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!

Revelation Remix

Sunday’s sermon at DPUMC included a paraphrase of the Revelation to John. Here is the text of that letter with scripture references.

“The Revelation was not written without tears; neither without tears will it be understood.”

John Wesley, Notes on the New Testament

Dear Church,

(Chapter 1: Greeting)

Don’t give up.  I know things are difficult but do not be afraid. All of this present moment, all that ever was, and all that will be is held in God’s hands. So be a light in the darkness and look to Jesus as your guide.

(Chapter 2 & 3: Letters to 7 churches)

Do not fear death even when it seems the world is trying to kill you. It is the way of the world to destroy what it does not understand. And cannot control.  But Christ died and is now alive.  And Christ holds the keys to death and the grave. Don’t give up, for we who follow Christ will not only survive but have the glory of abundant life; Life now and for eternity.

I know it’s hard. To those who are uncertain, do not waiver. Remain firm in the commitment you made at your baptism. Confess Jesus as you lord and recognize no other. Resist evil, injustice, and oppression, wherever you find them. This is the way that leads to life.

To those who are firm in the faith, blessings to you; continue in this hope, for it will give you the strength to endure any challenges.  I know some of you are deeply challenged because you will not bow to the empire around you.  You know that even if you die,  you will still be greatly rewarded.

Do not trust in earthly leaders or wealth. Pray for those who do, and pray for those who persecute you. For Christ is king, and when he returns, he will bring justice. He will set right all that is broken.

(Chapter 7: The People of God gathered)

When Christ returns, he will gather all God’s children. From every corner of the world, he will gather us. Not just a tribe or a generation but an innumerable multitude. He calls us out of hardship even now to the waters of baptism. Our Good Shepherd leads us to life-giving water.

(Chapter 8:6-9:21: The seven trumpets)

Church, we need the shepherd and the water of life for the world is a broken place, and brokenness leads to death. Fires often rage and destroy. Volcanoes create but also kill. Sea creatures and ships are harmed by storms and pollution.  Mosquitoes, roaches, rats, scorpions, and all manner of pests plague people around the world. And when these things happen, people do not turn to God. They put their trust in idols; in gold and silver, bronze, stone, and wood. In pseudoscience, and violence, drugs and pleasure, and hoarding treasure.

(Chapter 10: The scroll of prophecy)

But God’s promises remain true. God’s grace that has flowed from Creation, from the times of Eden and Noah rolls across time and space. In every age, God sends servants to proclaim the good news. And the good of God shall come to each of us. The Good News is both sweet and hard to swallow. And it is ours to proclaim.

Proclaim everywhere the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord; that no trial or tribulation can separate people from his love. Proclaim that God who created the world, is setting it right. 

(Chapter 11: The fate of prophets)

Proclaim it. And be fully aware of what it may cost you. When you tell the truth to Emperors and governors, to Queens and lords, to barons and power brokers, presidents and moguls, they will not thank you for it. They will come against you. They will mock and kill true prophets.

But even death cannot silence the word of God, and the spirit of God will keep raising us up again and again.

(Chapter 12: The woman and the dragon)

For the church has a spirit of life. Each of her generations gives birth to the next. When violence and chaos rage, they cannot harm her, for God prepares a refuge for her. When the church is in the wilderness, she is not lost.  The wilderness is where God cares for her: The wilderness is where she gives birth to new things.

(Chapter 13:1-14:13: Those of the beasts and those of God)

Chaos and brokenness will take many forms. From land and sea, from every corner, they come in every era and raise up systems, empires, and nations. Every time they seem powerful, monstrously great.

Beware where you put your allegiance Church. You can only serve one master. You can only worship one Lord. What you follow, you things you put your trust in, it marks you. It marks your words, your actions, your very being. Do not be marked by greed or hate or any of the ways of this world, for they bring suffering. Instead, let faithful endurance be the seal on your life.

(Chapters 14:14-16:21: Two Harvests)

A heart for god yields a harvest of glory. But when we sow violence and vice, we reap suffering and death. Chaos carries the seed of its own destruction. Selfishness festers like a disease. Greed leads to waste and sickness. Anger ignites wrath, and hatred. False prophets incite idolatry and war. Together they stir up plagues that shake the foundations of everything humans build.

(Chapters 17 & 18: fall of Babylon)

This is how empires full. They consume themselves with vice, and when they are gone, they leave behind desolation.  But the powers of this world won’t last forever. Yet the steadfast love (hessed) of God endures. God works salvation. God holds all true power and glory. Christ will always show up to restore the people and banish the doubt and chaos that threaten them. 

(Chapters 19-22: Vision of Restoration)

Don’t give up Church. In the end, all shall be well. So if things are unwell in these times, it is not the end. God is with us now. God desires to dwell with us fully. To dry our eyes and heal our hurts. To set aside forever mourning and pain and sorrow.

In the end, it will be like the beginning. The gates will be thrown open to all. The city and the garden will be one. The fruit of life will nourish all, and the river of life will flow everywhere. And then all that will be left is to worship.

Live that life of worship now. Christ is coming very soon. And Christ is already here. The Spirit of the Lord is with us now. Don’t give up. Yes, right now is difficult. You don’t have to pretend that here and now is perfect. It isn’t. But here and now looks very different when seen through the lens of eternity. Through darkness and chaos threaten, Christ has the final authority.  Jesus will not fail you and will not let you fall. These words have been trustworthy and true from the beginning of time till now. They will be true until the end. Don’t give up.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be will all.

Sources and further reading

Ritual for marking a lost year

A friend of mine recently asked, “Has anyone else thought about just starting a new planner because they’ve had to cross so many things out?”. It was half a joke. Half. The last few weeks have not been what anyone planned, and it is unclear how much more will be disrupted by this new normal. Schools in our state were officially closed for the rest of the academic year.  

As I watched that press conference, I thought about my friend’s planner. The greatest struggle right now isn’t that lots of things are canceled or postponed or rearranged. The more significant issue is that we all need to grieve things that are canceled, postponed, or rearranged. What if our now inaccurate planners offer an opportunity to process our emotions and re-imagine what was to be?

This week, try this. Go through your planner or calendar and identify all the things that were canceled or postponed. If you don’t usually keep a planner or written calendar, make a list of these events. (Here’s a PDF chart that might help). Look back a month and ahead a month or two. 

I liked using post-it notes for this next step, but make in a list on a separate sheet of paper or using a new planner works well too. For each event, write down:

  • What were you most looking forward to about this? (moment/ event/ detail)
  • Why was it important to you? (feeling/ desire)
  • What markers of the event are still possible?

Looking at those answers, make a plan for how you will mark that day now. This is not a replacement, but a way to honor what is lost. For instance, if you have a child finishing kindergarten, it might go:

  • What were you most looking forward to about this? Taking pictures of them standing on the stage.
  • Why was it important to you? They’ve worked really hard, and I want to celebrate them becoming a “big kid.”
  • What markers of that event are still possible?  Taking pictures, family cheering as their name is announced, making a memory box of their kindergarten stuff, wearing a graduation cap, having a special meal, etc.

Maybe on the day they should have graduated, you’ll get dressed up, do a “red carpet” photo-shoot in your living room, and then look at pictures of things they did in school this year.

The plans don’t have to be elaborate. What is important is that they are intentional. Don’t merely let special days slide by or spend them wishing for what cannot be. You can put the post-it with the plan over the original date in your calendar, or write the plan in a new calendar, or post your list where you will see it and follow through on the plans. As you cover the original, or write out the new one, say a prayer of thanks for all the work that went into your first plan and for what is possible with this new one.

You don’t have to tackle the whole calendar at once. Pick a few things at a time. Create a many missed event rituals as you need. This is a simple way to acknowledge things we can’t do and work through our feelings of loss. It also encourages us to create memories of joy and purpose rather than absence. I hope it helps.

What other ways are coping with pandemic life right now? Put your ideas and brainstorms in the comments.

MidWeek Check In

Thank you, Church, for all the ways you are showing up during this crisis. Thank you for the donations you are making to keep the church functioning. Thank you for the gifts you have offered to care for one another and to serve our neighbors. Thank you for the supplies you have brought for the food pantry and blessing box. Thank you for your patience when tech is squirrely or things are different than we’re used to. Thank You.

You are proving that the church is the people, whether they have a building in which to gather or not. I know that we are eager to again see one another face to face. In the meantime God is still moving, and sustaining, and doing great things in and through us.

Thanks to your generosity we are doing better financially. This week we received over $8,000 dollars and our expenses for this week an next are roughly $13,000 so we are in a more normal pattern. Our operating cash remains above $50,000. Thank you for your support.

The blessing box is being used regularly. We had a huge glut of food the first week. It’s now settled into a good rhythm of input and output. It warms my heart to see those who need supplies getting care.

If you or someone you know is in need of care, physically, mentally, or spiritually, please reach out to the office or send a message to (832)-304-1403.

Tomorrow begins the Tridium– Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil. These three experiences are really one service that tells the story of Christ’s passion. I hope you’ll join us Thursday and Friday evening at 6:30pm and at 7:00 am on Sunday morning for the Sunrise Service.

Why I’m choosing palms

Notice we have turned to ritual. The world turned upside down, and suddenly my Facebook feed is full of Morning check-ins and calls for door decorations. It shouldn’t be surprising; ritual has long been the way that we create rhythm and mark meaning in life. It is a visible expression of the faith we hold, the faith we need in our hardest times.

But in life before corona virus, few of us lived lives steeped in ritual. So now we are cobbling together whatever we can from memories, inspirations, and leftover craft supplies.  We are looking to proclaim comfort and hope.  Yet we need to be aware that rituals form as much as they express.  It is good to look for things that will embody faith, but as we create them we should be conscious of the deeper meanings we might be embedding

My digital ecosystem offered me several options for what to do with my door this week. Two seemed to gain the most traction. Hanging palm branches or marking the door frame with red. There are palm branches on my door.

We reach for ritual when we need something. Right now, we desperately want this quarantine to be over, for our friends and family to be safe, and to know that there is hope beyond the present moment. Some Christians have noted that the Jewish festival of Passover runs from April 8th through 16th. They recognize that we are all hungry for deliverance and are marking their doors with red cloth or ribbon. This is not the ritual we’re looking for.

First of all, Passover is a sacred Jewish celebration steeped in ritual and tradition.  Traditions which those of us outside the faith do not fully understand and should be hesitant to co-opt for our own needs.

Second, Exodus is a story of God’s deliverance. But the Passover comes at the cost of Egyptian children.  That is not a small detail. I firmly believe God does not require a blood sacrifice for anyone’s salvation. I’m uncomfortable with the implication that I would like God to pass over my house, but I have little concern for this disease and death that could be visited on others. I don’t think anyone intends such a statement, but rituals carry layers of meaning often beyond our conscious intentions.

Third, if we are looking to enact a great story of death and resurrection, we don’t have to search outside the Christian tradition. It is Holy Week. It is the moment when we tell our most important story. The Church has 2000 years of ritual tradition to offer us in this season. We should avail ourselves of it.

There are poms on my door because on Sunday my King rode into Jerusalem on a donkey promising a new Kingdom not ruled by violence and fear. On Thursday, I will practice washing as a holy act to remember what it is to serve and to prepare. On Friday, I will mourn for all those who die by no fault of their own, and I will face my mortality. So that on Easter, I will truly understand the glory of the resurrection.

This is a story we need to tell right now, and even though we are distant from our church buildings, it is a story we can enact in ritual in our home And embedded in our hearts. Join me on the journey this week. Put palms on your door, wash your hands, set aside space to grieve. And next Sunday, add some Flowers some ribbon some color to those leaves on your door as we mark Easter resurrection.

Midweek Check-in for DPUMC

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters…
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 43: 16, 19

When people are in exile, God makes a way. When people are confused and losing hope, God makes a way. When people do not know how long they can cope with the present moment, God makes a way. Next week is Holy Week; I hope it will remind us all that there is nothing–not even death–that is stronger than our God.

As the full impact of this virus and the necessary social distancing plays out, we will not lose hope. We will not give up. We know that God is at work even in the midst of this and when we return to a more normal routine, we will return as a wiser, more faithful people because we have seen what God can do.

We know God is making a way through this. I firmly believe part of that way is the church leading people to make choices that protect them and the most vulnerable.

Social Distancing the Johnny Karate Way.

Humans are social creatures. Deprived of connection, we can become anxious and depressed. And of course, there is the fear and uncertainty of a global pandemic. Plus disruption to some (or all) of your regular routine.
So, once a day, ask yourself:

  • Am I sleeping way more or way less than usual? (or way weirder)
  • Is my temper shorter than normal?
  • Do I feel on edge (you do), and how am I dealing with it?
  • Am I obsessing over the news?
  • Have I prepped like the world as we know it will be eaten by zombies tonight? (count the rolls of toilet paper)
  • Am I having difficulty focusing? (even when the kids aren’t melting down) Do I not enjoy things I usually love?

If you start getting a lot of yeses, chances are the isolation and stress are having an effect on your mental health. Incidentally, if you have already painted a hand on a volleyball and given it a name, you can disregard the questions. Go directly to counseling, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

I am not a mental health professional. I see a couple of those; they are great; if you are overwhelmed or struggling with thoughts of self-harm, please make an appointment with one. But for those who get a bit down or stir crazy from isolation, I can offer a little guidance from my own journey with anxiety and depression.

Fight back like Johnny Karate

(Johnny Karate is the kids’ performer alter-ego of Andy Dwyer (Christ Pratt) from later seasons of Parks and Recreation. His show is featured in a BRILLIANT episode in the last season. If you do nothing else, watch that, it will make you smile)

Johnny teaches us that we should do 5 things every day:

Make something

Cook a meal, create a photo collage, decorate your window, find a creative outlet. It doesn’t have to be perfect, or ever seen by other people. Crafting things with our hands grounds us in our body and helps us focus on something other than anxiety.

Learn something

Give your brain a chance to play. Watching one more news story or reading one more post won’t make you feel better. Instead, take advantage of the great free courses and museum tours online. Read a book about a topic you love or have always found fascinating. Seek wisdom, truth, and beauty. Your mind and soul need them.

Karate chop something

For kids (or super frustrated grown-ups), this could be literal; but stick to pillows and punching bags, please. However, it can mean get something accomplished. Finish a project, especially one that’s been hanging around. Got a closet that attacks every time you open it? Karate chop with organization. Flower beds looking like weed farms? Karate chop yard work. Finishing stuff releases dopamine, and dopamine is awesome.

Try something new

Working and playing and everythinging at home can make your world feel like its shrinking. Open up some horizons by trying new recipes, picking up a hobby, or intentionally learning something new. Turn dinner into Chopped, rearrange furniture, learn tik tok. Anything to break routine.
Anxious energy could become a beloved new hobby.

Be nice to someone

We all need some extra kindness right now. We all need a positive connection right now. Set aside time every day to reach out and say something encouraging, supportive, and caring to another human. And then just listen; kindness can unlock many places in the heart.

The Johnny Karate method sounds simple and a little silly. That’s the point. If you are not overloaded right now, someone around you is. We’re all swimming through mud. We don’t know for how long. Give anxiety, grief, and sadness space in your day, but also look for light and hope. So embrace the simple and the silly. Those are usually the places God shows up. Take a break every day because you need it.

Stay healthy, friends. Trust Jesus. And wash your hands.

If the pandemic makes you feel like a Skywalker in a trash compactor…

Here’s a great prayer exercise from Pray as You Go: https://pray-as-you-go.org/player/prayer%20tools/anxiety

Here’s 100 things to do while social distancing: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2020/03/16/coronavirus-quarantine-100-things-do-while-trapped-inside/5054632002/

Here’s 12 museums you can visit virtually: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/75809/12-world-class-museums-you-can-visit-online

Here’s an app for interactive reading experiences: https://noveleffect.com/books/

Here’s easy yoga for beginners and seniors: https://youtu.be/lQa8-iECHoQ

And yoga to do with littles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhYtcadR9nw

Here’s 40 new worship songs to learn: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcHqC9YNzSaB621igMmxfeMUvroQqYr3L

How to be a good neighbor in during a pandemic.

The news here outside of Houston is full of stories about supplies running low at grocery stores and people hoarding medical masks. Fear can bring out the worst in us, but fear does not give us an pass on living out our faith. We are still called to be disciples and to love our neighbors.

So how do you love your neighbor well, while practicing appropriate social distancing?

The Obvious

Follow public health recommendations:

  • Wash your hands often–more often than you think necessary.
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow if you have allergies.
  • Keep your hands away from your face.
  • Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces often.
  • If you are sick, only leave home for medical treatment.

The Seemingly Obvious

Respect people’s boundaries. You may not be that concerned about virus transmission. But the person you just insisted on hugging might have an elderly parent at home. Social distancing is uncomfortable because it breaks our habits. But a mild aggravation on my part is a small price to pay for the health and safety of my more vulnerable neighbors.

Only buy what you need. Yes, it is a good idea to have 14 days worth of supplies on hand for your household. You don’t need 14 months’ worth of toilet paper. Remember that everyone around you is experiencing the same needs and anxieties. 

Be extra patient with yourself and others. We are social creatures; whether we like it or not, when the herd stress starts to climb, our anxiety will creep up with it. There’s a reason the Bible has so many instances of God telling people, “Don’t’ be afraid.” Fear makes us do questionable things. Remind those around you its okay to take precautions, but they don’t need to panic.  

The Less Obvious

A crisis like this always has unintended consequences. Now is a time to keep your eyes open for unexpected needs. For instance:

Support small businesses. Drops in sales are survivable for Walmart and Olive Garden. The cafe down the street depends on a certain amount of traffic to stay afloat. If you’re staying in and eating in more, think about buying a gift card directly from your favorite local shops. The income could mean a lot right now, and you get a treat later.   

Tip well. Even if the corporate side of a chain restaurant can survive a hit, the servers and bussers are still trying to pay rent. If they have fewer tables, that gets a lot harder.

Offer to watch children out of school. Not every job can be done from home. If the schools close for a week or more, that can be a tremendous strain for parents with few backup options. An afternoon you spend babysitting might be a shift they don’t have to call off of work.

Check on people who live alone. Social distancing will be hardest on people who are already socially distant. If you are an 85-year-old widow and your only regular time with people is weekly bridge and church, it means a great deal if bridge or church is canceled. Call and check on those that might be lonely.

Donate cleaning and hygiene supplies to non-profits. Self-quarantine is difficult if you don’t have a permanent home or depend on charity and social services to survive. Those places are likely to even higher traffic and need extra help.

Times of fear and uncertainty should make us more aware of our neighbors, not less. Take this season as an opportunity to practice serving others in small ways and loving as Jesus loved.

Between: Lift up your eyes [Beyond Sunday]

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord  in the land of the living.

Psalm 27:13

When we find ourselves between an ending and a new beginning, we are in a liminal space. All of us pass through these seasons in our lives. They can be places of incredible growth, but sometimes we struggle to embrace liminal spaces because they come with uncertainty, anxiety, and very few answers.

Most of what we know– the routines, tools, and habits we rely on– breakdown. To successfully navigate liminal spaces (or to just come through them unscathed), we have to lean into three spiritual shifts. We must move from a posture of Knowing to Unknowing, from Advocating to Attending, and from Striving to Surrendering. Susan Beaumont does an excellent job of unpacking these in her book How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going.

Briefly, moving from Knowing to Unknowing means accept that all the skills and expertise that got us where we are may not take us further. We must bring all the best of knowledge and wisdom but remain open to questions we can’t answer alone.

Moving from Advocating to Attending involves releasing our need to take a position and fight for it. We must accept we cannot “power through” everything. Sometimes we must simply be present to the moment and allow it to teach us.

Moving from Striving to Surrendering calls us to trust God more than our efforts. We must be honest about our present and not be driven by either our past or what we think the future is “supposed” to be.

  • Read the story of Abraham learning to trust God’s promises in Genesis 15:1-18.
    • What promises has God made to you?
    • Describe a time you had trouble believing they would come true?
    • How has God reassured you in the past?
  • Read Philippians 3:7-4:1. Paul, amid his own struggles, writes to the Philippians to encourage them to trust in God.
    • Think back on a time you were struggling or in a liminal space. Write a letter to your past self about why they should trust in God.
  • With children play, God is Bigger Than That.
    • If they are young, invite them to name the biggest thing they can see, they’ve ever seen, and they can imagine. To each excitedly answer, “God is bigger than that!” and ask what that means to them.
    • If they are older, ask what the biggest, hardest, or most frightening thing is for them right now. Encourage them to describe it in detail. Then ask, what would it mean for God to be bigger than that?