27 July 2016

Guaranteed Investments

4:45 a.m. That’s what time I awoke this morning. It hurts to think about it. Christy and James had to be in Plano by 6:15 or so to join another nearly 100 middle schoolers and parents going on choir tour. Custer Road UMC is well known for its choir tours. They’ll spend five days on charter buses to parts of Louisiana, Arkansas, and East Texas. Today, they performed at a Baptist Youth mission in Waxahachie, and Baylor University. The tour ends Sunday night with a home show at Custer Road. Of course you are welcome to attend!

As many of you know, I spent last week at Camp Bridgeport with my boys and another 200+ kiddos. Well, many of the “adult” counselors-- probably six or more-- were seniors or college aged students from Custer Road. One of the first exposures Christy and I had to Custer Road students was on Youth Sunday, the first Sunday of August 2013, just before the graduated seniors took off for college. Several of those seniors lead worship on that Sunday every year. They were so impressive. I leaned over to Christy and said, “I want our boys to be like those kids.” They are all on their way. Bias aside, we’ve been blessed with three wonderful boys. Many churches have helped us in their formation!

I mention all of this not to inspire jealousy about numbers or finances-- it’s true, Custer Road is a large church with enormous resources. What’s remarkable about the place is its commitment to young people. Which leads to other blessings. For years, Custer Road has been a pipeline of clergy for the North Texas Conference. Rev Melissa Hatch, campus pastor of The Mission at Prosper United Methodist Church and Rev Dana Compton, newly installed as the lead pastor at Bonham UMC, both came out of Custer Road. Rev Jenna Morrison, whose father Tim has been the music director at Custer Road for 20+ years, was ordained this summer at conference. The list goes on and on.

My career in ministry began 23 years ago with youth. I was 22 and volunteered the summer after graduating from college with the youth group of my home church. For the two years following that summer, I served as a youth pastor in Missouri City, TX. One of those youth, Rev Ben Rigsby, is the newly appointed pastor at FUMC Archer City on our district. Which means, yes, that I am old.

Good things happen when investments are made in young people. I see the potential for such investment at Grace. The joy of hosting the children at VBS a couple of weeks ago was obvious. Seeing so many of our own youth serving others there-- and on the recent Guatemala trip-- was wonderful. Grace sent readers to Waples UMC in Denison this week for Project Transformation students. I heard so many readers showed up some had to be sent home. Thank you for being the kind of place where children and youth, not just our own but others in the community, are safe and valued. When was the last time you invested in a student? One of the simplest ways to do that is to follow them on Twitter or Instagram. Favorite a few of their comments every now and then. They’ll know you see them and are interested in their lives. When the schoolyear starts in a few weeks, show up at a band performance or volleyball game. When a child or youth participates in worship, make the extra effort to show appreciation. It adds up. May you give, and receive, many blessings from the children and youth God places in your path!

17 July 2016

The Work We Are Called to Do

It occurred to me the other day that I never bothered to introduce the idea and themes of the sermon series we started two weeks ago. I’m making excuses here, but maybe I was too freaked out on that first Sunday; and maybe last week I was too focused on the sensitive material of the sermon that it didn’t seem appropriate. Who knows. I like to think of myself as a relatively unconventional pastor so how’s this: three weeks in, I’ll say a little about the aims of the sermon series. Here goes.

“Living a Jesus Life” is about seeking answers to the question, “How do I live out my faith as a disciple of Jesus?” Put another way: “What does Jesus call us to?” “Do this and you will live,” Jesus says to the lawyer from last week’s text. What is the “Do this…” for us today? So the first week we talked about the disciple’s call to go out and share the good news of Christ- regardless of how we are received. Last week we talked about the disciple’s need to deal with others, especially the most vulnerable, with compassion. Today we’ll discuss the disciple’s need to focus on Jesus and live our lives in such a way that we are using our gifts to further his mission.

The gospel text for today has a wide variety of interpretations. Most of the time I have heard this text interpreted either as conflict between sisters or living out one’s particular gifts to the best one can. Martha is upset that Mary, her sister, does not help with the household chores. She asks Jesus to rebuke Mary. Mary is focused on Jesus, using her best gift as a student. Martha is focused on hospitality, making sure her guest is treated with life affirming grace. Maybe there is a way to squeeze into the middle of those two interpretations. Yes, Martha should have focused less on the cleaning and cooking and sat and listened to Jesus. Yes, she is frustrated with Mary. Whoever heard of sisters who got along 100% of the time? I have a sister, Julie--today is her birthday--let’s say growing up our relationship was tense for many years. One of the best things I ever did to improve our relationship was to move to college!

For this morning, I’d like for us to take on the role of Mary, who “does the better part,” according to Jesus. Her devotion to the Lord’s teaching is a model for every would-be disciple. She sits and listens. How can we live a Jesus life if we don’t listen to him? Earlier in the Gospel of Luke, in Chapter 9 when he is transfigured above the disciples on the mountain, a voice from heaven declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved; Listen to him!” Well Mary is living that command--she is listening to Jesus. As a side note, it’s a pretty radical vision for a woman to sit at the feet of a rabbi as a student--even in her own home. I love that Luke gives Mary this exalted status few women could have achieved. I found this amazing quote from Sojourner Truth, the abolitionist and former slave, delivered at the Women’s Convention in 1851:

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.
  • Internet Modern History Sourcebook
Kerry Washington performs:

Mary was able to learn from Jesus because she knew Jesus personally-- he and Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus were all good friends. He probably had dinner in their home many times. But here we are, two millennia later, and we cannot have the same sort of teaching moment with Jesus Mary enjoyed. So the Colossians text helps us to know and understand more about Jesus’ roots and his role.

  • Jesus is the image of God and the first-born of all creation-- meaning nothing ever existed outside of Jesus’ presence
  • He has dominion over all things and holds all things in unity
  • The Church is his body, and Jesus is the head of the Church
  • All things are brought to reconciliation in him
  • His death on the cross has meaning--through his death peace is possible

Now we know something about Jesus. But what about us? How does being a disciple of Jesus change us?
  • We were once foreigners and enemies, but now we are reconciled to each other and God
  • We are able to appear before God blameless and without guilt
  • We are able to become perfect, or mature, because of the power of Christ in us

So the One who is Lord of all creation, who has dominion over all things, who is the Savior of all because of his death and resurrection, that same Jesus can be so well known that he is comfortable teaching a woman one to one about the nature of being a disciple. For me at least, it’s a mind-blowing combination of ideas.

So what does all of this have to do with us? Well the goal, Paul says, is Christian perfection: that everyone be presented mature in Christ (verse 28). We know the gospel breaks barriers: Mary, a woman, sits and listens to Jesus as a disciple; Paul opens the gospel to the Gentiles (verse 27). Everyone has the possibility of knowing Christ, loving Christ, growing in Christ. All because of who Christ is. And because of who Christ is, and who we can become as his disciples, we can embrace life without fear. This week we witnessed another terrorist attack in Nice, France. Violence and hate has become the norm for our world. But not so for us. Because Christ has brought reconciliation, so can we. We can face injustice in whatever forms it presents itself and turn it away. So that the vision of Amos is realized.

I know the Amos texts of last week and today are difficult to hear. No one likes doom and gloom from the prophets. It would be easy to ignore them, and many have. But we need to hear their call to justice. Amos pleads with the Israelites to embrace justice. Remember the poor. Do not steal from them or victimize them. Do not exploit those already hurting. In the end, Israel ignored Amos and the other prophets and they lost everything. They did not care for the widows, orphans, aliens, and outcast and the entire society fell apart.

Because of the work of Christ, however, you and I have the opportunity to set things right in our world. Live with hope, not fear. Care for the vulnerable. Share from our abundance with those who have little. And we will experience grace and life in new, powerful ways. The world will be transformed into the glorious image of Christ.

It will begin with our devotion of Jesus. Like Mary, let us sit at his feet and listen to him. Like Martha, let us be people of action, committed to not only hear, but do the work of God. Then we will live as free, mature people in Jesus Christ. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

14 July 2016

Training Days

Yesterday Christy and I signed up at a local gym. We were members of the Cooper Fitness Center in McKinney for the last year. After a year or so of personal training, spin classes and general working out I had a net loss of weight-- not huge numbers, but I lost several pounds of fat and gained several pounds of muscle. How do I know this? Because part of the routine at Cooper is follow-up. When you first sign up a trainer does measurements. After a month, after six months, and a year they take other measurements, all of which help to assess whether one is making good progress toward one’s goals. Hopefully I’ll see good results here too. It’ll help that our supply of desserts from Mom’s Bakery has run out!

Our son James, who will be a freshman at the high school, started a physical training class with other athletes this week. Every day he has diligently, and with a great attitude, woken himself up at 6:00 and been ready to go to the facility by 6:30. I seriously doubt this commitment to early mornings will carry over after August 22, but for now… go James!

On the church side of things, I want to say thank you to Janet and her team of adults who have made Vacation Bible School such a blessing for so many kids this week. Janet shared the other day that over 50 kids were in attendance, and more than 30 adults helping in some capacity. Two of those kids live in the same house as me, and I can attest that they’ve had fun. It is a joy to be part of a church with such a commitment and passion for young people. The work and planning everyone did before the week arrived has produced good fruit.

Training/discipline/follow through… they always pay off, right? Whether it’s football or VBS when we focus on the task ahead and put the right amount of energy into it, good things usually happen. When was the last time you did a fitness assessment-- not physical, but spiritual? Author William Paulsell has said,

Athletes, musicians, writers, scientists, and others progress in their fields because
They are well-disciplined people. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to think that
In matters of faith we should pray, meditate, and engage in other spiritual
Disciplines only when we feel like it. Weavings, November-December 1987

Do you think about setting goals for your life with Christ? What would they look like? One way to begin this practice is to establish a rule of life. Here’s an example from Pope John XXIII:

Fifteen minutes of silent prayer upon rising in the morning
Fifteen minutes of spiritual reading
Before bed, a general examination of conscience followed by confession;
Then identifying issues for the next morning’s prayer
Arranging the hours of the day to make this rule possible; setting aside
Specific time for prayer, study, recreation, and sleep
Making a habit of turning the mind to God in prayer

If you created a rule of life, what would you include? May we all know the blessing of a thoughtful, devoted spiritual life!

12 July 2016

Things I Already Miss from Collin County

We closed on our Allen house yesterday-- hooray! What a relief after 50 days on the market, nearly 90 showings, and two open houses. Thanks to everyone who offered advice (solicited and not), a breadmaker, and words of prayer and encouragement. Thanks to you too, St Joseph. Here are a few things, in no particular order after the first, I'll miss about living in Collin County:

1. Custer Road UMC. Just amazing people. Love you
2. Henry's ice cream
3. Madness Comic Book store (although their Pez offerings have greatly been reduced over the last few months)
4. Just across the street from Madness, and a late discovery: The Latin Pig. Incredible food, but the iced coffee is the real winner
5. Cooper Fitness Center in Craig Ranch. I don't have any recent stats, but I did have a net loss of weight, even as I gained several pounds of muscle. Not Mr Universe worthy, but still. Thank you for the clergy discount! And Tammie is the best if you are looking for training
6. Trader Joe's
7. Easy access to the Alamo Drafthouse
8. The new reclining seats at the Cinemark Legacy. Sherman Cinemark-- let's make this happen before Rogue One
9. Joe's Pizza and Pasta. Other-worldly calzones
10. McKinney Square
11. Fourteen Eighteen coffee house
12. Bavarian Grill

10 July 2016

A Measured Life

Preached at Grace UMC this morning. An audio recording will be available for listening tomorrow.

“A Measured Life”

Last Monday I spent several hours working in the garage, unloading boxes and trying to organize it. While I worked I listened to podcasts. One recent favorite of mine is from Malcolm Gladwell, author of books like David and Goliath  and Outliers. His podcast is called Revisionist History. The episode I listened to the other day was recorded a couple of weeks ago- it was called “The Big Man Can’t Shoot.” Wilt Chamberlain was one of the greatest basketball players of all time. On March 2, 1962 he scored 100 points in a game, the most ever in a professional game. One of the amazing stats of that game, recounted by Gladwell, was that Wilt went 28/32 from the free throw line. Normally he was a 40% free throw shooter; but on that night he changed his technique and shot nearly 100%. What was the difference? He shot the free throws underhanded.

That episode of Revisionist History wasn’t about Wilt Chamberlain’s record setting night. It was about what motivates people to act in ways that are unexpected, even contrary to character or societal norms. Most basketball players, nearly all of them, shoot free throws over handed, like this.. It’s an unnatural form that is very inefficient. One player who shot free throws exclusively underhanded, was another Hall of Famer, Rick Barry. Barry had a couple of years in the NBA when his free throw stats were 94 or 95%. He was one of the all time great shooters. But even that reputation, and those stats, cannot convince others to shoot free throws under handed. Even Wilt Chamberlain after his 100 point night went back to shooting them the old way (and returned to his 40% form). Why? Because players-- men and women-- think shooting free throws underhanded is unnatural. They use words like “sissy” to describe it; or when I was a kid it was called “granny style.” Not sure if my Mema ever played basketball, but whatever!

To explain this phenomenon of not doing something unusual, but proven effective, because of how one would be seen by others, or to put it another way, why we feel silly doing something uncommon, Malcolm Gladwell interviewed sociologist Mark Granovetter, who talked about his theory he calls Threshold. When thinking about why a normal, law abiding person would join in a riot, for example, the answer is not in what a person believes-- something that is internal-- the answer is external; it’s about peer pressure. Different people have different thresholds, and understanding social context is important. Some are more easily inspired or tempted than others. A person with a low threshold is likely to join in with the crowd immediately; a high threshold person will resist as long as possible. Wilt Chamberlain’s threshold for shooting free throws granny style was low; he did it effectively for a short time but gave it up because he felt silly. Rick Barry’s threshold for shooting underhanded was high; he didn’t care if others thought he looked silly. He cared about the results.

So this lawyer comes to Jesus with the motivation of testing him- never a good idea. “Teacher,” he says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). “You know the law,” Jesus responds. “What do you read there?” The lawyer repeats the Shema, to love God with heart soul mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. “You have answered wisely,” Jesus says. “Do these things and you will live.” “But who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asks. Jesus responds by telling a story, possible one of his most well-known, and most misunderstood: The Good Samaritan.

Firstly, let me say the word ‘good’ does not appear in the text. In Jesus’ day, no Jew would consider any Samaritan good. Samaritans and Jews were enemies, going back generations. The Samaritans intermarried with the Assyrians and sided with them in wars against the Jews. They built their own temple and did not support the rebuilding of Jerusalem or Solomon’s temple after the exile. At the end of Chapter 9 of Luke, two of Jesus’ disciples try to teach Samaritans about Jesus and are expelled from the village. In John Chapter 4 Jesus himself openly welcomes hostility by having a conversation with a woman at a Samaritan well. But Jesus challenges the deep-seated racism and bigotry between Jews and Samaritans by having one of them be the hero of the story. This is radical stuff, and it is amazingly relevant after the events in our country this past week.

So this guy is attacked and left for dead in the ditch. A priest and a Levite both assumed the man was dead. Not wanting to render themselves unclean by touching a dead body, they passed by on the other side of the street. The text doesn’t judge them harshly, and neither should we. They represented the established way of religious life at the time. But the Samaritan did not pass by. He stopped. He poured wine on the wounds. He bound them. He put the man on his own donkey. He took him to an inn and stayed with him overnight. The next day he gave the innkeeper two days’ worth of $$ for any expenses incurred, and promised to repay any further expenses. The audience would have been shocked by this story. We know the lawyer was-- Jesus asks, him: “So tell me, smart guy, Who was a neighbor to the man in the ditch?” The lawyer cannot even voice the word Samaritan. All he says is, “The one who showed mercy.” “Go and do likewise,” Jesus says.

The events of this past week were devastating. An African American man was killed by police in Baton Rouge outside of a store where he was selling CDs in the parking lot. Another African American man was killed by police in Minnesota after a traffic stop. Protests spread throughout the country, and here in downtown Dallas there was a protest. Police officers walked alongside protesters, taking pictures with them, talking with them. And then a sniper opened fire, killing five officers, wounding several others, including two civilians. The heartbreak, the fear, the anger we have all felt this week has been tangible. Mass killings happen on a weekly, in some places daily, basis. Tensions between different racial communities are palatable. Just last night on Twitter #justiceinfivewordsorless was trending at the same time as #whiteprivilegemeans. And some of the posts on those hashtags were just awful. Social media has given all of us an outlet to say, often in disguise through anonymous identities, things we would never to say to someone’s face.

I served for three years on the North Texas Conference’s Anti Racism team, so I am very familiar with the concept of white privilege. I am not threatened by it. In my context as a United Methodist pastor, I know I have white male privilege. I would have access to just about any of the 300 or so churches in our conference. I would be considered normal, especially by folk who didn’t know me well. Others, women and ethnic minorities, do not have access to the same pulpits. They are not considered the standard, and are treated as other. The idea of white privilege does not mean whites are made to feel guilty for past failures like slavery; it means we are often given the benefit of the doubt by those in power. I have been pulled over by the police many, many times in my 30 years of driving, but I never fear for my life. Others do not have that experience. They have to train their kids what to say and do if they encounter the police. They fear for their kids’ safety when they go out. On the Anti Racism team we defined racism as prejudice + power. Those who deny racism’s reality often think only of prejudice- judging others based on their race. But racism also has to do access to decision making. What all of us, especially white people, must realize is that racism is a sin, a prison, that confines all of us. We all need to work together to achieve freedom for everyone.

In the Amos text, God is shown as holding up a plumb line to a wall. I am not an architect or an engineer, so I had to do a little research to understand the parable. A plumb line is a string with a weight on the end. It measures the vertical on an upright surface. You can make one-- here’s help from youtube clip. Hold it up to an upright surface and see if it is properly aligned. It’s a way of measuring. In the text God holds the plumb line up to a wall as a way of measuring Israel’s faithfulness: “Look, I am going to measure my people Israel by a plumb line; no longer will I overlook their offenses” (Amos 7:8). Spoiler alert: the forecast isn’t good. In the Samaritan parable, the man himself is the plumb line. Jesus says the measure of our life is whether we are a neighbor to those in need.

The Samaritan is moved with compassion, an overwhelming need to help another who is hurting--regardless of the person’s ability to reciprocate, or even to express thankfulness. Frederick Buechner said, “Compassion is the knowledge that there can never be peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy for you.” This is what fueled the man’s unexpected, radical, outrageous actions in the parable. And in the world of brokenness and hurt in which we live it is what must drive us. Compassion. Compassion for those who suffer meaningless violence when trying to protect others. Compassion for those who grieve and suffer. Compassion for those whose lives are taken from them because of the most innocuous offenses. We have to stop asking self-justifying questions like, “Who is my neighbor, then?” and know that every person is a child of God, with intrinsic goodness and value and is worthy of respect. The parable does not challenge us to believe rightly-- it challenges us to act justly.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Do this and you will live.”
“Go and do likewise.”

Like the Samaritan in the parable, you and I are the plumb lines in our world today. We are the ones God sends out into the world to determine where injustice, hate, violence, poverty, and whatever other sinful barriers exist between people. We are called to go and do. Remember the concept of Threshold? The Samaritan had a high threshold, not concerned about societal norms and practices. He didn’t care what others thought of him. He didn’t care that he was expected to be the villain of the story. He didn’t care that society dictated that he stay away and take care of his own. He was the plumb line for the man hurting in the ditch. If not the church, who will be the plumb line for so many of our brothers and sisters in our nation, even our own town, who are hurting today?

It’s been a painful, emotional week. We have seen the face of evil in our lives all across our country. But we cannot cross the road and follow the well established patterns of life. Racism, privilege, power, violence and evil have for too long been the norm. Let’s be the plumb line for our nation and our world. There can be no peace and joy for us until there is peace and joy for all. Go and do likewise. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.6

08 July 2016

I Love Dallas.

Last night our family did as we have the last several days. We ate dinner together and watched a few episodes of The Flash. We all went to bed around 9:30. I woke up this morning around 6:00, and found Christy already up. She was reading on her phone. She told me about the shootings in downtown Dallas. I knew from earlier in the day that a protest was happening. I was to speak to some Project Transformation interns last night at Austin College, but their leader called to say they had decided to attend the protest rally instead. Christy and I were immediately filled with grief and anger about the shooting of police officers and civilians in our city.

I am not from Dallas; I grew up in Bay City, along the Gulf Coast of Texas, near Houston. In fact, I grew up hating Dallas. I never watched the TV show-- I couldn't care less who shot JR. I was a Houston Oilers/Rockets/Astros fan, so seeing any Dallas area team lose filled me with joy. When I felt called to pursue ordained ministry, I moved to Dallas to attend seminary at SMU. I met Christy there, our first semester (she is always quick to point out that I was in graduate school, she a freshman-- just to be clear that she is younger than me). My first winter here the Cowboys beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl. My two most hated teams played each other. I didn't really care who won, although it was cool to live in a city which a football championship (the Rockets had won titles when I lived in Sugar Land, near Houston, in 1994 and 1995).

I was ordained in the Texas Conference in 2001, but I never actually served within its bounds. During seminary I served as a part-time chaplain at Parkland Hospital. I interned at Oak Lawn UMC near downtown Dallas, and after a year in England returned to the same church for three more years as an associate pastor. During that time our country was attacked on 9/11, and we opened the doors of the church for a prayer service that Tuesday night, as well as Friday at noon. I transferred my conference membership to North Texas in 2002, officially making this our home. In 2011 we returned to Oak Lawn, this time as the lead pastor, and among the many activities we were involved with, I proudly walked in the Alan Ross Freedom parade twice. James and Miles, our two oldest, were born at Baylor Dallas, just a few blocks away from last night's horror.

When my kids were little, I made a decision: I would become a Dallas Cowboys fan. This was not easy, but my Oilers had moved to Tennessee of all places, and the Texans did not yet exist. I wanted to watch football with them and have some ownership of the town. My first visit to the Ballpark in Arlington was in September 1995. The Rangers were out of contention and Ken Griffey Jr's Seattle Mariners were in town. I walked up to the ticket window with $17 dollars in my pocket. I bought a ticket for $16, the Rangers lost, Griffey hit a huge home run. I couldn't have been happier. But I loved the Ballpark immediately (side note: Arlington, vote NO in November. The Ballpark is a jewel-- hot yes, but beautiful. A new stadium with a retractable roof will have no soul-- like Minute Maid Park). Over time, my favorite Astros players retired, and especially following the painful World Series of 2005, I became a Rangers fan. The Rangers played in the World Series in 2010 and 2011. The Mavericks lost a title in 2007 and won in 2011, the Stars won in 1999 and lost in 2000. I was living in a championship city.

I'm still waiting for the Cowboys to win a title with me officially in their fan base-- 2017 will be the year!! I know Jerry Jones creates lots of heartache for Cowboys fans and haters, but I have to say this: the guy is always an optimist. He really believes, often when no one else does, that his team is just inches away from winning. And it is that optimism that defines the city of Dallas. Several years before I was born President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and the city suffered that grief for decades. Despite that tragedy, Dallas and all of North Texas became one of the greatest, most exciting regions of the country. I love that Dallas is both traditionally southern and progressive, religious and questioning, has a strong LGBTQ community, proud communities of color, and every other person and position along whatever spectrum you can imagine.

Thank you, Dallas, for welcoming me two decades ago, even despite my jealousy for your successes versus Houston's losses (hey, growing up an Oilers fan was not easy). Thank you, North Texas Conference, for welcoming me as a full member fourteen years ago. Thank you, SMU, for being the place I met my sweet wife, as well as the place our kids hope to attend someday. Thank you, Oak Lawn Church, for allowing me to serve and learn amongst you. Thank you, Baylor Dallas, for literally carrying two of our boys into this world. Thank you, Dallas, for being home to more restaurants per capita than any other city in the USA, especially the Angry Dog in Deep Ellum. Thank you Dallas for hosting the Great State Fair or Texas, which our family has attended every year on opening night for fifteen years or so-- yes, including September 30, 2016!

This afternoon I changed my Facebook profile and cover photos to family pictures taken at our favorite Dallas places, SMU and the State Fair. We moved to Collin County in 2014, and two weeks ago we moved to Grayson County. But for 21 years now, and most likely for the rest of our lives, Dallas will always be home. So like so many others, I am grieving today. And we will need the time to grieve our beloved dead. We will pray for the families of those killed, and for the Dallas Police. What makes Dallas unique is that the protest happened in the midst of Dallas police officers. The police were there to protect the peaceful protesters, walking with them, talking with them, taking pictures with them. And then things went bad. Our prayers and love are there for our city, our police and civilians, our community, today. Love you, Big D.

07 July 2016

Living a Jesus Life

Note: This was my first sermon preached at Grace UMC. Normally the sermons are recorded and available on Mondays by visiting here. To see an outline of the entire "Living a Jesus Life" sermon series, check out yesterday's blogpost.

2 Kings 5:1-14
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

So the other day I was walking my dog #Rowdy through the neighborhood and I was checking everything out. Lots of folk had their houses decorated with flags and bunting for the Fourth. Very nice. But I noticed lots of yardsigns around the neighborhood. They were for things like roofing or window companies, you know the kind that say, "Another satisfied customer." But two caught my eye, and they were right next to each other. I hope those homeowners aren't here today because I am going to pick on you a little!

The first sign said, "Clayton Williams for Governor." Now, Clayton Williams ran against Ann Richards in 1990-- that's an old sign-- and it looked brand new! This is a hearty Clayton Williams supporter. But the problem is: the sign was gone this morning. It was there Friday and Saturday, but gone today. It needs to go back up!

Next door was this sign, and I am not so worried about the homeowner being here today, because it was for another church in town. It said, "Rescue is coming." On the line underneath that line was the scripture Revelation 22:12. Revelation 22:12 quotes Jesus saying, "See I am coming soon, and folk will receive their just reward," basically. I am not a Revelation expert, but most people associate Revelation with the earliest Christian communities who had come under persecution by the Romans. So I understand "Rescue is coming" in terms of those early Christian martyrs. But today?? I mean it could have said, "Hope is coming," or "New life is coming..." but it said rescue. Was this person feeling persecuted? I mean their home was also wonderfully decorated for the Fourth, so they are obviously celebrating their freedoms, so why do they feel persecuted? Hmmm.

I offer those two signs, Clayton Williams for Governor and Rescue is Coming, to say that we have no idea who it is that we will encounter when we go out into our communities to share the good news of Jesus Christ. But we do know this: our society seems more and more hostile. Not in the sense of being hostile to the church; just hostile and suspicious of each other. I found this survey from the Pew Research Foundation this week. It asks folk how easy, or difficult, it would be to welcome a new person as a neighbor. I am interested in this because I myself am new to the community and I wonder how, or if, folk would welcome me as a neighborhood.
Click below for a link to the entire article:
Pew Research Center

Here are some samples of what people are saying. They asked respondents what issues would make them more or less likely to welcome someone as a neighbor:
43% of Republicans and 42% of Democrats said it would be easier to welcome someone who shared their political views-- not too surprising. But if the newcomer belonged to another party? 27% of Republicans would find it harder to welcome such a person. And ditto for 31% of Democrats. Then it was broken down by categories:

Served in military: 43% Republicans more likely to welcome; 18% Democrats more likely, 6% less likely
Gun owners: 26% Repubs more likely to welcome, 6% less likely; Dems 7% more likely, 41% less likely
Attends church: 41% Repubs more likely, 4 less likely; Dems 23%/11%
Does not believe in God: Repubs 10/43; Dems 15/21
Likes country music: Repubs 21% more likely to welcome and 3% less likely; Dems 17/12
Likes hip hop: Repubs 6% more likely, 24% less likely; Dems 15/12
Here's the part that hurts the most:
Welcome a liberal? Republicans: 3% more likely, 40% less likely
Welcome a conservative? Democrats: 9% more likely, 30% less likely

Now, I do not make it happen to broadcast what I believe about politics. I do not walk around with a sign that says, "Pastor Frank is a liberal" or conservative or Republican or Democrat or whatever. I do maintain this blog and folk are free to explore my beliefs about theology etc here, but I would hope that in my own heart I would still welcome those who disagree with me into my home as a neighbor. I would hope I would welcome those who disagree into my church fellowship here at Grace. Christians are to welcome and spread the love of Christ with everyone we encounter.

At the end of Chapter 9 of Luke, Jesus was having a hard time with those he sent out, or those he was trying to recruit to join him in the mission. James and John, two of the original disciples, were sent to Samaria, which was sort of enemy territory for Jews then. They could not have expected to be received warmly, but still they were upset when the Samaritans asked them to leave. So they returned to Jesus and asked if they should send down fire from heaven on the village! (Luke 9:55). "No," Jesus said, "That's not what we are about." Then two would-be disciples of Jesus had other commitments to tend to first. One said, "I'll go, but let me bury my father first (9:60). "Let the dead bury the dead," Jesus replied. But the guy disappeared. Another wanted to say goodbye to family first (9:62). "No one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God," Jesus replied. That guy never returned either.

But in Chapter 10 things turned around dramatically. Jesus sent the disciples-- not just the original but 70 disciples-- into the surrounding communities. Jesus gives them instructions regarding hospitality. If they are welcomed, extend peace to the household. Eat what is offered, and remain there. Announce to their host that "The kingdom of God has come near to you" (10:10). If they are not welcomed, they are to leave town. They go to the town center, shake the dust from their sandals, and announce that they are outta here! But on their way out of town, sort of over their shoulders as they leave, they say, "The kingdom of God has come near" (10:12). The same message is conveyed to those who welcome the missionaries and those who do not.

I love the story of Naaman that is recorded in 2 Kings Chapter 5. Naaman was the captain of the guard of the Syrian army. Only the king was more powerful. But this powerful man was stricken with leprosy, a skin disease which in biblical times would make the sufferer an outcast. Naaman would have been humiliated by this. His wife's servant girl, who was from Israel, told her mistress that if the general would see the prophet in Israel he would be healed. Naaman was not from Israel, so he did not worship the God of Israel. And Israel and Syria were enemies. Naaman went to his king to ask for permission to visit Israel for healing. The Syrian king sent word to the king of Israel that he-- the king-- was expected to heal his general. So the king of Israel tore his clothes-- how could he heal anyone? Elisha, the prophet, sent word to the king: send Naaman to me.

Now in Naaman's culture, favor, whether from the gods or someone important, must be bought; so he showed up to Elisha's parsonage with a wagon train of silver and gold and various other treasures. He knocked on the door and presented himself to the prophet, who refused the gifts. He said, "Go jump in the River Jordan seven times," and he closed the door. Doesn't he know who I am? Naaman wondered. He stormed off, saying his home rivers were much better than anything in Israel. And one of his servants says to him, trembling, "General, if the guy had asked you to do something difficult you would have done it. Why not do something easy?" So Naaman goes to the river, jumps in seven times, and yes, he is made clean. That story shows that God's power, love, and grace is available to anyone-- even/particularly, the outsiders. He went back to Elisha's house to thank him, and Elisha simply said, "Go in peace."

The other day I took the boys to Braum's for lunch. I had a giftcard with about $8 on it. So I figured I would owe about $10 after they ran the giftcard. Except when they read it nothing happened. So the student employee called another over and she ran it. Then the receipt printed out, saying I had paid $18 in cash. I sort of stared at them and the receipt. I said I didn't think the card ran through because it only had about $8. The first kid said, "You're blessed." He called the girl over to double check. She said, "You're blessed." Another student walked past and asked if anything was wrong. I said the thing about the receipt. This third kid said, "You're blessed." Ok I get it!

"You're blessed." "Go in peace." "The kingdom of God has come near." We do not know who we will encounter when Christ sends out into the mission field. They may have thirty year old Clayton Williams signs or "Rescue is coming" signs in the yard. They may be teenagers working at Braum's. They may have different political views. We don't know. But we have to go. Will you go with me into the world and share the good news of Jesus Christ? In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.