29 October 2010

Take Comfort in Rituals!

This week a scary thing happened in our home-- just in time for Halloween-- Christy ran out of her coffee.  Let's just say she doesn't drink Sanka or whatever is on clearance at the grocery store.  So I ordered the coffee, which would take a few days to arrive.  The last two mornings I found myself playing the good husband, driving to Starbucks, hoping desperately that the coffee I should have ordered "rush" but mistakenly ordered on free shipping arrive soon.  Thankfully it made it here yesterday.

I am not a coffee person, so I don't get much of the comfort and rush feelings many people get from the stuff.  But Starbucks gets it-- and well.  They've built an empire not on the product itself, but the experience.  So as I drove through to order the grande vanilla latte extra hot, I noticed Starbucks' slogan for their special coffee for Fall-- you know, pumpkin spice, etc.-- "Take comfort in rituals."  And I blinked.  Comfort with coffee, community, relationships... that's part of the Starbucks experience.  But ritual?

Rituals are, in fact, comforting.  We use the word ritual a little too often in place of more appropriate words.  For example, Friday family nights, whatever that may be in your home, is not a ritual.  Watching Cowboys games with the same friends every week is not a ritual.  They're great, familiar things, customs, or practices.  Rituals are different: "the observance of set forms or rites, as in public worship," according to our household dictionary.  When a child is baptized it is a ritual.  Funerals, weddings, regular Sunday worship are all rituals.  They are services/actions/occasions to celebrate together the grace and love of God in Christ. 

Even for those outside of the faith, ritual is still important.  When Christy and I pastored in England many years ago, I officiated at about twenty funerals and as many baptisms-- most of these were for folk who were not a part of the church.  And sometimes they acted as such in worship!  But there was still a sense in the community that having a child baptized is important-- even if everyone knew the parents would not raise the kid in church.  Having a pastor-- even one no one knew-- preside at a funeral, in the church or at the funeral home, was important.  Those services would be packed with people.  Ritual is important.  But Starbucks cannot offer meaningful rituals.

In the early days of the Christian church, every Sunday was dedicated to a particular saint.  Over time there were more than 52 "saints" of the church-- which may surprise some church people!  Ha!  In the fifth century, a decision was made to commemorate the saints of the faith in an annual-- you guessed it-- ritual: All Saints Day, November 1.  Over time the practice changed to include not just recognized saints of the faith, but others who inspired, taught, and led us in the ways of Christ.  Then it expanded further to members of the church and loved ones of members.  When people became too busy to worship on an assigned date-- November 1-- churches began observing All Saints Sunday on the Sunday closest to it.  Which brings us to this week: All Saints Sunday.

The services themselves are rituals-- so they will be as familiar as they are every week.  But some parts will be different.  Our saints will be named during the prayer time, and as they are read a family member, the whole family, or someone from the congregation will place a rose in a vase as a way of honoring this person's memory.  We will pray a litany of comfort and hope.  And a special communion liturgy will reinforce the importance of the day.  Take comfort in rituals. 

Ultimately the message of All Saints Day is for the living-- for us to grow so much in our own faith that someone will one day remember us in such a ritual.  Daniel
7:18: "But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever--forever and ever."  Amen!  Ephesians 1:11-12: "In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory."  Amen!

Today in many churches the word ritual is a loaded word, full of images of formality, emptiness, going through the motions.  And it was more than a little surprising to see Starbucks use it in their advertising!  But ritual is important--we need it-- it offers us comfort and familiarity at times when things feel disjointed.  Join me this Sunday as we once again gather in sacred space for worship.  As we remember and celebrate the lives and continued witness of the saints, and continue to grow in our own faith.   Take comfort in rituals!

15 October 2010

I am the Church. You are the Church. We are the Church Together!

Wow, it's been a full, emotional, wonderful week for me.  It began Monday with a call that Gene Fasnacht, a beloved member of PUMC who was fighting cancer, returned to the hospital.  I visited Gene that afternoon.  He knew his prospects for recovery were bleak.  But he was fine with that.  His faith gave him strength.  He was confident that this was not an ending, but a beginning.  Two days later I returned to the hospital.  Family and friends had been called in to spend time with Gene.  Believing his life was nearing its end, I asked him: "Are you afraid?"  He said, "Oh, no, no, no, no, no.  I believe the Lord will reward me for what I have done in this life."  I told him he was an inspiration to so many, how he faced his illness with grace and hope.  Gene died early yesterday morning.  There will be a viewing Sunday night and the funeral Monday afternoon, both at Turrentine/Jackson/Morrow Funeral Home in Frisco.
When I walked into Gene's hospital room on Monday, the first thing he said was: "So, the big day is coming on Saturday," referring to the Lord's Acre.  He spoke of selling tickets for many years and lamented that he would miss it this year, and someone would have to take his place.  "But that's what it's about," he said.  "We all have to do our part."  I told him he had paved the way for someone to pick up the slack.  Somehow it's fitting that Gene's last days led up to Lord's Acre.  Somehow it makes sense that so many of his PUMC friends and loved ones made it to the hospital to visit, and so many are working tirelessly to bring this annual celebration to us tomorrow.  Many gathered during the week at the hospital; many gathered last night to raise the tent and set up; many more are setting up at this moment and throughout the day; many will gather tomorrow for food, games, auctions, and fun; many will gather for worship on Sunday; many will gather Monday to celebrate a life.  Somehow all of that interconnects.

Connie Miserak, who is this year's Lord's Acre coordinator, has done of wonderful job of keeping everything in its proper context.  It's not about fund raising, it's not about busy-ness, it's not about individuals.  It's about God.  It's a day to recognize and express gratitude for the grace and goodness of God.  It's about community.  It's about church. 

Just before I left Gene Wednesday afternoon, I asked him about his Air Force ring.  I never saw him without that ring.  He said he bought it at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH.  He spoke of the pride he had in wearing it and serving his country.  Gene was also proud of his church and his Sunday school class.  Nearly every Sunday for thirteen years-- thirteen years-- he was the first on site, unlocking doors, making coffee, turning on A/C units, setting up chairs.  Few people knew about it, and Gene certainly never talked about it.  I still remember the standing ovation the church gave him when we recognized him for his service July 4.  We'll recognize him again Monday afternoon, and on All Saints Sunday, October 31.

I am proud to have been Gene Fasnacht's pastor.  I am proud to be PUMC's pastor.  I am proud to pastor a church that cares for one another, always with eyes and hearts open to new people.  I am proud to pastor a church with a mission and a purpose.  I am proud to pastor a church that joys in nurturing and shaping children and youth.  I am proud to pastor a church that honors everyone, from the oldest to the youngest.  I am proud to pastor a church that sees itself as an active participant in God's larger plan.  When we gather in a hospital, under a tent, around a table, in worship, or anywhere else under the banner of PUMC and the grace of Jesus Christ, we are being the church.  It's been a full, emotional, wonderful week for me. 

24 September 2010

Greed is Good?

When I was sixteen I saw a movie that had a profound impact on my life: Oliver Stone's Wall Street.  Michael Douglas plays Gordon Gecko, a billionaire Wall Street tycoon whose life had everything.  When I left the cinema, I wanted to be Gordon Gecko.  It was only later, after watching the film again from a more worldly perspective did I understand the movie's point.  Despite what Gordon Gecko famously said, greed is not good.  Greed makes people into small, shallow individuals who do not understand how money can be used to bless others.  Tomorrow night I'll see the Wall Street sequel, again starring Michael Douglas as Gecko.  I wonder how it will impact me at age 39?

My life turned out to be so radically different that I imagined it would be after seeing Wall Street.  I did not earn an MBA, did not become a millionaire by age 22.  I became a youth director, a teacher, and a pastor-- not exactly careers with huge earning potential!  Yet my life has more depth and meaning than I could have thought of in high school.  The things I dreamed of turned out to be an illusion; the things I never dreamed about (family, faith, a growing relationship with God) continue to shape me in profound ways.  Such is the process of growth-- we learn what is ultimately important and what is not.

The subtitle of the Wall Street sequel is Money Never Sleeps.  I hear that and I immediately think of the Psalms: "He who keeps Israel will neither sleep nor slumber" (Psalm 121:4).  Money never sleeps.  God never sleeps.  Money is God.  Uh-oh.  Well for many people, it's true.  I wish we could only confine such thoughts to the movies, but we know better.  Others believe if we have enough faith God will reward us by making us rich.  Another way of saying "Greed is good."

A popular Sunday school lesson for children is the story of Zacchaeus in the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 19).  Kids like it because he was short and had to climb a tree to see Jesus.  Look at the story closer and we see that Zacchaeus was rich but was searching for something more-- and when he heard Jesus was close he even climbed the tree to get a look.  Jesus stopped and said, "Zacchaeus, I must come to your home for dinner tonight."  Why?  Why must Jesus go to his house-- this man who routinely lied, cheated, and collaborated with the Roman occupiers?  We don't know their conversation, but we can guess what was said by Zacchaeus' next words: "I will give half of my money to the poor, and whatever I have stolen I will repay times four."  Jesus replied, "Today salvation has come to this house!"  Jesus went to dinner that night with Zacchaeus-- remember: "I must come..." Why?  Because this was a man who agreed with Gecko: "Greed is good"-- until he learned the truth and found salvation.

How we deal with money says much about our relationship with God.  If we are generous with money, then it shows that we believe in a God of abundance.  If we are selfish with it, then we believe in a God of scarcity.  How are you using your blessings to bless others?  How do you respond to the grace you have received?  Jesus wants our hearts and our lives.  Sometimes money/greed gets in the way, with disastrous results.  Let's use what we have to change a life for Jesus Christ!

Ultimately God had better and different plans for my life, trading in my Wall Street suits for a clergy robe.  The sixteen year old tycoon-to-be never materialized.  And I am thankful!  I mean, who needs a fleet of Ferraris, anyway, right?  Right??  Gecko was wrong: greed is not good.  God is good!  All the time!

17 September 2010

Obey Your Thirst!

It is a well-known fact that I do not care for the month of August-- too hot.  But at least we expect that.  My least favorite month of the year is September, even though it marks the beginning of football season and the opening of the State Fair of Texas.  Every day in September, and sometimes several times each day, I look up the 10-day forecast, expecting to see that first cold front on the horizon.  And every day I am disappointed.  I am in need of refreshment from hot weather!

You know what it feels like to need refreshment-- that cold drink after yard work; that well-deserved vacation; the laughter of children after a stressful day.  We have that sense of being parched-- needing something that is not quite there-- and when the need is fulfilled all we can express is, "Aaaaaagh!"  Do you remember the old iced tea commercials of people falling backward into a pool?  That's what I mean.  Refreshment.

Thirst comes in physical, spiritual, and emotional forms.  The physical part is fairly easy to address.  Go to the nearest water fountain.  The others are more difficult.  Sometimes we feel thirsty but do not know where to go.  For Christians, Jesus is the ultimate source of refreshment!  Read the scripture below: the story of Jesus offering the woman a drink of living water.  Not the stuff from her well, but real, everlasting refreshment through relationship with him.  The beginning of that relationship involves water-- our baptism-- but after that moment how do we satisfy our thirst for God?

The best way is by regular worship attendance.  We come to worship not because we want to hear great music or preaching, and not because we want to see friends and make relationships.  All of those things flow from the source of living water-- a relationship with Jesus.  We come to worship to give thanks to God for the life-saving, life-changing grace we have received-- real refreshment.  We come to empty ourselves in praise so that God will fill us up again.  As Psalm 23 says, "My cup overflows!"  This is why regular, weekly worship attendance is vital to spiritual growth.  When we only drink for the water of God every now and then we become more and more parched.

This Sunday we'll begin an exciting new sermon series called "Who Do You Say That I AM?" the question Jesus asked the disciples.  If we do not know who Jesus is, how can he fill us with love and grace?  The series will be based on the "I AM" sayings of Jesus found in the Gospel of John.  Here's an outline:

September 19: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."
September 26: "I am the Good Shepherd."
October 3: "I am the Bread of Life."
October 10: "I am the Light of the World."
October 17: "I am the Vine, you are the branches."
October 31: "I am the Resurrection and the Life."
Sprite had a great slogan a few years ago: "Obey your thirst."  Let's make a commitment to do just that over the next six weeks.  Obey your thirst for Jesus.  Admit that like the woman at the well, you too are thirsting for something.  Maybe you've tried more that a few ways to quench that thirst but nothing has quite worked yet.  Commit to attend worship every Sunday through October and hear the comforting, challenging, life giving and saving words of Jesus as he tells us who he is-- and invites us to deeper, more meaningful relationship with him.  Obey your thirst!  By the end of October we should have welcomed that first cold front to Prosper.  If not, I'll be in real need of refreshment!

See you Sunday.  And next Sunday.  And the one after that.  And...

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.  A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, 'Give me a drink'. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, 'How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?' (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, 'If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, "Give me a drink", you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.' The woman said to him, 'Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?' Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.' The woman said to him, 'Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.'

10 September 2010

Remembering September 11

Tomorrow is the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Most of us will never forget where we were at the moment we learned our nation was under attack. Like many of you, I was watching the Today Show with Christy in our apartment in Dallas when the second plane hit World Trade Center. As I drove to the church where I served as Associate Pastor, Oak Lawn UMC, I listened on the radio intently for more news. The shock and horror of that day was compounded for me especially. We had just discovered the day before, September 10, 2001, that Christy was pregnant with James. In the midst of such fear and suffering, I felt more than a little guilty that our family was celebrating. It didn't seem fair.

At the church a TV was on in Wyndal's office, our Business Manager. We searched the internet for faster news. We sent emails out to the congregation, urging them wherever they were to pray for victims, their families, and for the nation. We organized a prayer vigil for that evening, then followed up with a prayer service that Friday, September 14. I was to be the preacher that day, but to a full Sanctuary the best words of comfort I could find were from our sacred scriptures, mostly Psalms of lament, where the writer pours his heart out to God in the midst of profound suffering.

So it was with a profound sense of disgust that I watched and read reports pouring in from Florida about a church whose pastor scheduled an "International Koran Burning Day" for tomorrow, the anniversary of September 11. Despite appeals from President Obama, General Petraeus, leaders from around the world, as well as Christian, Muslim, and leaders of others faiths, the pastor refused to change his stance. How outrageous to exploit a day filled with national grief, mourning, and remembrance to further one's own personal agenda. And to do so in the name of Jesus Christ.

In the midst of evil, rampant suffering, our own need for recognition, and our mistaking ideology for theology, there is a profound sense of the presence of God. Many people were afraid that day, and tomorrow will bring those emotions back to the surface. Rightfully so. Wherever September 11, 2001 is commemorated tomorrow in ways that reflect the graciousness and goodness of God, there will be healing. When we observe the day as a way of spreading hate and mistrust of others
we dishonor the memory and grief of those who died and lost loved ones.

Last week we began a study of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. He begins the book thinking of some of our basic instincts-- food, survival, etc. He says when we see someone in trouble, two basic instincts begin to struggle within us-- the instinct to look the other way (self-preservation) and the instinct to help. He says only when a third voice intervenes and says, "Act on the second choice!" will we do it. Think of firefighters facing the WTC towers. Somehow they overcame the instinct of self-preservation and ran into the buildings to help others. That voice-- call it conscience, a sense of duty, whatever-- leads us straight to the heart of God. It is that voice that makes people inherently good and not evil, despite our inclination to sin.

It now appears that the pastor's publicity stunt of burning the holy book of a billion people worldwide has been canceled, but we won't know until tomorrow. Others will gather out of love in many places for solemn reflection, to express thanksgiving for freedom, to honor those lost in New York, Washington D.C., and over Pennsylvania. And many of us will devote some time individually to remember that day nine years ago and pray for a better future: one without war, suffering, hatred, and evil.

Lord Jesus Christ, you are the way of peace. Come into the brokenness of our lives and our land with your healing love. Help us to be willing to bow before you in true repentance, and to bow to one another in real forgiveness. By the fire of your Holy Spirit, melt our hard hearts and consume the pride and prejudice which separate us. Fill us, O Lord, with your perfect love, which casts out fear, and bind us together in that unity which you share with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

United Methodist Book of Worship, #482

27 August 2010

Pride-- In the Name of Love

I am one of those rare people who is impacted by time differently than just about everyone else.  As school came closer and closer to starting, just about every parent I know posted the same thing, more or less, on Facebook: "I can't believe my kid is going to be a ninth grader [insert your kid's class here].  Where has the time gone?"  Time just does not work on me that way.

So when Christy and I took James (3rd) and Miles (K) to Rucker on Monday I didn't think to myself: "It seems like only a week ago that these guys were born at Baylor Dallas."  I did worry if Miles would be able to navigate the halls of Rucker (if I ever get caught trapped by myself there I'll be in big trouble), but I knew he'd figure it out just like James did three years ago.  I had a few tears well up for each kid as I left their classroom, but not for their growing-- for pride in the boys they are.  I had the same feeling the day before when James was part of a dozen 3rd graders receiving their Bibles.  And a couple of nights later when he wanted to read from his new Bible the stories from his picture Bible he has read at night for years.  Or last night, when Miles read Go Dogs Go to me.  Pride, lots and lots of pride.  In fact, I am proud to be proud!

The same thing goes for our church.  I am very proud of PUMC.  We blessed nearly 70 backpacks last Sunday-- the kids were packed three rows deep at the Communion rail!  A dozen kids received Bibles (Hannah Pappas: I dropped yours off to be inscribed yesterday-- I'll let you know when I get it back).  We've already received as many new members in 2010 as we did in all of 2009.  25 people are enrolled in Disciple courses; 0 in 2008.  God is doing great things through PUMC-- lives are being changed in profound ways-- and each of us should be very proud.

I know what you are thinking: "Doesn't Proverbs say, 'Pride goes before destruction?'" (16:18).  "Isn't pride one of the seven deadly sins?"  "Isn't pride at the heart of the Tower of Babel story?" (Genesis 11).  YES!  But that's a different sort of pride.  Finish the proverb: "Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall."  That kind of pride draws attention to one's self: "Look at how smart my kids are!"  "Look at how much more beautiful my house is than yours!"  "Look at me and see what I have done!"  Sinful pride brings attention to ourselves while at the same time pushing others beneath us.

I am the first to admit that my pride in my boys is not because I am the most awesome Dad in the universe.  They've had excellent teachers at church and school, wonderful family ties, and great relationships.  I am the first to admit that my pride in PUMC is not because I am the most awesome pastor.  We have many dedicated folk who work to make the church better/stronger/healthier, often in ways that are unseen.  Many, many people contribute on a daily basis to make this pride possible.  And I acknowledge, recognize, and am grateful for each one of them.

So whatever achievements my boys earn, whatever recognitions PUMC earns (or not), I will be proud, because I know they/we are doing well out of a sense of commitment.  James' teachers asked all the parents to write a letter to their kid to be kept at the back of their notebook.  I used the phrase "proud of you" more than once.  I use it to describe my feelings about the church.  Pride can be dangerous when it's only about building ourselves up and tearing others down, but when it is other-focused, thankful, and mindful of God's work it can be a powerful thing.

So be proud of your kids.  Be proud of your church.  Be proud of your own achievements.  But always remember: we/the church/our kids belong to Christ, "...and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope" (Hebrews 3:6b).

20 August 2010


Last night Christy and I engaged in an adventure.  Not the kind of adventure anyone would be excited about.  For several hours, we searched the house for a missing remote control for a toy.  We followed each other, looking in every room of the house, every closet, every cabinet.  We determined when the thing was last sen.  We interviewed witnesses (James, Miles, and Linus), none of whom were helpful.  Like Columbo or the cops on Law and Order, we had a mystery to solve.  When we were just about ready to file for divorce, Linus came to me, holding the thing in his hand.  Excited and joyful, I asked him to show me where he found the blasted thing.  He pointed to a spot right in the middle of Miles' bedroom floor.  Case closed. 

Each of us is on a journey of exploration.  We are all searching for something-- really, the same thing.  A few of us think we're fairly close to figuring out the mystery; others are too self conscious to take the first steps in working the case.  The great majority of us are out there, trying to figure out this whole mystery of life thing.  This Sunday we'll continue on that journey in a few special ways.  A dozen or so (I've lost count by now) 3rd graders will receive their Bibles from PUMC (please, if you have a 3rd grader and you haven't told me-- it's too late to get one by Sunday.  Trust me, I'm on Cokesbury's list as it is!  Let me know and we'll get you one later).  As I do every year, I'll show the kids my 3rd grade Bible I received from the Fellowship Class of First UMC Bay City, in 1979.  The inside cover says, "Look to this book for guidance."  In other words: Along your journey of life, stop here for some clues.

This Sunday we'll also bless the backpacks of our children before they start school Monday.  This is a symbolic way of assuring the kids as they go through those doors they do not do it alone.  Don't forget: all kids bring their backpacks!  For those who attend at 8:30, we'll bless them there too.  Thanks to Stacey Heischman for coordinating everything!  I know deep, deep down James loves school.  On the outside he's grumpy about going back, and waking him up Monday will be a nightmare!  Echoing his big brother's grief, Miles is also not excited; but please: if any kid was ready for Kindergarten-- it's him.  Which makes me think of his teacher-- is she ready for Miles?  Yes, we'll pray for our teachers Sunday too.  Have a great year, everyone!

Reading from my 3rd grade Bible: "Make me know thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths.  Lead me in thy truth, and teach me, for thou art the God of my salvation; for thee I wait all the day long" (Psalm 25:4-5).  Each of us is on a journey, and we seek God's direction for it.  Sometimes the path is much, much longer than we expected.  Sometimes the search is frustrating.  Sometimes we lose patience.  But as the women at the mini-retreat last weekend sang, "I once was lost, but now I am found."  The journey does lead somewhere.  Along the way, look to God's Word for guidance.  Listen for the encouragement and support of others.  Help someone else find their way.  Seek God in all things.  And out of nowhere, at a time and place least expected, it will happen-- remember to give thanks!  The toy remote will magically appear, sometimes in the hands of a fellow traveler.

Now: where did I leave the TV remote?

See you along the path!

13 August 2010

Go Deep!

Everyone knows I am a big movie fan.  This summer has been a pretty good year, with fun movies like Toy Story 3 and Iron Man 2.  But by far the best movie of the summer, and the year, is InceptionInception is one of those movies that force you to think and discuss afterward.  You can't forget it.  I have had many conversations over the last month with people who both loved and hated it-- that's the whole point.

If you allow yourself to go deep (one of themes of the movie), you will not be able to dismiss it easily.  I saw Inception the first time with Christy in a crowded, warm theatre in a lousy seat.  A fellow movie going friend emailed me to say he didn't like it but I would probably love it.  Honestly, leaving the cinema the first time I appreciated it but I wasn't in awe of it.  The second time I saw it was different.  Every moment of the film was a new discovery, a connecting of the dots, a new mystery.  I had a great seat, the auditorium was comfortable, everything was perfect.  For me.  Not for my Dad, who accompanied me on my recommendation.  After about 10 minutes he was done.  He would not allow himself to go deep, so Inception made no sense to him.  He was lost and frustrated.  He's not the only one with that reaction!  Everyone who sees this film has a reaction.

The idea of "go deep" applies well to this weekend at church, which is sort of PUMC youth weekend.  Tonight the youth will gather for their annual back-to-school lockin, and Sunday they will lead us in worship: music, prayers, children's time, announcements... just about everything.  They'll be sharing their experiences from a very busy summer, from Bridgeport to Mystery Trip to mission trips to all the things inbetween!  So how does "go deep" relate here?  Well, how often do we fail to appreciate the value of young people-- or the youth experience in general?  I mean, everyone says youth are important-- "They're the future" is a favorite cliche, to which I always respond: "No, they're the present just like you and I are."  Everyone loves 1 Corinthians 13, right?  "Love is patient, love is kind..." you've heard it at just about every wedding.  Part of that text is Paul's beautiful line about spiritual maturity: "When I was a child I thought like a child, I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult I put an end to my childish ways" (verse 11).  What's missing?  Youth!  Didn't this guy ever go to MYF?  Do we need to host a John Hughes film fest in heaven for him to realize youth is an important stage in life too?  A double feature of Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club would do it.

We've worked very hard over the years to name and maintain youth as a high priority at PUMC.  We're great with children and good with adults, but sometimes youth get squeezed out.  We have all the tools in place now to build a long-term, quality youth program.  Daniel has been with us nearly two years now, and he has done an outstanding job of providing leadership while at the same time allowing the youth to determine the direction of the program themselves-- great leaders get out of the way and release their people.  We've given the Basement a wonderful facelift.  And we have some outstanding youth in this church.  I am so proud when I see the young students we have been raised in the faith here.  From Confirmation through High School, our church is doing its part to lay the groundwork for disciples of Christ.  I know you share my pride in Daniel and our youth.  And an excellent opportunity to express that appreciation is offered Sunday morning: come to church.  Worship God.  Listen to faith stories.  Share in the lives God is shaping within our church.  Go deep.

Inception is all about mysteries and puzzles, and the ending of the movie is another one-- we're left to create the ending on our own.  So it is with our young people.  We don't know yet what college they'll go to, what career path they'll take.  All we can know for sure is who they are today.  And we can do our part to ensure that these very important years are not swept under the rug and forgotten.  Thank you for your regular support of the church's ministries.  Your giving is helping to change lives.

I teased Paul earlier about skipping the youth years, but he makes up for it in 1 Timothy.  Paul writes to Timothy, himself just beginning his journey as a disciple: "Let know one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12).  Stop a youth or Daniel or an adult volunteer and thank them this Sunday.  Share your pride in them.  Think about these young people walking through the schools a week from Monday as ambassadors for Prosper United Methodist Church.  And be thankful.  Go deep!

02 July 2010

I've always loved the Fourth of July.  From the parties my parents hosted when I was a kid, to fireworks, to Boston Pops concerts, the whole thing is thrilling and makes me very proud.  In fact, when Christy and I returned from England ten years ago-- guess which date we chose for our triumphant return?  Yep-- the Fourth of July.  And we celebrated with a little Fourth of July Rangers baseball.  I was so exhausted and tired I watched the fireworks with sunglasses on!  I think I'll try to squeeze in an Arlington trip this Sunday night with James and Miles!

Thinking about the Fourth of July, I always consider some of the Americans who lived out the greatness our country aspires to.  Obviously Lincoln, King, Douglass, Washington, Jefferson, and others come to mind, but this year I wanted to consider the life of someone not so easily recognized, and I settled on Arthur Ashe.  I was a child when Ashe won his grand slam victories, and too young to understand the struggles he represented and endured as an African-American growing up in the South.  When Ashe died in 1993, I was moved by the many moving tributes to his life-- not as a successful athlete or businessman, but as an American.  A symbol to aspire to.  One of the most important, wonderful, inspiring books I ever read was Ashe's autobiography, fittingly called Days of Grace.  I commend it to you if you have not read it.

Several years ago, Mom gave me a ton of books for my library, one of which I treasure above the others: The Book of Eulogies by Phyllis Theroux.  It's exactly what the title implies.  I'd like to share with you Arthur Ashe's eulogy, written as an editorial in the New York Times.  I'll also include introductory comments about Mr. Ashe written by Theroux.  Her comments will be written in italics.

Arthur Ashe, from Richmond, Virginia, was the first male African-American tennis player to reach any degree of prominence in the sport.  He received a tennis scholarship from UCLA in 1962; he was the first black U.S. Open champion; in 1970, he won the Australian Open, but was denied a visa to the South African Open on racial grounds.  Ashe went before the United Nations to protest the policy.  In 1973, we was admitted to South Africa to play, and in 1975 he won the title at Wimbledon.  After an intravenous blood transfusion, Ashe was found to have become HIV-positive, which resulted in his death.  He was the first black Virginian to lie in state in the governor's mansion in Richmond.
Arthur Robert Ashe (1943-1993)
The rise of Arthur Ashe in tennis, crowned by his Wimbledon victory in 1975, took on the stature of a fable.  He was a black man in a sport that seemed a metaphor for racism-- a sport played by white people in white clothes in white country clubs-- and for a time he was the best there was.  He was also a rare champion who believed that personal success imposes broad responsibilities to humanity.

Mr. Ashe's life was linked to two of the great scourges of his day: racism and AIDS, the disease that led to his death last weekend.  He confronted them head-on-- driven, until the end, by the unselfish and unswerving conviction that he was duty-bound to ease the lives of others who were similarly afflicted.

In 1970, Mr. Ashe began a public campaign against apartheid, seeking a visa to play in the South African Open.  Three years later he won that fight and became the first black man ever to reach the final at the open.  His appearance inspired young South African blacks, among them the writer and former tennis player Mark Mathabane...

Mr. Ashe took his crusade to America's inner cities as well, where he established tennis clinics and preached tennis discipline and provided hope to the young people who most needed it.

He contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion of tainted blood during heart-bypass surgery a decade ago.  He learned of his infection in 1988, but did not disclose it until last April, after USA Today told him it planned to publish an article about his illness.  After his public admission, Mr. Ashe campaigned vigorously on behalf of AIDS sufferers and started a foundation to combat the disease.

Mr. Ashe did not waste his fame; he used it to leave a mark on the social canvas of his time.  For this he remains a model champion.
We'll celebrate the Fourth this Sunday in worship, singing traditional hymns, praying for our nation, its leaders, its civil and military personnel, etc.  We'll also celebrate Communion with a special Great Thanksgiving written for the occasion.  For those unable to be with us: be careful and have fun.  Part of the Fourth July festivities I particularly recommend: check out Avalon, a wonderful film by Barry Levinson, who directed other films such as Good Morning, Vietnam and Rain ManAvalon is Levinson's semi-autobiographical story of his family's coming to America, beginning with a grandfather in 1914.  One of the most beautifully filmed movies ever, filled with great stories and themes.  The Fourth of July is a recurring date in the film.  Check it out.

24 June 2010

Joy in the Midst of Life

Yesterday I was out running errands with Miles.  "Jeez, it's hot today," I said, expecting the normal, exasperated  Texas response.  No such luck with Miles: "Of course it's hot, Dad.  It's summer."  I wanted to ground him immediately for his lack of compassion, but decided not to.  We all know it's hot, sooner than it should be, and there's little we can do about it.  Overly optimistic weather folk on TV try to make us feel better by throwing in a 10-20% chance of rain, but we know the sad truth: it will be hot nearly every day until around Lord's Acre, mid-October. 

I own three watches: one black, one silver and gold colored, and one brown.  The two latter watches are older than the black one.  A few years ago Christy bought a lifetime battery renewal plan for those two watches, and I guess the watch batteries we get are really, really cheap, because they seem to go out every two months or so.  I was on my way in to the jewelry store recently when I noticed the silver one's problem wasn't the battery-- it was the #9.  It had come detached from the watch's face and stuck to the second hand, holding it in place.  After much shaking and distorting my wrist (hello, future corpal-tunnel syndrome!) the #9 fell to the bottom of the face and the second hand began to move again.  So if you see my violently shaking my wrist one day, you'll know why-- every now and then #9 messes up my life again.

Life is kind of like that, isn't it?  Sometimes the expected happens-- of course it's hot in the summer-- but the expected is still too powerful that it overwhelms us.  Or we're surprised by life's unexpected quirks-- no one can plan for the day their #9 will fall out of place and freeze time. 

Last Sunday we started a new study group: SMS (Sunday Morning Study).  We're looking at Paul's letter to the Philippians, which was written while the apostle was in prison.  The theme of the letter is joy.  Now there's a surprise.  If I had said the theme of the letter is anxiety or bitterness or loneliness you may have pulled a Miles and said, "Of course, Pastor Frank.  The guy's in prison."  But the letter is about joy!  The Joy of being a disciple of Christ!  The Joy of being a part of loving congregation!  The Joy of serving others!  The Joy of the Christian life!

No matter what life throws at us, we should do our best to respond with joy.  Joy in the heat.  Joy in the messed up watches.  Joy in the piles of laundry.  Joy in the workplace.  Joy in traffic.  Joy in change.  Joy in new things and ordinary things and old things.  Joy in every thing.

The next time my watch freezes in time I'm going to remember to live with joy.  The next time I go outside and it is oppressively hot I will do my best to respond with joy-- this will be a true test of faith, because NO ONE complains about Texas heat as much as me-- and I've lived in it forever, so I've earned the right.  Whatever happens to you this week-- expected or unexpected-- try to respond with joy.  See what happens.

Last week at VBS my duty was story time with the little ones-- 4 years and under.  Before the story we'd sing chapel songs, one of which starts with these words: "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart."  Let's not leave that joy down in our hearts all the time-- the world needs your joy.  So let it out!  Share it!  "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say: Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4). 

18 June 2010

I've been excited all week-- and not just because of VBS!  Today is the day Toy Story 3 will be released.  I have been a HUGE fan of the Toy Story franchise since the first movie was released in 1995.  I still remember the absolute sense of awe at watching a feature-length movie animated on computers.  It did not look animated-- in fact, compared to many other movies released since 1995, Toy Story was, in many ways, the most real.  I'll make it plain for you: for me, Toy Story is right up there with the original Star Wars movies of my childhood.

If you have not seen Toy Story, I have to ask: why not?  It has great characters, inspires laughter and tears, and has a great message about friendship and relationships.  In 1999, Toy Story 2 was released.  As much as I loved Toy Story, I was worried about a sequel; more often than not they are simply made to generate cash, and are void of any of the creativity and spirit of the original.  To my astonishment, Toy Story 2 was not only as good as the first-- it may even be better.  Not since The Empire Strikes Back (1980) could anyone say that! 

Last Fall Pixar released Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3-D as a way of generating interest in this summer's next chapter.  James and I went together-- the adult too old to cherish Toy Story as a child, and the kid who romped through our house in Buzz or Woody costumes for years.  Honestly, (don't tell anyone), more than a few tears were shed behind the glasses-- the appreciation of the movies, the moment with my oldest son (watching it on screen for the first time) was a little too much for this Tough Guy to handle.  I'll never forget it.

Now there is a third installment, and while I am naturally concerned about the content, I can barely sit still.  This time, not only James and I will go, but also Miles, Christy, and yes: Linus-- his first time at the movies.  Whether the film is any good or not (how can it not be?) it will be a day to remember!  Whoever scheduled it to be released on Father's Day weekend: Thanks.  It's a gift I'll always remember.

The great thing about the first two movies is that for animated films there are so many rich lessons for us to learn from-- adults and kids.  In the first film, Woody, a cowboy doll from the '50s with an old fashioned pull string, is threatened by Buzz Lightyear, the new toy-of-the-moment, who comes with wings and lasers and all kinds of gadgets.  Woody is afraid he will be outcast and does whatever he can to protect what is rightfully his, even at the expense of others.  In the end, he realizes that life is precious and should be cherished always-- even if it doesn't always go according to the plan.

In the second movie, Woody discovers his true identity as a rare toy from a time long gone.  He is reunited with the Round Up Gang, other characters from a 1950s TV show (think Howdy Doody).  They're being sold to a museum in Tokyo, where they will be forever encased behind glass.  As attractive as it is to be famous and know that people are coming from everywhere to see him, Woody realizes that true value comes from being loved by a child and having real friends.  He decides to stay home, knowing Andy, his beloved owner, won't play with toys forever.

I don't know yet what rich lessons the third movie will have, but the first two have enough for a long sermon series: getting ahead is never the most important thing, relationships matter, dubious decisions have consequences, you can't change the past and clinging to it isn't very helpful either, seize the day and live it to the fullest, etc.  Life lessons.  For those outside of the church it's good to know there are still places to hear a helpful message.  For those of us in the church, we can be confident and proud that our children-- and adults-- are learning life lessons every day through the power of the Gospel and the working of the Holy Spirit.  And that will never end: as one of the daily VBS themes reminded us: "Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:8a).  Or as Buzz Lightyear would say, love endures, "To Infinity and Beyond!"

14 June 2010

 this article appeared in the june 15 edition of the north texas reporter.

I have attended the Festival of Homiletics several times, but circumstances made this year’s conference different.

The event May 17-21 met this year in Nashville, Tenn., still recovering from recent devastating floods. Yet in the midst of challenges and difficult news, the Rev. Frank Lewis, host pastor of First Baptist Church, offered signs of hope: Conference attendees and their churches donated more than $10,000 and 10,000 bottles of water to the Nashville recovery effort.

Our spirits were resoundingly lifted by the opening worship service. Local songwriter and performer Ashley Cleveland passionately sang out to thunderous applause the words of the spiritual: “I was born to preach the gospel—and I sure do love my job!”

Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the AME church inspired us in her sermon, reminding us of Moses’ call of God to speak truth to power—calling on us to remember our own calling to go to the places no one else will go—and say the things no one else will say.

The Festival of Homiletics is a national continuing education event for preachers. The dictionary definition of homiletics is “the art of writing and preaching sermons,” and I always learn something new about preaching at the festival.

The presenters vary each year—some are legendary folk whose works I studied in preaching classes in seminary, like Thomas Long, professor of preaching at Candler School of Theology, or United Methodist Bishop William Willimon. Others are relatively new on the national scene.

Often I leave the festival with ideas for upcoming sermon series. But the main reason I regularly attend is for the refreshment of my soul.

Within the schedule, intentional care is taken to pair workshops with unique worship experiences. Usually one hears a workshop and then hears the same presenter preach in a service—or the other way around. One presenter calls the conference “feeding for the feeders.”

And it’s just fun, too. Anna Carter Florence, professor of preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., said, “There is nothing crazier than a room full of preachers who are not preaching. It’s like a circus!”

Yet a very important thing also happens: a reminder and reaffirmation of our calling to preach.

Craig Barnes, professor of pastoral ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and senior pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, reminded us of Moses’ ministry, saying preachers are called to simply love their people and lead them to the manna sent by God for their nourishment; only God leads the people to the Promised Land.

This year’s festival took place the week before Pentecost, and sitting with nearly 1,300 other pastors from diverse denominations and traditions felt like the Church as God intends it. Each of us brought our own experiences, joys, concerns and trials, yet under one common roof for five days we were the Church, united by a common desire to learn and grow more as preachers.

Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church quoted George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and ask ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’”

“The gospel is pointing us in the direction of God’s great ‘Why not?’—and that is why preaching is so hard,” said Bishop Curry.

We remembered the disciples, who on the day of Pentecost were transformed by the Holy Spirit into apostles, those called to preach the gospel to the world. And leaving Nashville, we were sent out again by the Spirit to our places of ministry.

The theme of this year’s festival was “The Joy of Preaching,” which can be rather oxymoronic. Honestly, sometimes preaching is everything but joyful—to the preacher as well as the hearers!

To the preachers out there, I’d ask: What are you doing to improve your spiritual (including your homiletical) health? Said Paul Scott Wilson, homiletics professor at Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto and the Toronto School of Theology: “The word ‘preaching’ also contains the word ‘aching.’”

The early Wesleyan classes asked, “How is it with your soul?” I’d add: “How is it with your preaching?”

To the congregations we serve, I’d ask: “How are you positively encouraging your pastors to grow in their preaching lives—not separate from their spiritual lives—and not just for the church’s benefit but for theirs too?”

For help in both of these vital areas, I recommend the Festival of Homiletics, next year in Minneapolis. For information, visit goodpreacher.com/festival.

The Rev. Drenner serves as pastor of Prosper United Methodist Church in Prosper, Texas. He blogs at pastorfrank.blogspot.com.

04 June 2010

A brief conversation that just happened at the parsonage:
James (8): "Hey Mom, are we having a babysitter tonight?"
Mom: "No, why?"
James: "Because you and Dad are cleaning."

Haha!  Funny kid!  Chip off the ol' block!

No, we're not going out tonight, just getting ready to head out of town for a week following worship Sunday.  Yes, following worship.  I know someone will still say to me Sunday, "I thought you weren't going to be here today."  After worship we'll travel to Wichita Falls for the North Texas Annual Conference, returning Tuesday evening.  Wednesday morning we'll take off to Bay City-- the boys going with Mom and my sister, and her three boys, to the beach for four days; Christy and I spending three days and two nights in Houston; and Dad at home alone, not counting two dogs.  I'll leave it to you to guess who will have the best time!

Every year I enjoy Conference more.  In years past, it seemed like all business and little ministry.  When I was a candidate for ministry in the Texas Conference, Christy and I would sit in the balcony of FUMC Houston, the non-voting section, because I was not a member of the Conference then.  In 1997, many of my friends were ordained Deacon; I was not.  So I went to that Conference that year with a sense of joy for them, and hurt feelings for me.  The next year I was ordained Deacon, and many of those friends were there for me.  And we were all ordained Elder together in 2001, a night I will never forget.  Several staff friends from Oak Lawn UMC, where I served as Associate Pastor, made the trip to Houston for my special night.  As a token of remembrance, they gave me the black leather hymnal I use Sunday mornings for singing or Communion or Baptism liturgies.

A few years ago a contigent from our church attended the ordination service at Custer Road UMC to support PUMC's former pastor, Doug Fox, at his ordination.  This year in Wichita Falls, several of my friends will be ordained, including Rev. Marie Mitchell, who did an internship with me at my former place of service.  Serving as Marie's Supervising Pastor will always be one of the enduring joys of my ministry.  We look forward to Pastor Samantha's ordination in a few years.

Of course, Conference is more than ordaining pastors; there's the aforementioned business: statistical reports, hearing about ongoing ministries of the Conference, and voting on legislative items, including budgets, recommendations, etc.  This year a major proposal is coming before the Conference for approval: a realignment of Conference districts and resources to help us better fulfill our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  If you're interested in learning more about that, visit holyconferencing.org.  There are also wonderful worship experiences, including the service of Ordination and Commissioning and the Memorial service (for pastors and clergy spouses who died since last year's Conference).  The opportunity to hear from retiring pastors, including former PUMC pastor Larry Kruger, is not to be missed.  Always great humor, memories, and stories!

Since Pastor Sam was officially appointed to PUMC as a Local Pastor last summer, we'll have an extra lay member of Conference, Larry Clark.  Other PUMC members of the Conference are Judy and Lloyd Rucker and Bill Wiley.  All will have an opportunity to share brief reflections of Conference at worship June 13.  One of the final events at Conference is the reading of the appointments.  Last year we heard Samantha Parson's name attached to PUMC; this year her name will be attached to Chambersville/Cottage Hill Charge.  We are proud of her, thankful for her ministry among us, and wish her and her family well.  Don't forget the Brunch for the Parsons after 11:00 worship June 20!  My name will once again be attached to PUMC-- officially for the fifth time.  Let me say now how excited and proud I am, along with Christy, James (the oh so funny kid), Miles (himself a jokester), and Linus (who may be the most outrageous of the three!), to be returning as a part of this congregation.  This is going to be a great year!

01 June 2010

the only thing we have to fear is...

yesterday was memorial day, a day of remembrance for those killed while serving their country in the military (veterans day is a different holiday).  we often talk about our military preserving our freedoms-- what is the best way to observe memorial day with the solemnity and respect it deserves?  i read lots of "hug a veteran" posts on facebook.  parades and flag waiving are great traditions.  major league baseball games observed a moment of silence.  our sanctuary has a window where a WWI era soldier is greeted by Jesus, coming on a cloud.  how can we best participate in this holiday?

(i don't know the answer to that question, but i would certainly love to hear your thoughts.)

i would think the worst way to remember the sacrifice of others for their country is to persist in living in fear about the present or the future.  we are a fearful people.  deep down, and often not so far down, we are afraid of all kinds of things: terrorism, war, the economy, our job, our mortgage, our kids' future being better than our present, the list goes on and on.  and sometimes the fearmongers on tv and radio drape themselves in the flag.  and that really messes us up.
dr. michael hawn, my former professor at perkins, wrote a history of the navy hymn, below, in a recent edition of the united methodist reporter.

Eternal Father, Strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid'st the mighty Ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to thee,
for those in peril on the sea.
O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy word,
Who walked'st on the foaming deep,
and calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea!
Most Holy spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea!
O Trinity of love and power!
Our brethren shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe'er they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee,
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

"Thus evermore shall rise to Thee, Glad hymns of praise from land and sea."  our response: praise.  not fear.  fear certainly has its place-- we're all afraid of something-- you should have seen me after a few bumps in the air above nashville a couple of weeks ago.  but we cannot stay there.  sooner or later, we find ourselves safely on land again, and we look at the future with faith and hope.  the first thing Jesus said to john when he saw him face-to-face: "do not be afraid" (revelation 1:17).

read president lincoln's gettysburg address, itself a memorial tribute at the final resting place for so many killed in battle:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

"it is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated her to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  it is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us..." words dedicated to the future-- not in fear, but in hope.

the best way we can honor those who gave their lives in service to their country is to live our lives with the same sense of devotion as they did, wherever we are, and whatever we do.  instead of being fearful of our country's present and future, let's fix it in reasonable, peaceful ways that honor those who served it.  vote.  serve others.  appeal to your leaders.  pray for them.  pray for the country.  be active in your local community.  be a steward of your country-- take care of it on behalf of someone else.

whatever else that we are afraid of: let's ask ourselves: why are we afraid  may that action be a fitting memorial to all who gave their "last full measure of devotion" to make it possible.

28 May 2010

I spent last week in Nashville for the Festival ofHomiletics, a preaching conference I try to attend every year.  Roughly 1300 preachers from acrossNorth America come together for four days of lectures, workshops, and worshipservices.  I had never been to Nashvillebefore, so I was more excited for the Festival than usual.  The one place I had to visit was the Parthenon-the only exact size duplication ofthe Athens Parthenon in the world.  Ihope to go to Greece someday; Nashville will have to do for now.


The Parthenon was originally built for Nashville'scentennial celebration in 1897.  It was atemporary, plaster structure, meant to inspire the public to appreciateart.  The Parthenon was so popular that apermanent one was dedicated in 1931.  Asa history guy, I loved walking through the exhibit of the pictures of theoriginal exhibition.  Hundreds of people,all well dressed, were packed around the Parthenon, taking in all the differentexhibitions.  The pictures of thatturn-of-the-century era reminded me of the pictures I see whenever I visithistoric churches.  Often panoramic, theblack and white pictures feature children dressed all in white, the men wearhats, the ladies gloves and print dresses. Hundreds of people, sometimes.  Thepictures may hang on the wall or they are encased in glass.  Our church has a wonderful display of itshistory next to the elevator.  Have youever stopped there to check out some of our church's story?  Did you know that in 2012 we'll celebrate our110th anniversary?

Last Sunday was Pentecost, the anniversary of the birth ofthe Church, when the Spirit descended upon the original disciples as theygathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. The disciples were transformed at that moment to apostles-from studentsto teachers-and immediately began to share the good news of Jesus Christ.  God added more and more people to the mix, andtheir witness expanded from a neighborhood to the city to the world.  This is what we celebrate at Pentecost: theenduring witness of the Church, from its beginnings to today. 

It's fun to walk through history, whether a huge structurelike the Parthenon or a few bookcases in a hallway.  Checking out the pictures, reading theletters, inspecting the memorabilia, is great. But the past is not all there is. There's the future to pray about-where is God leading us?  And there is the present-what is God doingtoday?  Sometimes it's easy to get stuckin the past-or the future-and ignore the good things already happening.  I am so proud to be part of a church with agreat past.  A great present.  And a great future.   The Spirit continues to blow!

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on all of us!

14 May 2010


I love endings.  I usually get very excited as the end of a big project, or class, or... fill in the blank.  I guess the reason for this is the opportunity to celebrate some achievement.  For example, last Sunday was Confirmation Sunday.  We confirmed ten youth-- three by baptism-- as official members of PUMC.  It was the fulfillment of more than six months of classes, field trips, prayers, and holy conversations. 

Two nights ago we celebrated the end of Disciple Bible Study.  The class began meeting weekly in mid-August, and me for 34 weeks together.  At the end of the class we shared the gifts we perceive in ourselves and heard from others their thoughts.  Then we shared goals for continuing in ministry at PUMC over the next year.

Last summer Christy and I traveled to Washington, D.C. for my graduation for my doctorate.  As wonderful as the three years together with my classmates were I could not wait to get to the commencement ceremony-- at the National Cathedral, no less-- and when the service was over, I was ready to move on to the next thing.  I didn't want to hang around too long.  I bet most of our graduating high school and college seniors are feeling the same way!

This Sunday is the day we commemorate the Ascension of Christ-- when he was lifted to heaven after commissioning the disciples to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.' When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven'  (Acts 1:6-11).

We affirm the importance of Christ's Ascension every time we read together the Apostles Creed: "he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God..."  The Ascension is an ending of Christ's ministry on earth.  He was born, grew up, taught, healed, and loved, died, was raised, an now he returns to his rightful place with God, where he intercedes on our behalf.  It is the ultimate fulfilling of God's will and Christ's gracious life. 
Why do I love endings?  Because most of the time they lead to new beginnings.  Disciple ended the other night; a new class, and possibly a second course, will be offered this fall.  Confirmation Sunday marked an end to the class, but a beginning in the confirmands' relationship with Christ.  Lots of our regular programs are facing endings for the summer: Faithful Friends, Mission Possible Kids, PUMP... but there is the promise that they will begin again in a few months.  If Christ's ascension is an ending, it is also a beginning for the disciples: they are commissioned and sent into the world in ministry.

As we face this "season of endings," let's ask ourselves a few questions: What is God calling us to begin?  What are our expectations for the new thing(s) God is doing?  How do we see ourselves-- and our church-- as part of the ongoing creative work of God?  What role will you-- yes, i am thinking of YOU-- play in PUMC's upcoming new beginnings?

One last thought on the Ascension: The Gospel of Luke (24:44-53) tells us that Jesus took the disciples out to Bethany, and before returning to God, he blessed them, and as he was blessing them he was carried from their sight.  How do you think they responded to his Ascension?  Sorrow?  Nope.  Luke uses words like: worshiped, joy, and blessing God.  The disciples somehow understood the Ascension not as just an ending, but also as a beginning.  And not for someone else-- they understood their place in the ongoing work of God.

Do you? Do I? Does PUMC?

(Say "YES!")

07 May 2010

Iron Us!

The summer movie season gets in to high gear today with the release of Iron Man 2.  As a kid, I was much more interested in Star Wars than just about everything else, so I never got involved with comics of any kind, least of all Iron Man.  So I was as surprised as anyone at the phenomenal success of the movie Iron Man, which was released two years ago to tremendous reviews-- from comic geeks, general moviegoers, and critics.  It's nearly impossible to bring all those opinions together.  But Iron Man did it. 

I saw Iron Man in a wonderful cinema in Washington, D.C., a one-screen movie house from the 1940s.  I sat in the balcony and was just blown away.  A year or so later, Christy and I watched in on DVD-- her first time.  We both loved it.  She then issued an edict: you may not see the sequel without me Now, it's out.  And as millions go to see it today and over the weekend, we'll have to wait until both of our calendars match with an open date.  Who knows when that will be!

Iron Man is the story of Tony Stark, a billionaire arms dealer who supplies the military with their most high-tech and lethal weapons.  He lives a reckless lifestyle, without discipline or boundaries.  He flies the globe in his personal jet, has no real relationships, lives from moment to moment.  And this is just fine with him, until he is kidnapped by insurrectionists, who use the weapons he designed to further their own ideology.  To escape, he creates a suit of armor loaded with guns and bombs.  Upon returning to the US, he develops the suit further and becomes a super hero.  Every guy's dream!

Makes for a great movie-- and I'm sure Iron Man 2 will be fun too-- if you see it, keep your opinions and thoughts to yourself!  But here's the real deal: as Christians we have access to our own super suit, that gives us power:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil... Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17).
So faith in Christ, not our own abilities, is what we need to be strong and powerful.  If only we take up what is offered to us.  Knowing this, what exactly is a Christian powerless to do?  As each of us continues in our own journey down the road of faith, how do we confront the challenges we face?  With fear and anxiety?  By relying on our own abilities?  Or with faith in God, who gives us power to withstand anything?

Iron Man makes for great entertainment, but Tony Stark can only go as far as his own ability takes him.  If anything he builds fails, he's out of luck.  I think each of would hope we'd live in faith, remembering the scripture: "I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13). We won't be superheroes, and movies won't be made about us.  But lives will be changed-- starting with our own, then spreading to others. 

Then we'll be real iron men, women, and kids!

16 April 2010

Let's See What's Out There!

Everyone knows that yesterday was Tax Day, a day that just about everyone dreads. Ditto for me. I hand-delivered my return to the good folks at the Frisco post office at 5:37 p.m. Contrary to what I say around the house in the days leading up to April 15, I really don't mind paying taxes so much. Sure, there is much waste in government, and I know lots of folk spent yesterday protesting that. Fair enough. But if I ever have to pick up the phone to dial 911, I know that folk will be there to help me, and it'll be because of tax dollars. The same goes for public parks and schools, a military that protects us, and so many other things. Like the space program.

President Obama spent part of yesterday not running to the post office at the last minute, but at Cape Canaveral in Florida, sharing his vision for the future of the space program. Originally there was much concern over the proposed 2011 budget, which called for the elimination of certain manned space programs, including plans to return to the Moon by 2020. This upset many folk in Houston, who would be facing job cuts and an overall weakened economy. A letter written by astronauts concerned about the plan was sent to the President last week. Their concerns ranged from America losing its prominence in space exploration to losing one of our most successful recruiting tools for reaching future scientists-- astronauts doing things in space.

The President yesterday said total spending for NASA would increase $6 billion over the next five years, which was reassuring to many. But it was the vision of the program-- not the budget-- that interested me. The goal is to send astronauts to orbit Mars in thirty years, and hopefully land them soon after that. My exposure to NASA has been limited to the Space Shuttle program, visits to NASA and the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., etc. I was not around in 1969 when Neil Armstrong took those famous first steps on the Moon. I'd love to witness an even greater achievement than that. Yes, the program is expensive. But it's also ambitious. It sets the bar high. It aspires to move us in a new direction, further than we have ever been.

It's the word Aspire that I want to focus on today. When we aspire to do something, it's not just a goal, something to be checked off a list. Aspire is defined as "to be eagerly desirous, especially for something great or of high value." At their best, NASA, the government, the Texas Rangers, the Boy Scout Troop 289, and even Prosper United Methodist Church aspire to be something they are not-- yet. With a huge amount of hope, ambition, motivated people, and vision, people can achieve amazing things. On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy challenged the USA to land a person on the Moon by the end of the decade. Neil Armstrong took that "one small step" July 20, 1969. That's aspiration to its highest level. If we can send teams of astronauts to the Moon-- and in three decades to Mars-- what else can we do? I mean the scale is different, sure; but you see the point.

Our church needs to aspire to be more than it is today. We don't aspire to do something next week or even next year-- aspiration is so huge it takes years of thoughtful and prayerful debate, discussion, listening, and acting. What could PUMC be in five years? Ten years? Not to be like other churches in town or Plano or wherever-- but to be this one, special, unique, one-of-a-kind place God has in mind for it. As they said on Star Trek, we should boldly go where no one has gone before. We just need to reach out toward the stars and grasp what might be out there.

I hope I live to see the Mars mission, because I was not around for the Moon. As awesome as it would have been to return there again by 2020, the truth is: we've been there several times, and there's more "out there" to see. Our church could also duplicate past successes, but let's reach higher and further. Let's aspire to greatness.

08 April 2010

Easter Made Easy? I Don't Think So!

I've been using the word "spectacular" over and over again recently, and it's the best word I can think of when I remember our Easter services last weekend. Saturday night was a joyous hour of worship, with great music provided by Hannah, Mike, Craig, Austin, and Daniel. Sunday morning was very special. In my mind the highlight of the day was the mini-cantata for Easter performed by our Choir. Brian, Melinda and everyone else offered inspiring voices in praise of the Risen Christ. Thank you!

We also had great attendance-- 325 people over three services, including many new faces. I have heard many positive comments from members and friends about Easter worship. Thanks to everyone for doing their part to make it happen-- whether that was welcoming new people, working at KidsZone or in the nursery, reading a call to worship or serving Communion-- it was a team effort in every way!

Yesterday I went to the store to pick up some things, and as I walked in the door I noticed all the leftover Easter candy marked for clearance sale. This is how the world views Easter-- one day on the calendar, then it's over. In other words, Easter is made easy! The Church does not understand Easter in this way. To get to Easter, we spend six weeks preparing ourselves spiritually-- the season of Lent. Then we participate in Holy Week services: Palm/Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday (thanks to our friends from St. Paul's Episcopal for joining us!). Then there's Easter Day services. But here's the thing: Easter did not end after the 11:00 service last week. It continues-- for another six Sundays!

That's right: Easter takes up 12 of the 52 weeks of the year. Whether we're preparing or continuing to celebrate, the empty tomb is on our hearts and minds for almost a quarter of the year. And that is a good thing, as Easter is the pinnacle of the Christian experience. Now check this out: recently I read the results of a Barna survey of 1,005 adults. Seven out of ten describe Easter as a religious holiday, but only 42% link it to the Resurrection of Jesus. It was described as a Christian holiday, a celebration of Passover, or a special day to go to church. "The specifics of it are really fading in a lot of people's minds," said David Kinnamon, Barna Group president. United Methodist Reporter, April 2, 2010.

All of this reminds me of Mary Magdalene at the tomb. She had gone there that Sunday morning to honor Jesus, was shocked to see an empty grave, had conversations with angels and disciples, and then saw the Risen Christ herself. Jesus gave her a mission: "Go and tell [others] that I am alive." We've had our special time at the cross and at the empty tomb. Now Christ sends us out into a world less and less familiar with the Easter message: "Go and tell. Go and tell." Many people shared with me the inspiration they experienced at church last week. Wonderful. Now Christ sends us in to the world to share our Easter joy. Mary and the other disciples were faithful to their mission. Now it's our turn!

Easter Peace and Joy, Pastor Frank

01 April 2010

message from holy thursday, april 1, 2010

(CNN) -- An anti-abortion activist convicted of killing a Kansas doctor faces 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced today.
Scott Roeder, 51, was convicted of murdering Dr. George Tiller in January after jurors deliberated only 37 minutes.
Tiller was shot to death in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas, as Sunday services began. He operated a clinic in Wichita where late-term abortions were performed.
The hearing is expected to include victim statements from Tiller's relatives, as well as character witnesses for Roeder, who also may also offer his own statement to the judge.
During his trial, Roeder testified he believed he had to kill Tiller to save lives, and said he had no regrets.
"There was nothing being done, and the legal process had been exhausted, and these babies were dying every day," he said. "I felt that if someone did not do something, he was going to continue."
Eventually, the abortion issue took center stage as prosecutors portrayed Tiller as a target of Roeder's anti-abortion agenda, and defense lawyers attempted to mitigate his culpability under the theory that he believed Tiller's death was justified to save the lives of others.
Defense attorney Steve Osburn said after the verdict that Roeder "feels remorse toward the family, but not for what he did."

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”

ADRIAN, Michigan (CBS/AP) A Michigan Christian militia group called Hutaree was raided over the weekend as part of a three state, multiple raid action by the FBI, including raids in Ohio and Indiana.

According to a website purportedly run by the group, Hutaree.com, Hutaree are Christian "soldiers" who are arming themselves and training in anticipation of the coming of the Anti-Christ, which they believe is imminent.
A quote from the website reads: "Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment."

“A lawyer came to Jesus to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ Jesus said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind.’ This is the greatest commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

They've appeared at military funerals across the country, armed with signs reading "God Hates You" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."
Members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., have outraged family members and communities alike with their antics. They say America's war casualties are God's wrath for tolerating homosexuality.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a lawyer for the church members and daughter of its leader, the Rev. Fred Phelps, said the group was ready for a First Amendment fight.
Phelps-Roper said members of the church believed that Americans had turned their backs on God and that Hurricane Katrina, Iraq casualties, STDs, bird flu and other tragedies were God's payback. She said that America had been "duped" into the war, that it was not winnable, and that she blamed the families for sending their loved ones to fight.
The group began protesting soldier funerals in June 2006 and has been to about 35 states since then, she said. Members gained attention in the past for protesting at funerals of those who died from AIDS and at the service for Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student beaten to death because he was gay.

“Jesus said, ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also ought to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’”

(CNN) -- A group of more than 100 prominent Christians ranging from evangelical minister Jim Wallis on the political left to Nixon White House aide Chuck Colson on the right released a document Thursday calling for an end to the fight club tone of the national political discourse.
Called the "Civility Covenant," the document says that churches have too often "reflected the political divisions of our culture rather than the unity we have in the body of Christ."
"Members of Congress have been calling me saying 'It's never been as bad as it is now, but we can't do much about it because we're not credible to a lot of Americans,'" said Wallis, who leads the progressive group Sojourners. "They said to the faith community, 'please help us.'"
Wallis said the covenant is the result of those conversations. It has 114 signatories from a broad swath of Christian traditions, including the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, a major Pentecostal denomination.
The list also includes plenty of strange political bedfellows, from conservative Christian leaders like Harry Jackson -- who led the unsuccessful fight against gay marriage in Washington -- to Morna Murray, president of the progressive Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which is close to the Obama White House.
"Anytime you have a document with Wallis and Colson signing, you're talking about a pretty unusual situation and a pretty significant marker," said John Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron in Ohio. "It shows that there are some issues that transcend politics and ideology."
Quoting the New Testament, the new covenant urges Christians to "put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you."
"We owe a certain responsibility to each other as believers," said Colson, an influential evangelical Christian voice. "This doesn't mean I haven't challenged some people's theology. But the document says we're not going to challenge each other's motives or engage in ad hominem attacks."
Wallis, who led the effort to draft the document and collect signatures for it, noted that the document comes at a time when members of Congress are complaining of physical threats against them because of their positions on the health care bill, which President Obama signed into law Tuesday.
Wallis says he'll start collecting signatures from more pastors and rank-and-file churchgoers in coming weeks.

The Apostle Paul said, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil with evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so long as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Part of the United Methodist communion liturgy for this evening reads:
Holy are you, and blessed is your Son Jesus Christ. When we had turned aside from your way and abused your gifts, you gave us in him your crowning gift. Emptying himself, that our joy might be full, he fed the hungry, healed the sick, ate with the scorned and forgotten, washed his disciples’ feet, and gave a holy meal as a pledge of his abiding presence.

Most merciful God, we your Church confess that often our spirit has not been that of Christ. Where we have failed to love one another as he loves us, where we have pledged loyalty to him with our lips and then betrayed, deserted, and denied him, forgive us, we pray; and by your Spirit make us faithful in every time of trial; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ. But Christ suffered and died for us, was raised from the dead and ascended on high for us, and continues to intercede for us. Believe the good news: in the name of Jesus Christ, we are all forgiven!

Paul wrote, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God has also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Standing on the seashore following the resurrection, Jesus said to Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

So Jesus asks each of us on this night: “Do you love me?” “Of course!, we say. You know we love you!!” “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Love one another as I have loved you. Overcome evil with good. Love your enemies. Forgive one another as you have been forgiven. Just as I have loved you, you also ought to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.