Archive for March, 2007

Grinding the Face of the Poor Since 2004

LotteryIn November 2004, Oklahomans passed state question 705 approving the lottery. Of course, much of the money is allocated for education. On top of this, we have Native American casinos popping up like maggots everywhere you look.

It doesn’t matter what time of day or week you drive by these large casinos; the parking lots are full of people. And believe it or not, the people at the casinos aren’t driving their Lexus or Cadillac down for a few tugs on the old slot machine. The problem is terrible in Southeastern Oklahoma. Families are struggling to make payments on houses and loans while still faithfully making their trips to the casinos and buying lotto tickets trying to hit it big.

A friend and I were discussing this some time ago. What can the United Methodist Church do about these things? We can do what we often do and pass another resolution, but we thought it might be better to do something proactive.

My suggestion was to purchas billboards that communicate the connection between the lottery, casinos, and the poor with our biblical mandate to do justice and love kindness (Micah 6:8). In fact, I thought the reference in my title would be a great billboard. Imagine, in the background is a big lottery ticket and a picture of a casino. In the foreground of these pictures are these words, “Grinding the Face of the Poor Since 2004. Isaiah 3:15). Underneath that we could place a number to gambling addiction services, and below we could have the words The United Methodist Church, a Micah 6:8 community.

Yes, it’s ambiguous. But, I think it might make people ask questions and try to imagine why we were connecting the two things. Do you think this would work, or should we just pass another resolution?

March 30, 2007 at 6:41 am 5 comments

Sweet Hitchhiker

Today, I did something I’ve never done before. I picked up a hitchhiker. Yes, yes, I know…you can’t be too safe. What was I thinking? Well, I’ll tell you.

I saw this man standing just outside of a town I was driving through, and I thought to myself, “Hmmm…then the King will say to you, ‘When I was hitchhiking, you gave me a ride,’ and the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord when did we ever see you hitchhiking?'”

So I started on my brakes, and then all the thoughts of safety went through my head. Of course, it wasn’t long ago that a friend and I had a discussion about safety and the Cross…nice. So after letting up on the brakes, I hit them again and backed up down the highway about forty feet.

The man, I’ll call him “Jim,” was a forty or fifty year old Creek Indian. He told me a little about his story, the work he had been doing, and a little bit about his fears for the Creek Nation. He didn’t ask me what I did; I didn’t tell him. He just asked my name and where I was from. When he got out at his girlfriends house (about a mile off the main highway) I started to say, “God bless you Jim,” but I didn’t. Instead, I said a silent prayer for him and drove off. That’s it.

March 29, 2007 at 4:44 pm 1 comment

The Eucharist of Solomon – 1 Kings 4

EucharistI’ve finished Hauerwas’ commentary on Matthew and have turned to Peter Leithart’s work on 1 & 2 Kings. So far, so good. Even though I disagree with Leithart on some of the theological implications he draws at a few points, this is still an extremely rich theological commentary on 1 & 2 Kings, a book I’ve never really studied. I highly recommend it.

In chapter 4, we see Israel flourishing under the rule of Solomon, who is a new Adam for the Israelites as well as one who fulfills the rule of Joshua. In verse 4:20, we find the Israelites celebrating this reign, “Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea; they ate and drank and were happy (NRSV).” These activities, “eating, drinking, and rejoicing,” were the activities of the central sanctuary and of worship (p. 51), and they are also the joy we experience in Holy Communion.

In the next verses (4:22-23), we find a list that has no apparent connections with Eucharist on the surface,

“Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty cors of choice flour, and sixty cors of meal, 23 ten fat oxen, and twenty pasture-fed cattle, one hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fatted fowl.

Yet Leithart brings out some very fascinating connections,

Solomon’s menu includes meat that is not part of Israel’s sacrificial feasting. Sacrificial animals represent Israel, while clean wild animals symbolize Gentile ‘God-fearers.’ As Gentile nations are incorporated into the body of Solomon’s kingdom, so ‘Gentile’ animals are incorporated into his physical body (p. 51).”

In this passage a simple list of seven animals prepared for Solomon’s table become a portrait of God’s table hospitality. “The Gentiles eat the crumbs that fall from his table, and this typifies the greater Solomon who sets up a table in the center of the world, one so abundant that it feeds humanity (p. 51).”

Next Sunday, most of us will celebrate Holy Communion. As we prepare for this gracious feast, let’s remember the Solomonic feast. It really seems to be a celebration of magnificent proportions. How much more then should those of us who worship the one greater than Solomon be involved in a glorious celebration. Even though we will remember the bitterness of the Passion, we shouldn’t forget the table we set is the table open to all people – a table of forgiveness, joy, hospitality, and grand celebration!

(graphic from 

March 27, 2007 at 9:22 am Leave a comment

BWIII & John Edwards

Ben Witherington has an excellent post on John Edwards and the health of his wife Elizabeth. At first, I was pretty sure I was going to support Obama in the upcoming election. Yet I keep coming back to Edwards who I’ve liked and followed for a long time.

Ben briefly touches on some of the reasons he has an affinity for Edwards, and I agree on many of these points (except for the Tarheel stuff…ewww). One thing I especially like about the Edwards campaign is that he actually has a position and a plan to support rural America. In a recent speech, he noted that poverty and housing issues aren’t just urban problems,

I’ve talked a lot about housing in cities, but we shouldn’t forget that housing is a rural problem too — 1.5 million rural homes are substandard — without plumbing or with a crumbling foundation or sagging roof.

All in all, whether you agree with their politics or not, I think we can agree with Ben’s assessment. Leave John and Elizabeth alone, pray for her health, and let them pursue the path they believe to be the best for their lives.

March 27, 2007 at 8:34 am 3 comments

Glory Days

This morning my wife Nanci and I were talking about a friend of mine who is moving this year. She asked me, “Why is he moving already?” Without thinking I said, “Well, it just wasn’t a very good fit and they’re a ‘Glory Days’ Church.” We both laughed at this reference to the Boss, Bruce Springsteen.

You all remember the song right?

I had a friend was a big baseball player
back in high school
He could throw that speedball by you
Make you look like a fool boy
Saw him the other night at this roadside bar
I was walking in, he was walking out
We went back inside sat down had a few drinks
but all he kept talking about was

Glory days well they’ll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days

Well there’s a girl that lives up the block
back in school she could turn all the boy’s heads
Sometimes on a Friday I’ll stop by
and have a few drinks after she put her kids to bed
Her and her husband Bobby well they split up
I guess it’s two years gone by now
We just sit around talking about the old times,
she says when she feels like crying
she starts laughing thinking about


Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight
and I’m going to drink till I get my fill
And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
but I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days

Does that sound like any churches you know, “sitting back trying to recapture a little of the glory of…” or “just sitting around talking about the old times. Unfortunately glory days will pass you by, and Glory Days Churches cannot be faithfully missional churches. So if you find yourself sitting and thinking to the exclusion of getting up and doing, ask yourself whether you’re a Glory Days Church. If so, decide you’re going to live the glory days now! In the immortal words of Rob Schneider, “You can do it!”

March 26, 2007 at 8:09 am 2 comments

Adam Hamilton’s Financial Transparency

While I don’t know the circumstances surrounding this email (posted on the Church of the Resurrection web-site), I very much appreciate Adam Hamilton’s financial transparency. You might find it interesting and encouraging as well.

I continue to appreciate how Church of the Resurrection continues to be distinctly United Methodist as they reach out to “non and nominally religious people.” Get that? I’m not even a member of their Church, and I can tell you part of their mission and vision. How’s that for a mission statement?!

While I’m talking about COR, take a minute to visit Andrew Conard’s blog to read the thoughts of one of their pastors. He’s got some interesting thoughts on a variety of topics.

March 22, 2007 at 2:16 pm 3 comments

The Right Way to Pray

PrayerMy daughter was getting ready for bed last night, and we started to say our bedtime prayers. Like many four year olds, she’s really a talker. So lately instead of praying out loud myself, I’ve asked her to do the bedtime prayer. It always starts like this:

“Daddy, how do we start?” “Well honey, we usually start by saying ‘Thank you God’ or ‘Dear God’ or something like that.” So she starts and begins by thanking God for everything. Last night, however, she had this brilliant insight. She said, “Daddy, do you think we can sing our prayers?” Astounded by her monastic leanings I said, “Of course we can!” You’ll have to imagine the tune, but I think you can make do.
“Thank you God for Mommy, Daddy, and Bubby. I love them so much and we love you too. Thank you for this house you picked out for us, because we really like it…especially the ceiling.” This was followed by some mumbled song-praying, but I distinctly made out the words unicorn and castle. We closed with a communal prayer as she reminded me, “Now daddy, let’s sing Amen together!”

We then had a brief theological discussion when I told her that I thought God probably loved that prayer. She said, “Do you think God heard it? He doesn’t come around here.” Of course, all four year olds have a deep grasp of the invisibility and omnipresence of God, so I said, “Yes honey, I know he heard it.”

She then rattled off some serious apophatic postmodern theologizing on the nature of God. “Daddy…God is like when you take paper and you cut it out with scissors and then you have the parts left over…” Of course, this was far more than my inflexible calcified adult mind could handle, so I said, “You’re exactly right. Now go to sleep.” And she did.

March 21, 2007 at 2:03 pm 1 comment

Church Transfer Letters: Harmless or Bane of my Existence?

I am having a small dilemma. When we receive transfers from other denominations, do we really have to track down their Church letter from Applesnort, Kentucky? Maybe I’m a product of my generation, but I need to know if there is any real reason we need to get transfer letters for folks who join our congregation from other denominations.

I mean, does this help in the annual trans-denominational member count or what? If we don’t do it, are we in grave danger of counting the same member twice in scientific accounting of membership rolls?

Don’t worry, I do my job sending and receiving these letters, but sometimes I’m just not sure it’s worth the effort. Sure, I sometimes get the occasional letter that says,

“Dear friend in Christ, we didn’t know Ralph was still a Christian. Come to think of it, we didn’t know he was still alive! I hope you have better luck with him than we did. Grace & Peace….”

I know someone out there knows the answer, and I know you’re going to tell me. I look forward to being enlightened.

March 20, 2007 at 3:50 pm 9 comments

Emerging Churches & Southern Baptists Redux

Here is a link to Dr. Mark DeVine’s blog post where he discusses the emerging church as it relates to the Southern Baptist denomination (h/t Tall Skinny Kiwi). There is a link in this post to an article he wrote for the Midwestern Journal of Theology. In it he cites Bolger and Gibbs’ book, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures and Scot McKnight’s article from Christianity Today, “Five Streams of the Emerging Church: Key Elements of the Most Controversial and Misunderstood Movement in the Church Today.”

Interestingly he notes the emergent critique of evangelicalism is similar to several movements, including Methodism (something noted by Adam Hamilton some time back). Of course you will find yourself disagreeing with DeVine on several points about the emergent movement, but I still believe it is helpful to examine his look at the emergent movement.

In the end, I’m still confident that United Methodists have the right “DNA” to minister from the emergent paradigm and reach postmodern folks. It remains to be seen how these will fit into our structural arrangement with itinerant ministers and connectionalism.

March 19, 2007 at 11:12 am 2 comments

The Movement of the Father

Yesterday I preached on the Prodigal Son. I noticed something interesting that didn’t make it into the sermon, so I thought I’d post it here. There are two verses that really caught my attention.

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20

Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. Luke 15:28

Both verses emphasize the movement of the father. The father moves out to embrace the sinner, and he moves out to embrace the bitter firstborn. What does this tell us? This father isn’t passive. This is a father who won’t let his status stand in the way of reaching out to those he loves.

There can be no doubt that this is a reference to the God Jesus prayed to as Father. He reaches out to the flagrant sinner; he embraces the bitter hardworking firstborn. He does this all on the terms of those who are lost, rather than on the terms of his own status.

So, who are we called to be? We’re called to be those who “go,” and this shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, from Abraham to Jesus, God’s people have been called to go. Abraham was called to go and form a new nation blessed to be a blessing, and Jesus calls his disciples to go into all the world making disciples and baptizing them (Matthew 28:19). A missional God will lead to a missional Church.

March 19, 2007 at 4:53 am 9 comments

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