My thoughts on life, faith, and ministry in the world.

 

Signs, Signs, Everywhere A Sign

On my daily drive to work, I pass a number of churches. It is Oklahoma, so it is going to happen. In front of a number of those churches are church signs with relevant, offensive, idiotic, dated, over-used, catchy, inspiring, and/or meaningful sayings written across them. Again, it is Oklahoma, so it is going to happen. I told a friend the other day that “Pastors reading church signs are often like office workers reading the cartoon Dilbert. It is horrible, but way too true parody of real life.” With the proliferation of websites across the internet devoted to the very best and very worst church sign finds and even a number of church sign generators (so you can create your church sign from the comfort of home and your computer), it is clear that many others are in on the joke too. 

On a rare occasions, church signs manage to go beyond the mundane “You think it is hot here?” or “Jesus loves you”. They also manage to thread the narrow needle between relevancy and boredom. I came across one such sign earlier this week. The very simple sign at a local Church of Christ read: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you.” That line is from Psalm 55:22 and it hit my heart like a bullet. Twice actually.

The commute into work is normally my time to plan out the day in my head. What meetings do I have today? How many phone calls do I need to make? What am I preaching next Sunday? What activities and dinners are happening this month? Who is sick or in the hospital? With all those thoughts swirling in my mind, my morning commute is usually a pretty anxious time. It is a brief moment between “I have a lot to do” and “Let’s get started”. It is an in between time filled with worry, where nothing is resolved, and everything still lays before me.

That is until this week, when I drove past a church sign that was like a sign from God to me. Actually, I drove past it twice and in the same situation. Once on the way to work and once on the way home already thinking about the next day’s too long to-do list. I past it both times with a since of discovery and wonder knowing that message was for me. “Cast your cares (Tim) on the Lord and he will sustain you.” And you know what? I did and then peace. 

Many times, God talks to us in a still small voice. It is hard to hear and even harder to do. Other times, though, it is with a booming voice or an obvious sign that God directs us. In either case, will you notice? Will you act, even if the message is just for you?

Are You Ready To Step Up?

Rev. Jeff Francis is the chaplain at the University of Tulsa. He is a Presbyterian minister and avid football fan. In his tenure at TU, he has led countless worship services, renewed the connection between the university and the Presbyterian Church (USA), started a leadership and scholarship program for Presbyterian students, enlarged the TU chapel and Presbyterian student space, mentored, fed, and encouraged students, and even taught courses. He has touched and bettered the lives of thousands of people. Perhaps his greatest act as chaplain occurred last Saturday.

During the Tulane versus Tulsa football game last week, immediately before halftime, Tulane player Devon Walker was injured. In this day and age, it is not uncommon to see a football player injured. At these speeds and strengths, it is almost to be expected. This injury was different. Trying to make a tackle, Devon Walker hit, helmet to helmet, with another Tulane player. The blow was so powerful that it broke Walker’s neck instantly. Players from both teams called for help and trainers from both sides arrived quickly. As he lay lifeless on the turf, thousands of football fans watched in horror as medical personal not only tried to stabilize his neck, but revive Walker after he suffered a collapsed lung. CPR was performed. Devon Walker was dying. Eventually, trainers, doctors, and EMTs were able to stabilize Walker’s condition and transport him to the hospital where he is undergoing treatment as I write this.

Amid the chaos, fear, and tears, Rev. Jeff Francis walked on to the football field, was given a microphone, and through the stadium PA system, led the shocked onlookers in prayer. He prayed for Walker, for those helping, and for those struggling with what they had witnessed with family and friends. He pointed back to God and Jesus Christ and reminded them in whose hands we all were. It was a remarkably comforting acting, a blessed moment in the middle of such a tragedy.

In 1 Peter 3:15, is the classic scriptural statement “…always be prepared to give an answer (defense, testimony, witness) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have.” This verse normally comes up the context of biblical debates, but it probably fits better in the context of what we witnessed on Saturday afternoon. In the midst of tragedy, why do you believe? What can you say? Why do you have hope? Why should I?

I wish the events of that football game were unique. They are not. They are not for football or for the rest of our lives. Injury, heartbreak, and death plague us. And yet, we put our faith in a world and God that promises healing, hope, and new life. In the middle of such pain, will you comfort the weary by pointing the the hope with we have in Jesus Christ? Are you ready to step up?

Keep Calm and Carry On

The recent Olympics shined a renewed light on the history and character of the people of Great Britain. Dotted between track and field events, swimming heats, and the menagerie of other Olympic competitions were segments highlighting the long and eventful history of the British people. Of particular interest were the segments about World War II and the many hardships that were faced: constant attacks, fire bombings, food shortages, perpetual disruptions of daily lives, and the looming threat of death. It is hard for us even under the threat of terrorism to comprehend what the British people went through during this long struggle.

Amid those stories and in the background of a number of lives shots of the Olympics coverage was the above poster. “KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON” was an effort by the British government during the early days of World War II to keep morale high. It became the rallying cry for a nation and permanent part of the national ethos. As one author explains, it “taps directly into the country’s mythic image of itself: unshowily brave and just a little stiff, brewing tea as the bombs fall.”

While the Christian faith might not have a line as pithy as “KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON”, although we certainly try on occasion, we do have a faith that speaks to the same set of circumstances and marks just as deeply the heart of the Christian character. Dying on the cross, Jesus Christ sets the tone of our own faith in the most difficult of circumstances when he said “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. (Luke 23:46) Reflecting centuries of Jewish faith, particularly as witnessed in the Psalms, Jesus points to our only hope in the midst of life’s greatest moments of turmoil: God. We can work beyond all hope, we can do amazing things, we can be skilled above all expectation, but there will come seasons in our lives of faith where we are so challenged that the only act left is to faithfully turn over our spirit to God.

What would it be like if our Christian character truly reflected this model? How would our lives be changed if we lived into the abiding trust inherent in Christ’s final act on the cross? And moreover, what if we lived into it everyday, short of death and destruction? Could we, can we trust God that much?

Keeping the Right Company

A friend shared the above newspaper clipping with me late last week via Facebook.  When I saw it, my headed nearly exploded. It garnered a universally similar response from other minister friends and Christians. The title says it all “Church closes food bank because it attracts poor people.” That is right too many poor people. Apparently, the busy food bank was well known in the Winnipeg, Canada  for their food ministry and had been for long time. As one of the minister states in the article about why they were then closing the ministry, “It’s attracting a lot of street people that made it uncomfortable.” They decided to focus on more “church-specific ministries” and “people’s spiritual hunger” instead.

It is hard for me to fathom that taking place. Are they going to literally take the food out of the starving homeless person’s hands or simply put up a “Closed Permanently” sign once they leave? As a Christian, the choice seems unconscionable. There is a need in the community. You are already serving the need well. Keep doing it! It would be another thing if the church was short for money and it was a budgeting issue, but the article makes it sounds as though it was simply an issue of “We do not want to take care of these poor people any longer. We need to focus on ourselves.” 

And yet, for as much as we react in horror to this article and the actions of these brothers and sisters in Canada, how often do we make similar choices? We too are uncomfortable and anxious around people different from us. We also resist interacting with others even if they are in need. We constantly care about our own spiritual health more than the spiritual and physical health of the other. We choose ourselves and our needs daily. We would rather not be bothered by the brokenness and neediness of the world. We may not do it as openly or blatantly as our friends to the north, but perhaps we react so emotionally to their “ministry priorities” choices because they reflect too closely our own.

The ministry of Jesus Christ was on the margin of first century Jewish society as much as it was in the Temple in Jerusalem. He ministered to and with the poor, downtrodden, and looked-down-upon as much as tax collectors, fishermen, and physicians. He kept company with the clean and unclean unlike. They were united in their need of Christ and nothing more mattered, so Jesus went to them and even died for them.

Actively or passively, consciously or subconsciously, we make the same choices. Are we making the right choices? Are you? 

Technology, Magic, and Faith

In the Book of Acts, there are a number of interesting stories, even peculiar stories. The conversion of Simon the Magician in Acts 8 would be one or both of those. As you might remember, Simon was a magician in Samaria at the time of Christ. “They all paid attention to him, from the least to greatest, saying ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.” (Acts 8:1-11) That is until the evangelist Phillip came to town. 

Some time after Christ’s death and resurrection, Phillip came to Samaria preaching the  good news of Jesus Christ to the people there. They believed and were baptized. Phillip was so successful that, remarkably, even Simon the Magician believed and was baptized.

I am daily astounded by the ‘magic’ of our time. From the magicians of Silicon Valley to Wall Street to Detroit to the far corners of our globe, we are living in almost magical times. Could you have imagined just a few years ago that today you would be able to make phone calls from anywhere in the world? Or that your refrigerator could have television right in the door? Or that your car could park itself? I am constantly amazed by the technology and innovation. 

And yet, like the Samarians, we are offered something even more amazing in the good news of Jesus Christ. In so many ways, our lives are different than those who were living in biblical times, but perhaps not in this way. With all the ‘magic’ of our day, are we astounded and drawn into the gospel story? Can we be again?

Wanting More

Psalm 78 has quickly become one of my favorite Psalms. I go through seasons where particular Psalms speak to my condition or the condition of world at that moment. Psalm 78 fits now. Psalm 78 is both history lesson and present suggestion. It is warning and hope. Very human and pointing to the very divine.

Go read Psalm 78 and come back. I know it is long, but I promise it will be worth it.

You see what I mean? Here is God faithful again and again and here we are asking for more. God helps, delivers, saves, sustains, guides, protects, feeds, “split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers. (Psalm 78:15-16 ESV)” God gives to us the same food the angels eat and we want more. In Psalm 78:27, it vividly says that God “rained meat on them like dust.” This is every Oklahoman and Texans dream: a never-ending barbecue, and yet not even that was enough. They still struggled to believe. The greatest moment of faithful memory in Jewish faith is when God delivered them out of Egypt. They are reminded of that again in this passage. They still chased after other Gods. They still demanded more. 

I find Psalm 78 so instructive because we often have even more. We have been even more infinitely blessed. God has sustained, delivered, helped, protected,….. us too. I am still waiting on the meat raining down from heaven part, but besides that, in so many ways, I am just like these Israelites. Remembering all the great things God has done, especially in Jesus Christ, why do we still doubt? Why do we still want more? Why do you?

Cooler Thoughts

One of my favorite activities every summer, particularly when the forecasted high is going to be around 108 degrees, is to start looking forward to the fall or even beyond.If nothing else, my mind is in cooler weather. I also enjoy seeing the pace of church life quicken. I love that the fall brings people out of their homes and back into the community. In so many ways, fall is the spring of the church.

Our fall is starting a little early this year. In August, we start the new worship schedule. The first and third Sundays of the month we will be worshipping like normal at the Deer Creek Elementary School. The second Sunday of the month, we will meet at the Hilton Garden Inn for a fellowship luncheon and prayer service. Many times, we will even have a special presentation at these events. On August 12, Janet Theus will be sharing a presentation about her trip to Uganda last summer. The fourth Sundays of the month are dedicated to the church working in and meeting those in the community. Through prayer, service, and special events, we hope to connect with the community in ever greater ways. With this dynamic and active, schedule always pay attention to where and when we will be meeting.

The fall will also bring exciting changes to Connecting Point. The capital campaign for the new building will begin and we will break ground for the new building. One of the most thrilling activities of the fall is sure to be watching the construction of our new home! If you would like to give now to the building fund, talk to Jim Ferguson or Janet Theus. As we start to turn our focus more and more to the new building, we will also be thinking more and more about new ministry opportunities. With almost a thousand new apartments, tons of school traffic, numerous commercial developments soon to be close by, along with Farmers Insurance and Paycom which are already there, how is God calling us to minister to this area and these people? We will be asking this question a lot this fall.

And then there are all the things that will not change for this fall. We will still have education offerings for a variety of ages and interests. The Parents and Kids Night Out is continuing, as is the Young Adult Night Out. The successful Halloween Outreach Event will be back again…with even more candy for kids, I am sure. The stewardship campaign is on the horizon. We will again be joining together for a special Thanksgiving Meal in November. And your December will be full of Christmas Parties. FULL.

I hope this look into the exciting events happening this fall has cooled your mind and body at least briefly. Or at the very least, I hope it has distracted you from what I am sure is another 100+ degree day. Remember that regardless of what we do, how much we do, or how hot it is when we do it, the reason Connecting Point exists is to “to connect Christ and community to add faith to life.” We are about the truly good news of the gospel and the life giving impact that good news can have when it connects with people that need it!

Peace in These Times

A few years ago, we read Thomas Merton’s A Seven Storey Mountain during our Summer Book Club. The struggle and transformation of Merton’s life spoke to a number of us beyond the brief time we found ourselves in that book. I often go back to this book and his other work in times where I need particular inspiriation. With all the events, good and bad, of the last week locally and nationally, I found myself back reading Merton and stumbled across this prayer that I lift up to you now:

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

- Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”

This is my prayer for each of us this week. Blessings of peace to each of you.

Five Years Later

We are quickly approaching my five year anniversary at Greystone/Connecting Point Presbyterian Church. September 2, 2007 was the first Sunday that I was with you as your pastor and I remember that day well. I remember being warmly welcomed. I remembering being nervous. I remember the comments about me being “so young”. I remember the joy that having a new pastor (the first full time pastor in some time) represented for so many of you. And I remember the following weeks, as the church once again filled with life.

We transformed. We changed. We learned. We grew. We discussed. We moved. We are still moving. It has been quite a journey. As I think across these years, one thing has remained constant: the faith of this community. Whether it was when we were trying new things at Greystone Presbyterian Church, decided to move and launch Connecting Point Presbyterian Church, or today as we look forward to being in our new building next year, our faith in God and God’s call in our life has remained. I am thankful daily for that faith. It has allowed us to do so much.

I spoke last Sunday in worship about all the travel narratives of the bible. Everybody seems to always be moving. Sometimes we find they are traveling faithfully, like Abraham and Sarah, virtually across the known world. Sometimes we discover that it is because of their lack of faith that they are wandering, like the Israelites for forty years in the desert of Sinai. I am glad that we, more often than not, could be counted with the former rather than the later. 

It has been my privilege in these five year to travel faithfully with all of you. I look forward to more journeys to come. 

Building for Tomorrow

Last Sunday, marked another milestone in the history of Connecting Point Presbyterian Church. For the last several months, the Building Team has worked diligently with George Winters and Justin Elliot from Studio Architecture. At a luncheon on Sunday, the congregation saw for the first time what our new future home will look like. The building design was enthusiastically received by the congregation. The pictures above illustrate both the interior layout and the exterior view facing Rockwell Avenue. Nothing is final, but the pictures do suggest what the building will finally look like.

This luncheon followed months of discussion and work on the part of the Building Team. What do we need? What could we afford? How big does it need to be? What are our first priorities? What can wait until later? How do we make the building feel warm and attractional? How can this building facilitate our mission in Deer Creek? Will Christ be in this place? All of those questions and more are but a few of the things the Building Team discussed, debated, resolved, and solved. The unaminity of the Building Team throughout the whole process led to a palatable sense that we were being led by God.

One of the exercises that was helpful in the design process was viewing the architecture of other church buildings. What elements did the team like and not like in other buildings? Delienating likes and dislikes also help the team to get beyond vague descriptors like “modern”, “traditional”, and “contemporary” to particular design elements that we could incorporate in our new home. The result is a uniquely styled building that speaks to the particular tastes and needs of Connecting Point Church and Deer Creek.

I have used the joke several times now “that there is no youth room in the basement, because there is no basement” to point to the reality that this is very much a first phase building. We are limited on space and only the most essential priorities were included in this design. There is no youth room, parlor, full kitchen, fellowship hall, adult Sunday School rooms, or conference room. No space was wasted either. In this design, we have two classrooms: one for a nursery and one for a children’s classroom for our vital children’s ministry. The sanctuary does double duty as the fellowship hall where we can worship and then easily converts into a space to eat catered meals. The entry and common space will be where we gather before church and during the week to drink coffee, eat donuts, and sit and chat. That space opens directly into the sanctuary via retractable overhead doors to give the feeling of a larger, more open space. No inch was wasted outside either. Around the building will be nicely landscaped spaces where we can sit on benches in the shade, watch children play on the playground, or have picnics on tables or the lawn. I am excited to see this new church take on a life of its own as we begin to build and then inhabit these spaces.

The hope for the future in everybody’s eyes at the luncheon on Sunday made Sunday a milestone day, but there is still more left to do. We need your continued prayers, your continued support, and your continued work for the future of Connecting Point. There is still a lot more left to do to make the pictures above a reality!