Welcome

Welcome to the scribblings of one Methodist pastor.  Here you will find devotions, sermon clippings, pastoral letters, and other assorted thoughts and reflections.  The most significant categories can be accessed through the menu at the top.  These include:

  • Beyond Sunday: These are follow up materials related to sermons I preach.  If you would like to hear the audio for the sermon, it is generally posted by Tuesday on my church’s website.
  • Open Source Liturgy: Prayers, readings, and sermons series crafted by myself, my team, or posted with permission.  You are free to use and adapt these with attribution.  Pictures or stories of how they worked for you are always appreciated.
  • Faith and Art:  For more than two thousand years artists across the world have produced moving works based on Biblical texts and the stories of the Christian faith.  I use many of these in preaching but often can’t delve fully into them so the extra reflections end up here.
  • Leading: Reflections on leadership, change, and being a pastor.

Enjoy!

You Need Rhythm [Beyond Sunday]

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…

That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.

Ecclesiastes 3:1,15

No amount of hustle will add days to your life or value to your soul.  No amount of planning or work can insulate you from the ups and downs of life.  For some of us, to admit that God is in control is a difficult thing because it means acknowledging that we are not. Yet surrendering the illusion of workism frees us to a healthier rhythm of life.

In observing the Sabbath, we are relieved of the burden of false responsibility for our lives.  Throughout these 40 days of Lent, be invited to explore the importance of sabbath time for rest, rhythm, healing, wisdom, and consecration.  Sermons from our series can be heard here.

This week, try one of these practices and embrace some sabbath for yourself:

Cadence of Breath

One beautiful form of meditation is to simply follow the breath. Sit comfortably, and close your eyes. Let yourself become aware of the physical sensation of the breath, feeling the shape, texture, and duration of the inhale and the exhale. Do not change your breathing, do not strain or push in any way. Simply watch the breath breathe itself. Feel the rhythm of the breath, feel its timing, the end of the exhale, the readiness to inhale. When the mind wanders—as it will—do not worry. Simply return your awareness to the breath. Silently note each inhale or exhale, mentally noting in, out or rising, falling. Do this for five minutes at first. What do you notice about the rhythm of rest in your breathing? What do you notice about the rhythm of breath in your body?

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (pp. 74-75). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Prayer

Prayer is like a portable Sabbath, when we close our eyes for just a moment and let the mind rest in the heart. Traditional Sabbaths are filled with prayers. But we can begin slowly, with a simple prayer, like a pebble dropped into the middle of our day, rippling out over the surface of our life. Like the Muslims who stop to pray five times a day, like the Angelus, we can be stopped by a bell, a sunset, a meal, and we can pray. Something close to the heart, and simple. Perhaps a line from the Twenty-third Psalm, the Lord’s Prayer, a short blessing: May all beings be happy, may all beings be at peace. Thank you, God, for this most amazing day. The Lord is my shepherd. Thy will be done.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (pp. 86-87). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

You Need to Rest [Beyond Sunday]

As Wayne Muller writes: “For want of rest, our lives are in danger.”  Too many of us have bought the idea that our success, even our worth, lies in what we do and what we produce.   Even people of faith attempt to baptise overwork by saying it is for God.  But God never asked for endless labor.  We cannot be made holy by the work of our hands, or hearts, or minds.

Rest, sabbath rest, is both and command and a blessing from God.  Throughout these 40 days of Lent, be invited to explore the importance of sabbath time for rest, rhythm, healing, wisdom, and consecration.  Sermons from our series can be heard here.

This week, try one of these practices and embrace some sabbath for yourself:

Light a Candle

Three generations back

my family had only

to light a candle

and the world parted.

Today, Friday afternoon,

I disconnect clocks and phones.

When night fills my house

with passages,

I begin saving my life.

—MARCIA FALK

 

Find a candle that holds some beauty or meaning for you. When you have set aside some time—before a meal, or during prayer, meditation, or simply quiet reading—set the candle before you, say a simple prayer or blessing for yourself or someone you love, and light the candle. Take a few mindful breaths. For just this moment, let the hurry of the world fall away.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (p. 21-22). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

Observe Silence

Sabbath time is enriched by some period of intentional silence. Choose a period of time or an activity—such as a walk or hike, alone or with someone you love—when you will refrain from speech. Notice what arises in silence, the impulse to speak, the need to judge or respond to what you see, hear, feel. Notice any discomfort that arises when you are not free to speak.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (pp. 55-56). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Imperfect Reflections on General Conference 2019

In the days leading up to General Conference 2019, many of my friends and acquaintances used the phrase “just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean you hate them.” I hereby invoke that umbrella, because the last few days would have been much easier if I did not profoundly love people who disagree, and I am not sure I have the perfect words to say at this moment.

I’m not sure there are perfect words.

But this is what I have. Our first rule as a Methodist people is Do No Harm. Yet deep and egregious harm has been inflicted on the body of Christ and especially on our LGBTQAI+ siblings. Their lives, loves, and calls were debated as legislation. Many mourn today because, while they are welcome in our pews, they will still endure sideways glances from brothers and sisters. They mourn because one of the holiest moments in their lives cannot take place in their place of worship and cannot include the pastor who loves and shepherds them. They mourn because they feel a calling to serve and are denied a path to follow. To all who grieve, I see you, I love you, you will always be part of my family.

Many believe the prohibitions left in place by the Conference represent a loving response. For if you love God, you live a holy life, and if you love your brother or sister, you encourage them to do likewise. To these, I honor your faithfulness even though we disagree. And I would remind you, you cannot lecture grieving people on theology, or doctrine, or polity. They cannot hear you. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar knew when they came to Job in his grief, that the first thing they had to do was sit with him and listen and mourn what was lost.

So here we are. Four days later very little has changed. The Traditionalist Plan passed and has been referred to the Judicial Council for review. Based on my reading of previous reviews, what they found to be constitutional was an expansion of the definition of “self-avowed and practicing,” a stricter complaint process, and a requirement that Bishops not put forward candidates they know to be “self-avowed and practicing.” An exit plan was passed. It permits (again my reading) the lifting of the trust clause between now and December 31, 2023, provided a church pays unfunded pension liabilities, apportionments for the current and next year, and other liabilities owed. However, its constitutionality is in question. We will not have final answers on either until April.

That doesn’t mean nothing has changed. The full effect of the outcomes of the General Conference will take months to play out. However, the process has damaged our witness. I’ve had too many messages from friends outside the church and seen too many articles focused on our infighting to pretend otherwise. We are called to be a city on a hill. I believe we can be a light of hope and graciousness in an era of dark distrust, but we have some work to do.

Part of that is to focus on the work of making disciples. Not as a blithe thing, not a return to business as usual as if nothing has happened. Rather we ought to focus on making disciples through a serious consideration what we mean by discipleship, of who needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ in our local area, and of how the church helps and hinders that work. We need to learn from this moment without overrunning it or getting stuck.

As my congregation has tried to balance concern about the General Conference with the need to keep working for the future, I have often cited the story of Jeremiah buying a field as Jerusalem was falling. I returned to that text last night with fresh eyes. What I had not fully appreciated before were Jeremiah’s grief and confusion. In chapter 33 he says:

After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah, I prayed to the Lord, saying:… Yet you, O Lord God, have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses”—though the city has been given into the hands of the Chaldeans.

-Jeremiah 33: 16&25

Even Jeremiah did not fully comprehend what he was doing. He could not see what God was about, but he was faithful to continue following. Jeremiah invested in the future of his people despite the uncertainty that surrounded him. He buried the deeds in an earthen pot so that even if the exile was long, they would survive; his hope would survive.

It was not easy for Jeremiah to proclaim hope, but neither was it hollow. The days to come may not be easy for us either. Even amid uncertainty, we will remain faithful to the hope we’ve known. I believe that hope is open to all. The gospel I proclaim will not change.

Our witness is imperfect, but our congregation will continue to Do All the Good We Can. We will feed the hungry, we will continue to care for and educate children, we will continue to serve our community, we will continue to offer life in Jesus Christ, we will continue to worship, and we will continue to welcome all who enter.

Church, we are imperfect people, and we are beloved children of God. My prayer is that we find ways to live as a body without doing harm to one another. I pray that we do all the good we can for the glory of God. I pray that make use of the means of grace we’ve been given to grow in our love of God and one another. I pray all this because I believe the world needs the witness of the Methodist people. I know the world needs Jesus.

The last few days were hard. This morning I’ve been reminded we are never promised the work will be easy, but that we labor unto glory.

Grow in Service [Beyond Sunday]

 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”  And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”  But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”  They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;  but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

-Mark 10:35-40

All of us have an instinct to shine, to be the best at something, to gain attention for our accomplishments.  But Christ says the way of discipleship is not one of glory, but one of service to others.   [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to dive into these scriptures and questions during your devotion time.

Read:

Reflect:

  • Who in your community is underserved?
  • Who needs to hear about Jesus?
  • What comforts might you have to sacrifice so others can hear the good news of Jesus?

Do:

  • Get uncomfortable: Make a list of changes and opportunities around you that make you uncomfortable.  Ask yourself how your comfort contributes to the needs of others and how it interfers.  Pick one item and do something this week to push beyond your comfort zone.

Share:

  • Find someone who needs an act of kindness this week and do some thing nice for them without recognition.
  • share a story of how someones service to your impacted your life in our Facebook group or on Twitter and Instagram (tag us @dpumc).

 

Grow in Attention [Beyond Sunday]

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing…

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

-John 15: 5, 10-11

Simone Weil wrote: “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.” As we explore what it means to live in Christian community we begin with these two things.  That we owe one another our prayers and our presence; we owe attention.    [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to dive into these scriptures and questions during your devotion time.

Read:

Reflect:

  • Where does your attention focus most often during your day?
  • Where does your mind attend when you pray?
  • Who in your life might need your attention either in prayer or presence?

Do:

  • Show up for someone: Make a point this week to schedule time with someone you haven’t seen in awhile.  Come with no agenda other than hearing how they are and asking how you can best show up for them right now.

Share:

  • Hold someone in prayer each day for the week.  At the end write them a small note, letting them know you were praying for them.
  • Take a selfie with someone you show up for this week and share it in our Facebook group or on Twitter and Instagram (tag us @dpumc).

 

Fear of Our End [Beyond Sunday]

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no evil;

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff—

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

my whole life long.

-Psalm 23

It has been said: getting old isn’t easy, but the alternative is worse.  Most people carry a fear of both dying and of growing old.  But, surveys show that older people are usually happier than anyone else.  And as Christians, the core of our faith is that death indeed holds no power.  [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to dive into these scriptures and questions during your devotion time.

Read:

Reflect:

  • Take a look at the Service of Death and Resurrection in the United Methodist Hymnal (#870) or online at umcdiscipleship.org.  Make a plan for your service.  What scriptures would you like read?  What hymns or songs sung? Notice how you feel during the process.  What questions does it raise for you about dying?

Do:

  • Ask a guide: Invite to lunch someone you consider to be in the “next stage of life”.  Ask them about their experience of aging and what they have learned along the way.  Share your fears about growing older and see how they respond.

Share:

  • Find a song you hope would summarize your life when you die. Share it in our Facebook group or on Twitter and Instagram (tag us @dpumc).

 

Praying for Our Church

Friends,

I ask you to be earnestly praying for our church through February; both for our local congregation and the global UMC community.

On February 23 United Methodist delegates from around the world will gather in St. Louis Missouri for a special meeting. The General Conference, our denomination’s top decision-making group, normally meets every four years and the next regular session is scheduled for 2020. This special session has been called solely to discuss the church’s stance and policies related to human sexuality.

Many of you are aware how difficult these conversations can be in a local church where we know and love one another deeply. These delegates are coming together without such bonds of affection. I ask you to pray for each of them that they may have both wisdom for the future and compassion with one another.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about fear in worship. These are fearful and anxious times. Some fear the church they love will change and change always carries risks. Some fear the church they love will reject them and rejection is life-threatening for humans. Many of us fear what the prolonging of this fight will do to our witness and our communities.

In the midst of the uncertainty, these things I know to be true:

  •  The Church is instituted by God. We are meant to live together and support one another; it is an integral part of salvation. The world needs us. The Church has survived many attacks and divisions, and it will endure until Christ returns.
  • The Church is made up of humans. Humans are fallible creatures; we don’t always get things right, and we don’t always agree. Learning to be comfortable with that is hard.
  • We are called to be faithful, not right. If being right all the time was a path to salvation, then the Law would have been sufficient. But none of us is rendered righteous by our deeds or opinions; our salvation lies in Christ. As it was for Abraham—his faith was regarded by God as righteousness—it is for us. We are saved by grace through faith. The moment we focus on proving we’re right, the outcome of an argument no longer matters, because we’ve already lost our souls. In the end, we must each be able to say “I was faithful to the gospel of Christ”.
  • Faith will result in action. Faith is not merely abstract belief. It is the core assumptions that create the way we see the world. What we truly have faith in, will dictate how we respond to one another, to opportunities, and to challenges. Humans are masters of self-deception; if you want to know the shape of someone’s faith, don’t just trust their words, watch how they behave.
  • Faith in Christ cannot contain hate. You cannot love God and hate your neighbor. You cannot follow Christ and fail to care for one another.
  • This is not a hypothetical conversation. We need conversations about how we read scripture, who we recognize to lead worship, and what rites can be performed by the church. But if we treat this solely as a conversation about policies and procedures we fall into the trap of the Pharisees. This is a conversation about the souls of real people. For DPUMC it is a conversation about people among us and in our care.

No person knows with absolute certainty what will happen in St. Louis or in the days that follow. Very little is ever gained by focusing on what we cannot know. Instead, I ask you to hold fast to what is sure and as you pray, to ask for wisdom for these questions:

  • Who in Deer Park needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and does not have a church right now?
  • Who in our family might experience harm over this season and how can I best care for them?
  • What new hope might God be opening for our work of making disciples for the transformation of the world?

Finally, church, I ask you to engage the coming days as Methodist Christians. We are a people of “Three Simple Rules” (as Rueben Job put it). First, do no harm. Second, do all the good you can. Third, stay in love with God. If you read through the plans proposed, listen to any of the Conference, or have conversations about these issues, do not just ask yourself with who do I agree or who has the most support or who seems most certain. Rather hold these rules firmly in your mind. No path forward that inflicts harm on God’s children can be best. No path that seeks protection at the expense of doing good for our neighbors can be best. No path loves institutions more than God can be best. There may be no perfect options but hold faith that God is capable of guiding us to what is best.

The plans produced by the Commission on the Way Forward are available at umc.org . On February 27, our bishop, Scott Jones, will release a video message responding to the Conference at https://www.txcumc.org/vlog and on March 2 he will have a video Q&A. On March 3 we will have a Q & A in the Sanctuary at the Sunday School hour.

If you have questions, anxieties or would like to discuss the General Conference with me, my door is always open, and I have extra time set aside in the last two weeks of February for these conversations.

Fear of What’s To Come [Beyond Sunday]

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good;

-1 Thesselonians 5:16-21

It is impossible to know what is ahead. Sometimes we fear that change will mean loosing thing we love.  Sometimes we fear we’ll miss out on fun or opportunities.  But if we are focused on our fears, they multiply.  If we can be grateful for the present moment, it is easier to move forward into what God has in store.    [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to dive into these scriptures and questions during your devotion time.

Read:

Reflect:

  • Journal about a future event or possibility you are anxious about.
    • Write a title at the top of the page.
    • Write the facts you know next 
    • Divide the next section of the page in half.  On one side write the three things you are most afraid of.  On the other, write three things you hope for.
    • Below write a prayer naming your hope to God and asking for discernment in the midst of fear.

Do:

  • Gratitude Cards: Get a stack of index cards or post-it notes.  Each day, write on at least one card, something you are grateful for.  At the end of the week, go through all the cards, giving thanks to God for all the good things in your present.

Share:

  • Write out one thing you hope for the future and share it in our Facebook group or on Twitter and Instagram (tag us @dpumc).

 

Fear of What’s Out There [Beyond Sunday]

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!

-Genesis 4:8-11

Yes, you are your brother (and sister)’s keeper.  Yet we too often approach the world around us with suspicion.  Fear says you must compete and others seek your life.  But facts say we are better off when we work together and that Americans are safer today than they’ve been in decades.  Faith calls us to quiet our fears and reach out with love.     [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to dive into these scriptures and questions during your devotion time.

Read:

Reflect:

  • Find a news story about something that worries you or makes you afraid.  Take note of who is quoted and how they use statistics (if they do).   Now try and find the same event reported in at least two other sources.
    • What facts are consistent?  Can you verify them?
    • Who uses language that elicits fear?  What do they have to gain from you being afraid?
    • Faithful responses are shaped by love of neighbor.  How could you respond to this story with love of all involved? 

Do:

  • Lectio Divina: Find a quiet place where you can focus.  Choose one of the scriptures above.  Read through it slowly aloud.  Listen for a phrase or image that captures your attention.  Read it a second time and try to hone in on a word.  Take some time to ponder that workd and image.  Share with God what you hear and ask how this should shape you today.  REad the passage once more giving thanks for God’s word to you.

Share:

  • Take a picture of something you fear  or use the one from last week. Write out why you fear this and share it in our Facebook group or on Twitter and Instagram (tag us @dpumc).

 

Understanding Fear [Beyond Sunday]

But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” 31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.” 32 So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying,
-Numbers 13:30-32

Everyone is afraid of something.  With good reason, fear can protect us from danger and helps us learn our limits as children.  But we get into trouble when fear rules our lives.  God will call us to do scary things, so we must learn to evaluate our fears, take the wisdom that is there and then move beyond into greater life.     [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to dive into these scriptures and questions during your devotion time.

Read:

Reflect:

  • Recall a time from your childhood that you were afraid.  As you tell that story to yourself or someone else, take note of:
    • What your fear felt like
    • What was the threat you were responding to
    • How the threat was resolved
    • Where might God have been at work
  • Name something you fear now.  Describe it to yourself or someone else and especially note:
    • What you fear feels like
    • What is the threat your responding to and how realistic is it?
    • What resolution do you hope for
    • How might God be at work in this

Do:

  • Praying the Scriptures: Take one of the scriptures above and read it through.  Identify the promises offered and list them using the words of the verses.  Pray to God by first reading a promise from the text and then offering your own experience of that promise fulfilled or naming your need for that promise in your life now.

Share:

  • Be a part of our Brave Challenge.  This week take a picture of something you fear and share it in our Facebook group or on Twitter and Instagram (tag us @dpumc) with a caption about why you’d like to overcome that fear.