29 July 2011

Love Sends!

This week several folks from Oak Lawn went to West Dallas to read to school age children.  It’s a combined ministry of the Wesley-Rankin Center and Project Transformation.  Oak Lawners spent Monday and Tuesday morning reading and playing games with the children.  I went on Tuesday and there was a ton of us—so many that Dawn Kent and I could not even fit in the church van!  There were so many volunteers that I was not even picked to read the first hour, so I went to play with Playdough with the bigger kids.  Near the end of our time I sat with a 3rd grader and we read two books: a Charlie Brown book about Thanksgiving, and a Magic Schoolbus book about weather (rain, specifically—I prayed a little as I read!).  She and I alternated pages.  It was a holy moment, for sure!
Why do Christians every day, in places like West Dallas, Europe, Asia, and everywhere else the Church serves, do such things?  Because God’s Big Love is not meant for us alone.  It is meant to be shared throughout the world to every person.  Christianity is, at its core, a movement for the world.  Jesus sent the disciples out into the world over and over again.  God’s love is experienced, then shared.  It is not for us to keep to ourselves.  Jesus said to Peter three times: “Do you love me?”  Peter answered, three times: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus’ response: “Feed my sheep.  Tend my lambs.  Feed my sheep” (John 21).  Earlier in the Gospel of John Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (13:35). Love is evidence of a relationship with God.  We share that evidence in mission and service.  Why do we serve?  God’s Big Love came to us in Jesus.  We respond by sharing it with others.
I am proud to be a part of a community of faith that lives what it believes by reading to underserved kids, feeding and clothing the poor, supporting ministries around the world.  The Oak Lawn Church, through the United Methodist connection, is both reaching out in love to others, as well as giving our members and friends opportunities to live what we believe.  If you are looking for a place to put your faith into action through the Oak Lawn Church, please speak to Pastors Kerry, Gregg, or myself.  Or find some of our layfolk who are leading serving ministries.  You have experienced Christ’s love and grace.  Now turn yourself inside out and share that love!  I promise you will be blessed in it!

14 July 2011

warning labels

christy and i went to see midnight in paris last night at the angelika cinema in plano.  a wonderful film-- loved it so much.  as we waited to buy our tickets, i noticed a sign on the table.  it was a message from the angelika management about terrence malick's tree of life.  evidently many moviegoers have demanded their money back after seeing some or all of the film (i have not seen it but want to, partly because supposedly some of it was shot in my hometown of bay city, texas).  the notice made points such as this:

  • tree of life is directed by terrence malick, a director not exactly known to play by hollywood rules
  • tree of life is not presented in a linear fashion (in other words, there is no guarantee the next shot will logically follow the previous one
  • tree of life is a work of art, so don't get mad at us if you don't like it
ok, i am paraphrasing a little.

christy thought it so silly to say such things, because we were at the angelika, a chain of cinemas that showcases arthouse movies.  "we're not," she said, "at cinemark" (but we will be tomorrow evening for harry potter).  people should expect a little variance from the norm where independent films are shown.  but if the patrons of the angelika need to be forewarned about seeing tree of life, what other movies need a warning label?  how about transformers 3? i have not seen it, but i saw the first two, hated both, and from what i have heard i would hate this one too.  here's my attempt at a warning to potential ticket buyers:

so you're back, huh?  two of these wayyy over the top, no story line evident, characters no one could ever care about, explosions every two minutes, giant robots you can't relate to or even tell one from another, the idea of a film franchise created solely from a toy collection... all that wasn't enough so you're back?  you know this franchise's targeted demographic is thirteen year old boys, right?  you know the same director of the first two-- michael bay-- who exploited megan fox to the point of giving preachers enough sermon material about lust to preach for months-- only now she's gone and there's someone else to exploit-- you know he's in charge again.  well, prepare yourselves for 2 1/2 hours of exploding stuff, people and giant robots who you won't care or notice whether they live or die, a total absence of any story. your kids may well learn to treat women as objects of lust and see everything in existence as something that would look better on fire or totally destroyed.  yep!  it's transformers 3!  hand over the cash!  we're not responsible!

we put warning labels on just about everything today.  cigarettes-- cancer and other bad health issues.  trash bags-- not toys for children!  toys for children-- not to be swallowed!  i even remember shampoo from years ago that included beer: "but don't drink it!," the commercial said.  our movies, tv shows, and video games have rating systems.  movie ratings now include exactly what to watch out for.  for example, transformers 3: "for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo."  really?  that's all you could warn us about?  i thought you were looking out for us, mpaa!

of course, the Bible is full of warnings too, but they are warnings with a purpose.  avoid sin and make good choices.  live a connected, fulfilling life with others, without seeing them as objects or opportunities for your own purposes.  enjoy family and health as much as you can.  do not be self-absorbed, but have compassion for others.  remember: everyone is a neighbor.  yes, you are the keeper of your brothers and sisters (genesis 4).  we can't attach warning labels to everything.  some things must be learned by experience.  so we'll make mistakes.  the good news is: there is always forgiveness with God, and we hope others will discover the grace in forgiving us when we are a little too human.  Jesus said the whole of the law could be summed up in two commands: love God.  love neighbors as yourself.  "do this and live," he said.  living any other way will lead to a life rated r: restricted.  alone.  separated from God and others.

13 July 2011

An Invitation to Swim

Last week Miles and Linus had their first days of swim lessons.  Evidently the first day was fairly rough for Linus-- he cried through half the lesson.  But after only three days of lessons, the changes I saw in both boys were amazing.  Miles could swim across the width of the pool without his life jacket in water deeper than he is tall; and Linus could hold his breath, face under water, for much longer than I was comfortable watching!  The best part of our new house is a private community park with a shared pool-- no maintenance for me, and plenty of fun for the boys!

I often think of our life in Christian faith as swimming lessons.  A disciple is a student who follows a teacher, with the hope that one day the disciple will become a teacher of others.  As we begin life together in the fellowship of faith, a growing discipleship is vital.  Worship is the entry to a relationship with Christ.  It is our first way of knowing God, where we return thanks for all God has done for us, and where we are fed and nurtured by a loving God.  Too often, for many Christians, worship is as far as they go in their relationship with God.  Like those inflatable floaties kids wear in the shallow end of the pool, worship sustains us.  But the hope is always that we will, one day, take off the floaties and move to the deeper end of the pool.  Those first steps are how we learn to swim.

I am glad to hear of the conversation many are having at Oak Lawn about discipleship.  Our Lay Leader, Gretchen Toler, is leading a discussion in Sunday school.  Our Church Council, under the leadership of Mark Knight, is searching for new "Big Ideas" to expand the ministries of Oak Lawn.  If you can imagine it, we even talked about discipleship at a Finance meeting this week!  Making a decision to follow Jesus into a deeper relationship is not an easy one, but it is one that makes all the difference in our lives.  In my experience, the best way to grow in our faith is through Bible study.  And the best Bible study anywhere is Disciple Bible Study.  If you are looking for a way to transition from the shallow end to the deep end of the pool, consider taking Disciple.

When I was at Oak Lawn before we had a vital Disciple program that continued for many years.  Several of our members have taken it.  If you have taken Disciple I, the introductory course, and would like to form a new advanced class, please let me know.  We would most likely choose between Jesus in the Gospels or Christian Believer, a Disciple study of Christian doctrine.  If you have never taken Disciple we'll offer a new course in September on Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.  Disciple is not for the faint of heart-- 32 weeks of intense study and commitment-- after all, discipline and disciple are related words!  But at the end of the course you will be most thankful for the journey, see tremendous growth in your faith and life, and be ready for the next course to begin.  After a couple months of rest, of course!

Miles and Linus showed incredible progress in the pool with just a few hours of lessons-- no telling how much more they will improve over the rest of the summer!  They are very excited to hear excitement about their progress from Mom and Dad. Over the years I have seen many lives changed by Disciple Bible Study.  People have been shaped into leaders.  They have grown in every aspect of their faith-- and the changes are obvious.  Better worship attendance.  Better financial support of the church.  More confidence in praying and sharing their faith.  And as their pastor, I've been able to marvel at their progress and say, "I am so proud of you!  Look at how you have grown!"  How about you?  Are you ready to see great changes in your life with God?  Are you ready to take those first steps into the deeper end of the pool?

Peace and Joy,
Pastor Frank

It's All Good!

Crash.  Bang.  Splat.  Boom.  Noises I have heard over and over again every day this month!  At home we are unpacking, sorting, throwing out, and organizing.  At church we are tearing out, breaking down, and shaking up.  Literally everywhere I go- even in the car driving north or south there is construction going on somewhere- the sound of new things is all around!  Perspective helps: hopefully we'll be unpacked at the house by the end of the week.  At the church we'll check out the new construction around the end of September and say, "WOW!" But when one is in the middle of chaos, it can be exhausting.

Genesis begins with the wonderful words, "When God began to create the heavens and earth there was a formless void..." Unlike OLUMC or my house God did not tear out or adapt something to a new reality.  As classical theology expresses it, God created ex nihilo, "out of nothing." There were no boxes to go through, no offices to relocate, no hammers banging.  There was chaos, and God brought order.  The first creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:4 speaks to God creating from voice.  The second account (2:5-3:24) shows God as more hands on.  However God creates, you and I can learn a thing or two about joy in the midst of chaos.  God looks upon the creation and says over and over again, "It's good!"

And God's work of creation and re-creation is ongoing.  Creation is never a static thing.  One of the favorite cliches of church folk is, "God is doing a new thing!" God certainly is doing a new thing in the life of our church and in my family's life.  But if we think that will be the end of God's work we'll be mistaken! Chaos has a habit of creeping up on us. The boxes and dust and old stuff may go away, but there is always something else to take its place.  Remembering a breath prayer can help in such times.  During your next chaos, say to yourself, "It's good!"