20 October 2011

Trade Denied/Grace Realized

This week several teams in the NFL traded players.  One trade, between the Detroit Lions and the Philadelphia Eagles, would have swapped running back Jerome Harrison for running back Ronnie Brown.  But the trade did not happen. Both players were required to undergo a physical before the trade was made official; upon seeing the results of Harrison’s physical, the trade was voided.  According to ESPN, the physical revealed a brain tumor.  If this proposed trade had not happened, it is impossible to say when or if Harrison’s tumor would have ever been discovered.  Fortunately it is in the very early stages, and he hopes to make a full recovery.

Have you ever accidentally tripped upon grace? Ever had one of those “ah-ha moments” when the universe seemed to tumble together in the right order?  I have no idea if Mr Harrison is a spiritual/religious guy or not, but I suspect upon hearing the news of his physical he saw life in a different light.  And I imagine there was more than a little bit of gratitude, perspective, and celebration.

Each of us stands on one side of a door. We do not know what is on the other side, but somehow, someway, we are beckoned to grasp the knob, turn it, open the door, and step inside. There are a number of scriptures that speak to the metaphor of the door: one of my favorites comes from Revelation 3:20: Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. Open the door, and I will come in to you.” There is a famous painting in St Paul’s Cathedral in London by William Holden Hunt called “Light of the World.” Jesus stands there, knocking, and we wait with him to see if the person opens it.  The thing is: if you look closely at the painting, there is no handle on the outside of the door. It can only be opened from the inside. Jesus calls each of us and waits: knocking, listening, hoping.

Join us this Sunday for Commitment Sunday. We’ll ask the Lord to guide us through the door to another year full of opportunities to minister to others. We’ll seek faith strong enough to step through the open door to newer, deeper life in Jesus Christ. We’ll challenge one another to grow further in love, and we’ll hold one another accountable through it. Because every now and then we are accidentally surprised by grace. And in those moments we want to be mindful, and thankful, for all of God’s gifts.

19 October 2011

Kickin in the Doors

I grew up a Houston Oilers fan, and as such I hated the Dallas Cowboys. When I was a kid, The Oilers were coached by the loveable, Texas cliché Bum Phillips, father of former Cowboys coach Wade Phillips.  The Cowboys, on the other hand, were coached by the stoic Tom Landry. The Oilers in the late 1970s were a powerful team, led by football legend Earl Campbell.  As much as I disliked the Cowboys, I really hated, and still do this day, the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Every year they seemed to knock my team out of the playoffs. After one such defeat, the Oilers returned to the Astrodome, packed full of adoring fans, holding signs which said, “Luv ya blue.” Bum Phillips was handed a microphone and he uttered these words in the thickest Texas accent one can imagine:

"Last year we knocked on the door. This year we beat on it. Next year we're going to kick [it] in."

The [it] replaces the more colorful words used by Coach Phillips. Unfortunately the Oilers kicked nothing in again the next year.  After several heartbreaking playoff defeats, their owner, Bud Adams, to this day still hated in South Texas, moved the team to Nashville where they became the Tennessee Titans.  They actually made it to the Super Bowl in 2000; you can guess what happened.

Upon becoming a father I faced a difficult decision: we lived in Dallas. Houston received a new NFL franchise, the Texans, but come on, how does one follow another Texas team in Cowboys country? There was no way I would cheer for the Titans after they abandoned Houston.  So I adopted the Cowboys. It’s been a painful decision! They have not won a Super Bowl since—blame me if you want. Now it’s the Cowboys, every year, saying, "Last year we knocked on the door. This year we beat on it. Next year we're going to kick [it] in." And so we wait until next year. And the year after that.

Join us this Sunday, October 23, as we make our commitments for next year. We’ve talked over the last several weeks about doors we face.  They are opportunities. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Matthew 7:7-8). There’s nothing there about kicking in the door—no need for a violent reaction. Something on the inside invites us inside. There’s an excitement there. We want to see what is behind the door.

This Sunday is Commitment Sunday, where we dedicate our lives and resources to God for another year in ministry at Oak Lawn. Take some time with family this week to discuss the percentage of your income God is calling you to give next year, and come ready to share that in a private moment of prayerful celebration in worship. We’ll hear more about the door each of us faces, and toward the end of the service we’ll have an opportunity to literally step through a door, symbolizing newer, deeper, more committed relationship with God. We will leave the worship excited about new possibilities offered by a God who loves us, who calls us to enter the door, and who sends us out the door to serve.

07 October 2011

A Response to the Eraseboard

The other day someone left a message on a dry ease board in a classroom at the church. Someone spent several minutes explaining why individuals in our congregation should change who they are- to conform to this person's biblical understanding.  Words like "Repent!" were there, alongside phrases like, "God does not support homosexuality," "God loves the sinner, but hates the sin," and "Don't wait, be straight!". Several people saw this, and responded with anger, frustration, or disgust. How should we respond?

Recently we had a sermon series called "Christians Behaving Badly," and this type of situation was exactly what we were concerned about. Those with one perspective feel compelled to share it, without sensitivity to how it will be received. Oak Lawn UMC is a place that values inclusivity in everything we do. Every Sunday I stand before the congregation and say something like this: "We are proud to be a place where everyone is valued and respected as a child of God, made in God's own image." I have heard several people say how much they appreciate this. The thing is: no one coached me on that. My first Sunday here I literally stood up to welcome folk to church and that came out.  I did not plan it in any way. It's who Oak Lawn is. It's important for everyone who calls Oak Lawn home for their heart knows this.

As upset as I was to see these messages in our church, I also had a different reaction: the message that we are a welcoming congregation to everyone is getting out. Those who do not support our message of welcome are feeling a need to respond. And those who have looked for an inclusive, diverse place to worship are hearing about Oak Lawn too. We see them every Sunday, and we are more than happy to extend God's love and grace to them.

These comments were left on a dry erase board. It would be easy to erase them and pretend the sentiment never existed. Instead we chose to address them openly. We hope those with similar opinions would seek out others in the congregation and ask about our church's DNA. At moments such as these, it is helpful to ask, "What are we about?" "Who are we?" It's interesting that this happened just as we are going through a process to determine a new vision for our congregation. Wherever we go from here, God is going to take us there together. And more and more people, with varied understandings of theology, the Bible, and sin, will join us on the journey. I am proud to serve such a diverse place as Oak Lawn as your Senior Pastor.