Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Poking Holes in Darkness

Darkness is frightening.

As a little boy, I remember looking under the bed.  Some guys will never confess this.  I also remember needing a night light.    In the darkness my eyes, my thoughts, and everything that God put within me to be creative worked against me not for me.  It is not what God intended.  But it was the reality of my humanity.    What am I continues to be a part of my humanity.  It is hard to admit such a struggle.

When we are confronted with news of illness, our creativity works against us.  We begin to think ahead and assume some things that may or may not be true.  A pastor makes a hospital visit and finds a family member stressing while waiting.  The creative mind that God has given us to know God's people and God's presence has gone awry.  There is no peace that passes understanding.  There is panic and anxiety.  There is isolation and loneliness.  There is darkness that is all consuming.

I have experienced that darkness.  In some regard we all have.  What am I saying....I, we all, will experience it again at some time in our journey.

In our experience of darkness, great harm can come to us and others.   We have the ability to do great harm to ourselves and others.   Do you realize that on an average, every 13 minutes a person does great harm to self and others.   They let the darkness consume them and overcome them.  Life comes to a tragic end. Suicide does great harm to many, not one.  

The tragedy does not end there.  Our society will talk about most anything else than the reality of the tragedy.  Do not talk about darkness, suicide, and depression.  It will go away.  No it doesn't go away.  It continues every 13 minutes.  It consumes more of God's children.  The more progressive a culture is,  the more often it happens.  Progressive cultures have not time to deal with those who are perceived as weak or losers.

Maybe it is a call for us to regress as a culture. Maybe it is a call for to admit our humanity.  Maybe in order to value all of life, we all admit our struggle with darkness at some level.  And as we invite this conversation to the public square, we give birth to a new compassion for all in any darkness.

My friend, Tracie, gave great insight into our world when she said, "Never mistake funny people for happy people!"  Our world loves to mask the reality of the pain of the soul---humor, work, and even success.   On the outside the mask makes one look great.  On the inside darkness consumes.

Years ago, the streets were lit by streetlights that were constructed with a candle in a box high above the street.  Each night a man would go down the main street of the community lighting the candles that gave light.  One evening a little boy looked out his window to see the man lighting the candles.  Without a moment's thought, the little boy exclaimed to those around him,  "Look, there is a man poking holes in the darkness."

May we do the same in our world.  Do not let darkness consume you or anyone else!

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell


Wednesday, August 6, 2014


There are some folks who are not current.

You have heard what it means to be current in prayer life.  But many are not current in their church membership.  Oh it does not matter.  I can hear that battle cry now.  Hold on a minute while I put my hip boots on.

Okay, now I can continue.

So let me get this straight.    Check out this list of questions to ponder.

Do you not update your programs on your computer?  When the latest version comes out to take care of bugs, you decline the offer.  As long as you are still running some version of the program it is okay?

Do you not reconcile or check your bank account?  As long as I show up every once in a while and make some deposit, there is nothing to sweat.  Forget that $2000 bank error that might be present.

Do you not keep up with your child(ren's) or grand kids progress in school or even their attendance?  They will do whatever they will do.  Oh year, I will plug in when needed but I am not going to intentionally do that much. 

You belong to no professional organizations to show your support for their good works or to influence your professional development.  These too are not just necessary to be effective in your employment.

You belong to no health club, no country club, no tennis club or anything that would require you to "sign up".   These just take up too much of your time and energy.

And your place in the kingdom of God, your witness to the world, and your calling to be in the Body of Christ holds lesser value than any of the above?  Christ has no hands but yours in the Body of Christ.  Belonging is the way we say a public "Yes!" to Christ and to those around us.  It is saying "You can count on me!"    

The Vardon Trophy is one of the most coveted prizes of the PGA.  In 1987 South African David Frost won over a half a million dollars and had the best scoring average on the PGA Tour yet did not win the coveted Vardon Trophy. Why not? Frost was not a member of the PGA!!

The faith is not about winning trophies.    However, there is an old hymn that we sing that has a wonderful line in it.    George Bennard was a Methodist evangelist.  He started out in the Salvation Army (which many do not realize is a denomination).  Bernnard left that organization to become a Methodist.  During a revival meeting in 1912, he was ridiculed by some for his faith.  In response to this ridicule he wrote the old hymn we sing, "The Old Rugged Cross".    The chorus says, "So I'll cherish the old rugged cross, til my trophies at last I lay down...."   

I am convinced that the gospel calls us to be as current in our church membership as we are in any other area of our life.  In fact, the gospel calls us to make that one of our first priorities.

Are you current?

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"All In"

As a child I would look for treasures.  I would create a map and then follow it to find the treasure buried there.    Sometimes I would create a map for someone else to follow.  There is something about treasures that capture our heart.  Some people go to yard sales or estate sales looking for hidden treasures.

Jesus told the crowds, not the disciples, parables about the kingdom of heaven.    He used the image of it being like a treasure that is found.   Once the treasure is found, the one who has found it goes and sells ALL that the land where the treasure was found might belong to him.  

Then Jesus goes even further.  He says the kingdom of God is like a great pearl.  Again the response of the one who finds it is to go and sell ALL that one might have the priceless pearl.

There is one other place where Jesus pulls the "all in" card.  The rich young man comes to him.  The young man is a good man. He has followed all the rules of faith.  But then Jesus places an expectation before him that he never expected.  "Sell ALL you have and give it to the poor!"  Nope, not gonna happen.  The young man went away saying, "You must think I am stupid!"    Ironically this is the only person that Jesus says this to.  

All in.   

Now some of us are thinking like the young man, "Don't you think that is a little much to ask Jesus?"

Jesus looks directly into our eyes and says it again,  "All in".  

What would you life look like if you went "all in" with Jesus?  How would your day be different?  What difference would there be in your family?  your church?

"All in" doesn't mean that you become a monk, a religious fanatic, or even quit your job?  It means that the center of your life is now Jesus.  Everything--and I mean everything--revolves around your relationship with Jesus.  

A young man finally surrendered his life to Christ and took seriously his relationship with the church.  After a while, he share with a friend these words, "This is what I have been looking for all of my life--this happiness, this acceptance, this order.  I never know that going "all in" would be all that I needed.  And now I know.  And everyday I begin my day with these words---Today I am 'all in' with you Jesus!"

What about you?  Are you willing to be "all in"?

Pray for me as I pray for you.

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Are You Current?

When I go out to eat with friends, the blessing is open eyed and simple.  I look around the table at the ones that God has put in my life that day and say, "For the blessings of food and fellowship, we are thankful!"  It is a simple prayer that can be shared in public.  It is an act of gratitude and affirmation of fellowship. Some folks who are not accustomed to my practice will actually miss the prayer!  I have even had some who felt that it was not enough and needed to really pray.

My dad is a very simple man when it comes to religion.   If you arrived at his house and it was time to pray, he would ask you, "Are you current on your prayer life?"  What he was asking was, "if I ask you to pray are you gonna pray all day long and be catching up on my time!"    Sometimes after hearing some rather long winded prayers, he would murmur under his breath, "That person was obviously not current on his prayer life and felt the need to catch up on my time!"    After a long sermon, Dad would make the observation that the preacher had missed several good endings to that sermon.

So what about you?  Are you current?

We would never think of being behind in certain areas of our live.  For example, how many of us are behind on our consumption of food?  We make sure we eat pretty regularly.  If you are behind on a note, you pay the penalties or can even lose your possessions.  If you are behind in your relationships, they suffer.   But what about your prayer life?  Do you stay current?

May I offer some helpful words for those who might be lagging behind?

Set a definite time to pray--several times during the day.  The "on the move" prayers should be the lagniappe of your prayer life.  Recently our bishop has invited us to pray at one p.m. for the children of the world who are refugees.  Set your alarm at one and join us!  I start my day with a more intensive time of prayer.  Then through the day, I have a couple of other times that are more intensive.   Then there are some minutes (like one p.m.) joined with "on the move" prayers (like when I see an ambulance or a person who is in distress or homeless.)

Have a place to pray.   There should be some holy places in your life.  That when you go there, you seek to be in the presence of God.  It may be a rocking chair on the porch.  It may be under a tree at work.  The place will beckon you after a while.  Jesus obviously had some places in his life that he would go to in solitude away from the crowds.

Have some resources.  There are so many great prayers that are recorded in the life of the faith.  Harry Emerson Fosdick has a wonderful book, The Meaning of Prayer, which contains so many prayers.  A Diary of Private Prayer has been a part of my life since seminary.  I say a word of "thanks" for David Switzer sharing it with me as a seminary student.   

Keep a list or journal.  I consider it a holy privilege when people ask me to pray for them.  Once people know that you take prayer seriously, you will receive more requests than you can remember.  You will also be amazed at how a name will "jump" out to you at particular times.  The Holy Spirit does more work than we imagine if we do our part!  

When I was starting out in ministry, I was youth director for a youth group that was nicknamed, "The Wild Bunch!"  They were appropriately named!  Life was an adventure with them.  We went to a basketball tournament at the Ruston Children's home.  One of the wild guys volunteered to say the prayer before the game.  I knew this prayer was going to be special.  With his bandanna on his head dressed as a Redneck as you can imagine, he offered these words:  "Lord let us not play this basketball game like a bunch of heathens!  Amen!"   

In his own way, he was current!  What about you?

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A More Excellent Way!

The young pastor was reared in the New Orleans metropolitan area.  He knew that neighbors had to watch out for one another.  He arrived in his new appointment after graduating from seminary.  It was a small town.  One morning in the early hours, he noticed this car going through the neighborhood.  The car would pull into every driveway and the driver would get out.   Then returning to the car, speed out of the driveway and down to the next house.  The young preacher followed from a distance.   Finally he called 911 to report the suspicious behavior.  It wasn't long until the local police pulled up to his driveway where he was still watching out!  The policeman pulled down his window and said, "Yup preacher, you have to watch out for those guys reading the water meter.  They are terrorists in disguise!"

One of my first jobs was a paperboy for the Minden Press Herald. Actually it was my second job.  My first job was being a shoe shine boy at the barber shop on Saturday mornings.  As a newspaper boy,  I would show up at the local newspaper office after school and roll my papers.  Then I would get on my bike and ride my route.   The total time invested was about two hours a day.  The only thing I would watch during the ride was to make sure the "throw" of the newspaper landed in an accessible place.  If it hit the porch, it was just a good throw.  If it missed, close enough.  The only time I stopped was when the throw landed in a place where the paper would not be found.  On rainy days, my mom would take me in the car sometimes.  If there was no lightning, I still rode my bike.  I threw papers for about a year.  It was a good learning experience for me.

This morning I am doing my walking (UGH!) in the neighborhood and I noticed a car stopping every once in a while.  The car would pull into the driveway, stop, and then pull out.  It would go down the road only a few houses then do the same thing.  Finally I figured it out.  It was the morning paper delivery person.  Instead of simply driving down the road and throwing the paper in the driveway, this  morning paper delivery person pulls into every driveway and throws it.  I have to admit that I always thought my paper ended up closer to my door because a morning walker would place it there.  (I had a neighbor in Shreveport that placed every morning paper in the neighborhood on the doorstep!)  I have to admit that the last person that I expected to impress me was my paper delivery person!  But  I was impressed by the more excellent way this person has found to deliver the morning paper.

Paul in his letter to Corinth urges the young Christians to seek a "more excellent way" with regards to gifts of the Spirit (I Corinthians 12:31).  Churches who practice radical hospitality practice a more excellent way of ministry.  Just getting the job done is not acceptable.  There is an attitude of excellence that is sought.  And it does make an impression! "Those folks take this Christian hospitality serious!"  

Contrast this attitude with a sign that someone gave me years ago that is in my office:  "How much sin can I get away with and still go to heaven?"  Minimal Christians get minimal results.  Their witness is about ankle deep in the waters of life.

Do all things with excellence!  Do all things as if you are doing them for Jesus!  You are!  Seek a more excellent way!

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Older I Get

Mandy and I just celebrated our 27th year in matrimony.  It just doesn’t seem like it has been that long.  Now don’t get me wrong!  We have had our ups and downs.  Marriage at its best is that way.  It just doesn’t seem like we are old enough to have been married 27 years.  It is time that is passing—maybe too quickly.
This week I will celebrate my 58th year on this planet earth.  It has made me think about how time has passed.  My high school class of 1974 will celebrate its 40th reunion year this fall.   The first Sunday August I will have been preaching for 39 years.  I was 19 when I showed up at White Hall and Colquitt UMC as their new preacher.  I had braces on my teeth.  I even looked young!
Does it seem that time passes too quickly?   There are some things I would do differently if I had some mulligans in life.  For non-golfers, a mulligan is a “do over” in golf.  It is a second chance.  Professional golfers do not get mulligans.  Duffers buy as many mulligans as they can!    Maybe you can identify with some of these mulligans.
I would count more and very slowly.
You have heard the wisdom of counting to ten before you say or do something in response to others.  I would count to about a hundred and do it slowly.  So many times, I reacted instead of responded.  As I have grown older, I have come to understand my friend’s advice, “Wait three days”.   Waiting gives us a different perspective.  In most cases, an immediate response is not as necessary as we think it is.  Silence and waiting to respond can be your friend.
I would plan more and work less.
Do not think that I am suggesting a lesser work ethic.  But what I have found is that when I plan my work, I work less.  When I prepare myself, it doesn’t take as much time or energy.  There are times in my life that I have confused longevity of work with effectiveness of work.  I thought if I just worked longer, the job would be done.  If I worked longer, people would like me and approve of me.  I was wrong.  People who are going to like and approve of me do not require me to be a martyr.  In fact the last thing they want is this.
I would bless more!
A few years back, I am not sure when it happened, I began to say to as many people as I could—“Have a Blessed Day!”  It is interesting to hear and see the responses to this statement.  People in this world need to receive a blessing.  We all seek a blessing at one level or another.
Imagine that you were to receive $86,400 a day.  Now the problem in receiving this daily is that you have to spend it all!  Some of you are saying, “I could do it, no problem!”  But then imagine that you have to spend all of this every day for every day in your life!    Just think of all the good you could do!  Think of all the problems you could solve!    The truth is that you get this every day of your life.  The value is not in money though.  It is an even greater value---seconds.  It is your time on this earth.
I do not know how long I will live.  But my prayer is that I live every second to its fullest.
Pray for me as I pray for you.
In the Master’s Name,

Dr. M. Jack O’Dell

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Searching for Answers and Meaning

Communication can be a funny thing.  The use of words changes over time.

Take for example the word, INFLATABLES.  When I was growing up, no one spoke of inflatables.  The word was associated with a dark world of adult sexual behavior.  Some of you cannot believe that a preacher would speak of such things!  But over time the word was transformed.    Inflatables became what you put on your children to allow them to play in the pool.  Now it has an even broader use for the huge blowup toys that your children (and adults) play in at celebrations.  I confess to chuckling when I hear the word and think about its change in use and meaning.

So the other day our garage door broke.  Mandy called the repair place to see about it getting fixed.  The lady at the store asked Mandy, "What is the name of the operator?"  Mandy answered her question, "Well, my husband and I both operated it."  "No," the lady said, "I mean the name!"  And again Mandy answered, "His name is Jack and I am Mandy".   The lady on the phone chuckled again and said, "The name on the garage unit?!".   It was then that Mandy understood the answer that the woman was seeking.

It was perfectly clear to both what the conversation was--or was it?  

The study of the Bible requires us to have such conversations.  What does the Word mean in our day and time?  How is the Word understood in our world?  What is God saying to us?  It is a difficult task sometimes to discern the underlying truth principles of God.  

There are some who would argue that the Bible requires no such study.  It is to be taken at face value.   To those who would raise this argument, I remind them of how our understanding of the world has progressed over time.  God has enabled us to discover new gems in our human existence.  When the Bible was written, people believed that the world was flat!  When the Bible was written, most illnesses were seen as a result of disobedience or punishment by God.    Now there are still some who belong to the Flat Earth Society.  (If you do not believe me, google "Flat Earth"!)  And some still refuse to understand and accept modern medical knowledge.    I simply do not understand nor accept either of these as faithfulness to God and God's world.

We converse with the truth principles that the Word of God gives to us.  In the Methodist tradition, we believe that Scripture is primary and the starting place for talk about and with God.  However, Wesley also believed that the meaning of Scripture is informed by tradition, experience, and reason.  One uses these "lens" to gain faithful perspective to appropriate Scripture into a holy life and holy living.  

God does not change.  However, our ability to understand God and God's world changes as we learn and discover God's  world.  I think sometimes God gathers the celestial bodies and exclaims, "Look!  They finally found it!!!  They finally got it!  It took them a while but they found it!!!"

Such a relationship with God and Scripture is vibrant and alive.  It invites us into more conversations with each other and with God.  And yes, sometimes, it is just funny how we struggle to communicate with each other and with God.  

The answers to the questions and meaning seem to change over time.  Let us not be afraid of the change.  And there are times when you just have to chuckle.

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell