Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Looking for the Lost

So I am going to remind you that I am not required to tell you all of the stupid things I do.  However, I go ahead and do it realizing that these things happen to you as well.  You just don't have to write about it.   

If you have read many of the Mannas, you have heard me talk about our dog, Lisa.  Lisa is really Noah's dog.  However, when Noah went to college and life thereafter, Lisa stayed with us. Somewhere it is written that dogs never leave home.  Lisa is about seventeen or eighteen years old.  Her old eyes are covered with cataracts.  I am not sure how much she sees, but it is getting worse each year.  I know that she still sees the doggie treat!  Lisa can no longer hear.   She can hear/feel the loud clapping of my hands.  Other than that, she is oblivious to the world.   Lisa will now let us vacuum her hair as she is no longer scared of the vacuum cleaner because she does not hear it.  She likes the feeling of the vacuum on her old tire bones.    Not too long ago Lisa was with us at our daughter Rachel's house.  Rachel's dog, Libby, would growl at Lisa when she would get too close.  Lisa never heard it.

Lisa and I are visiting mom and dad in Minden.   Lisa usually gets in Dad's chair once he leaves it.  It is the rocker of the one who rules the house.  I think she knows it is the throne of power.  There are times she makes Dad sit with her.  My dad is not into sharing his throne with anyone.

Lisa has been on the throne of power.  There have been people coming and going in the house.  I get to the point where it is time for us to go.  Lisa is no where to be found.  I search the house and clap my hands.  I still holler thinking she might hear.  No Lisa.  And then I panic.   My family is going to kill me if I lose Lisa.  I will never be able to sleep in comfort again.   I run outside clapping and searching for Lisa.  I ask Mom to check the house.

I begin driving down the street looking for Lisa.  Block by block I slowly go stopping to ask anyone that I see outside if they have seen my lost dog.  Mandy calls me and I have to tell her that I cannot find Lisa.  I am sure that she is now calling the funeral home to make arrangements for my demise.  

Then my cell phone rings.  It is mom.  "Lisa was on the couch!"  Now there was a part of me that was elated.  Then there was another part of me that was pretty angry.  Finally there was a part of me that laughed.  Lisa had snuggled down under the pillows on the couch.  She was sleeping--oblivious to my calls.  Finally she responded to Dad's whistle.   I can imagine her saying this---"Me, you looking fo rme?"  As I came into the house, there she was wagging her tail.  When I told Mandy where I had found her, she laughed.  I am not sure if she was laughing AT me or WITH me!  

I thought about how this teaches me about my journey with God.  When God is not where I think God ought to be, I begin to panic. I can begin to search in so many places.  I begin to think thoughts that are not healthy.  And then, someone else points me back to where God is--waiting for me.    Waiting for me to embrace the faith once again.  Sometimes in this process I feel silly.  Other times I feel alone.  Then finally I feel elated to be found by God!  

I do not have to tell you these silly stories of my life.  But I do--praying that they will encourage you!

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Rev. Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Talking Snakes and Their Venom

So I am doing my morning walk listening to my music.  Life is good.  There is a dark spot on my street because the street lights can't get through the trees.  It is early in the morning and the sunlight is about an hour away.  And I step on it.

Geez!  I hate snakes!!!   What is a snake doing on the road? The road is not a snaky place in my world--at least not until now.   As I do my patented "Jack O'Dell snake dance"  I catch the glimpse of the varmint out of the corner of my eye.  The snake is as panicked as I am.  Fortunately we panicked in different directions.

Now I can hear some of you lecturing me about good snakes.  Do not even go there.  In my little pea brain, there is no such thing as good snakes or  good cockroaches.  If I would have been Adam, I would have refused to even name them.  

Speaking of Adam, I worried and wondered about snakes all day long.  So when did snakes stop talking?  One of those questions the Bible does not answer.    

In the biblical witness, the snake talked to Eve.    They conversed--much to the detriment of the world.

And if snakes talked today what would they say?  

As my other brother, Larry said,  "Did the snake write on the snake facebook, 'I was just lying in the middle of the road minding my own business when this 185 lb beast stepped on me!  I hate those beasts with their big feet!  Luckily I got away before he crushed me!'"

So when and where did snakes lose the ability to talk and be heard?  Or do snakes just speak where you cannot hear?

Evil is like that I think.  It crouches in the corners and does all the damage it can--gossip, talk that tears others down, criticism that is not founded in truth, or even stones of truth that are chunked with no regard for damage.  Evil invites us to the dark corners of life where words are used to the detriment of human relationships. The venom of their strikes is deadly. 

Eve empowered the words of the snake when she held on to them.  She allowed them to direct what she did.  She could have ignored the snake.  She could have told the snake to go take up his concerns with God.  But no, she listened to the talking snake.  She gave life to the venom of the snake.

Maybe the lesson we learn is to walk cautiously in our world because the snakes are going to show up in the strangest places.  The lesson we also learn is to not empower the venom of the snakes.    Too many good people have been hurt by harmful words that are given life. 

Your momma taught you this.   If you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything!  Or maybe she taught you this one too.   If you would not say it in front of the person, do not say it behind their back.

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Discipline of Prayer

So just be honest, are you intentional in your prayer life?

Many folks practice a random discipline of prayer.  Sound familiar?  "Oh I pray.  Sometimes in the car on the way to work.  Sometimes when I see an ambulance or firetruck.  Sometimes...."  Think about that strategy in other areas of life that maintain your balance and health.  "Oh sometimes I bathe.  Sometimes I eat.  Sometimes I exercise--(why our health struggles!)  It simply is not adequate for good balance and good health.

I think the issue has at least two parts.   First and foremost is time.  There really is no magic dust for this.  The bottom line is that we spend our time in areas that are important to us.  Look at the use of your time and see what you value.  If you are working 60 hours a week, your value is to get some kind of recognition in your work.  You want to excel!  Or you are really not very good in your work habits.  Science now tells us that once you get to 55 hours a week, your productivity begins to fall drastically.   Smart workers are better workers. 

The second element is know how or methodology.  This is where I want to share some thoughts.  You will need a notebook, a place on your phone (I use my Reminders App) or a file on your desktop or laptop.   Maybe this will encourage you or guide you into a more intentional prayer life.

Keep a list!

These are people that you are praying for---not THINKING about.  PRAYING FOR!  Listing will enable you to see their name and picture their face.  You can pray for them to be at their best.  Using that picture making ability of the mind is a gift.  If you do not know them, you can picture other images of goodness and health.  A list is a way to see answered prayers as well.  The list is always dynamic and changing.  

Intercessory prayer is listing and naming people before God.  It moves us out of our own little world into the suffering of others.  It is an invitation for God to enter into our world.  Remember the story of Jesus healing the man on the bed that was dropped from the ceiling?  The scriptures say that when Jesus saw the faith of his friends--the faith of his friends--the faith of the friends--he was moved with compassion and healed the man.  Are you willing to be a friend that brings the hurts of other friends into the presence of Jesus, the Master Physician?

As you begin, start this area with about ten minutes of time.


As you are quiet before God, what enters your heart, mind, and soul?  Listening can be initiated by the repetition of a scripture followed by moments of silence.  For example, start with the opening line of Psalm 23, "the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want...."  As you repeat this and then have silence.  What is God saying to you about your wants?  What want pops up?  What area of "wants" is God inviting you to accept?  What image of God shows up?  If there is silence, do not be afraid of it.  Wait.   Listen.   Sometimes friends have to sit for a while to speak.  Sometimes it is the peace of silence that is our need.

If you continue in this discipline, you will begin to hear again and again the ares of your life that God is at work.  I have found and believe that this practice gives me and will give you some direction in our life.  The random thoughts are not just thoughts.  They become inspirations--the urging of the Spirit of God in life.  I have found that it is during this time that certain people have been brought to mind.  I would make a note to call or write them.  And sure enough, they needed a prayer or a word of encouragement.

As you begin, spend ten minutes of time here.

Count Your Blessings!

The old hymn says "Count your  many Blessings, Name them one by one!"  An attitude of blessings cultivates a life of thanksgiving.  It will help you redefine what a blessing is!   Some in this world only spend time thinking and complaining about what they don't have!  The Christian life focuses upon what we do have and how God is at work in our world.   Abraham was blessed by God in order to be a blessing to all who followed.  Blessings sometimes is just the presence of God during the hard times as well as the good times.  

I have cultivated the discipline of leaving people with these words: "Have a Blessed Day!"  It is my way of encouraging others to see God in the midst of whatever happens. 

Write the blessings down!  Naming them will give you clarity.  The day that you cannot name blessings is a cloudy day indeed.

So now the question becomes, "What are you willing to do?"  Or will you give more intent in your prayer life.  When Jesus was instructing the fisherman, he said, "Cast your nets into the deep water!"  It was there that the disciples were overwhelmed by the catch.  I urge you to do the same in your discipline of prayer--Go Deep!

Pray for me as I pray for you.  I need your prayers!  You need the discipline!

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

One Old Dog to Another

Lisa and I are old dogs.  For those who do not know Lisa, she is the princess of the house.  She outranks me.  I have often said that if the house vote ever had to be between me and Lisa,  I am toast!  Lisa is about seventeen years old.  I am not sure what that translate into dog age but it is old.

Over the past few years, Lisa has lost her hearing.  Sometimes I think she is fooling us and hears more than we think.  Her eyes are glazed with cataracts.  She takes as much medicine as I do now.  But she gets a treat with her meds.  We give her meds to her when she is most excited about getting something.  

I am amazed at how much Lisa comes alive!  Yesterday evening Mandy and I went walking in the park and decided to take Lisa.  The sight of her pink leash brings her to life!  The newness of the park was overwhelming to her!  New smells.  New trees.  She missed half the people that passed by.  The other dogs barked at her and she did not even hear them.  When I stopped sometimes, she was pulling at the leash to keep going!  Her tongue hanging out but yet her tail just wagging.  

When she got home, she was exhausted.  I still have not seen or heard her this morning.   

I chuckled sometimes at how old dogs like me could learn some really good lessons from old dogs like Lisa.  Let me share a few.

Always be ready for the journey!  

When the leash comes out, go!  I have to admit that some journeys that God has put before me are not ones that I would have chosen.  I am sometimes a reluctant traveler.  Okay, sometimes God has to drag me, pull me--you get the picture.  I am the reluctant Israelite that sees bondage as a better option than the pillar that goes before me.

Learn to wag your tail more.

Old dogs still wag their tail.  It is a way of hospitality and welcome.  No one, or at least most people do not like to be greeted by grumpy old men or old women that complain.  One of my clergy friends had an interesting sermon title for the story of Mary and Martha.  You remember the story.  Martha is complaining about Mary not doing her part.  He called it "Bitchin' in the Kitchen!"  In dog terms, Mary is wagging her tail.  Martha has an old bone that she has been chewing on for a long time!

Maybe we should all wag our tails more.  (I hear those chuckles out there!)

When life is over people miss old dogs.

Maybe they will even miss grumpy old men too!

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Get in the Game!

So it is fantasy football time.  For those who do not know it is a computer league that enables you to pick professional players/teams and compete against one another.  It has become an alternative world for some.  I have to admit that it is a great place to have some "friendly" competition.

You have to draft your team.

You pick your team based upon their abilities and effectiveness.

United Methodist churches are in the process now of drafting their teams.  It is amazing to me how many of our leaders do not make themselves available.  I hear the whole gamut of responses.  "I do not have time."  "I have already done that."  I am always urging people in the church to realize that God needs the best to step forward and say "Here Am I!"  Surely the body of Christ deserves your attention and time!

You draft according to abilities and effectiveness.

There are some who really should not attempt to sing in the choir.  Likewise there are some who should not be in charge of some areas.  They are better following than leading.  Then there are others who need to be working with children or youth.  

I have tried to urge all to run to their passion.  I believe that if all would work diligently in their ministry of passion that the work of the church would be done effectively and adequately.    Now some will say "I don't know my passion!"  To those I would encourage looking at some of the tests that are online for gifts of the Spirit.  I would urge them to have a serious conversation with their pastor or mentor.  You can discover what has given you great energy in ministry.  Then jump in!

Each team/player has a bye week.

Everyone needs a break for a short while.   Give yourself time to rest.  But notice that it is only for a short while.  It is not a disconnect.  Rest is a good thing.

There are times when I spend a few days away and rest.  It is hard to "unplug" as a pastor.  But the truth is that I am a better pastor if I take good care of myself.  Work hard!  Play hard!  

The season is on!   Enjoy!  Have fun!  Get in the game!    The faith is not a spectator sport.

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Hidden Self

A few weeks ago I mentioned the annoying sounds in our life of sin.  I told the story of the smoke alarm constantly buzzing.  I tried to fix where I thought the noise was coming from.  As Paul Harvey used to say, "Here's the rest of the story...."

Wrong smoke alarm.   Duh.

I kept changing the battery on the smoke alarm in the kitchen as it gets the most workout when Mandy cooks!  Now let me be clear, she is not a bad cook.  I think the location of the alarm has alot to do with it going off.  So anyway, I am taking the alarm down, changing the batteries, and checking it again and again.  About to lose what little patience I have.  Then Mandy says, "It's the alarm upon the staircase."

So sometimes the annoying sounds of our life---sin--can come from places that we forget to look.  We know they are there but rarely do we go there.  It is that "hidden self".    The prophet, Nathan, helped David confront the "hidden self."  David thought that his little shindig with Bathsheba (did he call her "Bathy" for short?)  was well hidden from everyone.  But it wasn't.   Ever how good he looked on the outside did not make up for the inside story.  Isn't it interesting that when David was chosen the prophet, Samuel, was told to look at the inside?  When David had all the power, the inside was consumed.  

What about you?  Yes!  You!  The one you look at in the mirror.  The one you spend so much time grooming for public consumption.  What's on the inside?  Do you hear that annoying sound of sin or have you simply covered it with the makeup of the world?  One of my friends put it this way.  I used to think that most of the problems were in the people I met.  Then I realized that the problem came when I showed up!!  I found I could not escape ME!

It is also significant to me that I had to have Mandy point out the origin of my annoying sounds.  She does that pretty regular with gentleness and love.  Now I must admit that sometimes I really do not like her observations.  But I would have continued to be annoyed and look at the wrong place.  

We all need the Nathans in our life that will confront us.  The confrontation is not about destroying us but inviting us to redemption.  With no confession of sin, there can be little or no redemption.  

So the annoying sounds in the house have been silenced for now.  But I am sure they will return.   I will be sure and look upstairs first!!!

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

We ALL Are Difficult

I chuckle and smile when I remember her.  As you read this, read this with only the best of thoughts and a sense of gift.  For she was a gift to me and the church.
It is hard sometimes to love difficult people.  It is harder to define difficult people for there are more times than we want to admit that we ARE difficult people.
When I met her she and her family had been told by many churches they were not welcome to come back.  They were too disruptive or too difficult.  And the truth be told in many ways it was true.  But somehow it did not seem appropriate to say you are not welcome.  So we welcomed them.
She was the first to get to church on Sunday.  I actually had to tell her that she had to come later as I needed some time alone in the church before worship.  When she came, she demanded your attention one way or another.  So she reluctantly came later. 
I gave her a job.  She put the registration envelope and sermon sheets on the chairs—every other chair.  When someone came into the room and saw her doing her job, she made sure that they knew she was doing it exactly as the preacher had told her.  When she was done, she waited for me to give her a word of praise. 
Mandy gave her some dresses that her mom had passed along.  Again, you would have thought she had gotten them from Saks Fifth Avenue.  She wore the dresses with so much pride.  I think she enjoyed the fact that the preacher’s wife had thought of her in the gift.
During the songs of worship, she danced.  She sat at the back of the sanctuary but she danced.  There was no doubt that the dance before the Lord was authentic.  I think in her younger days she must have enjoyed dancing. 
She brought the preacher pies.  Now few of them were edible.  But she was so proud of her pies.  I would take them and thank her for her gift.    The food she brought to our fellowship dinners was not edible so we would quietly remove them.  When she asked, I would tell her that it was already gone!!!  She would laugh.
She confronted people in a nasty way sometimes.  I would have to tell her that her words were not appropriate.  I would tell her to be nice.  There were times when I would have to gently move her away physically.    When guests came to church, we would smile and tell them to understand that she would say some things that were not appropriate.  I would tell many she was a special gift from God requiring us to love.   Her discussions ended with the line, “the preacher said…”  Trust me I never said most of what she reported.
She dated Elvis, owned the Saints, and was filled with more stories than life could have ever imagined.  There is a part of me that always wondered if some of what she said was true.  I think all of it was true for her.  You never can tell where people have been! 
When I visited her in the hospital, she thought she was always being abused.  She was not a hospital friendly person.   I do not think she liked being cooped up!  But she would settle down when I would tell her that she had to do what they said.  They were helping her to be able to go home.  The nurses loved to see me coming!!
She loved her church.  She knew that the church loved her.  Oh that the church could love like this more and more!  Oh that the church could be loved like this more and more.
She is now dancing in heaven I am sure.  She gave me more than I want to admit.  She gave me a glimpse of how God loves difficult people right where we are.  
Remembering her I cannot do anything but chuckle and smile.

Pray for me as I pray for you!

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell