Feb 17, 2017

A Reminder


A few summers ago,  I preached a sermon titled “Contemplative Practice.” It was part of our worship series we called “Practicing Faith” and the text was Ephesians 3:14-19. Besides the Bible, the book we used for the series was Brian McLaren’s 2008 book The Return of the Ancient Practices: Finding Our Way Again. McLaren’s book discloses faith practices and explores them for modern people. In fact, McLaren and others in the “emerging church” renders a different way of being a Christian than simply defining ourselves by either what we believe or what we do not believe.
Anyway, a friend reminded me of a quotation in that sermon she said was helpful and she used often in her teaching and presentations. Here is what was in that sermon:

There is a splendid quotation in Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor. Originally from Moby Dick, the quotation follows Melville’s sketch of the chaotic commotion aboard the Pequod when the crew sighted the great whale. Amidst the shouting and maneuvering a lone person stands poised and patient. It is the harpoonist. Melville writes:

To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start their feet out of idleness and not out of toil.

As the whalers go out on their hunt, there is one alone who must sit still. He is the harpooner, and his most important assignment is to anticipate, focus. Everything rests upon his concentration, his attentiveness to respond in the moment.
Being in tune with the bigger picture—in contradistinction to most of the rest of us—is what allows the harpoonist to do what he does. What allows us to do what we do? And, by the way, what are we doing?

Come, Worship
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Feb 10, 2017

Love and Language Precision


In my philosophy class the other day, we were discussing how a lot of philosophy is about precision in language. That is, if we can say with more exactitude what we are mean, then we enhance the chances of someone understanding us.

The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, in his philosophical system, demonstrated “that traditional philosophical problems can be avoided entirely by application of an appropriate methodology, one that focuses on analysis of language.” One of his more famous quotations is “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (Tractatus 7).

Effective language communicates, and does so by using concrete and specific images. Too many words confound rather than enlighten. Also, for students, their writing needs to be appropriately formal—not “it means the stuff we know about” kind of statements.

One example to argue for precision in language is the word "love" from Old Testament Greek. Today, we might talk about cars in terms that might sound like: “I love my Ford Mustang.” But in what sense do we “love” it?

"Love" translated into English means any number of things, including: storge (family love); eros (passionate, romantic love); philia (brotherly love, best friend); and agape (unconquerable benevolence, invincible goodwill). Thus, when we use the word “love” we are saying a lot more than we may intend—or know.

When we speak of love without some differentiation, what we mean may not be what hearers understand. May we all be careful and say what we mean and mean what we say—especially the week of February 14—when love is in the air!

Come, Worship 
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Feb 3, 2017

Growing in Gratitude


Here is a story of a woman who should come to our church and learn how to grow in gratitude:

A sailor was walking across the pier late one afternoon, on his way to a town for a shore-leave. He heard the cry of a child from the water. He plunged in the water and rescued a six-year-old boy who had fallen in. As soon as he got the boy on the pier, the boy scampered off, leaving the nameless sailor standing there dripping wet. The next day the sailor was leaving the ship again to take the shore-leave he missed the day before. He heard a vaguely familiar voice crying out: "There he is that's the one". He saw the boy he had rescued coming toward him, holding to his mother's hand. The mother asked the sailor: "Are you the man who rescued my son?" The sailor stood tall and said: "Yes ma'am". "Then", said the woman, "where is his cap?"


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Jan 27, 2017

On Errant Resumes


Like most preachers, I remember a time when everything went right when speaking to a group of people. Several years ago a local service club asked me to do their program.  Because most of them were well-heeled business people, I decided to begin with an amusing look at some items appropriated from actual resumes of job seekers. Some of them were funny, but in a sad, pathetic sort of way.

Included in the errant resumes were these seven statements:

--Wholly responsible for two (2) failed financial institutions.
--Failed bar exam with relatively high grades.
--It’s best for my employers that I not work with people.
--I have an excellent track record, although I am not a horse.
--Instrumental in ruining entire operation for a Midwest chain store.
--Note: Please don’t misconstrue my 14 jobs as job-hopping.  I have never quit a job.
--The company made me a scapegoat, just like my three previous employers.

The people in attendance at the luncheon roared with laughter. They recognized the kinds of people about which I spoke. These business people had experienced these kinds of resumes firsthand.

I wonder what will happen to me when God calls for my Christian resume? What might it look like? I hope my Christian resume does not look as pathetic as some of the entries above. I suppose today is the day for all of us to look and repair the resumes we have thus far built for God.

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Go, Serve

Jan 20, 2017

One Mile Mission


Before dying, Rabbi Zusya said to his disciples, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses? Why were you not David?  Why were you not Abraham?’ No. In the world to come they will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’ ” 

At the beginning of a New Year, 2017, when we ask ourselves who and what we should be, and why we have not been what we should, there is much to learn from Rabbi Zusya’s words. Small groups and intentional prayer hold us accountable!

For several decades, our church and immediate geographical neighborhood have been in a severe change mode. Some have noticed it; many have not. Church members ask me occasionally “why can’t our church be more like White’s Chapel UMC (in Southlake) or more like FUMC, Mansfield?” Granted we used to be something like those churches—maybe better (?)—then. But now—we are much different. Now, God calls us to respond to our neighborhood community and to offer the gospel as a “regional church” might offer the good news of Jesus Christ. We have not been “a suburban” church for twenty-five years or more, and perhaps it is an act of faithfulness to notice.

To paraphrase a rabbi: “In the coming world, they will not ask FUMC, Arlington: ‘Why were you not Arbor Lawn UMC? Why were you not First UMC, Plano? Why were you not First UMC, Wichita Falls?’ No. In the world to come they will ask: ‘Why were you not FUMC, Arlington?’ ”

Thus I propose to our entire congregation, via Church Council, that we continue a strategy that a minister friend of mine, Rev. Ken Diehm, and I fashioned adapted to our setting called the “One Mile Mission.” The core motivation is to get each and every significant group in our church (Sunday school classes, choirs, Bible Studies, the staff, prayer cells, young adult ministry, or even a family unit, etc.) to advance one mission operation in Christ’s name within a one-mile radius of the altar cross in our Sanctuary.

The proposed idea has a twofold purpose. First, the “One Mile Mission” introduces us to our neighbors and neighborhood. Second, the “One Mile Mission” introduces our neighbors and neighborhood to us. You may ask “what is a “significant group?” I say it is “where two or three are gathered” for where you are in Jesus’ name, there he is too (Matthew 18:20). No group at FUMCA is too small or too large.

Pray about our “One Mile Mission!” In addition, recognize this is why God called us in the first place. Start a new group that focuses on a one mile mission.

Our Small Group Communities Lunch & Launch is this Sunday, in the Banquet Room, at 12:15 pm.

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

Jan 13, 2017

Martin Luther King Jr. Day


For faith, Samson, Jeremiah, John the Baptizer, Peter, Paul, and Silas all spent jail time. Possibly some of the best preaching and witnessing to our faith came straight out of jail. And if you think that preaching from jail is only an honorable and ancient form of Christian testimony then consider an important epistle that Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote over fifty years ago.

In 1963 King called Birmingham, Alabama, “by far the worst city for race relations in America.” Also known as “Bombingham,” the city had become infamous for at least fifty bombings of black homes and churches in the years after World War II, along with Sheriff Bull Connor’s fire hoses and snarling police dogs during 1961’s Freedom Summer. This bloodshed preceded the awful slaughter at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on 15 September 1963, when white supremacists blew up the spiritual home of the local civil rights movement during crowded Sunday services, killing four little girls. Like Paul who wrote Philippians from prison, King wrote his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” on 16 April 1963.  This letter, written to, among others, at least two Methodist bishops, Paul Hardin and Nolan B. Harmon, explained King’s thinking with regard to the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

We live in a different era now, in part thanks to King’s courage of conviction. Take a moment today to reflect on the meaning and price of freedom for all people.


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Image: "Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963" Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Jan 6, 2017

Baptism of the Lord Sunday


Baptism connects us to generations of Christians before and after us. It is a bit like seeing a sliver of a section of Old U.S. Highway 40 and thinking that is all there is. Yet, beyond our immediate perception there is much, much more.

Let me explain. I grew up in Independence, Missouri, in the late 1950s and 1960s.  Old U.S. Highway 40 (prior to the Interstate of the same name/number) was the big road in our town. This massive highway, at least to a small child it seemed massive, separated Independence from Raytown. Bev’s Root Beer Stand, The Blue Ridge Mall, and our local drive in movie theater were all on Highway 40. It was a most important highway in my judgment. My dad even said it was a key link to the rest of the world. Yet, at eight years old I had no idea what he meant.

Later I found out that this Old U.S. Highway 40 was the first U.S. highway that ran from sea to shining sea. It began in Atlantic City, New Jersey and finished its traverse of our country in San Francisco, California. If one were to drive this magnificent highway from end to end, one would see these sights along the way:

Cowtown Rodeo, New Castle, Maryland
Fort Necessity/Uniontown, Wheeling, West Virginia
The National Road Museum, Columbus, Ohio
Boonville and Independence, Missouri
Denver, Colorado
Berthoud Pass and Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Salt Lake City, Utah and Winnemucca
Reno, Nevada
. . . and, finally, San Francisco, California.

This highway linked two oceans and 14 states along the way. However, as a child, I would have never guessed that that one highway could have linked me to all that! And yet, in an analogous way, this is what baptism does for us. It reminds us that what we see today, “in our seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong” (Psalm 90:10) is not all there is.

Instead, God links us to our past, our future, and to our present, by saints before us and behind us, who are united with us in a pool of water and the holy spirit that reminds us: “This is my Son or Daughter, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Baptism joins us to God and to God’s saints who are to be our eternal brothers and sisters.  This is the great line of splendor in which we disciples stand.

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

 
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