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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

In Search of an Epic Win!

I am a fan of Ted Talks.  They make me think outside the lines.   I would say out of the box, but I never have known where the box was!  Every once in a while, one of the talks will excite my smal mind more than you can imagine.  Jane McGonigal has a wonderful talk about how Gaming could possible hold the solutions for the problems of our world.  She studies and designs games with the idea that if we can get people thinking creatively in a virtual world eventually the thoughts will spill over into the real world.   It is today's version of the simulation games that we used to teach in the days past--or should I say centuries past!  

The concept that has captured me is the Epic Win.  In an Epic win the outcome is so extraordinarily positive that you had no idea it was even possible until you achieved it.  It was almost beyond the threshold of imagination.  Once you get there you are shocked of what you are truly capable of!  The Epic win is the aim of gamers.  They never know when it will find them but it does not stop them from trying over and over again in pursuit of it!  

Another fact that is revealed in the study of gamers is that they are willing to fail 80 per cent of the time in order to finally succeed!    I thought about when I started playing what little games I have played.  Sure enough, I would get to a certain point in a game, then fail.  But I would crank that sucker up again and get a little farther--little by little.  I remember asking some gamers that I watch play the game better than me and saying,  "How did you know to do that?"  Which leads me to another observation.

Gamers have an extreme sense of community that shares knowledge so everyone can go forward in the game!  They cannot wait to give to one another great discoveries.  They are constantly collaborating to advance.    Gamers have more connection to each other in their virtual quest than most churches have in a lifetime! 

Researchers tell us that by the time that young folks are 21 years of age, they will have played an average 10045 hours of games.   From the 5th grade to the 12th grade, youngsters will spend 10,000 hours in school if they do not miss a day!    Researchers tell us that the number 10,000 if significant in human learning.  At 10,000 hours there is mastery and success level.  If you want to be really good in something, spend 10,000 hours at it.  Now compare this with  the hours you spend in your faith development.   

So what am I saying?  The Epic win in faith is possible!  It requires the risk, the creative optimism, the willingness to spend time, and the sense of community.  The Epic win is to be sought until it finds us!  And when it happens, it will amaze you.  You will say, "I never would have dreamed..."

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

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