Out of My Mind
By Rev. Dr. Dyton L. Owen
On a foggy night, many years ago, there was a near-tragedy on a large lake. There were a lot of people intoxicated on a houseboat when an explosion occurred and a fire erupted. It was absolute chaos. Fortunately, there was a resident on the shore who could see what was happening. He swam out to the burning houseboat and directed the panicked people toward the safety of the shore. And miraculously, even though it could have been a terrible scene, and many could have lost their lives, everyone survived.
Later that night, after all the victims and the emergency workers had left, the man sat by the fire talking to a lone reporter. After talking for an hour, the reported asked one final question: “Well, sir, is there anything at all you might like to share about this experience?” The man sat silent for a moment. Then he looked at the reporter, and said, “Yeah. Not one person said thanks. Not one.”
One interesting thing about human nature is that when we find ourselves in a desperate situation, we cry out to God; we cry out for God’s help. Even skeptics begin to pray when facing serious illness or a serious injury. When we need the intervention of God, we pray as never before.
Then, when God answers and helps us, many times we forget to say thanks. Take time to say thanks to God and to others. They deserve it and you’ll be blessed when you do.
September 29, 2021
A little history: in 1674, and Anglican priest wrote a simple song of praise for his students at England’s Winchester College. Although the understated lyrics expressed praise to God for God’s wonderful blessings, the priest was careful to warn the boys to sing the hymn only in the privacy of their dorm rooms during their personal devotions.
Why all the secrecy? At that time, the Church believed hymns should include only words directly from the scriptures. Using your own lyrics was like adding words to the scripture itself. Blasphemy? Not at all. Praise should be words consistent with scripture.
But what beautiful and simple words they were! The hymn shouted its praise to the Source of all our blessings, announced with joy and passion for all God’s glory. Fortunately, this hymn, which is today referred to as the “Doxology,” was soon taken from the shadows and its popularity quickly spread.
Did you catch the irony? This hymn, first used in secret, quickly became the most frequently sung piece of music used in worship, even to this day.
Just before you begin your day, in your quiet time, consider singing these words of joy and praise:
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him, all creatures here below.
Praise Him, above ye heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
One of the things I admire most about Jesus is that he broke all sorts of taboos while walking this earth. One huge cultural faux pas Jesus made was when he spoke to the woman at the well. In this single encounter Jesus broke not one, but three taboos: 1). He knowingly traveled into Samaritan territory; 2). He spoke to a woman in public; and 3). He interacted with a woman who had a “reputation.” But the fact is, Jesus was always far more concerned with reaching those in need than in dodging man-made cultural taboos.
So, let me ask you a few questions: Are you willing to do the same thing? Are you willing to break your self-created taboos? Are you willing to reach out to those who are different from you culturally, socially, and morally? People who do not think like you think, believe what you believe, dress like you dress, smell like you smell, act like you act? Are you willing to reach out to the person who is always left out, lonely, rejected, and living on the fringe of society? Are you willing to reach out to those that are troubled and troubling in some way? Are you willing to reach out to those who are Republican or Democrat? Are you willing to reach out to those who are judged by others or are the victims of rumor and gossip?
Are you willing to reach out?
Jesus certainly was! He broke one social taboo after another so he could reach people in need. If you call yourself a disciple of Jesus, are you willing to be like Jesus? If not, can you continue calling yourself his disciple? Take look at Jesus’ life – you’ll likely be surprised how you like him!
Have you ever noticed that Jesus tell us we are to love both our neighbors and our enemies? Why would Jesus tell his disciples to love both?
I think it’s because the one defining characteristic of a disciple of Jesus is love. Jesus expects us to love others…not some others, not a few others, not most other but all others – neighbors and enemies, alike. And, the hard fact is that often, those two are the same people! If we read the story of the Good Samartian closely, we will see how this bit of philosophy was developed.
Notice, in the story, that the Samaritan was from an ethnic group that the Jews absolutely despised. And, while the assaulted man was repeatedly ignored by his own people - who simply walked by without paying him any attention - the hated Samaritan willingly gave aid to the injured Jewish man. Now, if Jesus were telling this story in Israel today, he might change “Samaritan” to “Arab Muslim.” Or if he were speaking to Palestinians, he might say it was an “Israeli soldier” that helped. Or, if Jesus were telling this story to you and me today, he might say “gay person” or “a person of color” gave aid. Whomever Jesus would be speaking to, he would replace “Samaritan” with that particular group’s most hated enemy or greatest outcast.
That’s exactly how Jesus expects us to define the word “neighbor.”
One reason the Christian faith is so unique is that we are called to love not just our friends and family…those who love us in return. No. we are called to love all others, even those we consider our enemies. We are called to be fair with them, compassionate toward them, respectful of them; and to demonstrate love for them – even if they hate us.
Scripture is clear: you cannot claim to love God and not love your neighbor. Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan so we would be clear who our neighbor is and then go and do likewise.
October 3, 2021
The great Christian apologist and author C. S. Lewis once said “…the ability to laugh at oneself is functionally the closest thing to true repentance.” I think Lewis is right!
Human beings have an uncanny ability to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We’re stuffy. We don’t like making mistakes. We don’t like being embarrassed or laughed at. It makes us feel small. We often take life too seriously, fearing that if something goes awry, all life will fall to pieces, and we will be humiliated.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but we’re just not that important!
The ability to laugh at ourselves, like true repentance, sets things into perspective; we then see things as they really are and can gauge their importance. When we repent, we see that we can make mistakes and still be forgiven. When we laugh at ourselves, we see that to be human is to make mistakes, but we also see life goes on regardless of our faults and failures.
J. Ellsworth Kalas says that when we laugh at ourselves “we are expressing that something is still right with the world.” When we laugh at ourselves, we are expressing our belief that life is still good.
So, laugh it up!
If Jesus ever made a frightening statement, one that causes us to stop and examine our hearts to their very core, it has to be Matthew 10:37: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Read that again.
That is a stunning statement; one that challenges all of us to fully understand. The reason it is so frightening is because we love our families: our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters. And because of our deep love for our family, Jesus’ statement makes us very uncomfortable. In truth, it terrifies us if we seriously consider it. Jesus’ words are not calling us to turn our backs on our loved ones; rather, he is calling us to prioritize our devotion.
Similar to God’s statement to Abraham, Jesus is saying that when it comes to our love and devotion, Jesus must take first place above all else…even our families. Either Jesus must take first place, or he takes no place at all. As hard as that is to take in, Jesus wants to make it clear that there is a cost to our discipleship: if we truly want to follow Jesus, he comes first. The fact is that if we love anyone or anything more than Jesus – friends, family, work, country, anything – we are not worthy of Jesus, not worthy to call ourselves his disciples. If we concern ourselves more with anything other than Jesus, we are not worthy of Jesus.
And, as if that wasn’t tough enough, Jesus goes on to say that we must love him more than our own lives! Jesus sets a high standard for all of us who would call ourselves his disciples. Are we willing to meet those expectations?
I hope I can!
How about you?
Surprised by Grace
September 19, 2021
Picture the scene: Jesus had been invited to dinner by some of the most prestigious and most influential leaders in town. But, it was not really a social courtesy; it was more of an investigation. They would quiz him about where he was coming from and what his plans were. They were checking him out! And then, just after the salad course was served, a young woman enters the room unannounced, drops to her knees at the feet of Jesus, weeping so hard she used her tears to wash Jesus’ feet. Then, wiped them with her hair.
I can just see the Pharisees, jaws dropped to the floor, eyes as big as saucers; gasps can be heard among them as they witness what they consider to be a most egregious social faux pas. What do you think was going through their minds? The woman was of questionable reputation. Men of good reputation would never allow this. But those Pharisees…they’re like a lot of good, long-time church-going folks who are quick to judge known sinners while being blind to their own sins.
Sound familiar? Why is it that we refuse to look at ourselves with the same eyes of judgement as we use to look at others?
But this woman had a great appreciation for Jesus because she was keenly aware of the immoral life she has lived. She was overcome by the forgiveness Jesus offered her. So, there she was, her hair wet with tears, washing the feet of Jesus in an act of pure worship and gratitude.
Two very different responses to Jesus. With whom do you most identify? The religious moralists who felt they were right with God by their outward appearances. Or with a sinful, broken woman who knew she deserved God’s judgement, but was surprised by God’s grace?
September 12, 2021
Worship is the number one priority in the Church. Every Sunday, we hope and pray that worship will be the most meaningful event of every person’s week, a place for people – believers and non-believers, both – to get their spiritual batteries recharged, and find a reconnection with God.
Soren Kierkegaard – one of my favorite philosophers – lived in the 19th century. This Danish thinker once clarified the most common misconception about worship, using the analogy of a drama. His words are fitting still today: “When we come to worship God, we generally feel as though the preacher and other ministers are the performers and God is the subject of the performance, and we as the congregation are merely the audience…but this is a terrible misunderstanding of worship.”
Kierkegaard is describing a consumer-oriented approach, focused more on what we can “get out of worship” rather than what we come to give in worship. Kierkegaard went on to say “Authentic Christian worship is just the opposite” of a drama. “…. We, the congregation, are the performers. The preacher and other ministers are the directors of the performance and God is the audience.”
Worship has never been about you or me. Hymns, readings, liturgies, are never chosen or written with you or me in mind. Everything is done with God in mind. God is the only focus of our worship. It is an act of gratitude. It is misguided, self-centered, and cannot be called “worship” if we lose sight of this one fact: worship is all about God, not us.
Next Sunday (and every Sunday after), try Kierkegaard’s perspective. It just might make worship more meaningful for you.
Rev. Dr. Dyton L. Owen was born and raised in Oklahoma. He began preaching in the church at the age of 20, while he was still in college. Dyton has a B.A. in Religion from Oklahoma City University and his Masters of Divinity from the Perkins School of Theology in Dallas. He completed a Doctor of Ministry in Theology and Worship at Northern Seminary/Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies.