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the Disciple journey of life

fcc logoDisciples switched from an annually held International Convention to a biannual General Assembly in 1971.  I wasn’t there. Once again we met without me.  It wasn’t until 1975 that I attended the gathering in San Antonio and I’ve missed only two since.  In the course of these meetings, I first heard the hymns O Zion Haste, Thy Mission High Fulfilling and We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations.  I promise you, hearing several thousand people, about half of whom are preachers, singing hymns like that will tenderize any calloused soul.

At General Assemblies I’ve been inspired by Bishop Desmond Tutu and William Sloan Coffin.  I’ve stood in line and sat in a basement to hear Fred Craddock in some huge church that wasn’t so huge after all. It was at an assembly in St. Louis that my daughter, Kate, decided that coming down with rubella would get her home earlier.  Years later she would be part of a children’s processional for our third general minister, John Humbert’s installation.

It hasn’t all been sweetness and light.  I’ve been a party to our church struggling with great issues of the day while respecting the limitations of an assembly that can “speak to” but not “speak for” the congregations. Touchy moments, but also an appealing beauty in seeing strongly opinionated Christians trying to treat others with respect while being dead certain those others were dead wrong.

During my time at Disciples Home Missions I made a biannual report to the assembly.  There was always someone in the crowd ready to ask some “gotcha” question about something we weren’t doing with money we didn’t have.  What fun.  Of course, over time I’ve met and befriended people from various parts of our church’s life, from around North America and from regions where I’ve served.  Lots of folks from Phillips are always on hand.  The whole thing becomes something of an extended family reunion.  It may be a dysfunctional family reunion but it’s mine.  I’ll be gone this week for the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) meeting in Columbus, Ohio.  I’ll be there with my phone on my person and you on my mind.  I’ll be there and be glad that Ron Savage and our elders are here.  I’ll return with stories to tell to the congregation.

Glad to be your pastor,

Arnold

 

 
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Jesus cuts through the nonsense

While living in South Carolina, I received several lessons on Freedom of Association, which is all about spending time with those for whom you care… and not others. I value that freedom for myself and others, so I will choose to be less frequent in one of my coffee stops.  Several times a month, I go by this one haunt, but I’ll haunt it no more. Turns out there’s a daily regular who presumed my being a pastor meant I’d share some of his values, beliefs and biases.  I never made a big deal of not so sharing but he figured it out.  He’s one of those who live as though those who don’t see the world his way are somehow picking on him.  So when I come in he sulls up and makes no eye contact and generally acts like he wishes I’d be elsewhere. Wish granted.  He’s the regular and he has the greater claim.

However, I’ll vent on you instead of him and point out something “Bible believing” people ought to take seriously if they do indeed “believe every word in the Bible just as God wrote.” Exodus 21 and Ephesians 6 give enough information on the beating of slaves and obedience of good slaves to have helped legitimate slave-holding in America for 300 years.  Deuteronomy 21 sets the rules governing stoning disobedient children, and one chapter later instructs rapists to be good sports and marry the victim whether she desires it or not.  Leviticus bans the consumption of bacon, sausage, ham and barbecue, catfish, shrimp and lobster; it bans beef stroganoff and cheeseburgers.  First Corinthians admonishes women to be silent in church.  In various biblical texts, adultery is a capital offense by stoning.  According to the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath is to be kept holy and it runs from sundown Friday to sundown Sunday, and the Christian observation of Sunday as Resurrection Day doesn’t change that.

There’s more but the point is clear.  The more “Bible believing” a person claims to be, the more selective literalism you’ll find.  Grumpy old Christians will say the pork and catfish don’t count but how do they get to choose that?  Can’t we all decide the world ought to be run according to our own tastes and prejudices?  Jesus directed us to, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  That cuts through a lot of nonsense. An idea making the rounds goes, “If you’re using the Bible to hurt other people you’re using it wrong.”  Amen.

Glad to be your pastor,

Arnold

P.S. Let’s go have coffee.

 

 
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The confederate… the Southern Cross flag of St. Andrew

I grew up in the former Confederate state of Tennessee.  When I removed myself to South Carolina I discovered the philosophy: Tennessee was a former “Southern” state.  It turns out former Confederate states that have “moved on” have relinquished their Southerness!  For the record, I don’t buy it.

This philosophy ties its adherents to the past; couple that with ignorance of the past and you’ve got a miserable set. For instance: that flag! For instance, the “Confederate” flag being flown on SC state capitol grounds was center stage in the news following the senseless murder of 9 people at a historic AME Bible study.

To set it straight, that flag was never the “Confederate” flag.  The design is the “Southern Cross” and it was chosen as the Confederate Navy’s ensign, to inspire and be used in battle heroics. The ‘Stars and Bars’ were the actual banner of the ill fated rebellion.  The Southern Cross was promoted in American minds to high confederate honor because it suited the movie makers of “Gone With the Wind.” Both flags have a place in history, and both attribute their honor afforded to something for which men have died for their country. However, and for the record, it should be known that General Robert E. Lee’s directive to his defeated soldiers was to “furl the flag.” That means “roll it up, put it away and get on with life.”

Frthermore, the Southern Cross was elevated in Southern landscapes around the time of the Civil War centennial, and the accompanying civil rights movement. That’s to say, racism was right there from the start. The armies and the navy of the South had their brave men and many drew inspiration from the St. Andrew Cross, patron of Scotland from which many came.

Those armies and navy also had ‘shirkers’ and ‘deserters’, lower grade characters incapable of understanding much beyond reveling in dishonor. I think of them when I see their progeny unfurling that flag on their lawns and pick up trucks and over-sized belt buckles. Once again, and in a most dramatic fashion, one of them has made a mockery of that flag, and a proud history, and worst of all, the serene symbol of a martyred saint.

Glad to be your pastor,
Arnold

P.S. That St. Andrew’s Cross is also the cross that symbolizes our church. Let’s bring honor to it.

 

 
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Cell Phones vs. Bible

Cell Phone vs. Bible

dusty-bible-1

I wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phone?

What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets?

What if we flipped through it several times a day?

What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it?

What if we used it to receive messages from the text?

What if we treated it like we couldn’t live without it?

What if we gave it to kids as gifts?

What if we used it when we traveled?

What if we used it in case of an emergency?

This is something to make you go…hmmm…where is my Bible?

Oh, and one more thing… Unlike our cell phone, we don’t have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because

Jesus already paid the bill.

Makes you stop and think, “Where are my priorities?”

And…no dropped calls!

 
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Innocent until Prodded

yumOn Sunday our Gathering Hall gave evidence of the coming dinner Beautiful Day is blessed to serve each month for widowed women.  It’s a wonderful event and our turn at hosting it would be above par. Hospitality Gurus were decorating tables to a fare thee well.

One HG had begun laying out miniature Hershey Bars with floral wrapping.  Being something of an expert on candy bars, I had to inspect. “Arnold, don’t you take one of those,” I heard.  I had made no effort to so much as touch any and I don’t eat too many sweets, as I push it off on innocent children and unsuspecting office staff.  Leaving, I looked again, and again I was scolded for something I had no intention of touching!  I proclaimed my innocence to another and was scolded still.  It was like being back in 2nd grade.  That was it. Walking out the building I grabbed one and kept moving.

This event points to my being a Disciple of Christ.  Common to our brand of Christian, we tend to despise being told what to do.  On principal we’re apt to react negatively to directives regarding belief or behavior.  I think of this when someone wants to prod people into more regular church attendance or participation in an event, or financial campaign.  Most such efforts which may work for Baptists, Methodists or Lutherans, etc., only make Disciples say some version of “Try and make me.” We might even say worse.

The best bet seems to be… make things worthwhile and be welcoming!  So it is.

Glad to be your pastor,
Arnold

 P.S. I returned the candy the next day.

It looked great.

 

 
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When God makes a… mistake?

In a seminary course on preaching, some time will likely be devoted to the importance of sermon titles.  One will be told one should come up with something to strike the imagination, and make prospective worshipers curious.  A wishful professor might promise the right sermon title will draw people to church which had no previous plans of being there at all.  To my friend Drew, who’s going through this enterprise right now, I’d say, “Good luck with that.”  Still, if you’ll look to the back of your newsletter this week you’ll see a provocative sermon title to beat the band.

“When God Makes a Mistake” is what I’m working on right now and I hope it’s not a mistake.  I can just imagine someone reading that and saying, “Now hold on here, how can God make mistakes?  God is perfect and knows what’s right to do from the get go, so why in the wide world would the Lord ever have to say uh—oh!”  You see, that’s provocative.

Even my Grammar Check is shocked enough to be surprised.  It keeps offering me encouraging suggestions as to how I might rephrase things.  To think that God is capable of a mistake messes with our heads… and to ask the question offends the majesty of God.  As an article of faith, we’re inclined to reject the idea of it.  As a matter of (false) pride, someone might react with a bumper sticker bragging, “My God doesn’t make mistakes. Sorry about yours.”

I’m sorry for a faith system that is so fragile that an uncomfortable idea can’t be given the time of day.  It reminds me of a younger preacher when I was really young myself, who expressed regret that he couldn’t preach something he believed “because my church wouldn’t allow it.”  I hope he was placing too little trust in his own denominational home but I celebrate mine every time I have some conviction that could have gotten me burned at the stake in a time not so long ago.

So Sunday is just a few days away; are you curious?  Are you provoked?  Can you read I Samuel for yourself and start a conversation about God having regrets and acting like God about it?

See you Sunday?

Glad to be your pastor,

Arnold    

 

 
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the Well… a place where Christ is met!

the WellLast week the sign on our Main Street property was fixed in tiptop style.  Once again, and with sun resistant paint, it reads, “The Well, A Ministry of the First Christian Church.”  All may not be right with the world but this is a start.  It reminds me of my cousin, John Carney.  When I was small he was big, funny and irreverent.  He taught me to like Perry Como, Don Gibson and western boots.

Try to follow: John was the nephew of a John Carney who wasn’t my uncle and that John Carney had a son my age named John Carney.  So, my cousin John Carney had a cousin John Carney and an uncle so named who didn’t think one name sake enough.  That uncle of my cousin had a brother, Porter, whom we called Ching (don’t ask).  Uncle Ching wouldn’t have been my uncle but he married my Aunt Sam, my dad’s older sister and I loved her. They were the parents of my cousin John Carney and I love him.  You got that?

The Well is part of FCC but it’s

1. where “One True Light, Inc. (OTL)” (formerly “The Well, Inc.”) headquarters, and

2. a main part of their work is Spokes for Hope which our youth will help with next week.  OTL mentors kids and

3. Beautiful Day is a part of OTL. They provide birthday celebrations for elementary kiddos and host dinners for widows, sometimes in our Gathering Hall. We have members participating in these dinners both as the servers and the served.

4. “Gabriel’s House,”

5. the “Stephens County Humane Society” and

6… others use The Well, and

… we have our very own ministries there.  Our youth use it every week.

… Folks are fed John 6:35 inspired suppers every month.

… We fellowship there, and

… offer restrooms to folks who come to “Main Street Duncan” events.

… Some of us worship there on Sundays.

This may be as confusing as the John Carney’s of Clarksville, Tennessee, but it can be understood.  Like a Samarian with a history, it’s a place where Christ is met one way or another.  More confusing is that the sun can bleach out words and we rush to terrible conclusions.

Oh well, The Well has always been a ministry of the First Christian Church and again… the sign says so.

Glad to be your pastor,

Arnold

 

 

 
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Faith, Wisdom… Risk?

Leap-1Faith, wisdom and calculated risks:

Together they help make a Christian life a day at the state fair.  For instance, last week I left Duncan bound for Nashville and my granddaughter’s 2nd birthday.  I love Brooks because she’s my granddaughter but I love her all the more because she gives my own daughter, Kate, the same joy Kate has ever given me.

It was raining when I left and it got much worse en route.  I slowed it down, drank coffee and called it a day in Russellville, Arkansas.  It rained the next morning and much of the way to Music City.  I took along a Minnie Mouse outfit Kelly had had made for the “Minnie Mouse loving child.”  She refused to wear it.  Brooks loves wearing boots so I figured a hat would be appreciated.  Mark Crutcher sold me a one—size—fits—all straw Resistol.  (I heard my dad say, “Why, I never had a Resistol when I was your age!”)  She was scared of it.  Good thing she liked the bird house.

We’ve had a darling girl recently express a desire to be baptized, and a full—-fledged boy talking about it for 2 years.  You don’t want to stall on such things.  Besides, in a world where we have to do some things, baptizing darling girls and full—fledged boys is something a preacher GETS to do.  We weren’t waiting and this Sunday was the big day.  It meant leaving in mid—birthday party but daughter and granddaughter seemed overwhelmed enough by the hubbub that I risked my stealing away to be forgivable.  I drove straight through back to Duncan and the rain hit around Sallisaw.  Boy howdy, it rained!

Sunday was “Children’s Sunday” but it was also Memorial Day Weekend.  Planned events included honoring teachers we feared would be out for the holiday, an indoor picnic we feared no one would be here for and a bouncy house no kiddos would be on hand to play in.  Wrong and wrong and wrong again.  Most teachers were here and tons of folks stayed to picnic and the kids made that gleeful racket that makes it hard to hear but hard to care.  It was a very good day indeed.  Since then it’s rained some more and Waurika Lake is about full.  A drought seems abated, Maddie and Kadence are on their historic journey of faith and Brooks is 2 and I’m here to celebrate it all.  In time, Brooks will love the outfit and the hat, I believe.

Glad to be your pastor,

Arnold

 

 
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The Most Neglected Sin

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Recently a preacher wrote about The Most Neglected Sin.  That sounds pretty ominous. Ought to make us wonder.  Turns out his vote went to Gluttony and I see why.  We’re a fat nation in a hungry world and I’ve known plenty of fat saints who wax long about the perceived sins of others when they’d do better to take a hard look in the mirror.  I get it but I don’t agree.  I’d invite my colleague to think a little harder.

One could nominate racism and the adoration of athletics and capitalism and have some soul searching debates.  Still, they’re big but not exactly neglected.  My vote for The Most Neglected Sin goes to the Obsession with Personal Salvation.  That deserves some explanation.  Yes, one’s salvation is important.  It’s so important one can’t do it on one’s own.  I can’t be good enough, even saintly enough, to accomplish my salvation.  I can refrain from various sinful things until I start making things sinful that aren’t.  I can read the Bible until I wear out a copy a year, collect perfect Sunday school attendance pins until they reach to my knees.  I can fixate on saying and doing the magic words that ultimately deliver me from hell, along the way making everyone miserable.  So doing, I can neglect a lifetime’s opportunity to actually be a Christian.  Here’s the deal.

My salvation is so important that not so long ago Jesus carried a cross up Golgotha and allowed himself to be nailed to it. Nothing about my soul’s redemption is so trivial I can be Bible toting enough to affect the process.  He alone did what I couldn’t. That’s what I mean when I profess him as my savior.  I’m free to think about something besides getting myself into heaven.  However, because he’s my Lord I’m not free as a bird. He’s my Lord and so he owns me.  He has a claim on my Sunday mornings but also my Saturday nights and Tuesday afternoons.  His claim on me calls me to care for my neighbor who’s miserable for whatever reason and try to do something about it. That “something” is whatever needs doing except standing in judgment.

We Christians notoriously neglect what it means to call Jesus “Lord” even though the Bibles we tote contain all the accounts we need of Jesus loving others as he found them.  The only job we consistently claim is the one he forbids us: judging others. There’s my vote.  What’s yours?

Glad to be your over-eating but long saved pastor,

Arnold

 

 
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110 years of “those who’ve gone before us.”

Last week I was away and I missed you. Yes, I was in Nashville and got to see family but that wasn’t the reason for the trip. One of the best things about our church — The Christian Church Foundation — annually hosts a Senior Ministers’ Conference and there I was. It’s a small event but the ministers come from all over. Yes, some came from Los Angeles and Daytona Beach, Denver, Atlanta and Indianapolis. Others came from Harrison, Arkansas, Ashland, Kentucky, Lima, Ohio and Duncan, Oklahoma.

There are lots of events for preachers. Some are for new pastors, and for those serving new congregations. There are meetings for ethnic minority pastors and women in ministry. There are meetings for pastors of congregations in deep distress. The Senior Ministers’ Conference is to connect those serving churches that have done well over a long time, and are doing pretty well now in a changing world.

Change was our conversation. Specifically, the changes in our society that offer challenges to those who would like to see healthy churches stay that way. It’s an honor to be asked to this event but the honor is yours. Who you are as a congregation is the reason I got the invitation. Thanks!

On the last day, Foundation president, Gary Kidwell, spoke of the time Moses was fed up with the Hebrews, and was ready to give them back to God. God did a couple of interesting things. God said, “Thanks, but they were mine to begin with and they have been all along. Not only that but your leadership style is wearing you out and we’re going to work on it.” Then God said, “Don’t you worry about getting them to the Promised Land; I’ll get them there. You just get them faithfully through today.” Actually, God said it better, but you get the drift.

2015 finds us with 110 years of “those who’ve gone before us.” Our church isn’t dwelling in some Promised Land but we’re where God has called us. We can be as faithful in our day as those before us. We can learn new ways to be effective and we can find joy in it. Again, thanks for being a church that gave me the chance to be with so many fine colleagues, and for the time away.

Glad to be your pastor,

and glad to be home,

Arnold

 
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