Dec 27, 2012

The Year in Review

As I read the names of saints from our church who passed between last All Saints Day and this one, it was hard to do. We lost some marvelously faithful folks and it made me realize how important people become to one another. In our daily grind of making a living, it is difficult to keep at making a life. My family also buried two of our favorite dogs—Emmie and Sadie—this year and, although we still have four canines, we do miss the two that have assumed their place in our pet cemetery.

I want to commend the great work our music program has offered to the church and community. The Chancel Choir, Testament Youth Choir, Children’s Choirs, Youth Orchestra, Ambassador Ringers, and LifeSong have had a great year filled with opportunities to minister to many groups throughout Arlington and the country. Testament enjoyed a very successful choir tour to Denver, Colorado, last summer. Sixty-six youth and fourteen adult sponsors went on this momentous tour. Testament sang in worship on the trip and shared the love of Christ through music as they sang at retirement homes. Plans are underway for next summer’s tour to Memphis, Tennessee.

As you may not know, the Chancel Choir has been invited to sing in the Distinguished Concerts International New York World Premiere concert of American composer Mark Hayes’ “Requiem” at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall on May 27, 2013. A group of 21 representing First United Methodist Church of Arlington will travel to New York City on May 24, where the singers will have the opportunity to work with Mr. Hayes, who is conducting the concert.

The Children’s Choirs, Youth Orchestra, and Ambassador Ringers have provided beautiful music in worship and have presented programs at retirement homes throughout Arlington. The Chancel Choir raised money to supply costumes for Webb Elementary’s musical production, which was presented at Creative Arts Theatre School last spring. All of our Music Ministry groups enjoy using their musical gifts as they share the love of Christ and glorify God through music.

There is at the end of this year a wonderful and generous spirit among the people of our congregation. I could go on and on, but choose to remember Jesus words from John 16:12:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now”

Dec 17, 2012

Acknowledging Our Sin

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:5-10).

If nothing else, the idea of human sin is one which the Bible is interested. For instance, in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells some accusers that those who are without sin [should] cast the first stone. Everyone immediately leaves. Paul, too, deals with the theme of universal sinfulness by saying that all [people] have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The author of 1 John takes up this theme as well.

Although it is probably more a sermon than a letter, 1 John has some sage advice for the early church community. Our verses today have to do with the common theme that all people stand in need of the grace of God for all walk in darkness without God. The teaching imparted here is that there are two kinds of persons. The first are people of the light for they walk in the light of God and by so doing have fellowship with God. The other kind of person is a person who walks in darkness, and these persons can claim modest fellowship with God, for they “do not do what is true.”

The text 1 John 1:5-10 speaks to all human being’s need to become children of light if they are to be true to the purposes of God. When we worship, we acknowledge the reality that people are alienated from God and one another and we go from there. It is about that simple.

I hope to see you Sunday and on Christmas Eve at our multiple worship services (4—for children, 6, 8, and 11 pm). Also, feel to bring a friend or two—this is a blessed time for guests in the house of God!

Dec 7, 2012

The Candy Cane Story

I thought some folks might enjoy this story for the holiday season:

A candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would tell the story of Jesus, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ.

He began with a pure white, hard stick of candy. He used white to symbolize the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Jesus; and hard to symbolize the Solid Rock, the foundation of the church, and firmness of the promises of God.

He then shaped the candy into the form of a “J” to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. It could also represent the staff of the “Good Shepherd” with which he reaches down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs that, like all sheep, have gone astray.

Because it appeared somewhat plain, the candy maker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed. The large red stripe was for the blood shed by Christ on the cross so that we could have the promise of eternal life.

Unfortunately, it became known as a candy cane—a hollow decoration seen at Christmas time. The meaning, however, is still there for those who “have eyes to see and ears to hear.” I hope that this symbol will again come to tell people of the wonder of Jesus and his great love which came to earth that first Christmas and remains the ultimate and dominant force in the universe today.

May every candy cane you see remind you of the joy that comes through Jesus Christ and the real meaning of Christmas.

Nov 30, 2012

The True Meaning of Christmas

As I watch people, the media, etc. tell everyone what Christmas means, my guess is that our world is full of misinformation. because few Christians cared enough to tell people about the true meaning without putting the other person down as a sinner or worse.

I hope all of us can share the story of the baby in the manger (no, not Little Santa as a baby) who turned out by God’s good grace to be the Messiah of the world. We cannot blame people if no one has ever really set them straight on the “what’s up” on Jesus. As Paul wrote in Romans 10:13-17: “For, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?... So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” ... and we are the ones who proclaim it and tell it and share it.

I pray that when we get opportunity these next few weeks to inform other people of the “true meaning of Christmas” we can do our best to share “the good news of Jesus Christ.” If we do not share the story of Christmas from the perspective of faith, then how will our culture ever understand its meaning?

One night, when I was working in Georgetown, someone from the Sheriff’s Department in Williamson County asked if our church could give to charity? The caller was calling for the Williamson County’s charity for Christmas. I said, “Ma’am, do you know what churches do?”

She said, “Not really. I know that churches hold weddings, though.” I said, “What you are now doing this December is what we do all year, every year. The church has been the charity for hurting people for almost 2000 years. When you ask us to give to you, then you are asking the original charity to contribute to another charity.”

She then thanked me and said, “No one ever told me that before.”

Merry Christmas!

Nov 9, 2012

The Bible: We Don’t Teach it—Duh?

Recently, in a church meeting here at FUMC of Arlington someone remarked: “The trouble with the Methodist church is they don’t teach the Bible.” Apart from the disturbing use of “they” by one of “our” church members was the fact that this person did not have his/her facts correct in any event. We study the Bible around here all the time. I will give you some examples:

We have what is called “Immersion Bible Study”—recently expanded to two sessions—a morning and evening session on Wednesdays. This is an in-depth study of each book of the Bible with excellent resources that help participants apply the information to their daily lives. We have studied Matthew, Mark and John, Romans, Genesis and Psalms. The groups will begin a study on Luke and then Acts in January.

In addition, there is also an early morning men’s study group that meets at 6 am each Wednesday and a women’s group that meets at 10 on Wednesday mornings. Recently, we added an additional women’s group meeting in the evening.

On Thursday night we have two Bible study groups. One alternates between Disciple Bible Study and Bible studies on seasonal topics such as Advent and Lent. The other group began as a Beginnings study group to introduce people to Methodism and Bible study. They are now doing Bible studies based on Adam Hamilton’s Bible study guides.

The Disciple Bible study that Larry Thomas leads on Sunday afternoons is always full.

Many of our Adult Sunday school classes use either the International Bible Series, or short term Bible studies by authors such as Adam Hamilton, J. Ellsworth Kalas, and James Moore.

Our youth ministry is based on biblical lessons both on Sunday and Wednesday evenings.

Our children’s ministry uses scripture as a basis for its Sunday morning lessons as well as the Wednesday evening Kids in Mission. Way of the Child is also scripture based and closes each Sunday evening’s session with a meditation on a story from the Bible.

All ministries of this church—prayer, mission, caring, and evangelism, etc.—are performed as a response to action inspired by God’s word as experienced through the study of the scriptures.

Last of all, I teach a Lectionary Bible Study on Tuesday evenings from 6:00 to 7:00 in the Banquet Room which is always comfortably full of United Methodist people who are actually studying the Bible. This particular study provides an in-depth study of the scripture texts that we use on the following Sunday in worship. This study runs roughly concurrent with the public school year.

So . . . for a church that does not “teach the Bible,” I would like to suggest we are doing quite a bit of it and at a pretty high level. Like my old daddy used to ask: “Why let a few facts stand in the way of a good story?”

PS: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge” (Job 38:2)?

Nov 2, 2012

All Saints Sunday II

All Saints Sunday provides the church—us—a ritual means to remember those who have lived among us: those who showed us what it means to be Christian. When we read the names of our brothers and sisters in faith and when we hear the chimes or the bell, it reminds each of us of our own mortality. We will all, sooner or later, have our own names and chime on a day much like this day. Our worship ritual reminds us what is important—although many of us could not put this moment into words. What we remember is so much larger than our understanding of it. Ritual is a practice to remind each of us that too often we stand in the presence of greatness, yet we often forget it. Worst of all, we often fail to recognize the simple greatness of other people.

When I was nine years old, I walked across the street with my father to be with the Bates family. They learned that their 16-year-old daughter died as a result of heart surgery complications. I was really too young to realize just how difficult that walk across the street was for my father. He and Mr. Bates were good friends. In the midst of stunned and profound silence, one of the men in the living room suggested, “Let’s pray.” As we bowed our heads I remember thinking that I had never seen a group of grown ups so intensely sad and completely powerless. Yet, in their own ritualized way they turned toward God because God was the source and the end of all that they were. Ritual helps us remember that life’s most profound moments—both in joy and in grief—must finally and completely be handed over to God.

On All Saints Sunday we hand the lives of our saints over to God—but we keep their memory alive in our worship and in our hearts. On All Saints Sunday we celebrate the ritual of thanksgiving to God because God has put these important people into our lives and given us a memory of them that never fades. We are thankful to God because that is our proper response. I only pray that through our ritual of thanksgiving we can remember that God really does gives us gifts of people who truly make living life worth the while. Amen.

Oct 25, 2012

All Saints

Because Halloween is coming soon enough, sometimes it is good to explore the authentic Christian celebration of which Halloween is simply a secular offshoot. I want to walk around the concept of All Saints and see what some of our scripture tells us about the saints.

Revelation’s author, known to Christian tradition as Saint John the Divine, finds himself in the heavenly throne room. To this point in the Apocalypse, John is earth-bound, but now finds himself transported to the throne of God. John writes, “At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne” (Revelation 4:2). Our text furnishes a description of but one of the many things John sees in the throne room. Among the visions is “a great multitude.” When John suggests that these are those “who have come out of the great ordeal,” John implies those who have been faithful to Christ’s ministry with their lives—they are martyrs. In this sense, they are the convincing stewards. These stewards have offered everything to God’s Realm.

All Saints Sunday is the day that the church celebrates those believers who have died in Christ. It is a day of remembrance. On occasion believers ask, “How does a person become a saint?” All Saints Day and Revelation bring this sort of question to mind. Earlier, chapter six details the opening of six of seven seals. In the prophecy of the seals, we notice war horses, God’s altar, and natural disasters plaguing earth. After the sixth seal’s opening Revelation furnishes us an interlude. Perhaps readers need a respite after the horrors of the first six seals. The sealing of the 144,000 begins chapter seven. This image furnishes us with a picture of the church militant, that is, the church struggling for life among earth’s principalities and powers. John’s next image is the church triumphant—those who rest from their earthly labors.

Chapter seven provides strangely contrasting visions of the church militant and the church triumphant. First, there is a specifically calculated throng of 144,000 contrasted to “a great multitude that no one could count.” Second, John contrasts the twelve tribes of Israel to “a multitude from every nation.” Third, John describes the church militant as a company prepared for threatening peril and distinguishes it from the victorious and secure counted in the church triumphant. Whatever this chapter wants to impart, above all, it is John’s attempt to describe a vision of heaven.

Over the centuries the concept of heaven has fueled much speculation—regularly confused and confusing to those on this side of death. A cartoon once appeared in The New Yorker Magazine. It showed a group of heaven-bound saints lined-up just outside the heavenly gates. Saint Peter stood at a podium; reading off the answers to the most frequently asked questions on earth, now finally and decisively answered in heaven. Saint Peter reads the list: “# 48, true; # 49, false; # 50, William Shattner; # 51, yes; # 52, the Ponderosa; # 53, every other Tuesday . . . .” People have inquiring minds and we want to know. John’s heavenly apocalyptic vision offers us one such image.

“How does a person become a saint?” For stewards this is a controlling question, for we all believe that our response to God offers us a just “reward.” But however we conceive of heaven, John writes at least this much: heaven is the place where saints or believers—they amount to the same thing—commune with God.

Our efforts do not make us saints. Rather, we become saints when God confers on us “gifts and graces” to handle as stewards. When we use God’s resources for shaping God’s Realm, then God develops us into true saints. God bestows sainthood at the point where God’s grace encounters our stewardship. There, we find God and God’s saints.

Oct 17, 2012

Living as Children of Light

Let everything you say be good and helpful,
so that your words will be an encouragement 
to those who hear them.
Ephesians 4:29

This picture was taken at Sanctuario de Chimayo 
It's so easy to let words slip out of our mouths before we think about the impact they may have on someone else.  This is true in how we speak to our families, our closest friends, acquaintances, people at the store, and strangers we may never see again.  There have been times in my life that I just wanted to grab those words back because I didn't know the damage they would cause.  

Words were the topic of our devotional this morning.  In the new testament, there are many teachings about words and how they impact other people.  God gives us specific instructions to build each other up and not tear each other down.  Everyone....not just those we love or who are Christian.  What a reminder this is, as we navigate modern life with words all around us—on phones, TVs, computers, face to face, iPads, billboards and newspapers.  

Our words have the opportunity to change the world and make it a better place.  We have been reminded of that often on this mission trip.  The staff and faculty are in a transition in their ministry from a private Christian school to a public charter school with supportive Christian ministries.  As a team, we are choosing to use our words and our actions to support and build this school up so that they have the strength and courage to continue to face their changing outreach possibilities.  We also recognize that these students do not know why we are here.  Yet they see us each day working hard on their campus and offering them free smiles and greetings that hopefully will encourage them to pass on the same type of hospitality to their classmates and teachers.  

Words can cause a chain reaction.  Make sure the ones you let come our of your mouth today glorify God and affirm the worth and dignity of those around you as God's creations.  Amen.

Today the team spent doing several tasks including pruning trees, mending fences, cleaning out basements, organizing materials, processing Campbell soup labels and box tops, gardening, working in the cafeteria, and much more.  Our bodies are tired, but our spirits are strong!

Last evening, we traveled roughly eight miles up the road to the community of Chimayo.  We visited the Sanctuario de Chimayo and ate dinner at a traditional New Mexican place Rancho de Chimayo, which featured cuisine such as flat enchiladas, chile rellenos, and sopapillas.  Yum!

Oct 15, 2012

McCurdy Mission Trip

As the sun began to rise this morning over the Jemez mountains and our mission team of 15 rolled out of bed in Espanola, New Mexico, we knew it was going to be a great week of outreach!  

We are staying and working at McCurdy school, which is located in the Rio Grande valley just 25 miles north of Santa Fe and has been a haven of safety and quality Christian education for numerous children in its 100 year history.  As we walk among the buildings and talk with the staff and missionaries, it is apparent that God has been at work on this campus and continues to have plans for its future.  

This year, due to financial constraints, the school faced the realization that it would have to close its doors or do something radically different.  So the administration and trustees prayed about it and decided to go back to the schools roots by applying for Charter school status through the state and separating the educational component from the ministry component.  This allows the school to receive state funding and accept more students—matter of fact, they have doubled in size this year.  

But with any change comes a range of emotions and tasks to be completed.  Because the school was founded so long ago and many of the buildings were built in the early 1900's, several of them cannot be  used for the Charter school and the others have to be brought up to current codes and ADA compliance.  The plan is for four of the buildings to be demolished and a new building put up in its place to take the school into the future.  In terms of ministry (mental health counseling, bible studies, Christian education, etc.) it means they have to be creative to reach the students before and after school due to the separation of church and state.  But the ministry staff's dedication to Christ and to the students has given them renewed hope that they will keep the McCurdy vision alive.

So what does that mean our team is doing all week?  Well....each day will hold something new, but we have begun our week with team members working in the cafeteria, cleaning out some of the buildings to be torn down or repurposed, purging documents, organizing school supplies and generally helping out wherever needed.  Everyone is choosing to show the students Christ through our actions and presence, even when we cannot use our words.  

We look forward to sharing our days and insights with you as we minister to and with the people of McCurdy school.  We also hope that you are inspired to reach out and touch those that are in your presence this week as well.  

I leave you with a quote on the wall of our dormitory this week.  It is a great reminder of God calling us each and every day.  AMEN

I am only one,
but yet,
I am one.
I cannot do everything,
but I can do something.
And what I can do,
I ought to do.
And what I ought to do,
by the Grace of God,

Oct 5, 2012

What Exactly is Stewardship?

 One area of Christian theology which most believers need guidance is in the province of stewardship. Too often, when the church says “stewardship,” the Christian hears “$teward$hip.” For example, as I glance through catalogues from religious publishing houses, when I come to the pages concerning stewardship it amazes me how many of the books have to do with money alone. Some titles are instructive: More Money, Big Money, New Money; How to Develop a Tithing Church; Speaking of Stewardship: Model Sermons on Money and Possessions; and many more. Clearly, stewardship does concern what Christians do with their money, but stewardship is a much richer theological concept than we usually confer upon it. Stewardship is an abundant and vital Christian notion. We do the term an injustice when we equate it exclusively with money.

The word “stewardship” is a Greek word, from which we derive the English word for “economy.” Stewardship fundamentally means “to manage the household.” Unfortunately, the household we think of first when we hear the word stewardship is the household of money. In reality, however, anything Christians manage is a household. For example, we are Christian stewards over our influence, faith, vote, spiritual life, listening, cooking, love, encouragement, good will and so on. Indeed, anything we manage is a stewardship “household.” Clearly, our households includes our money, but stewardship is also much more than money.

Christian teachers and exemplars can help believers understand that stewardship is not just a “money word,” but is rather the deep reservoir from which people may draw to respond in faith. To help new givers learning about stewardship appreciate the term, I divide this theological concept into four cardinal principles. These four principles or standards are not exhaustive, but suggest ways we can visualize Christian stewardship fundamentals.

Here are my four principles of Christian stewardship:
  1. Everything belongs to God.
  2. God includes people as partners in creation.
  3. Each believer has a task that he or she is gifted to do.
  4. God’s realm will remain steadfast with or without our participation.
We could say that these principles not only guide individual Christians, but they might be used to further the church’s mission to God’s created world.

As you contemplate how you will respond to our 2013 campaign Do the Right Thing! Remember that our response to God includes much more than our money—and yet it does include that too!

Sep 28, 2012

Why Pledging is Important

A lot of people joke about giving to the church and I like the story that Garrison Keillor tells:

A letter from a local church to members who were not present on Pledge Dedication Sunday and therefore did not fill out their pledge cards: "Dear Ann and Joe: We missed you last Sunday, which was Pledge Sunday. Since you were not present to fill out your pledge card and to make it easy for you, we have completed a pledge card for you. Thank you for being so generous.

Your Finance Committee" (Garrison Keillor)

This Sunday morning (September 30) we worship and celebrate our loyalty to Christ and Christ’s Church. Our stewardship campaign is: Do the Right Thing. This theme reflects what all Christians know—everything we have and everything that we are is a gift from God. To be a steward is to be a person who understands the importance of gratitude. God has blessed our congregation with many people who understand gratitude firsthand.

It is our conviction that stewardship is simply another name for faithfulness. Anyone can “talk a good game,” but the real test of faith is what we do for others—our children, the poor, the aged, and others who cannot fend for themselves. It is true that a person can give without Christ, but a person cannot be in Christ and fail to give. Jesus spoke often about our relationship to our possessions—and we know what Paul told us Jesus said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

This Sunday, 30 September 2012, please attend worship. Please bring your pledge card to the altar. Please dedicate your financial intention for 2012. Please consecrate your life to the cause of Christ. It is a cause greater than all of us. If you cannot attend worship, kindly send your pledge card to the church. Every gift is important and our goal is to have 750+ households participate in our campaign Do the Right Thing. As a church, we are stronger when we work together because “many hands lighten the load.”

Sep 21, 2012

Who We Are

Next week, we kick off our Fall Stewardship Campaign, and what we give to others is certainly a measure of our main concerns. An old Hasidic saying puts the idea of our relationship with others this way:
“The person who thinks he can live without others is mistaken, the person who thinks that others can’t live without him is even more mistaken.”
As we think about our gifts to God through the ministries of the church, we do well to think about God’s gifts to us through the ministries of the church. What we are and have been and will be, only God can give as a precious gift. All we are asked to give God back is a small portion of what was already God’s to begin with. We will know what to do with our possessions when we remember who we are as possessed by God.

Hendrik Kraemer, the Dutch theologian, was contacted by several of his friends in 1939 in the Netherlands. They told him they were concerned because many of their Jewish friends were missing from their towns and villages. They asked Kramer what they ought to do. He said to them, "I cannot tell you what to do. But I can tell you who you are. If you know who you are you will know what to do." They went out and organized the Resistance movement.

As trials and temptations come to us, we need to remember who we are, and then we will know how to act and what to do. We are sinners saved by grace. Therefore, "live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27).

Sep 14, 2012

Weird Genesis

A few weeks ago I preached a sermon based on Genesis 6:1-8 with the title “Noah’s Ark.” Alas for me, I learned what Ben Franklin meant when he wrote: “Haste makes waste.”

In my haste to finish up the summer sermon series, “Favorite Bible Stories,” I neglected to select vigilantly the most fitting text about Noah. Instead, I selected a text that preceded the story of Noah and, in effect, explained the reason why God decided to flood the earth.

Friday afternoon of that week, as things quieted down at FUMC of Arlington, I sat down and to my horror saw the text I had selected. Here are the first four verses so you need not scramble for your Bible:

[6:1] When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, [2] the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. [3] Then the Lord said, "My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years." [4] The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown (Genesis 6:1-4).

Someone wrote to me that next week, and I quote, “Hi David—You know how I like to have my "say"—well, here goes! I could have skipped the first part of your sermon today—and I don't think anyone would have even known you didn't stick to the printed text."

Yet, several people commented that they had often wondered about that particular text and were interested in my explanation of it (or virtually any explanation of the text).

In part, I commented that “one way or another, in the telling of the Genesis story as it was narrated previous to human writing, and told over and over again, this part (vv. 1-4) was incorporated—perhaps without understanding.” Then I suggested to our congregation that no matter what we think about this difficulty, the next four verses were no less disturbing, but perhaps more understandable and we read the rest of the lesson for the day Genesis 6:5-8.

My correspondent may have been correct after all, and if I had been paying more attention to detail I would never have chosen such a bizarre or difficult text. Yet the Bible is what it is, which is to say the whole thing is exceedingly engaging and curious—if not downright edifying. Finally, at the end, my friend finished his/her e-mail with this agreeable affirmation:

“The last part was powerful—and I had never thought of Noah representing one man who did God’s will—and how one man's contribution can change so much. I wanted to stand up and cheer when you ended!"

Sep 7, 2012

Church Full of Seminary Students

I have often said that we are a teaching congregation here at First United Methodist Church of Arlington Texas. I have also told our seminary students—and we have four of them—that if you can do it in a large urban church like ours, then you can do it anywhere—and “it” means pastor with faith and integrity. As teachers of those who will become pastors, I want to introduce you to our seminary students.
Rezolia Johnson

First, we have Rezolia Johnson, our Perkins intern, who comes to us with her daughters, Caylah (16) and Caisa (13). Rezolia served as youth pastor at Koza Baptist Church in Okinawa, Japan and Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax, Virginia. She also served as Youth Pastor and in administration for several years at the Inspiring Body of Christ Church in Dallas. Prior to and during her ministry in Japan and Virginia, she was a high school teacher.

Rezolia graduated with a bachelor of arts in political science and communications from Prairie View A&M University and is certified in domestic violence training by Genesis Women’s Shelter. Rezolia is presently a candidate for the master of divinity degree at Perkins (SMU).
Nick Scott

Another new seminary student this year is Nick Scott. Nick has been working with youth for seven years, the last four of which have been as the FUMC of Arlington director of youth and young adult ministries. He attended Texas A&M University where he received a BA in English. Nick lives in Burleson, where he also grew up, with his beautiful and talented wife, Andi, and his exceptionally handsome 22-month-old son, Kade. Nick is now attending Brite Divinity School at TCU.

Our third seminarian is Blair Lewis, who graduated from Texas A&M in 1994, with a BS in business management. He had a 17-year finance career with Merrill Lynch, ING Financial and Deutsche Bank. Blair has also served on the board of directors for the Fort Worth Day Resource Center for the Homeless. Now he is attending Brite Divinity School pursuing masters of divinity. Blair preaches weekly in our celebration service.
Blair Lewis

Blair brings his wife, Dawn and daughter, Morgan. Morgan is a competitive swimmer and 5th grader.

Our fourth current seminarian is the farthest along in the ordination process with the Central Texas Annual Conference. Tolli Macalik joined our staff at FUMC of Arlington on 1 August 2012 as our Big Hope director, coordinating the Big Hope ministry for our church. Big Hope, a pilot program provides one-on-one mentoring for at-risk youth, is designed to combine the best practices of two organizations—Big Brothers Big Sisters and KIDS HOPE USA—into one cohesive model specifically designed for the church. Big Hope incorporates one-on-one volunteer mentoring just one hour a week for the upcoming school year.
Tolli Macalik
Tolli and our other church volunteer mentors will be working with Webb Elementary as we start the new school year. The 2012–13 Big Hope program has been funded by a grant received from the Arlington Tomorrow fund

Tolli lives in Arlington with her husband, Frank, and is retired from AT&T after 33 years to pursue a call to the Christian ministry.

These folks are all high quality human beings and good students. I ask you to not only get to know them as you encourage them in their studies, but to continue in prayer for them—and not just during finals!

Aug 31, 2012

Three Fiction Books Worth Your Time

Since some in my circle—a very small one, alas—asked what I have been reading this summer, I thought it would be good to recommend my favorite three fiction books from the summer of 2012. Two have been re-reads; the other completely new to me.

The first book I would recommend is for those who enjoy wackiness. That is to say, if you can abide the humor of Monty Python, you will love the book A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Many of us have been keeping New Orleans in our prayers this week and, as luck would have it, this book is set in that great old city which has so much character. Speaking of character, this book is about a weird guy, named Ignatius J. Reilly, who sells hot dogs. The whole book, from beginning to end, is about the misadventure of Ignatius, who gets involved with characters nearly as vibrant as he is. A Confederacy of Dunces, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, will make you laugh, as will my second recommendation.

T. R. Pearson’s A Short History of a Small Place is a short and funny novel about a mythical town in North Carolina called Neely. A narrator tells the story of the town’s zany and entertaining Miss Myra Angelique Pettigrew. She is always full of surprises and my favorite part concerns her pet monkey—who is always full of inventive surprises. I bought about ten copies of the book, but always give them all away. This book is a laugh a minute!

For the reader who likes humor, the third and last book I will recommend is Puddenhead Wilson, which some have called Mark Twain's latest novel. This story of a black child and white child switched at birth and the funny things that happen to them, is also Twain’s social commentary on American life in the 1890s. Set in a Mississippi town in the days of slavery, with a mystery and crime thrown, this book forces readers to look at their attitudes toward many social conventions in the light of pretentious humor.

If you have some time and need some good laughs, any of these three books will fill the bill.

Aug 24, 2012

August and Assurance: Faith Yoked to Hope (Part 2)

Hebrews 11:1-2 tells its readers that, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.” Most people I know, and this includes pastors, need people and promises they can count on. We also know that in the church, however, are two kinds of people: promise keepers and promise breakers. Preachers generally embrace the former and avoid the later, however un-theological it may be. After all, preachers are human too. We want to deal confidently with folks who are in ministry with us. Yet, we all know the all too human shortcoming of forgetting what we promise—or simply refusing to do things that we had committed to earlier.

When I attended the University of Texas, I had a wonderful professor named Dr. James Kinneavy. Rhetoricians generally recognized Kinneavy as one of the world’s leading authorities in the academic discipline of rhetoric. I loved to meet with him and soak up all the wisdom and knowledge that he dispensed without even realizing it. He knew Plato, Aristotle, Isocrates, and Augustine backwards and forwards—and so many other great rhetorical scholars as well. The problem was that although he could cite any text in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics or The Rhetoric by both chapter and verse, he could not remember lunch dates he made with me to discuss my reading assignments. We would make a lunch date and three times out of four he would fail to appear. He always apologized, but after a while anyone might get gun-shy when setting plans for lunch with him. We all want to count on promises made by others. This is perhaps most especially true about the promises God makes to us.

John Wesley was one of those great souls who spent much of his life looking for assurance or what Hebrews might call the “things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” He searched scripture, church history, church doctrine, and the minds and hearts of all he respected. Yet, the peace and inner calm he sought continued to elude him. Finally, as Methodist lore tells the story, Wesley found that peace of mind in the assurance of God’s love at a little church on Aldersgate Street, as he listened to someone read Luther’s preface to the commentary on the book of Romans. The United Methodist Book of Worship puts it this way: “On Wednesday, May 24, 1738, John Wesley experienced his “heart strangely warmed.” This Aldersgate experience was crucial for his own life and became a touchstone for the Wesleyan movement (United Methodist Publishing House, 1992, p. 439).

Generally, the feeling of assurance is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Some people get it immediately upon conversion; while others, like Wesley, search for it for many years. My guess is that assurance is like the missing remote control for the television. About the time we stop looking for it, then it finds us.

Assurance is the calmness people sense and feel when they know God has sent Jesus to save and redeem us. It is an inner testimony by the Holy Spirit that God loves us and offers us salvation in Jesus. But assurance is not an equivalent to knowledge. Rather, assurance is more like a promise that we completely and fully believe, accept, and trust. This “faith” then gives us the confidence to lead lives that befit the gospel. As Paul himself says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

As believers, the bedrock of our ability to live abundant lives is to have confidence or assurance that God, revealed in Jesus Christ, is our ultimate anchor. Every other idol, whether in nature or even in our own success, is a chimera. These objects of false confidence are fleeting and untrustworthy. Faith in Christ is the only trust in abundant life that we believers can grasp.

As people of faith we live between two alternatives. One alternative leads to countless questions that eventually bring us back to where we began. The other alternative is to live in faith until the Holy Spirit grants us that inner peace with God we call assurance. I grasp at this second option because, after all, hasn’t God already given us everything else?

Aug 17, 2012

August and Assurance: Faith Yoked to Hope (Part 1)

Read Hebrews 11:1-7

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval” (Hebrews 11:1-2).

An old aphorism has it that “there are no guarantees in life.” Another quotation that often accompanies the one about guarantees is that, “Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes.” How universal is this sentiment? Have you seen the refrigerator magnet with these words emblazoned upon it: “Life is uncertain—eat dessert first?” What each of these concepts holds in common is a universal human tendency to desire an ironclad agreement between life and us. We want to know what we can count on—so that we may leave the rest to chance. However, as the quotations suggest, between life and us there are few ironclad agreements made.

Truthfully, all people need a foundation from which to operate in life. Some things we seem to count on without much thought. For one, most of us upon waking do not worry much about whether or not our heart will beat throughout the day. We take this fact of our physiology for granted. Likewise, few of us have anxiety that suddenly the laws of nature, for example the reality of gravity, will somehow be other than we have always known it to be. Do you worry about whether or not the sun will come up? Do you persistently concern yourself about the ozone layer or the atmospheric pressure of the earth, or even the polar ice caps melting—soon?

Clearly, there are a million and one things that could drive us absolutely insane if we worried about each of them constantly. Mercifully, however, there are things that we simply take for granted in living life. If we could not count on some things being constant, then we would go mad. Yet, in the wisdom of creation we can count on some or even many things. We can have confidence that, generally speaking, we can rely on the sun rising in the morning—and in the east—and we can assume that our hearts will continue beating rhythmically and regularly until our cardiologist tell us otherwise. It is these kinds of assumptions we make that constructs a life bearable and worth the living. When these “taken for granted” realities are no longer in force, then we are all in trouble.

Where does faith fit into this picture? Some people settled their questions about faith in God and life long ago in Sunday school. For some, belief in God is not something to question. The reason?
Once we begin asking the deep questions about God, then our whole world view begins to unravel like a ball of twine.
Indeed, the philosophical questions that life poses can so torture some people that they can literally go mad. The deeper mired in the questions these people become the nearer they move toward the edge of insecurity, anxiety, disbelief, all of which may eventually lead to insanity. Thus, is it better to just not ask? Our scripture seems to suggest that faith is far too important for people to take for granted. Although, in truth, avoiding difficult questions of meaning and value often makes life easier to swallow.

Aug 10, 2012

As We Begin Looking Toward Autumn

As we have completed the better part of a long hot summer in Arlington, Texas perhaps it is time to look forward to the fall of 2012. Fall or Autumn is not unlike the launching of new year in that we have a chance to begin anew. One way to begin anew is to look at several questions, the first being: “How is God at work here in our church and among our people?”

God is at work at FUMC of Arlington in the generous spirit of the people. One of the things I am most excited about as a pastor is the number of Bible studies and small groups being formed in the church during the school year of 2012–2013. In addition, each year our Confirmation class continues to grow and superb lay people and clergy-types work to impart our faith to an eager and large group of youngsters. For example, this year we confirmed nearly 50 teenagers. If you have questions about how to help with or sign up to be a part of our studies—or just need information about the classes—contact either Rev. Lancaster or check the church’s newly “born again” website.

Another question we might ask as we begin anew is: “Where have we been faithful to our vision and how can we sustain it?”

One of our visions is to continue to move toward becoming a truly competent and faithful teaching congregation. To that end, we now by most recent count have five (count ‘em—5) seminary students for the upcoming year from both Brite Divinity School at TCU and Perkins School of Theology at SMU. We are a congregation that grasps how to prepare and train people for ministry. It is an exciting prospect to have this kind of faith-responsibility as a mission and as a task. I hope you will seek out our seminary students and pray for them as you encourage them to become faithful and effective pastors.

One way to answer the question “Where is God leading us?” is to recognize that God is directing us to become a hub of lifelong education in Dallas-Tarrant County for not only seminary students, but also pastors and lay folks as well. We, as a church, will continue to offer high quality continuing education events, as our geographical placement in the hub of Dallas/Fort Worth affords us a strategic location to gather people in the Metroplex. Our emphasis of using our spiritual gift of teaching is both an honor and a contribution to the greater church.

We finally come to an all important question: “What is our vision for the church?”

Our vision for FUMC of Arlington is to continue to do the work to strengthen our congregation spiritually and in biblical knowledge for the changes that will surely come to our area of ministry in Arlington over the next few years. With a reported 2 billion dollars and perhaps much more in investment within three radial miles of our church site, the new life we will continue to see offers us many evangelistic opportunities. May our vision keep pace with God’s will for our community and may we be ready when the time is right and ripe for this new growth as we try to do what John Wesley meant when he spoke of “spreading scriptural holiness throughout the land.”

This perhaps can keep us busy until May 2013!

Aug 2, 2012

You Just Never Know...

A Sunday or two back, when I subbed preaching for Travis Franklin at FUMC, Salado Texas, I told a story to his congregation about how we are each called to be in ministry to others. “But how?” people like us are prone to ask. We all spend ample time and energy training ourselves and our churches to take care of those in crisis. The question is, where and when should we be ready to offer Christ to others? How do we know a crisis when we see one? Let me share what happened one day, all by accident.

“In the spring of the year, the time when preachers go out to golf” (2 Samuel 11:1), some preacher friends and I decided to go out to golf. We rarely had the opportunity for fellowship, as we were scattered throughout Central Texas—so we decided to play golf.

None of us was any good at golf—for we were not “really” golfers. However, we wanted to catch up on our lives and let our hair down a bit. On a golf course few people care about who is a preacher, thus we were just regular guys—and we were happy to be together and more or less—alone!!! We were alone, that is, until about the third hole, when Jim came out of the woods and joined us.

Jim was a much better golfer than we were, but evidently wanted some company. We confessed that we were preachers and were soon on our best behavior—no complaints about parishioners, budgets, and the work of ministry. We did not really mind the tag-along—except for Rev. Joe who was disappointed by the turn of events. Joe began to play badly as Jim hit one spectacular shot after another. Joe was on a slow boil. He kept saying under his breath, “We have one afternoon to ourselves and then ‘knuckle-head’ shows up. Why can’t we ever do anything by ourselves?”

Finally, on the 16th hole, I noticed Jim had a nice suntan and had said little. So I asked him if he had a job. He reluctantly told us that the doctors had diagnosed him with a rare inoperable brain tumor and what was the point of working. The doctors told him to make the best of the next six months because that was about all the time he had left.

We asked about his family. Didn’t he want to spend time with them? Jim confessed that his wife said she couldn’t “just sit around and watch him die,” so she and their children moved to California with her parents. Jim then said that he came to the golf course daily and tried to be with people. In fact, Jim had never played golf until the doctors gave him his bad news. Suddenly, our day of fun turned to an opportunity to do ministry. Jim ministered to us as it turned out.

I really felt sorry for Rev. Joe because usually he is the most compassionate person I know. This odd turn of events did show us, however, that we need not look far to find someone in need of community and the word of hope that Jesus provides. When God tells us to take authority, and we take it, we will surely find a use for it immediately. Jim minister to us, but we learned a lesson about being sensitive to the pain and isolation of others.

As Christians we do not need to look for people in crisis. They are already all around us. May we give God thanks for helping us with a task that is much bigger than we are!

Jul 27, 2012

Too Much (to do)

I had a pastor friend, who for effect, once stood before his congregation at Sunday morning worship and said, “Friends, I want to apologize to you this morning. I have no sermon. I hope you will forgive me, but as all of you are aware this week has just had too many emergencies in it for me to sit down and work on my sermon. We have had two funerals and two emergencies surgeries this week and on top of that we also had Vacation Bible School. In addition, people called me into several emergency counseling situations. I hope you will understand.”

Then he sat down. The organist froze, as did the rest of the congregation. No one had ever seen anything like this at First Church. No one moved—they didn’t know what to do.

Then, after about 60 exceedingly painful seconds, my friend got back into the pulpit and said, “This is what God must feel like when we tell God we are just too busy to attend to the world God has created.” My friend went on to preach a superb sermon on how God may not need us, but how God wants us to be covenant partners with God in working out our salvation. My friend went on to express how we witness to our faith by the way we live, love, and work in God's world. His sermon turned out to be very powerful indeed. He also shared how the Sabbath and rest on the Sabbath figure into the life that produces fruit. Perhaps you remember what Jesus said: “. . . the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).

We all know what it is like to have too much to do and have seemingly too little time in which to do it. It is often easy for us to let the most significant parts of life slip by the wayside and our fervent hope is that we can attend to these significant moments and events tomorrow or perhaps, the day after. We might also suppose that even Jesus faced problems of time-management. Could it be for this reason that Exodus tells us:
“Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death” (31:15).

Rest it seems used to be serious business. Perhaps we should all go take a nap!

Jul 19, 2012

The American Bible—A Book Review

The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation by Stephen Prothero. 

May we quickly disabuse ourselves of two notions pertaining to the title of this book The American Bible? First, some readers may be irked because a conjecture that Stephen Prothero’s perspective presupposes that “America” is purely a Christian ideal. Hence—why not “The American Koran” or “Torah?” This is not what the title implies. Rather Prothero uses "Bible" in his title in a sense of “collection of books” or “library” of documents. This is our collective history that has authority for how Americans think and behave.

The second inaccurate notion is probably why this book came into my possession to review. When seeing the title The American Bible I jumped to the immediate conclusion that this book had to do with biblical interpretation from a North American hermeneutic or something of that nature. Instead, what the book turns out to be is a collection of what author Stephen Prothero sees as the most important documents in the history of the United States. The subtitle offers a clue to the book’s aim: “How our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation.” He uses a religious metaphor of “bible” to suggest that although this is not a religious book, it is nonetheless full of religious ideas. Prothero writes: “The conversation [about America] is spirited because the United States isn’t just a country; it is also a religion of sorts” (page 3).

The religion of which he speaks is not that of Yahweh, Moses, and Jesus, although in some American quarters this may be true. Rather, Prothero writes of a religion in the more generic sense of a set of high-minded concepts that have a “religious feel” about them: freedom, courage, respect, equality.

John Ruskin once remarked, “All books are divisible into two classes, the books of the hour, and the books of all time.” What Prothero strives to do in The American Bible is bring to our collective consciousness those ideals and concepts that made us what we are as a nation. In so doing, Prothero creates a book that highlights what Ruskin offers as “books of all time.” Of course, as Prothero himself admits what he calls “books” in this writing may include poems or songs or narratives—but Prothero collapses all these literary forms into the generic term “book.”

Prothero’s table of contents may be seen as fanciful or brilliant, depending on one’s point of view. He divides the documents or books he selects for this volume and places them under actual biblical categories. Under Genesis he places seminal American writings such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence. In the section called Lamentations he places the Gettysburg Address and Mary Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Prothero has ten such categories.

The American Bible’s content is predictable. We would expect to see The Constitution and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Speech. Yet Prothero also includes some surprises: Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman,” Ronald Regan’s “evil empire,” and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. What Prothero is after are works that, as the subtitle suggests, are documents that “unite, divide, and define” us as a nation. This collection of writings—and they are complete or abridged—is more than 500 pages.

In this book, America can be seen through the keyhole of its formative writings—things that stand in authority in our national conversation. Agree or disagree with these pieces of American literature, they are all nonetheless those writings that set the agenda for any national dialogue.

Like our national parks which have been called "America's best idea," America has almost always taken other nations’ and people’s ideas and altered them into our sort of art form—some for the worse, some for the better—slavery, freedom, universal suffrage, universal education, and free enterprise. Taking roughly 38 time-tested documents from our history, Prothero allows a wide assortment of critics to weigh in on whatever the writing puts forth. For example, in the chapter titled “Roe v. Wade" some of the critiques are written by, among others, Supreme Court Justice Byron White, Mother Teresa, and Barack Obama. Many of the commentaries on the primary sources are fascinating and run the whole gambit of American history—from very early to quite recent.

Although there are many anthologies that collect American documents, I am familiar with none with this range of authors with respect to gender, time, and political perspective. The American Bible truly allows many voices into the conversation that is uniquely American. In addition, the commentary as well as the introductions to each entry helpfully set the historic context of the writings. But more than that, it is fascinating in one book to have access to both Stephen Carter (law professor) and Jimmy Carter (former president) comment on Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists—written in 1802. The strength of this book is that it is a tour of great American ideas from multiple perspectives over the last 250+ years.

Perhaps more than any other country since the Greece of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the United States of America is a nation of ideas, notions, and concepts—and at times ideals we all thought worthy of passionate debate. Today, sadly, too many citizens are only interested in “feathering their own nests” or “getting what is mine” and the rest of the American experiment hardly stirs their notice. America is a place in the mind and heart where we talk seriously about things: the relationship of individuals versus community liberties, inalienable rights, limited and decentralized government, the pursuit of happiness, private versus public property, and the role of taxes to enhance the life of the commonwealth.

I heartily recommend Stephen Prothero’s The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation. For although it is not a book about biblical interpretation or a North American hermeneutical methodology, it can, like the original Bible, offer one a glimpse of the best humanity can muster.

Review written by Rev. David N. Mosser and reprinted with permission from The United Methodist Reporter

Jul 12, 2012

Does the Word “Stewardship” Make You Nervous?

Hilarity and mirth often mask our deepest anxieties. For example, about 20 years ago I led a group of moderately young church leaders through their first bona fide “Fall Stewardship Campaign.” Naturally, what most churches call the fall stewardship campaign is generally a code word for “budget raising.” To this end, our congregation’s veteran leaders determined our church’s next generation needed a direct and hands-on experience in financial leadership. Thus, our young leaders learned personally what raising a nearly one million-dollar budget consisted of.

To inaugurate this crash course in faith-finance for beginners, I led a Bible study and stewardship reflection. Afterward, the youngish committee chose a theme and delegated individual responsibility for this essential undertaking. We all sensed a certain tension in the atmosphere. Perhaps, most of those 11 people gathered understood that their church’s ministry was at stake. They knew that churches with financial problems experience more sustained worry and pressure than do churches without monetary troubles. In this way, churches and families resemble one another. Each person present that night felt a deep responsibility, and, to a person, they all loved their church.

I selected the story of Ananias and Sapphira for our meeting’s meditation (Acts 5:1-11). This story is so chilling that most lectionaries tend to pass over this text. In fact, most folks who present that evening have little familiarity with the story. After I concluded my remarks, the group discussed Ananias and Sapphira at length. Subsequently, suggestions for our church stewardship campaign theme came pouring out. The most appealing theme, and the one that best captured the group’s imagination, was a succinct slogan.

One young man said, “I know, let’s use the theme: ‘Give or Die.’ ” We all laughed and laughed about how on target this theme was. The group decided the “Give or Die” slogan would be easy for our congregation to remember. It was short and to the point. This crass slogan also conveyed plainly the message of Acts 5. Sensibly, we all knew that this theme would have been inappropriate, even offensive to some, especially for a church-wide stewardship campaign. Ironically, however, we all also realized a deep truth—Hilarity and mirth often mask our deepest anxieties. Our excessive laughter that evening symbolized the modern, mainline church’s anxiety about speaking to the issue of financial stewardship.

Without question, a stewardship campaign focuses on the management of a congregation’s fiscal resources. Realistically, however, stewardship in its broadest definition of “managing the whole household” is a year-round endeavor for church leaders. It sounds a constant refrain in the life of the church because it is one of the most tangible practices of discipleship.

To be a disciple is to practice stewardship in all its manifold expressions. Teaching, listening, visiting, praying, leading, organizing, and giving are each forms of stewardship of which there are hundreds and possibly more diverse expressions. Pastors as leaders need to help people come to terms with each member’s God-given gift to offer something to Christ’s church through stewardship.

As one of my preacher colleagues fondly pronounces, “Giving leadership is leadership giving.” In other words, if pastors expect those who follow us to respond, then we must do ourselves what we ask others to do. The best leaders have always understood this leadership principle.

Jul 6, 2012

What About the Sabbath?

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy”—God (Exodus 20:8).

Sabbath keeping’s primary principles are these: ceasing, resting, embracing, and feasting. Each of these principles is clearly a focus of Exodus 20. Ceasing [from shabbat—to cease/desist] means faithful people break from anxiety, work, worry, accomplishment, possessiveness, etc. Notice that sabbath keeping in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5) sits between “you shall not make wrong use of the Lord’s name” and “honor your father and your mother.” The commandment pertaining to sabbath keeping gives us balance, in that “ceasing” divinely and persuasively mandates a break in our labor week. This suspension of our “business as usual” routine offers us a sense of the other six days’ wonder and blessing.

A second principle for sabbath keeping is rest. Resting too pertains to balance. The idea of rest is no doubt for our physical bodies, but more than that too. God can work in us most effectively—and we can respond to God most faithfully—when we are wholly in tune with God. Too many of us are distracted by the thousands of things that divert our attention. All of us are guilty of failing to rest on the sabbath, but as God originally conceived sabbath rest, God envisioned it as a foretaste of eternal life. At times the root of any problem is that we are simply too tired—either physically or mentally—to address it. When in doubt, take a nap—then address the source of your doubt.

A third principle for sabbath keeping is embracing. Embracing means permitting time for God and for family. This embracing time allows nurture for the most important relationships in one’s life. We are not simply producers of material or of information. Rather God creates us to experience relationship with the divine and with other people. The principle of “embracing” guards against two conditions that slip up on people who work too hard—anomie and ennui. Anomie means “personal unrest, alienation, and uncertainty that comes from a lack of purpose or ideals.” Likewise ennui is “a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from boredom or lack of interest.” Anomie and ennui signal that something in life is amiss. Yet with the speed of today’s life people accept this descriptor of American life as simply one of life’s “givens.” Sabbath allows time to embrace God in worship and each other in fellowship—God time and family time. Embracing our calling in life means we are related.

Finally, the last principle of our fourfold set of ceasing, resting, and embracing is the principle of feasting. Feasting is simply the enjoyment of life. It means taking the time to take pleasure in life by rejoicing in food and beauty. This means sabbath offers us permission and time to rejoice in music and the arts—rejoice in nature—rejoice in slowing down to be. We can enjoy what God created us to be. Our modern hi-tech society deprives us of these gifts and morphs into lost intimacy with God, ourselves, and others. Thus, in a culture that sees church, faith, religion, and spirituality as modern kill-joys, ironically the church uses sabbath to help faithful people reconnect. We re-connect by sabbath feasting. The primary principles of Sabbath keeping are: ceasing, resting, embracing, and feasting.

These are sabbath gifts from God to God’s people. So . . . learn to say thank you!

Jun 28, 2012

Celebrating Transitions: The Fourth of July

The Fourth of July marks a transition between being part of another nation’s colonial holdings and becoming an autonomous nation. This next week, we celebrate the freedom afforded by the Declaration of Independence. On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in secret to approve Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and thus a new nation was born.

We often celebrate transitions—between being a student and being a graduate; between being single and being married; between working and being retired; between living and dying. Truly, change never really slows down, but we must meet it head on. My guess is that the better we handle and understand change and transition, then the better we thrive as God’s people.

What people in the original American Colonies had to decide was whether they could trust the promise inherent in a new vision of the New World, or whether they could simply continue to abide business as usual from the British crown. Of course, we know the rest of the story and how it turned out.

For believers today, the transition of vital importance is the one from being an autonomous person to becoming a faithful believer who relies exclusively on God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. Those who are genuinely mature understand Jesus’ words: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The more mature we are  the more we recognize that we are dependent on God as children of God. We worship a God who offers us, in many ways and places, the absolute love by which all children thrive.

Jun 14, 2012

A Picture of Baptism

At our confirmation service in May, I described a story as an example of baptism. Someone asked me about it later and so I will put it in print in this blog.

A friend, Jerry Chism, and his family once visited Kansas City, Missouri. Outside a hotel there is the Crowne Center Plaza, used for gatherings like concerts and picnics. People can walk across this area that looks like a large patio with park benches surrounding the open space. An unusual fountain occupies this open area. Flush with the concrete is a series pipes having perhaps 50 jets of water spaced at regular intervals. Streams of water at set intervals shoot upward at least 20 feet—like a geyser.

One hot, muggy August day this plaza-like area teemed with construction workers, families having picnics, tourists and workers from various shops out on break. Danny, Jerry’s five-year-old son, unexpectedly walked into the fountain as it began to shoot up. Adults watched Danny frolicking in the water and laughed at his antics. Suddenly, some bystanders joined the five-year-old in the makeshift water park. Soon, 15 adults and many children followed Danny into the jets of water. They all got soaking wet. After several minutes, the jets stopped spraying and everyone left.

When Jerry told me this amusing story, I realized this is a wonderful image for baptism. In an instant, unplanned and unpredicted, people from all walks of life united in the fun and joy of the water. They neither knew each other nor sustained any relationship after the event, yet this moment united them.

In our baptism God unites us with people across the globe and through the centuries in ways that we rarely appreciate. Those who enter the water do so regardless of rules or politics or age or financial issues or religious conflicts, or anything else. The water connected all these people and nothing separated them from each other while they were in the water. Baptism too is like this.

May we remember our baptism and thank God for it!

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