Incarnation

Governor Stitt Aims for Oklahoma’s First Top Ten Win . . . In Firearm Deaths

Our new Governor laid out his goal to make Oklahoma a top ten State. Who would have thought that before education, justice reform and healthcare that Oklahoma would pass legislation with the promise of the Governor’s signature that will surely propel Oklahoma into the top ten of states with the highest rate of firearm deaths?!

According to the CDC, Oklahoma is currently at number thirteen for States with the highest rate of firearm deaths. If the statistics from other states that have passed permitless carry legislation inform what we may expect in Oklhaoma, Governor Stitt will get his dream of making Oklahoma a top ten state sooner than later.

What defies common sense, and surely the common good, is that permitless carry was not one of Governor Stitt’s platform planks. There is no outcry from any majority for this legislation. More than 80% oppose this. The Oklahoma Legislature has run House and Senate Bills so fast that Law Enforcement has not had time to weigh in. And, it looks like it is too late.

Many people have hoped that Governor Stitt would undo eight years of Mary Fallin. Who knew that he would undo one of the best acts she undertook when she vetoed this legislation just last year? The Governor is not up for re-election. Even The Oklahoman’s Editors noted what a waste of time this is. Who cares that Representative Echols checked with the NRA. What about Oklahomans?

There is hope. Maybe Governor Stitt will be called upon by religious leaders who follow a King who said to Peter, “Put away your sword.” Gathering for a prayer service to the God of Jesus Christ at the outset of his term might need to be followed with a commitment to the Prince of Peace.

Today I was invited to speak to this issue as a representative of Oklahoma Faith Leaders. Who knows if this will make the news. I offer it here in hopes that maybe, just maybe the Governor will keep his eye on his top ten list that would make us proud, not more bloody.

My oldest grandson, Cohen, will turn sixteen in seven years. His Dad, Craig, is a Driver’s License Examiner. There is no chance that Cohen will be allowed to get behind the wheel of an automobile without training, license and insurance. Not only would his Dad not allow it, neither would the State of Oklahoma. Putting a teenager behind the wheel of a potentially deadly weapon without training has made little sense to anyone. Requiring training and a license helps protect the common good from those untrained, unprepared. Why would we offer a 21-yr old to carry a gun, an intentionally lethal weapon, without a permit or training? Even an 18-year old on the grounds they serve in the military.

Craig supervises the DPS station in Chickasha, he is recognized as one of the best. He insists that teenagers pass written and driving tests before sending them on to a Tag Agency to obtain their much coveted license. Craig also has made sure that those who drive semi rigs over the roadways maintain their CDL’s. None of us would have any confidence should a would-be driver take to the highway with a heavy load behind an 18-wheeler. No. The State requires training, licensure and driving logs for professional drivers. We would not dare let loose untrained drivers to carry goods across the Country, risking the lives of others. It’s not that we dare not do it, we don’t do it.

My congregation represents a cross-section of opinions. Some of our folks possess conceal carry permits. Others frequent or work gun shows. We, even me, are not opposed to guns. We, not me, are not looking to confiscate guns. But, it is clear permitless carry is not legislation intended for the common good. What sort of common good is it that our State would make intentionally lethal products available to untrained young people, the most frequent demographic subject to gun violence. 

There is a likelihood that my presence today will startle friends, even church members. It could be some will object. They will wonder why couldn’t I just leave politics to the Legislature. I wonder what it is that makes our current, liberal, gun laws require the Legislature, with the promise of the Governor’s signature, to pass high risk legislation to satisfy a minority on the promise of more money for re-election. Who’s common is that good for?

My church members should not expect any less from their pastor than to suggest the way of peace does not include greater access to deadly weapons, particularly without training and regulation. To ask the pastor to stay out of politics at this point is to request he ignore Jesus’ message of peace.

Cohen, Max, Fox and Marlee need not worry that others their age will drive a car without training and permits. But, they need not grow up in an Oklahoma where they will wonder if their peers are carrying an intentionally deadly product without training and permit.

Can’t Drain the Swamp

Luke 4:21-30; Jeremiah 1:4-10

Pastoral Prayer: Lord God, it is easy for us to get tied to things as they are. After all, it is what we know and have known. We admit that we really like Jesus’ message of planting and building his Kingdom. We do find it hard that Jesus also challenges our idols. We fear what we might lose. Help us, Lord, to see that grace is greater than all our sin. And all God’s people say, Amen.

Ecologists tell us that it is not good to drain the swamp. Plant and animal life need the available water to survive. Remove the water and there is a rupture in the ecosystem. Things die. Rebecca Harrington noted in a piece for the Business Insider, written in 2016, that the practice of draining swamps was popular when malaria was a problem in the U.S. and Europe. Keep the mosquito population down and maybe you could reduce the incidence. 

If there is anything we know, we have not rid the planet of mosquitos. Do you really think we could? 

Human beings cannot drain the swamp, you know, the one Ronald Reagan called for in 1980. Reportedly it had been found that there was $424 billion dollars of waste that could be cut from the Federal Budget. Drain the swamp. Reagan appointed the Grace Commission. After the report was combed through, it was learned that the writers had included in their numbers items that were necessary, not wasteful. The recommendations were never implemented.

The phrase stuck. Anytime you need to rally voter sentiment in one direction or the other, just shout, Drain the Swamp. I suspect that had the phrase not been first used in 1903, it may well have been floated in Israel. Think about it. Over the course of 208 years, Israel, even if divided between North and South, suffered through 38 kings. Of those 38, 33 were considered evil kings and only 5 deserve the description righteous, or good. Human begins can’t drain the swamp.

What is it? Well, Washington, or Jerusalem, seem like handy scapegoats. Blame those leaders for all the ill in their respective countries. But, before you decide to do just that, remember, those swamps are filled with people just like us. Don’t forget, Israel asked for a king. With all the sadness he could muster, Samuel relayed the words from God. He told them what would happen should they get a king,

These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants.  He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants.  He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men[a] and your donkeys, and put them to his work.  He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.  And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.

For more than 200 years the people lived most of their time under the rule of kings that gave them what they wanted. Or, maybe it would be better to say, they served under kings that produced for them the sort of leadership that magnified their own faithlessness.

Have we learned much?

Before Israel’s captivity in Babylon, Jeremiah heard a call from the Lord. YHWH, Israel’s God, had given the young man a commission. For 40 years his voice could be heard. Jeremiah describes God’s actions and the content of his message,

Then the LORD reached out his hand, touched my mouth, and told me:

I have now filled your mouth with my words.

See I have appointed you today

over nations and kingdoms

to uproot and tear down,

to destroy and demolish,

to build and plant.

If you are keeping score, that is four verbs that describe demolition and two verbs that paint the picture of renewal. That is a 2 to 1 ratio of words that foretell loss. Some get distracted. They think this is about Jeremiah. What we find in the Scriptures is that Jeremiah is God’s object, not his subject. That is, the story is about God renewing and restoring. He describes God’s activity. Before there is building and planting, those things in the way of faithfulness must be torn down. Focusing on Jeremiah would reveal a prophet of little success. Jeremiah was saddened. No amount of positive thinking would change the very real landscape of a people who could not drain the swamp. They could not see they helped create the swamp. 

Jeremiah is often referred to as the Weeping Prophet for he exclaimed,

If my head were a flowing spring,

my eyes a fountain of tears,

I would weep day and night

over the slain of my dear people.

Compare these words of Jesus,

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

Nearly six centuries had passed between the fall of Jerusalem and the time of Jesus. Yet, the message given Jeremiah rings in the words used to describe the Messiah.

He has done a mighty deed with his arm;

he has scattered the proud

because the thoughts of their hearts;

he has toppled the mighty from their thrones

and exalted the lowly.

He has satisfied the hungry with good things

and sent the rich away empty.

And these words,

Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed – and a sword will pierce your own soul – that the thoughts of many hearts many be revealed.

A sign that will be opposed – the hearts of many will be revealed.

Uproot. 

Tear Down. 

Destroy. 

Demolish.

Jesus had just stood to proclaim the very words spoken about him by his mother had come to pass,

Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.

Quickly the crowds buzzed with enthusiasm. The idea that the LORD had sent someone to change the system, topple the institutions of oppression, to break up the monopoly of power energized the crowd toward Jesus. Luke records, 

They were all speaking well of him and were amazed at his gracious words that came from his mouth;

Even in their praise of Jesus, the witnesses to his work in Capernaum, and the way he handled the Scriptures, they could not get beyond what they saw,

Isn’t this Joseph’s son?

Firmly stuck in the world as it is, the people poured cold water on their own enthusiasm. Did you get that? Gracious words of deliverance. Amazing words of promise. Despite the hope in Jesus’ words, they built a wall and dared Jesus to scale it. And just like that, Jesus did not opt for positive thinking. He began to uproot their ideas of what is. He called attention to the sort of thinking that needed to be destroyed. He spoke in such a way as to demolish their dependence on more than the very words of God. Jesus demolished their reliance on their own judgement. He exposed the swamp.

And to be a sign that is opposed – that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

We not only hear the themes of Jeremiah’s words in Jesus’ preaching, we witness the living out of those words in the life of Jesus. Rather than evoke images through words, God made clear in Jesus what filled the hearts of people. Try as we might to paint a better picture by downplaying the walls we build and emphasizing our confidence in human potential, human history does not lie. 

And that is what Jesus does. He tells them history does not lie. When the people were faithless, God sent the prophet Elijah to a foreigner, some outsider, a widow. When people were faithless, God sent Elisha to Syria, to an outsider. Plenty were hungry in Israel  during famine and many were afflicted by leprosy in Israel, but their lack resulted in God showing up elsewhere. Lest we think God only shows up among us, that we can wall God into our tribe, our group, these stories demonstrate how God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Telling the people their story did not convince them. Instead it exposed them. Rather than own their faithlessness, they became engaged at Jesus. They drove him out of the synagogue – for us the church – and brought him to the edge of a cliff and intended to hurl him over the cliff and be rid of him. 

But, it was not his time.

Hear me please. Jeremiah was given words that pointed to the creation of a new community – one built upon the faithfulness of God amidst the faithlessness of people. Jesus embodied those very words and plants a new community built upon his faithfulness to do for us what we cannot. We don’t rely on human beings to drain the swamp, we trust in Jesus who by his death and Resurrection drain the swamp of its power and influence over us. In fact, if you like a more vivid picture of the Gospel, Jesus entered the swamp and took all of its infectious parasites that represent the Power of Sin that build walls, structures and institutions that keep us sin sick, to borrow from the old evangelists. In his body he bore the disease that kills us and suffered death that comes from our exposure to those parasites. Then to demonstrate the power of God over our disease, in the Resurrection, Jesus tore down, uprooted, demolished and destroyed our enemies so that in us He may create a new community of hope.

Often I take a manuscript into the pulpit. The preached sermon will vary. Here is a link to the preached sermon.

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


Disruptor(s) Needed: A Conversation with The Alan Noble

Business disruptors. Sports disruptors. How about Church disruptors?  The story is told of a pastor who, while preaching, noticed his son chewing gum. He is said to have stopped the sermon and instructed his son, “Paul, go spit out your gum!”

It Will Take More Than Gum

More than 50 years later, gum is the least likely disruption in a Sunday worship gathering. You have not lived until someone stands up and begins shouting at the preacher. It does not matter that the person was barely coherent. The experience is decentering.

Accelerated change in the cultural surroundings left, and leaves, churches with few options. Often it felt, and feels, a losing battle to other choices available to church-goers and potential attendees. Many have already identified the condition as a loss of privileged status. Christendom, as some refer to it, described the period when, for example, schools would not plan extra-curricular events on Wednesday evenings in deference to local church schedules.

Today, winning churches succeed, or so it seems when they market themselves as a positive lifestyle option. Christianity is not a lifestyle option no matter the marketing prowess. If Christianity has become one lifestyle option among many, how would a formerly radical message be renewed? 

Who Will I Send?

Not just a few theologies offer a critical analysis of Christianity as lifestyle option – Liberation Theologies, Womanist Theologies, Radical Theologies, and Radical Orthodoxy, to name a few. Dismissed by some as merely perspectivist theologies, voices from within these theological movements have identified the secularizing influences often missed by dominant culture theologies.

Who might help identify the trajectory that led us to the place where the Church, churches, seem as susceptible to secularizing forces it has so vocally battled? If you answer someone like Charles Taylor, then be prepared for pushback. Not many would wade through an 800-page tome like Taylor’s A Secular Age. More importantly, how would one appropriate the insights Taylor provides that result in descriptive phrases like buffered self, immanent frame and expressive individualism? Particulary how might the Church, churches, and pastors/leaders identify the ways discipleship to Jesus is affected by these trends?

The Definite Article

Enter Alan Noble, @TheAlanNoble. In his new book, Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age, Alan answers the aforementioned questions for the Church, churches, and contemporary forms of Christianity. Pastors, this is a most helpful resource. It is not a cliff notes version of Taylor’s work, though you will find it an excellent introduction to Taylor’s assessment of the secularization hypothesis and its failing.

More than that, Disruptive Witness calls attention to the Church, and churches, as the needed disruptive witness for a world turned inward. Voices of hope are needed in a world represented by persons reduced to individuals that express themselves in hopes their chosen identity becomes the transcendent for which they long having been told truth resides within. Disruptive Witness calls the Church, and churches, to forego assuming themselves closed off to what Darrell Guder described as the Continuing Conversion of the Church.

Take a listen. Share the podcast. Buy the book. 

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.


Why Can’t We Be Friends? We Are!

Who listens to sermons? My young friends at Crackers & Grape Juice tell me that younger people listen to podcasts, and may read sermons, at a much higher clip than, well, people my age. Jason does call me an old man. The research they point to actually indicates that sermons matter to more than the one who delivers them. So . . .  Read More