Jan 30, 2012

On Remembering What Got Us Here

Years ago, an alert reader clipped and brought me an article by Clint Murchison, a contributing columnist to The Dallas Morning News. Murchison’s article was entitled “Only Religion Can Form a Basis for Morality.” What ethicists would say to his assertion is a matter of conjecture, but on a common sense level his article gives all of us something to ponder. Murchison’s most telling quotation is

“We need for the large culture—families, workplaces, and organizations of all sorts—to affirm again, as of old, the urgency of religious faith over against scornful unbelief and secular indifference.”

This responsibility gives the church the large task of once again trying to help people come to a saving knowledge of God. This mandate includes all of us who want to make a difference in our world.

My late friend, Gary Carroll, also sent me a pocket copy of the United States’ Constitution, The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Needless to say, a quick reading of these foundational documents also suggest that God-fearing Americans have a lot to live up to in order to be of the same mind as the founding fathers of our great nation.

About a decade ago, the news outlets told us that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the phrase we use in our pledge of allegiance, “one nation under God” is unconstitutional. Those familiar with the “disestablishment clause” in the United States Constitution will certainly understand the ruling that court made, although they may disagree with it. My favorite defense of “the way things were” is the interesting statement that “under God” is not really a religious avowal, just like Christmas trees and menorahs are not essentially religious, as some of the courts have asserted. Oh, boy! Clearly this is a discussion that will continue for a long time.

However, the practical outcome produced amusing circumstances like the one I experienced one morning. Drinking coffee at a local restaurant, I overheard a group of older men speaking about the court decision as a symptom of exactly what was wrong with America today. The words “socialism,” and “Communist” were thrown around with righteous disgust. One man said, “Once they take God away from us, then what will be next?”

The waiter, with clear mischief in her tone, said simply, “Sam, when was the last time you were in church for something other than a wedding or a funeral? It seems to me, it is people like you who have left God out in the cold. Now this court decision seems to have built a little fire under you!”

Quickly Sam replied, “I’ve got to get going.”

Perhaps this court decision can make us look more deeply into both our belief and the faith practices our belief generates.

Jan 24, 2012

A Week for Christian Unity

The week of Christian Unity was the 18th through the 25th of January, 2012. During this particular week we ponder and pray about the notion of harmony between Christian brothers and sisters. I suppose we will think about getting along with other religions some time in the future.

Paul knew something about the difficulties of which unity in the church consisted. He knew about disagreement—often embroiled in the middle of it. But he also knew that concord was important for the Body of Christ; the church. He wrote: “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up building” (Romans 14:19).

Paul appreciated the necessity of unity. There are many things that threaten the unity of the church. Paul endured substantial distress as a messenger of the gospel. Paul also knew firsthand the acrimony—created by the Judaizers and conquered by the Holy Spirit—over the issue of the Gentile-Christians. Paul did not want trivialities to destroy the church’s unity ever again. In his letter to the Roman church, Paul clearly states his deepest conviction. He wrote: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s

This week pray that we might be united as God’s people.

Jan 18, 2012

Dr. King and a Legacy

Although I did not get permission to share this story from Dr. Mouzon Biggs, the outward contours of this story come from a memorable address he delivered in May 1994 in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Years ago Boris Yeltsin wrote a book about how he and other freedom loving Russians began the long process of bringing democracy to the Soviet people. Yeltsin said he was discouraged at times, and even thought of giving up the fight. But there was a Polish labor-organizer in the ship yards of Gdansk who gave him courage by the name of Lech Walesa. If Walesa could free the Poles, then surely Yeltsin could do the same for the Russian people.

If we were to research the story of Walesa, however, Walesa would say that he got his inspiration from an American named Martin Luther King, Jr. It was King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail which encouraged Walesa to fight the democratic fight on behalf of the Polish workers.

If one were able to have asked King where he got his inspiration for leading the call to civil rights for African-Americans in the South, he would quickly respond that it was never his idea or intention to be a civil rights leader. Certainly, he knew of the struggle in India led by Gandhi in the 1930s and 1940s against the British, but King was a well-educated man who had no intention of becoming a grass-roots leader in any democratic movement. No, he was a scholar, writer, and preacher.

However, one of his church members got King involved in the civil rights movement. Her name was Rosa Parks. In the 1950s blacks had to ride at the back of city buses in the South. There was a white line painted at the mid-point of buses in Montgomery to separate whites and blacks. The black folk sat at the back and the white folk sat in the front of the buses.  On one particular day the bus was crowded, but when a white man told Mrs. Parks to give him her seat, she said no.

Later she explained that she was tired and hot and could not even muster the energy to get up. So she refused his demand. She said, “Yesterday, maybe she said yes, or last year, but on that fateful day, all she could say was no!” She was subsequently arrested and put into jail.

Hence, King became involved as a civil rights leader because of a housekeeper who just happened to be a member of King’s church in Montgomery.

Could Mrs. Rosa Parks have brought down the entire Soviet system of communism all by herself by her decision to sit and not get up for a white man in Alabama? You make the call.

Jan 6, 2012

January and Beyond: Preaching Themes for Worship

January is occasionally a month of regret for some, while for others January is a month of new beginnings. Some regret that they have not dealt with everything they wanted to deal with in 2011. Others are thrilled that they get the opportunity to begin anew in 2012. Whatever your stance about 2011/2012, worship at First United Methodist Church of Arlington is a good place to be during January and February.

Our worship (and sermon) series will focus on how we “follow the leader—Jesus.”  As such, we will examine what it means to be a follower of Jesus as we learn from the master teacher and Rabbi.

Our principal biblical texts will come from the Gospel of Mark (with a dash of John). Below is the list of texts and titles for worship in January/February 2012. Read, study and pray before each worship service and see how God will bless you.

January 8        Follow Jesus to Baptism             Mark 1:4-11
January 15      Follow Jesus to Discovery          John 1:43-51
January 22      Follow Jesus to New Identity      Mark 1:14-20
January 29      Follow Jesus to Urgency             Mark 1:21-28
February 5      Follow Jesus to Wholeness         Mark 1:29-39
February 12    Follow Jesus to Defiance            Mark 1:40-45
February 19    Follow Jesus to Transformation   Mark 9:2-9

A special treat is in store as Dr. Zan Holmes with be with us in the 8:15 and 11:00 AM sanctuary services on January 15.

Jan 4, 2012

Implants or Tattoos?

A few years ago, I read about a new plan concerning animal identification.  As a result of  “Mad Cow” disease and other kinds of sticky animal maladies, a governmental entity proposes that each individual animal have some sort of identification.

The suggested legislation states that “All animals . . . transported, purchased, or sold, in commerce, by a dealer or exhibitor shall be marked or identified at such time and in such humane manner as the Secretary [of agriculture] may prescribe.” Whether by implants or by tattooed numbers on the upper lips, the proposal suggests the identification of every farm animal for tracking.

This next week, as we think about the Baptism of the Lord Sunday, I find this idea of marking an interesting one. Baptism does many things for us believers. First, it reminds us of the second century theologian Tertullian’s remark that “Christians are made, not born.”

Second, we know that baptism tells us who we are as the people of God. 

Third, baptism does for Christians what animal identification does for animals—it marks us as people who belong to God. Baptism is a kind of a divine signature on our lives that identifies us as the people of God. Thus, this week as we prepare for worship may we “remember our baptism and be thankful.”

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