Month: January 2019

Freedom from the Tyranny of the Self or, You Are the Body

Often I take a manuscript into the pulpit. The preached sermon will vary. Below the post will be a link to the preached sermon.

Pastoral Prayer: Holy One, by the power of the Spirit Jesus came with the Good News. We risk missing it for we only hear the Law. Forgive us for taking the Good News and making it into a new law. By your grace set us free to love – all bodies, even your Church. And all God’s people say, Amen.

He would stand in the mirror before we left the cabin for evening worship. Upon checking out his hair and clothes he would declare, “I’m so pretty.” Just like that. The young man was years ahead of People Magazine’s, Sexiest Man Alive feature begun in 1985. People has since offered its award for the most attractive male annually. Notice, Michael declared himself pretty. People recognizes attractive as sexy.

My friend Jason, who has been here with us a couple of times, generally uses self-deprecating humor when talking about himself. Except, except, when talking about his baritone voice. His line about his voice? His line that he has used in a sermon or two? “I have a voice so manly it comes with its own chest hair.” How does he get away with it? Well, he is much younger than me. He is in a different denomination where he is assigned to his congregation. And, some may give him a pass since he carries in his body the death sentence of terminal cancer.

After thirty years as a full-time pastor, almost twenty-five of those years spent right here, I thought it high time we have a talk about the body. Not my body. After all, some of you know that Tommie picks me up every weekday at 5 a.m. in order to buffet my body. Remember, we are Baptists who tend to take the Scriptures literally and somewhere we misread buffet as buffet. The Apostle Paul wrote these words translated in the old American Standard Version,

But I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after all that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.

The more modern rendering, in for instance, the Christian Standard Bible,

Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

Ideas about the body, during and after the time the Apostle Paul would have written these words, assumed anything material was bad. The body is material. The body is bad. Undercurrents of this idea have run along the rails of human history. Today we witness the same idea in body shaming. Consider art from not too long ago and we see something very different from what you find in Men’s Quarterly or Vogue Magazine. Thin indicated poverty. Thick reflected wealth. The idealized images of today actually become a social law under which humanity suffers an incredible weight.

Eating disorders, yo-yo dieting, and so-called healthy eating all indicate the cruel imposition the law has on human beings. Did you hear that? When we work to understand how the Law functions to enforce expectations – social and moral – we get a better understanding of grace when we discover that we have been forgiven and set free from the law. Remember, the Apostle Paul reminds us that the power of Sin is in the law. 

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 

We are crushed beneath the weight of its constant reminder that we are not good enough, smart enough, strong enough or pretty enough. How can we fail to see that this is the most unifying human experience?

It is no different for the Church in the world today. The analogy works. Every ideal assigned to the Church becomes a law unto itself. The same power that works to shame the human body would enjoy nothing more than to shame the Church as God’s Body. The metaphor is right there, in the Scriptures. The Church does not do enough. Under the breath the specific charge is, The Church does not do what I want it to do. What that means is that the Church suffers the Body shaming normally expected from those on the outside only it comes when you or me idealize a vision for the Church from the inside.

It also means that a young pastor friend may be right. We were texting the other day and he sent this,

I came across [John] Wesley talking about how he’d not preach anything but justification to non-Christians or new Christians, sanctification only to those ready for meat. I think we are in a milk only moment.

My response? The response I sent back?

Given that many have conflated their faith, or understanding thereof, with American Civil Religion, I don’t know how we are not in a milk only moment.

The reference of course is to the Apostle Paul who described the need for us to move on from milk to meat. One thing about this working out regimen that Tommie lured me into is that it comes with a coach that knows her nutrition. Not only does she have the command of a drill sergeant, she also requires that we actually tell her what we are eating. Imagine that we are paying for this! When I open the Facebook App on my phone I wince when Julie has tagged me in a post. That means she is going to tell me that I have not been eating very well. Not enough protein, she scolds. 

I fill out the Diary of the My Fitness Pal App and hope that when I click the nutrition tab, I will feel the weight lifted. You know, the weight of not living up to the law of percentages. It is for my good. I do feel better. Little does she know that at my age no matter how well you eat or exercise, when the clock strikes 2 p.m. it is like Smokin’ Joe Fraizier delivered an uppercut and I am often looking for a power nap. Her insistence is that we are building muscle. I muse to myself. She does know what I do for a vocation, doesn’t she. Why normally we are poster folks for body shaming ourselves. I digress.

Our growth has been stunted by a low protein diet. We fail to build the muscle of resistance to the foods that have as their label, God and Country. There is no God and Country in the Scripture, particularly the New Testament. There is only an Empire that creates unhealthy conditions for its people. Look at conditions of the people Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61 – poor, captives, blind and oppressed. We think they describe others. But, under the banner of Country, Empire, that is us, all of us. Listen to the so-called religious leaders that consort with power. They have created for us a new law, bow or be ridiculed as disobedient. This is the milk of our diet. 

The law is every where. But the one place that it should not reign is in the Church. When we find the law in the Church, it usually comes under the pious conviction used in the sentence, “This is what our Church should be doing.” Whatever this is that is not connecting people with the grace of God is for some other organization, not the Body of Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer described this as the wish dream. We bring our wish dreams to the Church and it disrupts our life together. How? Because the wish dream becomes the law for everyone else. This is the argument in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. 

Stand firm then and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

When we submit again to a yoke of slavery, we need a message of milk. We reached for the meat too soon.

That brings us back to the body. Each of today’s Texts point to something about the body. In Nehemiah Israel gathered like one body at the Water Gate to hear the Scriptures read. 

Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and with their hands uplifted all the people said, “Amen, Amen!” Then they knelt low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

Their bodies were involved. No, this is not to invoke a new law here at Snow Hill. The point is that the people involved their bodies. In fact, even though they realized they had missed the law, Ezra told them not to weep but instead to eat and drink and have a great celebration because they understood the words that had been explained to them. They had lived under Empire while in Babylon. Hearing the word of God explained led them to celebrat.

Maybe Paul had in mind Israel standing as one body listening to the word of God when he pressed the metaphor by saying,

Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it.

Often all we hear is individual. We fail to connect ourselves to the Body. But, Paul did. He pointed out that we are Christ’s Body by God’s Spirit. There is no shaming Christ’s Body. If we point to the Psalmist that writes that we, our bodies, are fearfully and wonderfully made, is it any less fearful and wonderful that by God’s Spirit we are made to be Christ’s Body?!

This takes us back to the reading we heard in Luke 4. Don’t miss this. Jesus got up to preach. He used Isaiah 61. And then, he went out and practiced his sermon. How did Paul not take this from Jesus,


Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

Here is some milk.

First, Jesus’ message was not for those folks over there. It was for us. It is for us. We cannot read Jesus’ sermon as though it was for someone else. We are the poor. We are the captives. We are the blind. We are the oppressed.

Second, Jesus cut off Isaiah’s words about judgment for he would take in his body our judgement. This startles some and confuses others. The law judges harshly. Though the Psalmist says the law of the Lord is good, the law does not redeem or rectify. The law lifts the ideal and condemns those who do not keep it. The judgment of the Power of Sin upon us is taken up in Jesus’ own Body.

Third, Jesus declares God’s grace – God’s favor. This is forgiveness. The tag line of a Church in Manhattan is, Enjoy your forgiveness. That might be worth borrowing. Enjoying our forgiveness entails connecting people with God’s grace. That is, when we hear the Good News, we look for ways to connect people to it.

How? 

Look around you. Here is what we are doing. It is not all we are doing. But at present it is what we are doing. We will not be working through the list and checking it twice to see who is signed up with at least one of these opportunities. That would be creating a new law. Instead, we are presenting to the Body what we do in the enjoyment of our forgiveness. Consider it an invitation to enjoy with us.

Freedom from the Tyranny of the Self or, You Are the Body


On the Other Side of the Ash Heap

There is not going to be a return to things as they were. Or are. Think of it as the notion that to step into a river at the same place, does not mean you are stepping into the same water. The water in which you stepped in downstream.

It is not hard to become captive, enslaved, to things as they were. Marriage counselors often hear, “We would like to get back to the way we were.” While the sentiment is appreciated, it is not possible. The way you were is what led to where you are. But, what about mental illness? Is there a better on the other side. After all, we are not in absolute control of our brian chemistry.

Trust the Process

On this episode of Patheological my friend Scott Curry, who self-describes as a *lifer* when it comes to depression, encourages us that even with the chemistry we cannot control there is a process that may lead to something better on the other side of the ash heap.

We continue mapping onto the experience of depression the story of Job. Scott fell in love with Hebrew Wisdom Literature and in turn the book of Job. While wrestling with his own experience with depression, he noticed some helpful if not future altering connections that led him to exhort those who might be battling depression to trust the process. There are similarities to what we might suggest to those battling addiction.

Courage?

Scott does not offer a self-help remedy. He does insist the move to life after the ash heap, after working with mental health care professionals in light of one’s self-awareness there is an issue with ongoing depression, calls for courage. One teaser. Often we read the end of Job and are not sure what to do with the description Job receiving double what he had before. Given the poetic nature of the literature, Scott prods us to think of the way we feel after such a low time – the pain and suffering with depression – as life is twice as good.

Give the episode a listen. This is really a culmination of three podcasts that stretch from last year to these past two episodes. The most recent may be found here.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.

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Katy’s Long Obedience In the Same Direction

Sister Mary Katherine. No, not Sister Mary Clarence. Katy was no Sister Act, not an undercover nun. She was my first grade Sunday School teacher.

Only in more traditional Baptist churches did you hear women referred to as sister. Don’t let we Baptists know that Roman Catholic women, given to simple vows, have been referred to as sisters longer than there has been a Baptist Tradition. We would quickly adjust our confessional statements declaring such a designation anathema if we knew.

About two weeks I drove my Dad and Mom to Portland Avenue Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. That sentence sounds like it is such a long trek. It isn’t. We went to the funeral for my first grade Sunday School teacher I knew as Mrs. Kilman. Spellcheck changed it to  Kidman. Not kidding.

The funeral folder reminded us that Katy influenced many in her 56 years at the Crestwood Baptist Church, the church of my childhood and youth. I will be 56 in May. She spent another 25 years at Portland Avenue Baptist Church. If you are keeping score, that is 81 years. I have some to go to get my 81 year pin. Katy not only taught me in Sunday School. She also taught me in Training Union, think Baptist discipleship for children. 

One Sunday evening, I was maybe 6 or 7, we covered the story of King David and a descendant of King Saul. David and Saul are pretty simple names. No trouble with pronunciations. Saul’s grandson, Mephiboseth, received kindness from the new king. It was an act that ran counter to the practice of most new power families. When I heard Saul’s grandson’s name I giggled. So did Randy and maybe even Jimmy. It was the sort of funny that you could not stop. The more we realized we were laughing at a Bible name, and the momentary guilt that we might somehow be acting sacrilegiously by thinking the name was funny, could not overtake our belly laughs. Katy’s husband, John, saw it humorous even as he tried to settle us down to listen.

We weren’t scolded. We were loved.

Over the years of my childhood, Katy taught in Vacation Bible School. She had the voice of an angel. Beautiful alto harmonies added to the Ladies’ Trio of which she was a part. She sang in the choir, in the alto section. Katy and my mother worked with our church’s Senior Adult group – The Jolly Elders. They may have been the initiators of the ministry at Crestwood. Katy’s mother, Grace “Nanaw” Peterman, was my first lawn mowing customer when I was 9 years old. Katy’s daughter-in-law,Mary, taught in our Youth Department when I was in high school. Katy’s grandson Ryan was the ring bearer in our wedding nearly 36 years ago. To say this family holds a number of special places in our own family is an understatement.

One of my favorite books is Eugene Peterson’s, The Long Obedience In the Same Direction. Centered on the Psalms of Ascent, Peterson’s reflections key in on life as journey. The songs were sung on the way, during pilgrimage. We make much of achievement, of accomplishment, the arrival at a destination. Teaching children the Bible is less an achievement and more a journey. First graders move on to Second grade and on to the Third. A Teacher shows up to do it all again. It would be easy to see how over time we must adopt a different vision since a year in elementary Sunday School is not accompanied by finals, exit exams as it were. What is being taught is that we are not alone in our journey through life. God is with us. So are his people.

Ron, Katy’s oldest son, led us in congregational singing. He encouraged us to sing the parts. I sat next to my Dad and we sang the bass line. The gathered family and friends sounded like a church choir. Sitting near me was Maria. We grew up at Crestwood. We graduated from high school and college together. We sang in the Youth Choir. I saw adults I had not seen in more than 30 years. The memories were rich that day.

Thirty years. 

Sitting in the service and reflecting on Katy’s faithfulness to family and faith and God’s faithfulness to her, I realized that in January of 1989 I began serving my first church as a full-time pastor. The church that put up with my novice attempts and had faithfully provided young preachers a place to begin. I am not sure I achieved the average tenure in its history. Reading the list of their pastors put the average at between 2-3 years. I served about 16 months. 

It was not happy feet or a forced departure. I had been accepted into the Doctor of Ministry program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The move to a church closer to the seminary would make me more available to Patty and the girls should a need arise. Otherwise, I would be gone during the week for four weeks at a time, three times a year. A five hour commute every day would have made it largely impossible to succeed in the program. I commuted for three years in college but the drive was less than an hour.

This summer I will have served Snow Hill for 25 years. When I graduated with my MDiv in 1988 the average tenure was somewhere between 2-3 years. Using that figure, I have pastored somewhere between 8-12 terms at one place. My predecessor served for 25 years. In fact, since 1968, Snow Hill will have had just two pastors. God willing, I may be privileged to spend the rest of my time as pastor right where I am.

Some days I wonder what influences have led me to think a pastor may, if possible, remain at one place for a long time. Brother Justice pastored at Crestwood for more than 20 years before retiring. Brother Carpenter, our Bible History teacher in high school, was pastor of a small congregation in south Oklahoma City for a long tenure. Brother Emery pastored at Snow Hill from 1968-1993. I know there are others.

Maybe it was Katy, and those I knew/know like her. Today, many look for the day when they can retire from serving in a local church. Know this, young boys and girls remember those who taught them in Sunday School when they were children. Sometimes it even sticks that despite the ups and downs of church life, the highs and lows, helps them weather their own experience of the highs and lows faithfully at one place for a long time as adults. Sure, what we are physically able to do over time may change. Serving others may last a life time. It did for Katy.

The practice of a long obedience in the same direction haunts my memories and provides hope for my future.

A Depression From Which You Cannot Run

No matter what you have been told, there are things you may not pray away. The Apostle Paul noted that he had prayed three times for a thorn in the flesh to be removed. It wasn’t. Three times may be a euphemism for over and over and over again.

“I’m a lifer,” Scott Curry. Pastor

New Year’s Day for many is a time to reset, restart. It provides the occasion to think about what could be better, different in the coming year. Disappointments and difficulties give way to possibilities, to potential. For many, though, New Year’s Day is none of that. According to research out of the U.K., New Year’s Day is the opposite for many.

My friend Scott Curry joins me for another conversation on Job. We had this discussion in September. I thought the episode was forever lost. After editing the podcast I am inclined to think it more timely today than then. You be the judge.

Scott has been pastor at the First Baptist Church, Gruver, Texas, for 23 years. His interest in Hebrew Wisdom Literature began long ago and has led him to his work on Job. Scott also suffers from depression. He noted that there is a depression away from which you cannot run. He talks about his own experience with depression through the lens of Job.

You Are Not Alone

Too often the Church has not known what to do with mental illness, mental health. Depression, for many observers, seems counter-intuitive to the claims of faith. Many have been wounded by the words of friends. “If you would just,” may begin many a well-intended word of encouragement. Empathy does not begin with what the sufferer needs to hear from the encourager. Most often that is simply protecting the encourager from facing his or her own internal questions.

If the Church has not known what to do with depression and the depressed, it surely is flummoxed when the pastor suffers depression. Fear and anger often result and no one is helped.

Pastor, or pastoral care provider, you are not alone. Listen, you are not alone. Should you need someone to talk with and are not sure where to turn, email me: doc.todd@gmail.com.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.