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!

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.

 

For the Sake of Love [Calm and Bright III]

This year Silent Night turns 200 years old.  In the weeks leading to Christmas (Advent) we are using the carol to reflect on what it means to wait for Christ to come into the world.

I will remove disaster from you,

so that you will not bear reproach for it.

I will deal with all your oppressors

at that time.

And I will save the lame

and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise

and renown in all the earth.

At that time I will bring you home,

at the time when I gather you;

for I will make you renowned and praised

among all the peoples of the earth,

when I restore your fortunes

before your eyes, says the Lord.

 
-Zephaniah 3:19-20

So what are we to do?  What are we to do to prepare for Christ coming into the world?  John the Baptist tells us we prepare by loveing our neighbor, caring for one another and ceasing to participate in systems of oppression.  The crowd is grateful for this news; for things they can each do.  Are we, today, equally ready to live for the sake of love?

[Hear full sermon here]

This week, use these resources to grow in your faith, or with your family.  Scriptures and activities in bold are from DPUMC’s Advent Family Devotion.

First, Do:

On your own: Write 3 love notes to family, friends or coworkers who might need to hear some good news this holiday season.

With children:   In your manger kit, Take out the second smallest and the ball.  Paint or decorate the figure to look like a shepherd, the small balls to look like sheep, and the big ball to be a donkey or a cow.

Then, Read:

Now, Reflect:

Youth and Adults: Recall a story about a surprise.  What were you doing just before the surprise?  Why did it catch you off guard? How what feelings did you go through when you were surprised?

With Children: Ask your child(ren) to remember a time they were surprised:  Was it a good surprise? Did it make them feel mad, sad, glad or afraid?  What did they do after the surprise?

Everyone: Share how the shepherds might have felt about their surprise.  What did they do when they heard the news of Jesus?

And Pray:

Dear Lord, thank you for the good news of Jesus and that no matter what he came for us, Amen

Go Share:

Pray about who in your life might need to experience the love of Christ this Christmas.  Invite one of them to come to worship with you on Christmas Eve.

Share the Love of Christ by setting aside a portion of your Christmas budget for charities that work with children and refugees.  

Quake for Joy [Calm and Bright II]

This year Silent Night turns 200 years old.  In the weeks leading to Christmas (Advent) we are using the carol to reflect on what it means to wait for Christ to come into the world.

The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,     make his paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled,     and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight,     and the rough ways made smooth;  and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
-Luke 3:4b-6
In Advent we celebrate that God is coming into the world.  Yet, when God shows up in scripture, it almost always begins with the same words: Do not be afraid. Clearly to stand in the presence of the Lord, or even God’s messenger is awe-inspiring experience. But it should fill us, not with terror, but with Joy. The present is a season of preparation for the joy that is to come. And Joy we should proclaim, for God is coming to make all things right. [Hear full sermon here] This week, use these resources to grow in your faith, or with your family.  Scriptures and activities in bold are from DPUMC’s Advent Family Devotion.

First, Do:

On your own: Everyday this week, capture a picture of something that makes you joyful and share it with a note about why it is important With children:   In your manger kit, find the two matching middle sized figures.  Color, paint, or decorate these to look like Mary and Joseph.  Traditionally Mary is associated with blue because it signaled royalty, peace, and nature.  Joseph sometimes appears as a young man, sometimes as an old man, but always dressed simply.

Then, Read:

Now, Reflect:

Youth and Adults: Write out the story of the day you were born.  If you don’t know it, ask a family member to tell you about it.  What emotions were your parents feeling?  Who was there and how did they respond? With Children: Tell each child the story of the day they were born.  Or, if your child(ren) know the story, invite them to tell it to you. Everyone: How might Mary and Joseph have felt about Jesus coming.  How did they prepare for the baby?

And Pray:

Dear Lord, thank you for moms and dads, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, thank you for my family and for the family of Jesus, Amen.

Go Share:

Find a piece of art depicting Mary and Joseph and share it with your thoughts on our facebook or twitter (@dpumc) #advent Share the Joy of Christ by setting aside a portion of your Christmas budget for charities that work with children and refugees.  

Peace in the Midst of Tumult [Calm and Bright I]

This year Silent Night turns 200 years old.  In the weeks leading to Christmas (Advent) we are using the carol to reflect on what it means to wait for Christ to come into the world.

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
-Luke 21:29-33

Advent (the weeks leading up to Christmas) reminds us that the Kingdom of God is near; the promise of God to set the world right both has been and will be fulfilled.  Around us, we may see great strife and fearful signs in the world, but we are not shaken. The people of God possess a peace that passes understanding. A peace grounded, not in the security of the world, but in the righteousness of God. We can be peace, even in the darkest times, because we know the day of the Lord is at hand.

[Hear full sermon here]

This week, use these resources to grow in your faith, or with your family.  Scriptures and activities in bold are from DPUMC’s Advent Family Devotion.

First, Do:

On your own: Make a list of all the things that trouble you right now in the world.  As you add each item, try not to dwell on blame or anxiety, but offer it to God and ask for wisdom.

With children: Build a manger.  You can use Popsicle sticks or other materials (for DPUMC Joel has kits available).  Leave it empty for now. Over the coming weeks, you will add to the scene.

Then, Read:

Now, Reflect:

Youth and Adults: Recall a time from your childhood when you traveled to see family.  What was the journey like?  Where did you stay?   What was it like to stay in a strange place? With Children: Ask your child(ren) to remember a time they traveled:  Can you remember us spending the night somewhere else?  Where were we? What was it like to stay there? How did you feel about coming home? How might Mary and Joseph have felt in a strange city.  What do you think it was like sleeping in the stable?  Who is like Mary and Joseph today?

And Pray:

Dear Lord, Thank you for our family and our home. Thank you for this season of Advent so that we can wait for you together, amen.

Go Share:

Find a modern story that reflects Mary and Joseph’s journey and share it with your thoughts on our facebook or twitter (@dpumc) Share the peace of Christ by setting aside a portion of your Christmas budget for charities that work with children and refugees.  

Silent night, holy night/ All is calm, all is bright/ Round yon Virgin Mother and Child/ Holy Infant so tender and mild/ Sleep in heavenly peace Sleep in heavenly peace Silent Night v1

Giving Thanks

Every day we draw breath should be a day of gratitude.  However, in this season, we are more keenly aware of all God’s blessings.  I am thankful to gather with my family this week.  I am grateful to serve a loving energetic church, and for the work we are doing to refocus on discipleship.  I feel blessed to have bills paid, secure housing, enough means for a lavish meal.

I hope in the midst of your festivities this week, you take time to pause and be grateful for the blessings large and small that contribute to your life.  I also pray that we allow our gratitude motivate us to become blessings to others.  In the midst of this season of busy, may we be a place of peace.  In a season of buying and selling, may we be a people of generous hearts.  In a season of family and friends, may we have eyes for those who feel lonely, or lost.

I am grateful to be a part of the Deer Park UMC family and hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I look forward to celebrating the whole holiday season together.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Pastor Kate