Monday, September 21, 2009

"I Think it is Tacky."

I had just shown to a friend of mine a page in a catalogue that was selling "communion wafer and juice sets." According to the ad copy, churches purchasing these sets gain "the convenience of offering the elements of communion in one easy to use container." These sets are a combination of "communion juice and wafer in an airtight double sealed package to extend shelf life and ensure freshness." Her response: "I think it is tacky."

What a sanitized world we live in! Between "the sky is falling" swine flu epidemic to new instructions on how sneeze (into one's elbow, please, NOT one's hand), to the nastiness of MRSA and the realization that thousands and thousand of people die in hospitals, NOT because of their original complaints but because they pick up infections there, it is a wonder that any of us even shake hands with anyone else without immediately cleansing ourselves again afterward.

I recently read an article on how disgusting church microphones are because the users actually breathe on them when speaking or singing. Of course, the writers of that article were suggesting that, as a regular user of a church sound system, I might want to purchase my very own microphone, at significant cost, of course, rather than letting some other highly germinated person use mine or me use someone else's.

But to go back to the communion sets . . . when we observe the Lord's Supper at church, we tear pieces off a common loaf of bread and then people dip those pieces into a common cup before consuming them. It is the commonality that is so important. We often sing, "We are One Body" when engaging in this special act. We are connected to one another, we share a meal, we come together to receive it. This service of communion must be celebrated in a group setting--it can't be done alone. There are intentional responses back and forth as we all affirm together the greatness of God and the mystery of our faith.

Are the communion juice and wafer sets "tacky." Yes, when fear and commerce (they are also expensive) push their production; no, when they may on occasion be a common sense response to an emergency situation.

Keep in mind that fear will quickly drive us all apart, just as fear of infection drives the common act of holy communion into the neatly packaged juice and wafer sets. Fear so isolates us that we learn to live not trusting others, putting up barriers, refusing entrance into our homes and lives and interiors those who might change us or threaten us.

Is it possible to live a sanitized life in isolation from other human beings? People are messy--so if we can keep them at a distance, perhaps our own lives will be less vulnerable to infection from others. However, ultimately, all of us have to recognize that our own lives are messy, too. Every one of us wanders from darkness to light and back again. We can move in a single moment from glorious generosity to tight meanness of soul and pocketbook. We can, and we do, both love and hate those with whom we are in closest contact.

Certainly, modern sanitation saves millions of lives. I don't want to go back to drinking dirty water or having open sewage flowing in the streets. But I often wonder if this same fear that keeps people we don't know or who are significantly different from us at a distance also keeps the Spirit of God at a distance. It is impossible to enter into contact with true holiness and not feel threatened. Always remember that the first things angels say when encountering mere mortals is, "Do not be afraid."

I believe the choice to leave fear behind is a choice that opens to us the possibility of heaven. And that's where I want to live.

Manners and the Hope of the Future

In the last few weeks, the national news has picked up multiple stories that illustrate a general loss of civility in public discourse and action. Three items in particular struck a nerve: Congressman Joe Wilson's poor conduct toward the President of the United States during a presidential speech; esteemed athlete Serena Williams' inexcusable language and aggressive actions toward a line judge in the middle of a tennis match; and musical star Kayne West's utterly boorish behavior at the Video Music Awards. Three privileged people who simply should know better than that. But they clearly don't.

Manners and common courtesy are not options for anyone if we are going to live in any kind of harmonious community together. We simply must put limits on our behaviors in the name of the common good or chaos and anarchy will reign. Even animals know that--dogs will take their place in the pack order, bees and ants work in cooperation with each other, chimps will defer to one another as necessary to preserve the order of their family groupings. But some human beings seem to think that those rules don't apply to them--and we are all the poorer for it.

I don't want to live in some sort of restrictive world where we are chained by archaic rules of acceptable behavior imposed upon us by a privileged few who think they have that power. That would be the world Edith Wharton wrote about in "The Age of Innocence." Interesting to read about or observe on a movie screen, but a little overly binding for most of us. However, there is an underlying premise that still rings true: our externally expressed manners are reflective of our interior lives and of our upbringing. Those who do not know how to behave in public will pay a price. School administrators and teachers are noting an increasing lack of understanding of appropriate classroom behavior that enables everyone to learn. Jobs are lost over poor table manners; reputations marred by unacceptable public actions. Too many people are learning to their regret that by letting it all hang out on Facebook or some other social networking site, they have jeopardized their employment and romantic futures.

Here at our church in Krum, we're working to do our part to help our young people learn what is necessary for success in this life as well as hope in eternity. Starting Wednesday, Sept. 30, we being what we call our "Midweek Miracle." It's like Vacation Bible School in that we combine play, music, education, and meal into a program that develops the whole child or youth. We teach them table manners and how to eat family style and converse with peers and adults at a meal. They learn the elements of Bible that are absolutely essential for educated people to master. They engage in play and music that doesn't demand that they be experts as children, but instead encourage all to participate and to learn to support one another.

It's a great program. The cost is only $10/month, and that includes a weekly meal and all other materials. The value can't be measured. Bring your children, grandchildren, neighbor children, all children and youth from first grade through middle school, to the church at 1001 E. McCart on Wednesday, Sept. 30, right after school. Come and learn about this adventure, and let us help you bring up these children in ways that will serve them well the rest of their lives. Help ensure their future by building into them now the joy of civility and learning at our Midweek Miracle. For more information, check out website at or call the church: 482-3482.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What is a Christian?

What is a Christian? Who get to call themselves "Christ-followers?"
What are the absolute essentials, the non-negotiable aspects, beliefs
and behaviors of Christianity?  The story below is one possible answer
to this complicated question.

I recently received an email from
some special friends of mine, Anya and Sergey, who live in in a country
with a predominantly Muslim population and who seek to offer the words
of grace about the good news of Jesus Christ. Anya was telling me about
her passion to serve Muslim women and her decision to learn more about
their faith before asking them to learn about her own religious life.
She wrote to me about a woman who grew up in a Muslim family, strictly
practicing all the requirements of that faith, including the extensive
fast during Ramadan and the wearing of the all-covering robes. As Anya
came to know this woman, she also read a book called Waging Peace on Islam. The author, Christine Mallouhi, is a Christian woman living with her Muslim family in the Middle East. Mallouhi writes:

...our religious traditions are not
the Gospel and may actually have little relationship to the Gospel
message and even be obscuring it. Following Christ does not mean
joining the Christian culture... It does not require leaving one's
family and people. To follow Christ does not require one to take a new
Christian name, or to wear a different style of clothing. Nor does it
require using the symbol of the cross, nor worshiping on a certain day,
nor a certain style of worship... It does not require adopting new
wedding, birth or death traditions. Nor does it require eating
different foods, ... or celebrating certain holidays. ...None of these
cultural expressions are essential to following Christ.

After a recent conversation with her Muslim friend, Anya wrote
this:  "Imagine my surprise when towards the end of our meeting she
told me
that she came to this lesson to tell me that she couldn't call herself
a Christian, because in her culture and her family being a Christian
had a very negative meaning (associated with the Russian culture and
the Russian Orthodox church). She reassured me that she relied on
Jesus, the Son of God in her salvation and that she was very relieved
to know that following Him did not require betraying her family. She
left home hoping to talk to her old grandmother about Jesus and her
eternal hope in Him. Her grandmother is a practicing Muslim who does
all the things that Quoran requires, and does
this all because of the fear of punishment from Allah if she doesn't."

Anya concluded, "If our conversation happened a year ago I would be
considering this friend a Muslim who doesn't want to follow Jesus at all
costs, but now I'm able to see that Jesus accepts every person who
comes to him with repentance and trust and not just those who follow
the set rules that I'm familiar with or used to."

I so much like what Anya wrote here.  She is looking upon the heart,
bypassing the externals which most of us focus on.  Anya newly
discerning eyes saw a repentant heart, trusting in Jesus for
forgiveness and wholeness and she rejoiced--for this young woman has
been found. 

Who is a Christian?  Is it those who look the part, following the
external signs of the faith, sporting Christian symbols, carrying their
Bibles, dressing in certain patterns, following a set of rules that
define it?  Sometimes yes.  And sometimes no.  Ultimately, the question
must go much deeper:  Do we have hearts so transformed by grace that we
willingly follow Jesus where ever that may lead? Do we take up our cross
daily?  Do we love our enemies and go the second mile for them?  Do we
forgive as we wish to be forgiven?  Frankly, it's easier to stick to
the externals.  But it is the internal life that opens the door to the
heavenly places.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Green Pepper Heaven

I carried my morning cup of tea into the backyard early today to drink it in the quiet and relative cool of the day.  My dogs, at least for this morning staying nearby and not clamoring for one of their "let's run away" ventures, wandered around the backyard hoping for new smells.  I heard a slight cracking sound and looked around.  Jake, the very large yellow lab whom I've often described as being quite handsome but remarkably stupid, had broken off a branch of a green pepper plant.  While I watched, he carried the branch to the middle of the yard, a nice comfortable grassy spot with the morning sun dappling through the tree branches.  There, with amazing grace and obvious pleasure, he delicately picked a pepper off the branch and eagerly bit into it.  After finishing the first one, he found several other peppers on that heavily laden branch.  One by one, he consumed each of them. 

Being somewhat overrun with green peppers right now, I didn't mourn the loss at all.  However, I was intrigued by his enjoyment and extreme pleasure in the moment.  He simply received what was made available to him, receiving without guilt or concern about paying it back, or whether there were strings attached to the gift.  He just received it, savored it, and filled his tummy with it.

What I did experience was a moment of real jealousy.  Jealously over this animal's enjoyment of something that was also there for me to enjoy, but I had missed it.  I had come out this morning heavily laden in spirit and troubled in soul.  My time of prayer had not brought me relief.  Why?  Could it be because I didn't just receive it?  Could it have been there, ready for the picking, the savoring, the enjoying? 

Are my worries and burdens legitimate?  Don't I have both a right and responsibility to carry them?  Or, is it possible that I can cast all these cares upon God, and find peace that passes understanding, the peace that only God can give?  The peace that God gives reminds me that I am a part of something grand and glorious, the healing of the world, the cosmos, by the grace and love of God made manifest through Jesus Christ. The kind of peace the world around me tries to provide works from this very different message, "Get enough stuff, make enough money, put enough barriers around you and your own and maybe you can keep the troubles out." 

As I was watching Jake's deep enjoyment (and perhaps he's not quite as unintelligent as I thought!), I kept hearing the words of Jesus that we say today when observing the Lord's Supper:  "Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you."  Take, eat.  Receive.  Take, eat.  The gift has been given.  Take, eat.  Find God's peace in this moment.  Take . . . eat . . .

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Celebration

A party, a reunion, a feast, a celebration: all different words to say pretty much the same thing: a gathering of people for some special occasion.  The occasion could be as small as two people sharing a snack or thousands and thousands gathering together for a huge party.  We are preparing to have our own party here.

Five months ago, the United Methodist church here in Krum changed the location of its meeting place.  After over 80 years in the sweet and memory-filled building at 2nd and W. McCart, we moved to our new spot at 1001 E. McCart, just a mile east.


We're still moving in and getting settled, worshipping, working, gardening, and building friendships together.  Now it is time for our celebration.  It takes place Sunday, September 13, at 10:30 a.m. At that time, the building and its furnishings will be officially consecrated.  A consecration reminds us that these physical objects have a special use: to help us see more clearly that the God-filled life is not just something that happens in eternity, but something that exists right now, right here, right around us and in us and through us.


Does a consecration make something holy?  It depends on the definition of "holy."  One definition reads this way: "entitled to worship or veneration as or as if sacred." That definition doesn't fly here.  The building is not to be worshiped, nor are the furnishings.  They are to be used.  The purpose of the consecration is to recognize that these things are devoted to the service of God.  The service of God encompasses all of life, not just what happens during the hours when we intentionally come together for a time of guided worship, which is what most Sunday services are about.


The problem with a word like "consecration"?  The formality of the word tends to push people away rather than invite them in.  The truth here:  we're having a party, a celebration, a time of happiness and singing and fun.  Mixed with this will be times of prayer and words that provide entrance into heavenly living and sight.


So this is an invitation to you, the people of Krum.  Come party with us.  Join us on September 13 for brunch from 9:30 to 10:15, take a look at the building that is here to be used for multiple church and community purposes and then gather for this worship celebration.  The Bishop of the North Texas Conference, Earl Bledsoe, honors us with his presence and his preaching that day.  I invite you to honor us with yours as well.