Thursday, January 22, 2015

Be Kind

How much effort does it take to be kind?

It had been a rough day at work and at home for her.  And her work was still not over.  As she was driving to pick up the kids and make one more stop at the grocery store before she went home to do the house work, it happened.   A car pulled out in front of her and she knew that she was going to not only hit the car but probably would be hit by the car behind her.  Her initial reaction was not good.  There was not a good or virtuous thought anywhere in her mind.  Fortunately the accident was averted.  With a sigh of relief she proceeded and eventually the car that has pulled out in front of her ended up at the same place she was going.   A part of her wanted to really give this person a piece of her mind when the elderly lady approached her.

"I am so sorry for pulling out in front of you.  It has been a rough go today and I am not at my best.  My daughter in law just called to tell me that my son and grandson were in an auto accident and died.  My husband of fifty years died last week.  I just do not know what to do.  I had to get out today.  I am at a loss.  I am so sorry.  Please forgive me."  And she walked away.

She admitted that she now felt about two inches tall.  She was speechless.  Frozen.   Before she could gather herself and respond, the lady disappeared.  She searched the store looking for her.  Finally she went out to the parking lot and the car was gone.  How could a frail little woman disappear so quickly?  Had she been frozen or paralyzed longer than she realized?  

Finally she gave up and went on her way.  But the words and picture of the frail little woman would not leave her mind.  It replayed over and over.   While the replay was going on in one side of her brain, she was more than aware of her harshness in reacting to the woman pulling out in front of her.  That played over and over again as well.

What was God teaching her in this moment?  


How much effort does it take to train the mind to think kind thoughts instead of reacting harshly?  The truth of the matter is that it takes more effort than we can imagine.   It takes the presence of the Holy Spirit in our everyday life.  It means wondering about the other person before reacting.  It means getting out of our own stuff long enough to see others in a different light.

I think that Jesus was Nazareth was a kind man.  He had a gentleness about him that drew people towards him.  I think he had a warm smile.   I think he laughed more than we can imagine.  Jesus was not so much worried about his own burdens.  He saw the weight of the world on others.  

My challenge to you today is to practice kindness.  Give others the benefit of doubt.  Smile at strangers.   Offer encouraging words.  

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Are You a Risk Taker?

Risk is defined  the potential of losing something of value.   I like to think of myself of being a risk taker, but in reality I live a pretty safe life.  What about you?

One of the questions that came into focus for me when starting a new congregation was how many non church people I really came into contact with.    I came to the conclusion that as a preacher I could pretty much spend all of my time with church folks.  The truth is that most church members WANT the preacher to spend most of his/her time with church folks.  After all,  they ARE members.    For a week I charted the conversations I had with strangers, non church folks, and members.  Yup,  you guessed it.  Church folks won out big time.  
As a result of that I began to think of ways to have contact with the outside world.  I found out that my risk factor was lower than I thought.    I was not sure of what I was losing, but I knew that I was not winning.  

Then I dared to ask the question of risking with church folk.  How could I engage church folk in a way that stepped into the "unsafe" world? It is the world where you challenge prejudice and oppression.  You stop laughing at jokes that are oppressive.  It is the world where you engage people in serious conversations of faith.  I soon became aware of the possibility of great loss.   

The other day I went to my financial adviser for my annual review.  His question---how much risk are you willing to take?  The greater rewards also involve greater risks.  No risk brings little rewards.  I certainly did not want to be foolish!

Harry Denman was a Methodist preacher in the early part of the 20th century.  He challenged people to live a simple life   He brought the message of Christ to all people.  Denman's evangelistic zeal defined evangelism and still impacts our church today.  The story is told that at one of his gatherings he was preaching a rather vigorous message that called for great risk for the sake of the Gospel  At the end of his sermon, he was handed a piece of paper with one word on it--"FOOL!"  Denman was known for his great wit.  He responded by saying, "It is a miracle.  I have had many many letters written to me where people have forgotten to sign their name.  But tonight, I received a note where someone has signed their name and forgot to write the message!"

Paul in the letter to the new Christians in Corinth proclaims that he will be a fool for Christ!   Men and women of great faith seem foolish to many.    The greater loss is seen in not presenting the Gospel! 

I think Jesus modeled for us risky behavior.  He was on the "edge" of society.  He hung out with the wrong crowd.  He said the right things regardless of popular religion.  Jesus did not live a safe life.  Now I can hear some of you saying, "...but he was Jesus!"  Yes he was!    
So all of this is to ask you where is God calling you to greater risk?

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

You Make A Difference!

There are times when we downplay our significance.  "It won't matter if I do not attend church today..."  "If I skip a month of giving, it won't make a big difference for the the church..."  It is a form of self pity in some instances.  In other times it is one way to excuse our behavior from the norm.  I want you to know that what you do or do not do today matters!!!  

A friend of mine posted this story.  As I read it I could not help but chuckle.  Maybe you will too!
One year, a young Ojibwe boy was given the task of ensuring the entire village had enough wood for winter. This was the first time he had been given such an honor and he wanted to do it right. Before he went to work he decided to call the weatherman to ask what kind of a winter was to be expected. The weather man told him it was going to be a warm and uneventful winter. The boy thought to himself, 'this is great. I won't have to work too hard and I'll be able to look good in front of the whole tribe.'

Just to be safe, he gathered a few of his friends and they went to work for a week. At the end of the week, after chopping and piling the wood, the boy decided to give the weatherman a second call. The weatherman told him it was going to be a very cold winter. Shocked at this sudden change and not wanting to disappoint the elders of his village, he gathered more of his friends and they went to work. For two weeks they cut and piled wood, hoping that it would be enough to last the whole winter.

Once again the boy called the weatherman and this time the weatherman told him, "Son, its going to be a very bitter, cold and long winter. Maybe the worst winter on record."

Exasperated, the boy had to ask, "What makes you say that sir?"

The weatherman replies, "The Indians are gathering wood like crazy!"
When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, it was a story showing how the actions of a seemingly non religious outsider were exemplary in what it means to love.  The actions of the Good Samaritan mattered!  That is why it is called the "Good" Samaritan.  
Some of the greatest heroic actions that people take have been because they were doing what they knew to be right.  When asked afterwards why one would do such a thing the answer would be "It was the right thing to do."  
As the bitter cold sets in across our nation, let us do good.  Let us know that our actions matter.  Let us realize that our inaction also matters.  
Pray for me as I pray for you.
In the Master's Name,
Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Make this the Year of Doing It!

Years ago someone gave me a round piece of wood the size of a coin.  These words were written on it, "This is a "roundtoit".  Spend this coin doing the important things!"  

You know the things you are going to get around to doing.  One day I will travel.  Some day I am going to learn how to play the piano.  When this happens, then I am going to make this happen.  All of us have these fleeting thoughts.   We live with the idea that time will never run out and things will get done.  Life remains busy.  We stay in the rat race of life.  We walk the treadmill at a great pace going no where only to find that tomorrow we must get back on it.

So as this year ends and a new one begins what will you do?   In the year ahead, will you get "aroundtoit"?  Or will this year be the same as last year?

O. Dean Martin was a preacher I heard when I was in my late teens.  I still remember some of his sermons.  I guess it was a time when I was searching.  Maybe it was the time when I was allowing God to imprint my heart with certain messages that would get me through the rest of life.  One of the lines that Dean gave to me still rings in my ears.  "Bring the matter to a crisis!"  

Crisis usually finds us.  Rarely do we seek to make them.   However a crisis demands us to respond.  Most of the time a crisis brings a reaction.  However a planned crisis can be a time of responding.  It is the day that you decide to make it happen.  You are going to take action.  Planned crisis involved a strategy with some level of accountability.  Avoidance is no longer an option.  

As the year begins what are you willing to make happen?  Maybe you should think about some areas where planned crisis would be a good thing.  Prayer life?  Stewardship of all resources?  A change in the direction of your life?  A different allocation of time--family over work, self care over indulgence, rest over busyness, or forgiveness rather than bitterness?  Instead of a critical tongue an encouraging word?

Maybe you have heard this before.  To translate certain words into another language it sometimes requires more words.  The word, "crisis" in the Chinese language is translated "dangerous opportunity". 

We like to think that time will never run out.  There are endless days and hours to get things done.  This is an illusion.  We all have a limited amount of time on this earth.  None of us know when our time will end.   This is why the important things in life must get done today--this year.

Make this the year of doing it.  Whatever "it" is for you--make sure it gets done.

Pray for me as I pray for you.  Happy New Year!

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

Today is Christmas Eve.

What memories do you have of Christmas Eve?

As a little boy, I remembered getting everything ready.  The milk and cookies were set out.  Was there just the right amount?  Chocolate milk or white milk?    How many cookies?  Having to be made to go to bed!  Family and extended family sometimes were in the house.   How hard it was to finally fall asleep.  What was that noise I heard?  Can I get up yet?  

The biggest memories of Christmas Eve for me was church.  The church was always full.  My job was to hand out the bulletins and candles.   Then at a particular time in the service, I was one of the lucky ones that got to walk down the aisle and offer light to each person sitting on the end of the pew.  It was amazing to see all the light fill the darkness.  While the candles were being lit, the words and tune of Jesu Bambino filled the air.  All of a sudden a bright light would come on and in the corner of the front of the church a woman dressed as Mary would appear holding a child.   I remember the blue on blue garment that Mary would wear.   Sometimes the baby would cry.  

O Come Let Us Adore Him!    Through the eyes of a child it just seemed as though it was the only option that was there!  To be in the presence of Jesus brought this sense of awe and wonder.  

The worship service would conclude with Silent Night.  As we sang "sleep in heavenly peace" the candles were lifted to the sky.  It seemed as though the light and warmth of our holy place connected to heaven.    The world in my childish eyes was safe and secure.  Now I know that it IS safe and secure because Christ is born.

Tonight I will again experience the wonder of Christmas Eve.  I will sing Jesu Bambino.  I will hold the candle and sing Silent Night.  I will raise the candle and join the heavens as I sing "sleep in heavenly peace."  As you celebrate the birth of Christ, it is my prayer that you place in the memories of your children and family more than a bearded man, milk, and cookies.  May you experience the heavenly peace of Christ be born.

Merry Christmas!  Christ is Born.  The world IS secure and safe in God's love.

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

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