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.