Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Peace and Good Will

Do you find yourself longing for peace on earth?

The news of the massacre of children in school in Pakistan overwhelms me.  There is a part of me that becomes so angry.  Such senseless killings.  Coward is a word that comes to my mind.    The people in the world that are so powerless that they must strike out at the most vulnerable and powerless--children.  Education has long been the greatest threat to primitive structures of society.   The educated have long been the target of oppressors in world history.  Education cuts to the core of prejudice and injustice.  

The children of the world deserve peace

We are confronted with our own unrest.  The unrest of our culture in pursuit of justice while balancing order in our world.  One wrong does not justify another wrong.  Thugs--yes I said thugs--should not become martyrs of justice.   Yes there is an obligation of peacekeepers to a just process.  However, if one is being assaulted and in pursuit of a person committing a crime the situation is not innocent. A person's actions do have consequences.   Since riding with law enforcement  lately, I have become aware of their struggle and bravery to keep order in our world.

I still long for peace in my country.

What about the unrest in your own soul?  We all have it at one time or another.  It is with job.   It could be with family.  Sometimes it is just within us.   The seeds of discontentment are planted and begin to uproot our contentment.  Or contentment has always been a struggle for our individual life.  Surely there are moments of peace but we find ourselves back in the panic of life faster than we imagined.  Some of the unrest is a product of allowing others to "should" all over us.  We infuse other's expectations into our being.   "You should...."   

How I long for peace in my own soul more often.

Maybe we confuse what peace means.  We search for peace meaning the absence of struggle.  We define peace as a world where there are no differences.  Sometimes we want to define peace as when the world is like me.  I am not sure that would be as peaceful as my mind imagines.  

We sentimentalize the birth of Christ too much.  We will sing "sleep in heavenly peace" on Christmas eve.  Our sanctuaries will be so clean and proper.  Did Mary and Joseph experience peace?  Joseph was an older man who would be seen by his peers as marrying one of those young women that was undesirable.  His friends would think he had lost his mind.  Mary was a frightened young woman with far more questions than answers.  She must have felt very much alone.  They were homeless travelers relying upon the generosity of the world around them. Their first born son was born in a stable.   What sense of peace would they have experienced?

The peace is knowing that whatever life is happening around you cannot keep God away.  God has burst through the world to love you. God has insisted that God's presence and power be born.  The Word has become flesh.  Peace is the presence of  God.  During this season peace is the present of God through Jesus.  It is this present and presence that answers the unrest of our world both near and far.  It is this present and presence that offers our soul the peace that passes understanding.

Give peace and good will to those you meet.  Give it to yourself as often as possible.  Do not let anything rob you of the joy of this season.  

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Think of Mary for a moment.  

She is a teenage girl with the dreams like any young woman of her day.  Mary dreamed of getting married and having a family.  She probably played wedding like little girls do.  Mary would dream of having a family one day.  She thought of what it would be like to care for her children.  Mary had found someone whom she was ready to spend her life with--Joseph. 

Then God stepped in.

Mary feels her body changing.  It is the change of pregnancy.  She must have been confused in experiencing this.  Then the angel appears with even more disrupting news.  Mary probably thought, "Why would God do such a thing to me?  Why me?"  What will she do?  Who will ever believe such a story?  How would she tell Joseph?  What would be his reaction?  Where would she go if those around her did not believe this unbelievable story?

Sure enough she tells Joseph.  Initially it did not go well.  The Scriptures tell us that Joseph created an "escape" plan from Mary--to put her away privately.   He was not going to endure the shame and disgrace.  But then something happened.  Joseph had a visit from an angel as well.    His experience of the unbelievable made it all believable. And then he too had to decide if he was going to live in this unbelievable belief. 

When does the unbelievable become believable?  

As a little boy the tale of Santa coming down the chimney never made sense to me. No one had ever been up or down our chimney.   I can remember looking up the chimney and wondering.   And what about all those homes with no chimneys?    But then as a little boy, it didn't matter any more after I experienced Christmas morning.  All the wonderful gifts and toys outweighed any question or rational thought I might have wanted to ask. 

This has led me to believe that most of the wonderful gifts of God are to be accepted and experienced more than understood.  Our understanding is shaped not by our knowledge but by our experience.  Forgiveness makes no sense in our world.  It is seen as a weakness and vulnerability.  In God's world it is the only way that makes sense.  And when you experienced forgiveness, then it becomes believable. 

An old man admitted to becoming a Christmas scrooge.  Then a great grandson was born.  The whole experience of a new birth opened his life to the wonder of God.   His life regained God momentum! 

 The Advent message is about preparing yourself for the experience of Christ to be born again in our world. To many it makes no sense what so ever.  To those of us who have experienced it, it is the longing of our heart to experience it again and again. 

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Are You Making a List?

Are you a list person?

A list person is one of those folks that either has a  really bad memory, is overwhelmed, or needs to feel a sense of accomplishment.  Some list people are just easily distracted.  Or maybe you are a combination of all these!?!   

I never liked the image of Santa Claus.  He did not seem to me to be someone who I would want to chum up to.  It seemed to me as though he is painted as the critical parent.  Now if you are nice, I will reward you.  If you are naughty, I will call up my friend who some know as the God of the Old Testament and he will deal with you.  I always thought the God of the Old Testament label gave God a bad rap as well.  Neither one of these made me want to crawl up in their lap and say anything.  I guess I always knew how naughty I had been!

I have been on many lists.  I am afraid I may have been or still remain on lists that may not be a  good ones.  I am the preacher who ________ (you fill in the blank!)   I have always thought the role of the Gospel is to comfort those who need comfort and to make uncomfortable those who have become too comfortable in their living.  There is an unrestfulness about life when Jesus comes in fully.   Now do not confuse unrestfulness with the lack of assurance.  It is the assurance (Blessed!) that allows us to live in the unrestfulness.

So who or what is on your list?

Maybe your list should have some people or events that you need to forgive?  There is a much pain in the season because of our inability to forgive.  The memory gets in our way.  Or I called it "the Old Brain" (thank you Harvel Hendrix).  The "old brain" remembers every time and every person who ever hurt you.  It has no time mechanism so that the hurt seems to be in the now.    But it is not.  Without forgiveness you find it difficult to buy someone a present or sing "Joy to the World" to them.  You inwardly (and maybe outwardly) wish them little or no joy.  Certainly they deserve no peace.   What dead dog do you keep walking?  Dragging it along the sidewalk.  Probably stopping at every fire hydrant too!  

Make a list of those whom you need to forgive.  Wish them well.  Let go of it!  Close the open wound.

Maybe you need to make a list of people who need simple gifts.

Simple gifts are gifts of time.  It is a letter of encouragement.  It is a phone call  It is a "let's go out and eat!"  Simple gifts are kind words to a family member who has had a rough day.  Simple gifts are like the ornaments that you put on your tree that children and grandchildren made.    Rarely are they bought.  Simple gifts are made.  Simple gifts are even random acts of kindness.  Random words of kindness that overflow in your day.  

Maybe your list should be about you?

Sounds selfish but it is not.  Maybe you should create a list of things you want to change in your life.  Maybe it is a "bucket list" not of extravagance but of meaningful things that need to be done.  Do you realize that life is short?  Begin a daily conversation with God about this list.  Ask for God to help you with this list.   Change your calendar and thoughts about this list.  You may find Christ will be born anew in ways you never dreamed if you take this list seriously.

Make a list.  Check it twice.  Nah, don't buy into the naughty and nice.  Life is hard enough.  Grace is so much better than Santa ever dreamed.

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Gravy

Thanksgiving Gravy
When I was growing up Thanksgiving was a time with more food than anyone should ever have on one table.  I guess it is that way for many.  Most of the time it was also a time to meet new people.  Don’t even tell my mom that you were not going home for Thanksgiving and were going to eat alone at your house.   Her motto is  "More the Merrier!"
Then after the meal was finished, there were the others that were to be served.  We would fix a few plates for home delivery.  There was the widower that ran the shoe store.  He would be at work in his shoe store.   The store was closed but we would call and tell him we were on our way.  He would let us in and  thank us for the food.  There were the shut in couples that simply were not able to leave their house.  It was not unusual for me to have to sing a few bars of a favorite hymn or song for them as the delivery was made. 
But what I remember the most was the gravy.
Mandy makes fun of me and my gravies.  You see there were two kinds of gravy in my life—White and Thanksgiving.  
Biscuits and gravy were the special breakfast treat.  They came.  You never ordered them.  Breakfast for me as a child was never ordered.  It was on the table. The special breakfast was the biscuits (most of the time not homemade) and that West Texas white milk and flour gravy.  The only function the biscuits had was to make the gravy available.  Topped with as much pepper as one could stand, I thought that surely heaven had arrived.  I have a pact with my dad.  Should a day come where he does not know this world but cannot escape it, give him biscuits and gravy as much as possible!
Thanksgiving gravy is not a fancy gravy at all.  In fact, Mandy laughs at me when I gloat over it.   I think it is a can of cream of chicken soup with a few additives.  The specialness of it was that it only arrived twice a year—Thanksgiving and Christmas.    It is the topping for the dressing.  Again the function of the dressing was only to make the gravy better!
It seems to me that the world forgets the simple pleasures that just arrive on a special day in a certain context.  As I grow older, I am learning that most of the great things in life are not really expensive and cannot even be bought.  They simply arrive at special times with special people surrounding them.
Today is Thanksgiving.  May your world be filled with memories of the gravy in life.  In the turmoil of our world, may we give thanks for those who help create and give the gift of simple things.  Maybe life is not as complicated as we make it.
Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master’s Name,
Dr. M. Jack O’Dell

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What Bread Are We Offering?

Is there a correlation between football team's losses and church attendance?

Attendance at worship can discourage a pastor.  The competition for Sunday morning is rampant!  This past Sunday there was the mom/scout camp out.  Then let us not forget the opening weekend of Duck season--and the continuation of deer season.  And are there other seasons?  Oh yeah let's not forget soccer.  There are more kids on the soccer fields on Sunday morning than there are in Sunday School.  

In Louisiana there is also the loss factor that seemingly affects worship patterns.  Pastors notice that when the favorite team (LSU, Saints, etc) loses, the discouragement of the loss seems to keep parishioners away from worship.   The Sundays that follow a win there is energy and eagerness to tell the story of the win.  However, when the disappointment settles in, worship seems to be a distant thing. 

One fan apparently put the frustration in words, "If God is not going to give us a good quarterback, then I am not going to spend my time with God!"   There is a disconnect between a value in life and the one that gives meaning and value.  Now before you chuckle, realize that some folks value their team winning.  It is not just a game.  It is more than a game.  But what does that mean?

click here to see how sports can become more than we think!

Perhaps it means that we as the church have lost our ability to make disciples to transform the world.  We have simply become another fan base.  Maybe it means that somehow we as the church have not offered the bread of life.  Maybe we have served snacks much like the concessions of the game.  Maybe the concessions of the game have become more filling than the offering of our worship.

Or maybe we have lost the balm of Gilead?  Gilead, that region east of the Jordan river, where Jeremiah told the people of Israel of the mysterious healing perfume of the terebinth tree.  Jerry (I am sure those close to him called him Jerry!) would point towards them towards the healing made available by God in their presence.  Have we as the church lost the ability to give healing words to those who suffer great losses in their life?  Do we offer them the empty words of another season without compassion?  Our worship void of healing has left the world licking their wounds at home or at other places.

There is a turning point in Jesus' ministry where many were leaving him.  He turned to those closest to him and said, "Will you also leave?"  Peter answered,  "Where would we go?  You are the eternal life."  John 6:67  Peter was saying to Jesus that following Jesus was the bread of life. 

When the good bread is baked, cooked, and served the whole room and meal are transformed.  It's aroma fills the room.  Maybe that is what happens in the best of worship that no one would think of missing. What if we began to really serve the bread of life!  Can the church offer such bread in our worship?

What bread are we serving?

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell    

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Better or Bitter?

Life happens to all of us.  Jesus gave us the reality of it when he said, "It rains on the just and the unjust."  For some it is being in the wrong place at the right time.  For others it is a consequence of poor choice or bad judgement.  Sometimes it is the best choice in the worst of situations.  

As life happens our reality becomes a new reality.  You can try to deny the new reality but eventually it catches up with you.  Life is never constant.  You are either moving forward or backward.  It is an illusion that you are standing still.  The earth is always moving whether you feel it or not.

It is sad when one becomes consumed with bitterness.  The river of bitterness runs rampant in many lives.  You have heard bitterness.  Perhaps you remember the taste of bitterness in your world.  It is cynicism.  It is anger.  It is frustration. Many times it is a victim mentality.  Someone did or continues to do something to me.  Remember that people can only abuse you as much as you allow them to do so.  You do have some power in the game.     

The biggest problem with bitterness is that it consumes more energy than we like to admit.  In order for the fountain of bitterness to run we have to continually drink from it.  In life's limited amount of energy, bitterness can consume our thoughts and our speech.  It becomes our focus.  It becomes our poison.  

I have a close friend that every conversation held with him is nothing but bitterness.  There is little or no awareness of "kairos" time---time that is filled with meaning.  All of the conversation is "chronos"--counting days until this time passes.  It is difficult to even have a conversation with this person.  This person has imprisoned himself!  He alone must choose to get better. 

I use the analogy of hitting one's finger with a hammer.  It is a pain that most of us have known in our life.   It wounds us.  It causes us to shout out.  It makes us think the next time we have a hammer in our hand.  With bitterness, the hammer is IN our hand.  We are the one that keeps hitting our own finger with the hammer WE are holding!   We like to think someone else is doing this but the reality is that our thoughts are the force behind the hammer.

Bitterness keeps us from intimacy and happiness.

So what is the other choice?  We can change our thoughts to get better.  When we change our thoughts, our feelings will change over time.  Once our thoughts are changed and our feelings are adapting to the new thoughts, our behavior changes.  It begins in the mind!

Getting better is a slow process sometimes.  It requires us to think good thoughts again and again until our feelings and behavior change.  Getting better does not deny the reality of loss and pain in life but invites us to get our the umbrella when life rains on us.  Getting better is making a decision to put down the hammer.  Getting better is re-framing life.  Re frame that which is past.  Re frame from that which is harmful.  It is forwarding thinking. It makes note of what one learned from the pain and agony of life.  Life is not over.  I have the ability using the image of God within me to be creative.  

For many getting better is getting OFF the pity pot--"Woe is me!" (It is okay to sit there for just a while!)  For some getting better is realizing that one is really among the fortunate of the world.  For most getting better is creating new friendships that help us combat isolation and loneliness.  Getting better connects us to purpose and meaning in life's relationships.

It is a choice to be bitter or better.  The invitation of Jesus is always to be better!

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Winner or Loser?

So the election season is over.  Well most of it is over.  I am one that believes that if there is a run off that it should be held the NEXT week.  I can hear the universal groan when we are faced with another month of election rhetoric.  

Winners and Losers.    That is how we usually frame elections.  Somebody won and somebody else lost.  The Losers will fade into the background shortly after they are demonized.  The winners will take center stage and be given their opportunity to make a difference.

It is kind of interesting to note that Jesus won the popular vote of his time.  The crowds followed him.  They would follow him to be healed and fed.   Of course his crowds were usually the "losers" of the society.  Jesus hung out with sinners and tax collectors.  He did not mind being with the "untouchables".   Every once in a while the rich would come seeking a healing or asking a question.  But most of the time Jesus' friends were the popular losers of the day.

At the point where Jesus started really getting serious with his message, some of his followers began to leave.  His message was too hard to follow.  Jesus' concept of grace and forgiveness was too graceful and too forgiving.  His idea of discipleship was too demanding.    It was at this point Jesus turned to his most intimate group of disciples and said, "Are you going to leave too?"  Interesting question.

Did Jesus fear he was losing those whom he had won?

We seldom think of Jesus wondering about losing.  After all he is Jesus.  But I have to remember that Jesus WAS fully human.    There were times when he wondered if he was losing the battle and the war.  He was tired of being demonized by the religious right.  He was confronted with the movement of public opinion away from what God intended.  There is no doubt that he was affected by those who left as well as those who stayed.

The lesson in all of this for me is that sometimes the framework of the world is not the framework of the kingdom.    In the kingdom of God you are willing to lose all that is around you for the great pearl of the kingdom.  In this world, you can win everything life has to offer and lose eternity.  

A very successful politician sat alone in his office the day after the election.  He had won the night before by a landslide.  It was an emotion he had experienced many times before.  However, this one was different.  In previous days he had won the election by tearing apart all that confronted him.  This election he changed his strategy.  His strategy from now on was to do the right thing.  The right thing was lifting up the good in life.  The right thing was correcting the damage he had inflicted in days past.  In his own mind, he was transformed from a politician into a statesman.  How did this happen?

He held in his hand a note from his grandaughter.   The note said, "You are my hero because you always do good!"  He realized  that this was an invitation from God to become a real winner.  He made the commitment that day to become her hero.  He knew that it would only happen with a God presence in life.  His greatest fear now was not losing an election, but losing God presence and God direction.

What about you?  Winner or Loser?

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell