September 2012

“In the fertile land, the LORD God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden…A river flows from Eden to water the garden…” (Genesis 2:9-10)

“He carried in his own body on the tree the sins we committed…By his wounds you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)

“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will heal them; the Lord will raise them up.” [The oil used in services and prayers for healing is from the olive tree.] (James 5:14-15)

“On each side of the river stood the tree of life…and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2)

Photo credit: Josh Scholten at

One of the facts I found out soon after beginning at Post Oak & Liberty UMCs is that there is a tradition at both churches that if they have a new pastor, then the new pastor typically preaches at the revival services at each church in his or her first year. Well, I suppose it’s best not to duplicate the sermons for the revival messages, so I have been spending a lot of time in prayer on what theme or sets of messages to prepare for Liberty after sharing at Post Oak’s revival in August. The messages I preached at Post Oak were centered on the last statements Jesus uttered from the cross, which you can read a little bit about here.

As I’ve been praying with God and conversing with others on what sorts of things ought to be brought to those who will gather at Liberty during the week of revival, I’ve been continually brought back to the parable of the father with his two prodigal sons, found in Luke 15:11-32, as well as some passages from the prophets. Without revealing too much of what is in store, I did want to share with you a resource in which one man describes his encounter with Rembrandt’s painting of the return of the prodigal son.

Rembrandt’s rendition of the return of the younger prodigal son, which is on the cover of Henri Nouwen’s book on the parable & painting. (Photo credit: wikipedia)

A Catholic priest by the name of Henri Nouwen used personal anecdotes in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, to tell of how in his life he has found resonance with the various characters found in the story and painting. In particular he told of his progression from playing the part of the bystander(s) to the younger son to that of the elder, but it took the wisdom and input of someone else to point out that his identity was to be found in playing the role and fulfilling the mission of the loving father who pursues both sons in hopes of making the family whole once again. The main character, as it were, is neither the younger nor the older brother, but the compassionate father.

Why am I including “prophets” in the theme? I believe the various characters and elements of this most wonderful parable are demonstrated beautifully in a few passages from the Old Testament prophets: from Micah 6, Ezekiel 36, Jonah 4, and Hosea 11.

>>So if you’re anywhere near Camden, Tennessee during the week of October 7-10, come join us at Liberty UMC at 7pm.<<

May God prepare our hearts in opening wide our hearts for repentance, renewal, restoration, and reconciliation.

In the sermon yesterday, I mentioned a bit about the story of Cairo, Illinois, its turbulent history of racial tension and its dwindling economic plight, as well as its difficult conditions today. More than 55 arsons have occurred since 2007 in the town of (now) less than 3,000 people. The most recent fire occurred last weekend, which you can read about here. And here is an image of the building engulfed in flames:

Photo of the fire at old King Tut’s Tavern on Ohio & 8th in downtown Cairo. (Photo credit: WPSD-TV)

Carrie and I took the kids to St. Louis a couple of weeks ago, and drove through Cairo on our way. As we drove slowly through the downtrodden city, my heart was broken by the signs of poverty, abandonment, desolation, and destruction that was seen on almost every block. Soon, I began to wonder about those in the town’s midst who have been and are fighting an uphill battle for the cause of justice, praying the town is not deserted, hoping against hope that there is a positive future for the city, that it really can thrive again. I’m not sure where they are, but my prayers have gone up for these warriors, that more support would come their way, that they might see signs of resurrection hope in the city of decay.

As I was doing some reading about the town last weekend, I soon found out that Chris Tomlin recorded most of the video, “I Lift My Hands” in Cairo. Most of the images you see convey, in part, the decline that Cairo has suffered.  The opening lyrics of the song gripped me: “Be still, there is a healer…” The language of healing is one that is apt to describe what I pray for Cairo. This 5 minute video is very good and helps convey the message of the power of belief and hope. So give it a watch & listen!

My heart was stirred in watching this. But I must also admit that often the difficult part of this prayer, is the recognition that the harder the decline and the deeper the hurt a person or a town or a nation or a world endures, the more patience, the more work, the more difficult decisions, the longer amount of time is needed for healing. But maybe, just maybe, God will stir in the hearts of more people to reflect on the coming kingdom, whose tree of life produces leaves that are for “the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2) and will do whatever possible to bring the life from those leaves to the decaying and despairing parts of the world around us.

“Our Father in heaven…your kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.”

Our new bishop in the Nashville Episcopal Area, including the Memphis Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, is Bill McAlilly, from Mississippi. I have been blessed by what I’ve read from him and by the time he shared with our district (Paris, TN) earlier this week. Bishop McAlilly has an exciting vision and grand expectations for what God has in store for The United Methodist Church at large, the Tennesse and Memphis Conferences and the local churches within the connection. In particular, from the district-wide meeting we held earlier this week, he said that building trust among one another is a key to making our church vital once again.

Bishop Bill McAlilly, of the Nashville Episcopal Area, including the Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences. (Photo credit:

I highly recommend you follow his website/blog, whose name derives from a praise song written by Chris Tomlin. He elaborated in the meeting this week about “greater things” by pointing to the promise of Jesus to his disciples in John 14 where Jesus told them that they would do “greater things” than he did because of his return to the Father’s side and by the sending of the Holy Spirit to empower them to heal the sick and proclaim the gospel. You can find and read more about him and his vision from his blog by clicking on the link below.

Greater Things Are Yet To Be Done.

In preparation for pastoral ministry, I spent time reflecting on the vitality of the sacramental life of the church and the importance of visiting the elderly and shut-ins. One of the practices I have always wanted to incorporate in my ministry, which I had heard that some pastors do, is to share the Lord’s Supper with these folks. After all, as many persons get more aged and fragile and eventually come to a time when they are unable to physically attend and participate in the worshiping life of the church, then that’s when it becomes time for the church to care for those and make their attendance and participation possible in another way.

This is but one key way of making our ministry an Incarnational one. What do I mean? Reflect on these words of the liturgy of The Great Thanksgiving – “…Pour out your Spirit upon us gathered here and on these elements of bread and wine; make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we might be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood…”

The sacraments express the goodness of the physical, created order as God has established these elements of nature (water, bread, and wine) as the means by which God communicates God’s love and grace with us. Just as we were unable to attain eternal life where there will be a heavenly banquet and God took on flesh in Christ’s body to make that possible, so also we ought to take Christ’s body and proclaim his suffering, death, and resurrection with those unable to come and feast with us in the sacrament.

So I shared my desire to do this practice with the churches, and they were all for it! They gave me names of people who have been unable to attend, especially those members in rehabilitation facilities or nursing homes. I began practicing this last month and have found myself blessed beyond measure in the experiences of sharing the church’s sacramental life with them. Let me tell you why…

On one visit as I was going through the liturgy and began to serve an elderly gentleman, he raised his hands and began to cry. As he partook of the elements of the Supper and tears were streaming down his face, all he could say was, “Praise God!” I got choked up in that moment and became a witness to one who was indwelt by the Holy Spirit and had dedicated decades of his life to the kingdom of God in Christ’s church.

This is what Carrie put above the cabinets in our kitchen at the parsonage. I love it and a few of the people in the churches have said how much they like this. We hope our home is a place in which bread is regularly broken and our lives and stories are shared.

But beyond these moments of the actual partaking of the broken bread, I’ve been able to “break bread” with them on another level; that when one “breaks bread,” she is sharing some asset or possession of hers with you. This other way I’ve broken bread with the folks I’ve visited is through sharing stories and lives. And though I may have shared a couple of my own stories with them, I’m more interested in hearing theirs. Stories from a man with Parkinson’s who served as a fighter pilot in 3 wars (WWII, Korean, Vietnam), who, after his first wife passed away, rejoined with his high school sweetheart who was also widowed and learned the joy of marriage once again. Stories from a 97-year-old lady who was reading Scripture as I walked in and she began to share with me about the lessons she learned of having a good work ethic, building a loving home, and the pride she had in her children’s lives, one of whom was a United Methodist pastor in a neighboring state. Stories from a man, whose wife attends church regularly and visits him, who decades ago lived a handful of miles away from my hometown working for a few years before making his way back to Camden, and has known the joys of married life for 70 years.

I encouraged the people at my churches to visit just one person a month to “break bread” in this way. To ask to hear one story of their upbringing, of their travels, of their children’s livelihood, of lessons they’ve learned somewhere along the way; and maybe every once in a while, share a bit of their own stories and there will have been an experience of mutual blessing in this “breaking of bread.”

Caring for and visiting those who cannot care for themselves…this is (part of) what it means to be the body of Christ. “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matt. 25:35-36)