos shared by folks on Facebook who have appropriated it from someone else on Facebook.  A photo which I have saved to my computer for the times when I might need a reminder.  Like now.

It has been a rather unusual summer.  I don’t know why I am surprised at this since I can’t really recall a summer that has been “usual.”  But in terms of sheer activity, the number of changes in our lives, and the rapidity with which things have happened, it has indeed felt unusual.  6b91379e5af4d9913ee957b279754366

And, apparently when I have a little time on my hands, or when my hands are active, but my mind is not, then there is this little trick that my body and mind begin to play on me.  And I think about all that is going on.  Then I get a little overwhelmed, and even a little incredulous,
that I / we have managed all this without going a little bit over the proverbial edge.

The truth is, making it through all of these changes is not of my own doing.  I have an incredible spouse, an incredible family, and two wonderful congregations.  I am reasonably healthy, I try to eat good things, think positive thoughts, and relax as often as possible.  I listen to a wide variety of music, I read a wide variety of books, and I pray for the communities, the state, the country, and the world in which I live.  I turn things over to God as best I can.  (There are some things I tend to take back from God because God is not taking care of them on my timetable.  But I usually end up hading them back over to the Creator of us all.)

So, just for today, I am breathing and watching the wonderful rainstorm that is headed our way tonight, and I am giving thanks.  That’s enough for me.  May you all have a week that is filled with moments of peace, relaxation, and sheer joy!

Making Change When Change Won’t Happen

•August 25, 2015 • 1 Comment

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Some would say that life is governed by logic, that the place when are today is a logical progression of other things that have happened in our lives, by the particular people and circumstances that culminate into the present moment of our lives.  So, following that line of thinking, I try to use logic whenever possible to help work out the things that are bouncing around in my mind from time to time.  Logic would say that if something is on my mind, the thing to do is to devote more attention to it, analyzing ti further, breaking it down into the specific moments and pieces and possibilities.  Then you would have a chance at figuring it out.

Alas, my mind does not always work that way.  Sometimes, when I am trying to figure something out or the variety of somethings I am usually trying to figure out, more thinking is seldom the answer.  Today is one of those days.  I have been working a few issues over in my mind, just trying to get a handle on the next step in the process for each of these issues.  Some of them are incredibly important in life, some are just minor blips on the radar which I think about in passing.  Some are life altering decisions, some are worries, some are minor annoyances, some are people and circumstances for which I am incredibly grateful.

And when I’ve analyzed to my heart’s content, I finally understand that it is time to take logic out of the way for a bit.  To quit thinking.  To quit figuring.  To do something else.

My dad used to go fishing at times like that.  My version is to drink a cup of coffee, mow the yard, sit quietly, enjoy some beautiful music, or even play a bit of music.  I might read, pray, meditate.  I might work on the cars, weed-eat a bit, or swim with the grandkids. Ultimately what is most helpful for me is to listen.  To listen to the rhythm of my life.

In our house, we have a children’s book about anger.  In this book, the boy who is angry is instructed to sit with his anger for awhile.  To listen to his anger for a bit.  Just sit and listen.  No analyzing with it, no arguing with it, no telling it to go away.  Sit and listen.  And after awhile, the anger, which is personified in the book by a monster-like creature, gets smaller and smaller.  It has less of a voice, less of a presence.

This coming Sunday, as I have been looking at the lectionary readings, I am preaching on the passage from James 1:17-27.  I am particularly intrigued by verse 19:  “Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.” (The Message)

Today, just listen to all of those issues presenting themselves in your life.  Lead with your ears.  Let them have the time they need. Just sit with them for awhile.  Know you are in my prayers.  And when your face flashes across my mind, I’ll give thanks for you.

Moving Back To Gratitude

•July 21, 2015 • 1 Comment

Some things can really disrupt your life. Aging parents, new babies, moving to a new place, having to get a dependable car. And, in the midst of all of these changes, some things remain: The constancy of family and friends, the great delight of discovering a new community of faith (or in this case, two new communities of faith), and being aware that we are in the grace, care, and love of God. It’s hard learning that it doesn’t matter where we go in this world or the next, God is with us.

So today I spent some time in gratitude. I haven’t been visiting that place as much as I would like. Because I let the other stuff in life overwhelm my time to visit that place. Today, in that place called gratitude, I rediscovered some simple things that delight me:
– the impromptu visit from Megan and John yesterday,
– the lawnmower started on the first try,
– the tire I suspected would be flat was just a little bit low,
– the joy of reading a newspaper,gratitude-stone
– mostly staying off the computer,
– the discovery of a farmer’s fruit market just down the road,
– listening to lovely music as I mow the parsonage yard,
– and, just sitting and listening to the sounds of a small town.

Is that enough? Enough to swell a person’s heart to gratitude? It is for me. Thanks be to God!

We Keep Building The Walls

•July 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I keep thinking I need a moratorium from social media. So, of course, it makes sense that I would create a blog entry and post it on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. The truth is, though, I find all of the divisiveness that I see right now on social media tiresome. That is unusual for me, because I do honestly believe that everyone has a right to their opinion, and has a right to express it in whatever is an appropriate fashion.

Maybe it is because most of what I see these days in my Facebook news feed is about one side or another on all of the issues from the news. The opinions are so varied that to simply move from one person’s post to another can give one political and religious whiplash. Maybe it has to do with the idea that social media is a way for all of us to connect, yet we seem to persist in accentuating our divisions instead of connecting.

And it may have to do with the sermons that I am thinking about these days. Tomorrow’s sermon is about David’s dancing before the Ark of the Lord. And Michal sees him dancing and views that as an act of disrespect. Because they have different experiences of the Holy. Next week’s Scripture is from Ephesians 2 where Jesus “tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance.” But we keep building the walls, ignoring our common humanity with each other and even with all of creation.

One of the things I will do is focus on the ways we can grow together. I can be aware of the ways we are different, but I don’t have to let the differences separate us. Because within my friends are a wide host of differences, with as many opinions as there are people. What if we all worked on some ways that we can accentuate our unity instead? Maybe do some good things that can help others have a better space in life instead of whining and whimpering over things that don’t really matter in the long run. I really doubt that in the annals of history anyone would care if I felt one way or another about a flag or a remark of a politician.

But if I can make a difference in the life of a child who needs some help reading, that would be a great thing. Or if someone is down on their luck, then I might be able to help them get in touch with some resources that would be helpful. Or if someone is tired of all the conflict in their lives, I can listen to them. Or maybe pray for those who are struggling. I can do all these things without asking whether they support gay marriage or care about the Confederate flag, or if they have an opinion about Donald Trump.

Maybe I need to consider the words of Jesus. “I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does.” (Matthew 5:43-44 – The Message) After all, I keep trying to follow Jesus, to listen to Jesus’ words and to walk in those footsteps. And I need to remember that not everyone liked Jesus then, that some disagreed with him so violently that they took his life. Those are some differences of opinion!

But I also know that enough is enough. I need to hold on to the Apostle Paul’s words in the letter to the Colossians: “Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.” (Colossians 4:6 – The Message). DSCF8378What if we tried being gracious? We’ve built enough walls. It’s time to bring them down.

Communion, Prayer, and Grace

•April 15, 2015 • 1 Comment

In our church at Newcastle United Methodist Church, we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion every Sunday. We do that because John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed and taught us that the Sacraments are a means of grace. And, in my church, we can use all the grace we can get. When we have enough grace, we will consider changing our schedule.

Sometimes we take communion by intinction, where we dip the bread into a chalice full of juice. More often we use the trays full of individual cups. As our congregation kneels at the communion rail, they are given a piece of bread by the one serving them, and then they take a cup out of the tray, drink it, leave it on the rail, and spend some time in prayer. And we use glass communion cups, and so it necessitates that the cups be washed and sterilized each week after they are used.

Over the past three years I have developed a ritual or two surrounding the preparation and clean up of Holy Communion. For instance, now I bake bread on either Saturday evening or Sunday morning to use for the Sacrament. And when the bread is rising, I pray for those who will receive that wonderful gift of grace in worship that day. I pray again as it comes out of the oven fully baked.

As I am filling the cups on Sunday morning, I pray for those who will be drinking 1462766_10151745478456436_153706751_om those cups. And, since my congregation tends to sit in the same place, I can picture them as they come forward for communion. Every now and then, someone moves and messes me up.

For some of my congregants, as in most churches, they are dealing with a wide variety of things in their lives – job worries, family issues, illness, etc. So when I picture them in my prayer, I think about all the things they are going through, as well as the unspoken concerns of their lives.

In worship, when we offer them the Sacrament, I pray for them again as they receive that wonderful expression of grace. And afterward, in the kitchen, as the cups, trays, chalices, and plates are being cleaned, I pray for all those who have taken that little taste of grace for themselves.

So, it seems like these elements of grace might be adequately prayed over. And maybe that is so. But I also know that my folks can use a lot of prayers, some of them more than others, so I want to pray as often as I can for them.

Lately a wonderful person from my church has taken it upon herself to clean up our communion on Sunday afternoons. She really intended it to be a surprise for me, but I happened in on her while she was doing the renegade washing. She is a person of great grace and love, and I know that she may be doing the very same thing that I did, perhaps praying for those who have received these tastes of grace.

So today I want to give thanks for faithful loving people like Anna Potts who do small things to lift another person’s heart and spirit. Thanks to all who look for ways to serve others. Because the smallest kind deed, like the small piece of bread and the portion of juice, overflows with grace in the lives of others.