Trudging the Road of Happy Destiny


One of the happy perks of being your pastor is being invited to all sorts of holiday events, and one of my favorites is the Thanksgiving dinner hosted by our Monday night Alcoholics Anonymous group.

This year’s extravaganza was no different — a rich smorgasbord of fantastic food, including all the season’s favorites, followed by an even richer time of testimony. The group leader read the following passage from the The Big Book:

Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.

Then we went around the room, and people shared their thoughts on the passage, as well as expressing their gratitude. The things they shared were humbling and powerful. More than one person expressed their thankfulness that they could remember holidays now; several admitted outright that they knew they would be dead if not for AA.

As I listened, I realized that this group is nothing less than a “church.” Here is a group of people who recognize, admit, and confess their sin, who submit their lives to a Higher Power, and meet weekly to hold each other accountable as they move forward in sanctification. Their fellowship is marked by openness, authenticity, genuineness, tolerance, and acceptance. They don’t wear masks with each other, or pretend to be somebody they aren’t. Their conversation is marked by a deep humility, and also a sparkling sense of hope.

This is exactly what I hope for Kessler Park UMC; this is the kind of fellowship I hope we become.

Isn’t it ironic that perhaps our best example of how to “be the church” has been meeting right here, on church property, every Monday night for the last 16 years?

As you celebrate Thanksgiving, please give a prayer of gratitude for these fellow members of the body of Christ, these fellow trudgers on the Road of Happy Destiny.

To Rebuild Trust


A couple of weeks ago, I preached on Acts 4:32-37 which tells how the early believers lived life together. They participated in a kind of “Christian communism,” in which everything was held in common, and everyone’s needs were met.

Some of you rightly pointed out afterwards that there is a very problematic story right after this passage. Acts 5:1-11 tells a disturbing tale of a husband and wife, named Ananias and Sapphira, who are part of this community. They sell a piece of their land, keep some of the profit for themselves, and give the rest to the apostles. However, they don’t tell the apostles that they kept some of the money; they claim to have given the entire profit to the community.

The Holy Spirit tells Peter that they are lying about this fact, and the two of them die — right in the middle of the church gathering! 

I’ll admit that if I could remove any text from the New Testament, it would be this one. I refuse to believe that God struck two people dead because they lied to their pastors — God doesn’t work that way! I don’t want to speculate on how this story ended up here, who wrote it or why, but I don’t believe it actually happened like this. I can only imagine that Luke (the author of the Book of Acts) wrote it because he’d heard from a friend who heard from a friend that Ananias and Sapphire were struck dead in the church and — gasp, they had some secrets!! You know how gossip works …

Regardless of how this story ended up in our Bible, I want to point out that the emphasis in the story is on the deceit of Ananias and Sapphira. They did not die in the story because they didn’t give all their money up, but because they lied about it. 

The “lesson” of the story, as disagreeable as it might be, is that lies destroy community. The early Christians must have been aware that, in order for their fellowship to prosper and grow in spite of constant opposition and persecution, they must be entirely open, honest, and transparent with each other. There was no room for deception, dissembling, and secrets.

Lies tear communities apart, because they destroy the fabric of trust that hold us together. If we can’t trust each other to tell the truth about our life together, then we will not be able to stay together. 

That’s why I fear what our current White House is doing. Almost every day, the Administration sends a press secretary to a podium and asks him/her to lie publicly. It began on day one with Sean Spicer insisting that the crowds for Trump’s inauguration were “the biggest ever,” plainly a lie if there ever was one. Now it’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ job to fib. Her press conferences are a constant stream of false facts, misleading statements, and untruths. (Seriously — how many different words can we use as synonyms for “lies”?)

As a result, our national sense of unity is eroding. We don’t trust each other, beginning with the people elected to the highest offices. It trickles right down to our local communities and neighborhoods.

The same thing will happen at Kessler Park UMC if we don’t tell the truth to each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. And that’s what I’m most concerned about.

I know that sometimes it’s easier to just lie; we don’t like admitting our shortcomings or confessing our faults. We tell untruths to make ourselves look better, or to “protect” somebody’s feelings. But it always backfires. Lies have a way of circling around and hurting us. 

In last Sunday’s sermon, I argued that a New Reformation would be centered around community, and that we needed to rebuild trust within our faith communities. There can be no trust in communities and organizations if the truth is not paramount.

It’s not just a matter of not telling whoppers; we must learn how to be transparent, to stop holding tightly onto secrets, and to be honest with each other. 

Join me in praying daily that we become a community of trust, truth, and transparency. And I promise not to preach about Ananias and Sapphira any time soon!

Goin' to the Chapel


KPUMC is currently undergoing an internal conversation about what to do about the chapel.

Wait … did you even know that we have a chapel?

On the second floor of the education building, down the hall from the choir room and sanctuary entrance, is a large room with twelve pews and a stage with an altar and lectern. An upright piano sits in the corner next to the stage.

In times past, this chapel has served as a place for (very) small weddings and funerals, as well as occasional special worship services, like Blue Christmas or Ash Wednesday. But these days, the only ones using the space consistently are The Kessler School students, who use the chapel to gather in the morning before class.

To be honest, the chapel is not currently in very good shape. The pews are uncomfortable, and beginning to get a little wobbly. The chandelier lights are the same as we used to have in the old fellowship hall, and just as unattractive. It’s not a very sacred space at the moment.

It’s time to address this space, and ask the important theological question, “What does God want us to do in this place?”

In my opinion, there are three other questions to answer first before we can discern the way forward. Let’s spend a little time reflecting on these.

We should begin by asking the question, “How can we love our neighbors better with this space?” Last Sunday, I preached about our neighbors, and I pointed out that, though we understand that everyone could be defined as our “neighbor,” we certainly have to begin by loving the neighbors who live closest to us. So it doesn’t hurt to ask how our chapel space could best benefit the people in our neighborhood. Is there a service or program that we could be offering in that space which we currently aren’t offering? Is there a need that exists in the community which we could meet by using the chapel differently?

A second helpful question to ask is, “What could happen here, in this space, that couldn’t happen elsewhere?” This question helps us identify what is unique about a particular space, in order to take advantage of its particular qualities. For example, one helpful feature of our chapel space is that it is on the same floor as the sanctuary. Members of staff have been musing about the possibility of turning the chapel into a Sunday morning welcome and fellowship space, where people could more easily mingle, converse, and have coffee. Some staff have also pointed out that it might be helpful to have a nursery on the same level as the sanctuary; thus, the idea of converting the space into a new nursery has also been broached.

Perhaps most importantly, however, I recommend we also ask the third question: “How can this space be used to be a catalyst for creative change in north Oak Cliff?” This question emerged from our Holy Conversations process three years ago, and I find it extremely helpful as we pray and plan for the church’s future. I would encourage us to be creative when we think about this space and its potential. This requires outside-the-box thinking. Could we turn it into a TV studio, where services are regularly broadcast or streamed live? Or a goat yoga studio? Or a coffee shop?

Yes, these are crazy ideas … or are they? The point is to spend some time dreaming about what God might be up to in our midst. Why not dream a little, throw some oddball ideas out there? You never know what might stick and catch hold of our imagination.

The world is in need of some shalom right now, and we’ve got a big empty space where we might be able to make it happen. The only thing we’ve got to figure out is what and how.

Come, dream with us, and let your imagination loose.