Monday, June 15, 2020

Reflections (parade)

It was a great day for a parade!  Due to Covid-19,  things are being done much differently and in many cases, creatively.  Yesterday was an example of a new and creative way to express gratitude and appreciation.  We had a parade.
Cindy and I have been blessed to serve you at Platte Woods UMC for the past 15 years.  We could not image retiring and not saying thank you.  Our staff and leadership council put together a drive by parade where we were given the opportunity to thank you for allowing us to be part of your lives these past years.
I have no idea how many cars (and a motorcycle) drove by.  I do know that by the end of the day we had warmed up well!  Seeing your faces and being able to briefly hear your voices was a tremendous joy.  Thank you for taking the time and coming by.
We have another opportunity to express our appreciation to you this weekend.  Cindy and I will bring the weekend message and share with you one more time! 
I am having a hard time expressing all that is in my heart.  I so appreciate all the cards (which we have not even gotten to yet!), the gifts and the expressions of love.  Our memories of ministry at PWC will last all our days. 
So, now we do those things preachers do in transitions.  Move some books.  Figure out what to do with old sermons.  Re-arrange some things.  Look forward.
Pastor Yvi Martin will soon step in as your Senior Pastor.  I am totally confident you will find Yvi to be a great leader and pastor for you and your families.  As a parting gift to Cindy and me, please embrace Yvi and her family with the same grace and love you have extended to us.
It's time to take a break from blog posts and communications like this.  So, be blessed.  Know we love you and you hold a most special place in our hearts.
This is the day the Lord has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Reflections (a marvelous moment)

On April 8, 1974 Henry Aaron hit the 715th home run of his career breaking the long standing (at the time) record of Babe Ruth.  His historic homer came off the Dodger's pitcher Al Downing.  Vin Scully was the announcer for the Dodgers.  (He actually was their announcer for 67 years! He is a once in a lifetime talent.)  He made this historic call.  If is better to google the event and listen to this Hall of Fame announcer speak.  But the words need to be heard and made part of our soul.  He said:
"It's a high drive to deep left center field.  (Bill) Buckner goes back to the fence...It is gone..."

Now catch this next part.  Not only was Scully commenting on a baseball game, he was making a statement for history, for America, for people.

"What a marvelous moment for baseball.  What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia.  What a marvelous moment for the country and the world."

"A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time  baseball idol.  And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron, who was met at home plate, not only by every member of the Braves, but by his father and mother."

There is more.  Check it out.  Listen.  Watch the video.  Reflect on this "marvelous moment".

I am thankful for the "marvelous moments" that highlight the highest of the human experience and show us what we are all capable of.  Not breaking a home run record.  Rather, wildly cheering the success of a person...of color.

It was a great day for America coming 6 years after we grieved the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It was a great day for America follow a season of great social unrest.  It revealed the capabilities of humanity.

"A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South."

Leading up to that moment Aaron had a stressful and fearful few months.  He ended the previous season trailing Babe Ruth's record by 2 home runs.  He got hate mail.  He got death threats.  He was the victim of racists rants and racism itself. 

"...for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol."

America held Babe Ruth in awe.  He was iconic.  He was "the Babe".  Many of our citizens could not imagine a black man, Hank Aaron, breaking the revered record of Ruth.

"It was a great moment for all of us."

The stadium was full that night.  The game was nationally televised.  (This was before every game was televised!)  The nation watched.  The tape was shown in every city.  Millions witnessed this history altering event.

"...and particularly Henry Aaron."  For his team.  For his game.  For his city.  For his nation.  For the world he was part of.  It was a marvelous moment.

In the past days we have witnessed the opposite of a "marvelous moment".  But the succeeding days have given us snapshots of marvelous moments.  In the midst of human degradation, racism, and sin, we have seen marvelous moments of unity.  We have seen marvelous moments of compassion.  We have seen marvelous moments of love.  We have seen marvelous moments where God has stepped into our hurt.

You are not going to break any home run records.  You will not be the object of adulation by 50,000 people standing and cheering for your achievement.  But your life may be part of the marvelous moments of God's redemptive purposes.  Today.  Tomorrow.  Always.  Be a marvelous moment.

This is the day the Lord has made.  We will be glad and rejoice in it.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Reflections (weeds!)

We have a little area in front of our house that is filled with river rock, a couple of bushes and some flower pots.  It took a little effort to establish this area and takes some effort to maintain it. 
This spring I began to notice weeds sprouting up.  That's crazy.  We put the stuff down and covered the ground.  We covered it with rock.  Why are there weeds coming up?
After a few weeks of ignoring it, the weeds began to define the area.  I could not help but notice the green where it was not supposed to be. 
So Saturday I spent an hour or so pulling up all the grass and weeds I could find.  Well, most of them.  It seemed the more I pulled up the more there were.  It was not an easy task.  Even when I finished, it was not perfect.  So I sprayed some stuff on these little sprouts I saw.  Covered them up good!
Today I looked at this area from the driveway.  It looked great.  I noticed no weeds.  Then I got closer.  I had just pulled those little things up and now here they come again.  I must not have gotten everything uprooted. 
You are probably far ahead of me.  The events of our nation over the past several days have spotlighted our racism.  Racism, like all sin, is intended to be done in the "darkness" where no one will notice.  But now we have video.  The light has shone.  The spotlight reveals the evil of racism.  We, as a nation, have and are, responding.  Some resist.  Some embrace.  We are all giving consideration.
Back to my weeds.  I have looked at my own soul and pray the spotlight of God's grace and holiness reveal my own weeds of racism.  After ignoring things for some time, now I feel overtaken.  So I started pulling.  I confess my personal sins and repent.  I pray God show me what I am blind to. 
And I pull some more.
And some more, and some more, and some more.
Then I look.  I did not get everything. 
I try to cover it.  To kill it.  Racism - sin - is pervasive.  It does not go easily.  I offer my best efforts.  More weeds.
But this is not futile.  The nation is seeing.  People are thinking, talking, acting.  Proposals are being made and debated.  Action is forthcoming.  The light is shining.
Above all, God is noticing.  Where I fall short in my attempts to hide sin, God is able to uproot sin.  He has shone that at the Cross of Jesus Christ.
We are being saved.  Actually our sins have been covered and atoned for.  Now we are working out the way to live free. 
I will keep pulling weeds.  I will do better at noticing.  I will maintain better.  And God will prevail.
This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Reflections (no accidents)

You are not an accidental disciple.  You did not become a follower of Jesus Christ by some cosmic accident.  It is no accident that you love God.  It is no accident that the Holy Spirit dwells in you.  It is no accident that Jesus Christ has given you life.
No accidents in discipleship.
It is also not that you have earned your status as a disciple.  You did not earn the love of God the Father, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit nor a relationship with Jesus, your savior.
It is not an accident that you find yourself living in this place and time.  It is no accident that you have a sphere of influence where some people listen to you and watch you.  It is no accident that you have ministry and service to share.
You find life as you remain in relationship with Jesus. (John 15:4)  You bear fruit as you remain in relationship with Jesus. (same verse!)
I encourage you to be confident in the Lord.  Those remaining (old word - abide) in Christ will ask what they want and it will be done for them. "  (John 15:7) 
That one  may take some thought.  Who hasn't asked for a good grade, a parking spot, or a million dollars, and been turned down?  That is not the point.
The point:  You are chosen.  (John 15:16).
You are chosen through the Cross of Jesus.  Everyone is chosen at the Cross!
You have been chosen through God's love and your faith.
You have been chosen to know God.
You have been chosen to be fruitful.
You have been chosen to ask and receive.
This is not an accident.  Jesus was very intentional about going to the Cross.  He could have called an army of angels had he chosen and avoided the Cross.    (Matthew 26:53)
The Lord is very intentional about choosing you to come follow him.
The Lord is very intentional about living His life in yours.
During unsettled days and seasons of unrest, distrust, a coronavirus, and fear - you are not an accident.
You are a disciple. 
I wonder how a disciple lives today?  Let's find out.
This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Reflections (respect)

These are the most challenging days we have seen in a long time.  Growing  divisions over the past several years have burst upon us.  This conflict is beyond what most of us have experienced.
Many are taking a "systems approach" to the matter of racism.  Structural changes that make greater equality a new reality are going to be deeply appreciated. But what about our more personal level?  As people who follow Jesus Christ it is a given that we will do all we can to become better informed and learn how to cast prejudice into the pits of hell where it belongs.  But what is something I might nurture?  What may I do?
I was reading a devotion focused on how to love people you disagree with.  That is conflict.  It is also a reality.
The key word to loving others, especially those where disagreements are real, is respect.
Listen respectfully.
Ask questions respectfully.
Respond respectfully.
I know this works.  Some years ago a colleague of mine demonstrated this in a real way.  We were talking and the conversation turned to a controversial issue of the day.  We had different perspectives.  But I still recall the tone of the conversation.  What I realize now is the respect factor was real.  We liked each other.  We respected each other.  That is how we approached each other.  It provided room for understanding and appreciation.  And I know I am better for it.
I want to nurture deep respect for the experience of my black friends and of those who I am yet to meet.  I want to listen respectfully.  I want to learn by asking questions respectfully.  I want to always give answers and responses in respectful tones.
It is one small step.  It could have great impact.
This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Reflections (Mom)

On May 3, 2020, my mom fell.  At first it did not seem too bad.  She was still getting around.  On May 12 mom was taken to the ER for x-rays.  She had developed more pain than was normal.  She was then admitted to the hospital with a broken hip.  On May 14 she had surgery to repair her hip.  The main purpose was pain management with the hope of returning her to her previous level of mobility.  She was taken to CICU.  On Sunday, May 17, her doctor recommended we consider hospice care.  On Monday May 18, mom was accepted to North Kansas City Hospice.  She spent nine nights there and peacefully passed away Wednesday morning, May 27.
It seems so strange to record such a challenging and yet blessed time in 7 sentences.  Cindy and I were able to spend many hours at mom's bedside.  I had not been physically with her since March 8.  We were able to bring John into her room via technology.  Our kids were able to come and offer their love and goodbye. 
I felt tremendously blessed to be able to spend that time watching, praying, and waiting.  Frankly, her passing, though sad, was also relief. 
My mother, Esther Lou Breon, was a great influencer of many people.  She was a school teacher.  She made a difference.  She was funny.  She loved to laugh.  She was smart.  She earned her Master's Degree in English from Central Missouri State University.  She loved people.  She loved life.  She loved God.
She played the piano for church, Trinity UMC in Appleton City, Mo.  She began at age 14 and continued until she and dad moved to Wexford Place in Kansas City in 2014.  She taught Bible Studies.  She taught Sunday School classes.  She envisioned and led a women's retreat for 15 years.  They brought national speakers to Appleton City and impacted the lives of many. 
That was my mom.
She took care of me.  She did not toss me aside when she probably should have!  I am convinced she prayed and loved me through adolescence and into a life in ministry.  I am eternally grateful.
I think I could write a book about my mom.  John and I have been blessed beyond measure by her grace and love. 
In this Covid-19 season, we have done things differently.  A small graveside service was held June 2.  We plan a celebration of life where all her family and friends may rejoice on Saturday June 17. 
In the meantime, I give thanks.
I did not keep my practice of daily blogs (devotions) over the last few days.  I wrote some while sitting in a hospice room.  Pretty distracting.
But then we felt God's grace.
I discovered all my fears about caring for my parents were unfounded.  That is truly the nature of worry.  Practically all the things we worry about never happen.  It was a blessed experience.  Check.
We marveled at the care mom received in hospice.  That was a continuation of all those who touched her life at Wexford as well as all who cared for her at the hospital.  Check.
When sadness settled, a joyful memory came.  Check.
When arrangements were made a sense of peace came.  Check.
When tears came laughter followed.  Check.
Now I see faith.  I have set aside all my "smart theological stuff".  I find images of the saints "gathered by the Crystal Sea" much more real than higher criticism biblical studies!
I find myself seeing mom and dad and all those who have gone before "caught up together" with the Lord. (I Thessalonians 4:17)
I find myself encouraged with the reality of life eternal and heaven.
I could go on for a long time.  But rather than merely ramble with all my thoughts, I will simply allow them to flow over and in me. 
I give thanks for Esther Lou (Dines) Breon.  Mom
This is the day the Lord has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Reflections (numb)

The last 72 hours have left me feeling numb.  In the middle of everything else we are going through as a people, the George Floyd killing was a match thrown on simmering anger, pain, and distrust.  Many use helpful words to relate their emotions.  Anger.  Outrage.  Pain.  I keep looking for the right words but have nothing to add.  It leaves me feeling numb.
I am numbed by the reality that we have been seeking to heal and improve race relations for decades.  A book that I found very helpful and formative was Charles Marsh's, "God's Long Summer".  Marsh shares stories of faith and civil rights.  The setting is Mississippi in 1964.  It was a long, deadly summer with violence against blacks happening at an alarming rate.  
My generation did not effect the needed change after 1964.
I was a teenage in 1968.  That was a very long, hot summer.  The nation was deeply, angrily, and violently divided over the Viet Nam War.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.  In looking back, I am amazed the nation survived 1968.  But we did not resolve the racial discrepancies in America.  One again, my generation, I, failed.
In 1992 Rodney King was brutally beaten.  Our country was in an uproar.  We failed to resolve our racial divides.  
We can go on and on and on.
Ahmad Arbery.
Breonna Taylor
George Floyd.
Here we are.
We are in a global pandemic.  We are divided over coronavirus.  We are divided over racial issues.  We are divided over people.  We are divided among God's people.
I have given my life to preaching the "unsearchable riches" of Christ.  This is a message of reconciliation.  It is a message of love and grace.  It is a message of faith.  It is a Gospel of life.  
Still, my generation - I - have failed to resolve our racial divisions.
But I have hope.  I look to our young people.  I look to my own kids.  They are so far ahead of where I was at that stage in life it cannot be compared.  I look at our younger staff members at church.  They are so much more attuned to race issues and simply refuse to discriminate.  
I look at other areas of our culture.  Patrick Mahomes would have us look into the locker room where everyone, regardless of color or who they are, are family.
I believe the Church will one day catch up with the sports world.  Is that not a ridiculous sounding statement?
I believe our emerging generations will succeed where my generation has failed.
I choose to hope.
I choose to examine my own heart.
I choose to treat people as I know Jesus treats people.
I choose to support and encourage those who step up to make a difference today.
The numbness begins to leave as exercise kicks in.
This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.