31 August 2011

Will Work for Food

I have never liked amusement parks.  What is so amusing about standing in line in the hot sun for hours in order to ride on something that takes a few seconds?  Wall Street has seemed like its own roller coaster recently.  Up one day, down the next.  Up one day on reports of X and Y, down the next on reports of A and B.  Up one day on this company’s earnings report, down the next on this other company’s earnings.  Well before the financial collapse of three years ago, I learned it’s all a game played by a few players.  We pay in to watch, but instead of a thrilling game resolved in the bottom of the ninth, the players are the only ones who benefit; the spectators absorb all the risk.  There is no one to cheer for.

This weekend is Labor Day weekend, a time that used to mark the end of summer and the wearing of white shoes or trousers.  In Texas we laugh at the very idea of an end to summer—maybe there is a distraction here or there—and people don’t seem to follow fashion rules so much anymore.  I hope your three day weekend plans include worship here or elsewhere—after all, the holiday is a day off from work; we know there is nowhere to escape from God.  Whatever we do this weekend, perhaps this year is a good one to reflect on the gift of work.  As employment and other economic news continue to concern us, we remember the words of Jesus: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27).  Over Labor Day weekend, let’s reflect on this question: “What is the food you are working for?” Hear the powerful words of the Hebrew prophet Amos while you consider what food you should work for:

Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.  For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, push aside the needy in the gate.  Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.  Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.  Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (5:11-15)

God challenges us to work for the food of justice for our neighbors—especially those who struggle. Let us be mindful of the millions of unemployed—and underemployed—and pray for God’s provision in their lives.  Let us pray for those who are most vulnerable in our economy: those without a decent wage, who work more than one job and rarely see their families, those who work in difficult circumstances, and those who dreamed of retirement by this time of their lives but must continue to work. 

O God, you have bound us together in this life.  Give us grace to understand how our lives depend on the courage, the industry, the honesty, and the integrity of all who labor.  May we be mindful of their needs, grateful for their faithfulness, and faithful in our responsibilities to them; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.                   United Methodist Book of Worship, 443.

24 August 2011

What’s YOUR Vision?

People always ask new pastors: “What is your vision for the church?”  This question makes me somewhat uncomfortable, because vision takes time—and it is most effective when it is a shared vision, not the vision of one individual.  I read this story in Bearing Fruit, a new book I am reading by Lovett Weems, one of my professors when I studied for my doctorate, and Tom Berlin:

One of the myths of American industry is that Henry Ford invented the assembly line, which then permitted him to build a car that could be sold for $500, an amount that large numbers of people could afford.  The reality is just the reverse.  Ford determined that $500 was the most that large numbers of people could pay for a car, and inventing the assembly line was the only way he could devise to accomplish that task.  He determined that the task was not just to build a car but to build a car in such a way so that it could be sold for $500; only then did he unlock the manufacturing plan required to accomplish such a goal  (Weems and Berlin, xv).

Last Sunday our leadership team, the Church Council, met to discuss new ideas for the Oak Lawn Church.  I jumped in quickly to say we needed to establish a vision for OLUMC first—the $500 car—before we shared ideas for new ministries (ways to achieve the vision)—the assembly line. 

If you look in the newsletter, you’ll see our vision is to “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  That’s great stuff, but it is the denomination’s vision, not the vision of our local church.  We already know what values our church has.  We are very proud to be a part of our community engaged in hands-on ministry alongside our neighbors.  We are also a very diverse congregation where everyone is valued and respected as a child of God.  Over the next month or so, leading to our Celebration Sunday September 25, we’ll be having lots of conversations with everyone about OLUMC’s vision for the present and future: next year, five years, ten years.  I hope you and everyone will be a part of this important process.  More information will come later.  At a minimum please be in prayer for this exciting time for Oak Lawn.  As a way of beginning the conversation, think about your answers to these questions:
  • ·         What do you love most about Oak Lawn?
  • ·         Why does our church exist?
  • ·         What do we hope to become?

Let’s build the greatest $500 car—a vision for our unique community of faith—and let’s do it together!

18 August 2011

Surprised By Grace

This week Christy, the boys, and I journeyed to my hometown of Bay City for a few days at home with family. On Monday Mom offered to watch all six grandsons (my sister has three boys too) so Christy and I could go for a date. We went to Houston, had lunch and saw a double feature. Now, my plan was a compromise: I'd take her to see either THE HELP or CRAZY STUPID LOVE, and I'd pick COWBOYS VS. ALIENS or some other cheesy thing.  Turns out we saw both of "her" movies.  And they were both great!

Oak Lawn UMC's new book club meets next Monday to discuss THE HELP, which I have not read but Christy enjoyed very much. I didn't know anything about the story. CRAZY STUPID LOVE was the real surprise. I am not the biggest fan of modern comedies-- too much inappropriate (gross) humor. So I went with very low expectations. Turns out it was great, with real insights into how relationships work. Of the two movies it was my favorite.

Sometimes our expectations get in the way of a new thing God is trying to do. We are so sure we have everything figured out, that things will turn out as we expect, that we fail to be surprised by grace.  In the book of Genesis, this happens to Jacob. He's walking through the wilderness and lays down to sleep.  He dreams of a ladder descending from heaven and God visits him in the dream, making a covenant to be with Jacob always. In the morning Jacob wakes up and says, "Surely the Lord was in this place, and I did not even know it!" (Genesis 28:16).

So I caution each of us: stay aware of the possibility of God's new thing. Jesus said to the disciples all the time: "Keep awake!". Whether it's a day at the movies, travels far from home, or just everyday life, remember that God is always working in our lives. And when we recognize it let's be quick to recognize it and be thankful!

09 August 2011

The Blessing of Backpacks, Sunday August 21

The other day the boys and I pulled weeds together in our flowerbed.  We had a deal: for every minute they finished in under an hour, they would receive three bonus minutes of game time!  In the end they worked 50 minutes (ten minutes early=30 extra minutes of games).   As we worked, the boys were actually pretty excited about it—and not just for the games!  It was good exercise, there was shade, and after an hour the flowerbed looked great!  After working and sweating a while, I reminded them that many folk do this sort of work all day, every day, for very little money.  I said, “This is why I am always excited about the start of a new school year.  Education is the best chance to get a great job.”

It did not help them feel better about the start of school—August 22—and my response wasn’t 100% accurate.  I am also excited to start school because they’ve been out for ten weeks!  Back to routines!  Back to alarm clocks!  Back to homework!  And with school starting that means summer will end soon and we’ll get some relief from the heat!  Can a brother get an AMEN?

On August 21 we’ll devote a part of our service to pray over and bless children and teachers as a new school year begins.  I know my advocacy for an end to summer will not sit well with teachers, but come on.  Enough is enough!  Let’s get on with a new year!  Now aren’t you excited too? (crickets chirping…)  Anyway, we want to encourage all of our children to bring their backpacks to worship at the 11:00 service.  They’ll bring them forward and we will pray over them.  We’ll give each Oak Lawn kid a tag for his/her backpack to remind them that God watches over them all year long.  Then we’ll invite teachers to come forward for a special time of prayer.  They’ll need to remember God’s blessing for them too.  Because it’s back to school time—or have you not heard?  Ha!

Seriously, I am always grateful for teachers.  Some of you know that before going to seminary I taught 8th grade US History.  It was awful.  Not the kids, they were great—but the parents, administrators, politics, oy.  It was horrible.  I am always thankful to God for calling me to work elsewhere, and I appreciate the difficult work our faithful teachers offer our kids.  They deserve our respect and trust.   And our prayers.  So join me next Sunday, August 21 as we pray for our children, bless their backpacks, as well as honor our teachers as a new school year begins.  The best year ever!

03 August 2011

Christians Behaving Badly

Think about it: When was the last time you turned on the evening news and saw a story of a Christian doing something good?  The kind of thing that made you proud to share a common faith with that person?  I know every now and then we’ll see Christians at DFW greeting troops or handing out toys to underserved kids at Christmas—but I am talking about news.  Like, for example, last week when several religious leaders, including Rev. Jim Winkler of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, were arrested protesting the budget deal that led to cuts in services to those in need.  Did you hear much about that?  Probably not.  But a pastor in Florida wants to burn a Koran to commemorate September 11 (huh?) or a group of Christians protest military funerals because America is too tolerant of homosexuality (what?) and it’s front page news.  Do those Christians ever consider how non-Christians now think about the Church?

Next Sunday, August 14, we’ll start a new four-part sermon series called “Christians Behaving Badly.”  We’ll talk about how Christians are often spoken of by those beyond the walls of the church—how easy it is to assume everyone feels the same way about things because we share a common faith.  Is it true?  Is it that easy to put everyone in the same boat?  Jesus spoke often—and I mean often—about how others will react to how we live our lives.  And how God sees us.  “By this everyone will know you are my disciples: if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  “When you fast (or pray, or, presumably, do other Christian things), do them in secret, not boastfully or in ways that draw attention to yourself.  And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”  For those who needed attention and headlines, Jesus  often said, “They have received their reward.  But I say to you…” (Matthew 6).

The point is: God wants us to live righteously, not self-righteously.  Do you see the difference?  To live righteously means to be holy in all we do.  So that others see us and they say, “Oh yeah, I know what s/he is all about.  I’ve seen/heard what they believe—and not just on Sundays or when cameras are present.”  One of my favorite verses is Hebrews 13:7: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”  I try every day to live up to that responsibility, and every Christian should too.  “Christians Behaving Badly” will remind us of how we should let our light shine in appropriate ways.  If you have stories or experiences you would like to share I can incorporate them into the messages.  Or if you have friends who are “un/de churched” you could invite them to the series and we could explore together how Christ calls us to live out our faith.