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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Annoying Sounds Need to Stop!

I am sure that you never get annoyed.  Most of us will admit this only to the closest of friends.  Or until we finally crack.

So Mandy and I hear the "chirping" and it finally gets to our limits.   Again I am sure you have never had this experience or will admit it.  I am talking about the smoke detector in the house.  You see when it bites the dust, it reminds you that it is broken or in need of attention.  I am sure my friend, Randy, remembers the call from the parsonage.  I have done everything I know to do---changed the batteries, reset, reposition the unit, prayer, speaking in tongues, cursed---and to make it worse, the unit is wired into the house.  It is not just battery operated.  That sucker is here to stay.....  The alarm is at full pitch and volume.  Lisa, the dog, has run for cover.  In a few minutes, the house alarm will notify the fire department and the "big" alarm will tell the whole neighborhood.  Had I not seen the electric wire connected to the thing, I would have employed the fix it method taught to me by my friend and colleague, J.Roddy Taylor.  The hammer would have come down in three ways--hard, fast, and continuous in rapid succession. 

So there is the beep again.....I have changed the batteries.  I am about ready to get the hammer as this one is NOT wired to the house.  

Are there constant beeps in your life?

There is the constant beep that reminds us that the use of our time is not going so well.   Things that need attention are neglected--family, health, friends.  The urgent is replaced by the not so urgent.  It is a product of our own insecurity.  What will people think if I am not the first one to the office?  What will people think if I ....-you finish the sentence.

We try to convince ourselves the problem is outside of ourselves.  But in reality it is not.  It is within us.  And so is the solution.  What people think will not be important when life falls down around us.  It will not be written on our tombstone. 

What about the constant beep of God's calling?

The interesting thing about this one is that we can disconnect the doorbell or turn down the sound on this one.  We can mute it.  But it doesn't go away.  One of the great pictures of Jesus shows Jesus standing at a door and knocking. It was painted by William Holden Hunt in 1853-54 and is entitled "The Light of the World".  It is based on the scripture Revelation 3:20.    Some people never notice the detail of the original painting.  There is no door handle of the outside.  Later versions of the painting correct the missing detail.  However the intent of the painter was to leave out the door handle.  The door can only be opened by one inside.   Hunt knew that he had been given the ability to shut his mind toward Christ.  Or he could open it and invite Jesus into his world.

What about the constant beep of sin?

Paul knew the struggle when he confessed that he found himself constantly doing the things that were not of Christ over and over again.  It is like hearing the incorrect buzzer of a game show go off in our minds when we fail.  It is God's invitation to fill our life with the holy.  The buzzer is silenced by a new way of living.  God does what we cannot do on our own.

There it goes again......and again.....where's my hammer?

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Create Holy Habits!

Every time I go into a bookstore, I find myself walking through the "Self Help" section.  I go there to see what the current trends in Self Help are about.  Forbes magazine reported in 2008 that Americans spent 11 billion dollars purchasing self help books.  Today the estimated revenue for self help books is around 12 billion.  It is amazing what we turn to in times of trouble.

The Psychic industry in 2012 reported that it's revenue was about $2.1 billion dollars.  A session today can be $200 and there are even corporate rates.   I chuckled at a pastor who thought out loud that maybe she ought to just have a number where persons could get pastoral care for $3 - $5 a minute.   

Then I read the words of Ruth Haley Barton in her book, Sacred Rhythms where she admits "I cannot transform myself or anyone else for that matter.  What I can do is create the conditions in which spiritual transformation  can take place, by developing and maintaining a rhythm of spiritual practices that keep me open and available to God."

How is your practice?  Practice makes perfect.  When I am stressed, I often go out to a putting green and just putt.  I practice putting more than any other part of my golf game.     I have learned that I do not practice making putts.  I practice making strokes.  If the stroke is good, I made the putt whether it goes in or not.  My focus shifted years ago from making putts to making a good stroke.  Good strokes make putts.    

In all of life ritual helps us especially during the hard times.  There is a rhythm of spiritual practices that can speak when there is no other voice.  There is a rhythm that can calm the angriest of seas.  They are there before us if we will yield to them.

How open are you to God?  Openness is difficult whether we acknowledge it or not.  We can become secure in our own little world.  Our womb is comfortable.  As church folks we can insulate ourselves from the world.  Perhaps the greatest fear is not what God is going to do with others but what God is asking ME to do and to become.  What walls and barriers must fall in order for God to reign?  What is God inviting me to let go of in order to hold on to what God would offer?

How available are you to God?  For many there is on room in the inn for Jesus to be born!  We fill our lives so full that God cannot get into our schedules.  As a pastor, one of the most frustrating lines I hear when asking people to be involved in the work of the church--"I do not have time" or "I am too busy!"  I like to tell my folks that if you are too busy when Jesus calls--you are too busy!!!  God needs busy people. 

Quit trying to help yourself.   Create the holy habits that create the space for God to do what only God can do.  Make yourself open and available to God and  God's work.  You will not regret it.

Pray for me as I pray for you.

In the Master's Name,

Rev. Dr. M. Jack O'Dell

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