And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.

And he shall be the one of peace- Micah 5:4-5a

I’ll never forget the first and only time I was referred to as a “fine young chap.” I was sitting up in the balcony with a few friends at Barlow United Methodist Church during a cluster revival meeting of the UMCs of Ballard County, Kentucky. The visiting preacher had this very distinguished British accent with an inviting tone and compelling stories that drew his audience (or at least me) in to try to capture the vivid details and concepts he was portraying. The visiting preacher’s name was Dr. Reginald Mallett and he was from England. Unlike most ministers with the prescript “Dr.”, Dr. Mallett was a medical physician, not a doctorate by means of a Ph.D.

The late Rev. Dr. Reginald Mallett was both a minister and a physician.

The late Rev. Dr. Reginald Mallett was both a minister and a physician. Dr. Mallett passed away on September 8, 2010. You can read more about his ministry in a lovely article written in the wake of his death. See http://www.lakejunaluska.com/reginald-mallett/

After the service was over, I went down to shake his hand upon my departure, and he said, “Oh, you were one of the attentive fine young chaps in the balcony today! I hope you will come to some more services during the week.” That is what I just did. I took in every message and found myself compelled and confirmed in my recent direction to answer the call to ministry I had been perceiving. I found his sermon delivery very appealing as he would repeat the same Scriptural text or line from a hymn to serve as transitions throughout his sermons. This is a practice I have employed as well, though at times I perceive I have much growing to do in making the transitional phrases flow much smoother.

For those of us who cherished Dr. Mallett’s sermons, we are grateful that he set several of them to print. Last year, I checked out a copy of a book with a collection of his sermons delivered at Lake Junaluska. One of the sermons in that collection was about shepherds and when I read the Scripture from Micah, at the top of this post, in preparation for this Sunday’s sermon, I remembered an anecdote he relayed to his readers…

Edward Rogers told us how on this particular Sunday as he and the family were just about to begin lunch there was a loud knocking at the front door. It was one of the farmer’s neighbors. “Quick,” the neighbor cried, “Your sheep are in the wire.” It was obvious that this was a fairly common emergency to which the family was accustomed. As if on cue they all immediately rose from the table and rushed out to rescue the sheep. Edward Rogers confessed that, wearing a clerical collar, he could not sit idly by so he reluctantly offered his services. He was assigned one part of the field and as he went amongst this high grass, searching for sheep he said dryly, “I was unlucky, I found one!” He struggled to extricate it from the barbed wire as the terrified animal wrestled with him. Eventually, he finished up with the sheep in his arms, although he confessed that he was not sure whether he was carrying the sheep or the sheep was carrying him. Just then, the farmer arrived on the scene. “Here, let me have that sheep Mr. Rogers,” he said. Rogers then told us how the farmer, a big, strong man, his sleeves rolled up, arms lacerated and bleeding from encounters with barbed wire, took hold of the front paws of the sheep in one big fist and the rear paws in the other. He then slung the sheep on his back like a sack of coal and carried it to safety. The preacher concluded, “Now when I think about the good shepherd, I see that strong man, his arms torn and bleeding, carrying that stupid, struggling, frightened creature from danger to safety.

Something about that story communicated to me the significance of the promise of a coming ruler who would reign more like a humble shepherd who was willing to put his life at risk to save and take to safety an entangled sheep than a domineering sovereign who would overpower his unruly subjects.

Advent is for the tangled and torn sheep like you and me, unable to break free from the barbed wire that holds us in bondage. And we’re promised here by Micah that our promised rescuer will administer peace, that is, bring reconciliation and wholeness, not from political power, economic coercion, nor military might, but from a small village that is home to the likes of disreputable shepherds…one who would make and give peace, “not as the world gives” but “through the blood of his cross, reconciling all things to himself.”

Tangled and torn? The shepherd who is the prince of peace is on the way!

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I’m now a few weeks removed from having preached the series at Liberty’s revival on the Prodigals & Prophets. One of the details of the parable continues to stick out in my mind and blow me away. With all the love and forgiveness that the father lavishes on his lost son who has returned, the one that stands out to me as the most puzzling, at least at such an early stage is the command given by the father to the servants that they put “sandals on his feet.” I find myself asking, “Really, Jesus? A father who puts sandals back on the son’s feet? Don’t you realize that opens up the door for being hurt again, perhaps even worse than the first time? After all, he’s been in a few rough parts of the world that we wouldn’t dare dream of here in the safety of this farm. Sure, let’s put a robe on him, give him a ring, and have a nice barbecue, but you really want to trust him enough to give him a way back out again?”

In preparation for the sermon on the centrality of the father in the parable, my mind raced back to the class I took in college on the 8th century prophets (Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, & Micah were the prophets whose ministries were during the 8th century BC). With all the things that I forgot from that 8:00 am class, two things I remember: 1. the time the professor started to ramble in his prayer one day and began praying for aliens; and 2. the gut-wrenching, tear-jerking analysis of Hosea 11. Now, Hosea’s story certainly has some interesting twists and turns, many of which are not analogous to a parent-child relationship but to a spousal relationship. Nonetheless, chapter 11 portrays the compassion of a heartbroken parent whose children have lost their way, were “bent on turning away from” God, and yet though showing tremendous disappointment, admits an unwillingness to give up on these children. “My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” What moves a parent to have such compassion?

Hosea 11 showcases the “covenant faithfulness” of God: that God remembers his faithfulness. This isn’t meant to imply that God had “forgotten” it, but that the ultimate character of God is remaining true in faithful love to God’s people. God remembers, among other things that, “Yet it was I who taught them to walk.” Examine what happens in the message of Hosea, the parable of the returning son, and a modern rendition…

God’s children had used their pedagogy to walk away. The younger son received the inheritance and walked away with it. A rebellious teenage daughter is taught how to drive and is given the keys to her parents’ car and decides to leave town with it.

God’s children had lost their way and were scattered without a home and without hope. The younger son wasted half the family fortune and found himself desiring to eat pig slop. The daughter runs out of gas, finds some ways to remedy that and get by for a while,  but eventually runs out of options and gives up the car to keep the collateral from being herself.

God doesn’t give up…

They return. He comes home. She hitches a ride back.

View of the feet from Rembrandt’s painting of ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’. (Photo credit: snailskin.blogspot.com)

“They will walk after the LORD…” (Hosea 11:10); “put sandals on his feet” (Luke 15:22); “Here’s a key to our new car”

Really, God? You’re willing to trust them? him? her?

“We are accustomed to finding a catch in every promise, but Jesus’ stories of extravagant grace include no catch, no loophole disqualifying us from God’s love…I imagined God as a distant thundering figure who prefers fear and respect to love. Jesus tells instead of a father publicly humiliating himself by rushing out to embrace a son who has squandered half the family fortune.” – Philip Yancey

“Behold with wonder and pleasure the gracious reception they find from Divine, injured goodness!” – John Wesley

“Yep. Sandals. They’re my children. My children, like me, are free.”

One of the most popular shows on Food Network is Iron Chef America. On each episode an esteemed chef in some exotic or specialty restaurant somewhere in America challenges one of the “iron chefs” to a cook-off, in which the challenger and the iron chef each build a 5-course meal around a “secret ingredient,” which has to be present in each of the dishes. This can get really interesting when chefs have to decide whether they want to push the envelope on coming up with something creative for a dessert when the secret ingredient is something that is not generally associated with a dish that would round off the meal nicely. Anybody in the mood for some lobster ice cream? No, thanks.

But often times, one of the chefs will dedicate one of the courses to promote a variety of ways a single item can be prepared and served on the same plate. Hence, the judges for the competition may be served, “Tuna: Three Ways” when the secret ingredient is tuna.

An example of yellow fin tuna prepared “three ways”; photo credit: tuvoweb.com

As the parable of the father and his two sons (see Luke 15:11-32) has been unfolding this week in revival at Liberty UMC, and in particular how the elder son shows his unwillingness to forgive and embrace his returning younger brother, I began to consider the various ways in which we tend to serve up our forgiveness to those on whom we’re called to show mercy. In the heat of the moment when someone has wronged me and I’m particularly peeved about it, here is the course I am tempted to serve up called, “Forgiveness: Three Ways”…

The first way I’ve prepared it is with a hint of sourness that will remind you that forgiveness isn’t always a sweet thing. When you bite into it, you’ll be reminded of the fact that I told you so. I told you that if you went down that road, you’d get hurt, but you didn’t listen, so now you get to taste some of the taste I’ve gotten to enjoy these last few years. So yes, I forgive you, but admit that I was right! Enjoy!

The second way I’ve cooked up this dish is perhaps something you’re used to hearing and may sound a little bitter, but I really don’t care. It’s the “I’ll forgive you, but only because I have to” method. I do want to let you know that even though I am required to love you and forgive you, I don’t have to like it or like you, for that matter. Cheers!

The final way I’ve prepared forgiveness is packed with a little extra kick that you don’t realize is there until a few bites later. I call it the warning of what’s to come if you try to hurt me again. I like to live by the phrase “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Well, I don’t want to be shamed, so I’ll let you know that I’m not gonna put up with any nonsense again. Bon appetit!

Now contrast that course with this one…

“I saw you and was moved with compassion. I ran to you, hugged you, and kissed you. Then you said to me, ‘I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve…’ But I said to others, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting because this person was dead and has come back to life! This person was lost and is found!’ And we began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24, reworded)

Rembrandt’s oil painting is more well known than this one, but this drawing was also done by Rembrandt, with pen & brush and is another wonderful portrait of the loving embrace of the father with his returning son. Photo credit: wikipedia.org

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.

The last couple of weeks have been rather busy as I’ve been preparing for speaking at revival services at Post Oak UMC, and an additional service at another church near Camden that invited me to speak on one night of their revival. So that’s why it’s been a little bit since my last post.

At Post Oak’s revival, I wanted to open the window a little bit into the world of what’s been driving my research throughout my graduate and postgraduate journeys as I have been investigating the doctrine of the atonement, in particular from a Wesleyan/Methodist perspective. So I decided to do a series on some of Jesus’ statements from the cross recorded in the Gospels. Jesus’ dying words have been significant in uncovering the mystery and story of our salvation as it has been achieved through the Incarnation, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Cover of Adam Hamilton’s ‘Final Words from the Cross,’ which was a very quick read, but beneficial in offering pastoral words that convey the significance of Jesus’ dying words. I heartily recommend this book. Photo credit: sony.com

In the statements he uttered and shouted from the cross, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness, of hope and promise, of provision and encouragement to care for others, of his own need, of bold faith and empathy with the human condition in our times of feeling abandoned, of victory, and ultimately of submission to the will of his Father. These words are moving for us as the speak not only of Christ’s work for us, but also of his work in us, enabling us to offer the same words to those around us as we follow our crucified Messiah.

What I found particularly interesting is the timing of this series and how it coincided quite well in expanding the content of my message  on the Sunday morning on the day the revival started. My message last Sunday was based on the Lectionary reading from Ephesians 4-5, with the key verse being 5:1, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

While most impersonators in comedy sketches today focus their energy on perfecting the tone, accent, and appearance of the famous persons they are imitating, the type of imitation of God that St. Paul encourages us in is in having the same attitudes and feelings, actions, and even words of God. That is, if we are beloved children of God, we imitate God by saying what God says. Again, the Holy Spirit enables us to imitate Christ in our suffering by offering the words of forgiveness, hope, encouragement, pain, thirst, victory, and submission to God.