City of Longview, Texas Council Meeting Prayer

On February 23, I gave the prayer at the City Council Meeting in Longview, Texas. If you would like to watch it click here.

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We are thankful Longview is a diverse and vibrant city that brings together the blending of different cultures, races, religious expressions, belief systems and languages. All of these parts coalesce into a beautiful picture or reflection of you O God, our maker.

We remeber that there are those in our community who struggle and who are comfortable, we pray for the those who are working and those without work, we remember the homeless and the well housed, we pray for those are frustrated with their current situation and for those are fulfilled and content with their situation. We pray for those mourn and those who celebrate.

Guide those in all branches of government to place the welfare of the citizens above political action groups, reelection campaigns and partisan politics. We rid our minds of artificial labels that divide us; may we tear down walls that needlessly separate us and build bridges of unity, trust, mercy, grace and understanding. O God the challenges that lie before us are not Republican or Democratic issues rather they are moral issue that speak to the way that your followers understand you, teachings, commands and call upon their lives. May we not lose sight of who we are created to be, may we not lose sight of the fact that all person, documented or undocumented citizen or refugee are all created in your divine and holy image.

May we find courage, hope, strengthen and guidance to complete the tasks that lay ahead. Grant this for the sake of your righteous name. Give success to the work of our hands; through Jesus the Christ, the holy one of God we pray. Amen.


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Sermon: Change Is Coming

I preached a sermon at FIrst Christian Church (DOC) in Longview, TX based on Matthew 17:1-9.

[audio http://traffic.libsyn.com/fcclongview/2017-02-26_092608.mp3|animation=no]

Matthew Live Session 6

On February 22, 2017 I held the sixth session of my online Bible study, “Matthew Live.”


The Jonah Response

My latest for the Longview News Journal.


 

As a minister, I am asked a lot of questions. They can range from what my stance regarding a particular theological or political issue to where to find something in the Bible, to “if Adam and Eve were the only people on Earth, then where did Cain’s wife come from?”. I do not mind the questions; in fact, I welcome them and encourage others to reflect on their life and faith.

One question I often receive is “what is your favorite book or story in the Bible?”  Some ministers are quick with their answer giving a well-rehearsed and crafted answer on why this book or story has had such a dramatic impact on their life or ministry.  For me the question is difficult.  It is like asking a movie critic which film is their favorite, chances are you are not going to receive a simple or straightforward answer.

The Bible is more than a collection of nice stories, rather it is a book of faith collected and collaborated over centuries to show the movement of God and the response of the people of God. Billions of people have turned to the sacred pages of the Bible to draw out inspiration and guidance for their life and family. Ask a 100 Christians their favorite Bible verse and you more than likely receive 100 different answers. Whether is it is the simplicity of the Gospel of Mark, the humanness of the Disciples, the straightforward nature of the Epistle of James or the centrality of love in 1 John, they all come together for the community of God to find a fuller picture of who God is, what God is asking of us and how we are to respond.

If pressed I will tell people that one of my favorite books of the Bible is Jonah. Most people both inside and outside of the church have heard about the man who was swallowed by a big fish. There is something about Jonah and his struggles that resonates with me. Jonah was called by God to proclaim good news to the Ninevites; the only problem was Jonah did not want them to be spared from God’s wrath. He disliked them so much that he wanted nothing more than to see them suffer. He felt as if they were beneath him and that they did not deserve the blessings from God because they should be reserved for people like him and him alone.

I believe that deep down we are all like Jonah, flawed and selfish.

Jonah’s story is more than a nice tale we tell children about a big fish, rather is an indictment for all people to examine our hearts in light of those we claim to be less than or undesirable. We might not use those terms but we have ways of marking and identifying who is “in” and who is “out.”  Ministers across this country proclaim a God that is big enough and gracious enough to welcome even those who have been turned away. However, in practice this might be another story. Sure, we want people to come to a knowledge of the faith but it has to be on our terms and our way of practicing the faith and if it is not, then for some people that is a deal breaker.

The Story of Jonah reminds faithful followers of Christ that no one is outside the reach of God. Jonah was the one who was changed the most not the Ninevites. Jonah saw that God’s grace and mercy is not just for a select few but for all humanity.

Faith communities unfortunately find more and more ways to push out those whose theological understandings are not in sync with their stated beliefs and practices. If we surround ourselves with people who think, look, act, talk and believe like we do then we will have a generic and plain experience of God. I am not saying that faith communities should not have standards or theological statements but in my experience the more rigid the theological stance the more people it excludes.

Jonah was a selfish man who wanted nothing more than to tell the people who did not look, think or talk like him to stay away and get “what was coming to them.”

Who are the Ninevites in our life?  Who are those people who we are have given up on, pushed to the side and erased from our memory?  Who are we casting aside without question?  What are we blindly believing without giving it a second thought?  Who are we hurting or forgetting in the process?

I wish there were easy answer but alas there is not. We have to continue to examine our faith, our practices and our stances. It is not wrong to change your position about something regarding your faith.  What you believed when you were 7 may not be what you believe when you are 77.  We must begin to see the world through new lenses; the church is facing new challenges every day and sometimes the old ways are simply not cutting it.

Jonah was mad that God wanted to save people that he thought were less than desirable or did things that we would claim to be inexcusable. CS Lewis once said “we must forgive the inexcusable in others because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us.” Let us hope it does not take a big fish experience to open our hearts and arms to those in our community and world who need a touch of grace and love.

Matthew Live Session 5

After much technical difficulty I was able to do Matthew Live #5… live.  If I keep having issues with my connection I am going to have to figure out a different way to do the Bible Study.

Thanks for watching!

Rev. Evan


Refugees, the Church and Jesus

My latest for the Longview News-Journal


So much is going on in our country and world right now. Tensions are high, names are being called and innocent people are caught in the middle. People are turning off the news for it is too grim, too painful, too sad. Social media has once again become a place of vigorous support and strong opposition.  What we experienced during the long and painful political season has not gone away.  No one is listening to the other side, frankly no one is listening period.  If anything, people are digging their heels in deeper and standing their ground without giving their position a second thought. We hold to party lines and tweetable one liners that make ourselves feel good or superior but we are unwilling or unable to consider the other position or even question our own beliefs.

 

We as a nation need to find some commonality, some common ground to unite around. We have no greater allegiance than to God, no party, administration, ideology or cliché can ever undermine that.

 

The Church needs to be a voice of reason and truth, a place of refuge and sanctuary. Followers of Christ must return to the holy scriptures to draw out it’s ancient wisdom about loving neighbors and welcoming the stranger.

 

Politics and rhetoric will only get us so far and it is nowhere near where we need to be or even should be.  As a Christian I am aware of the intersection of my faith and the world. It is hard to excuse certain actions based on my theology and understanding of the Gospel. As a follower of Christ, I am called to not only examine myself and my own understanding of God, Jesus, and the Spirit, but how those teachings, commands and ideals are being played out in the world.  This type of examination is difficult because it might mean that we change our position on certain issues or even go against the status quo of our community or even our church.

 

There has been a lot of discussion about the ban imposed on seven countries by the President’s executive order. At the heart of this issue are those caught in the middle of escaping war torn areas.  These refugees are trying to find a place of welcome, rest, comfort and peace. Their lives have been turned upside down by senseless and needless violence and millions of people have left everything behind so that they might merely survive.

 

As Christians, we know of a similar story.  After the birth Jesus, Herod the King called for the death of all children two years and under.  Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled their home, leaving behind everything they had and escaped to Egypt.  In that single act, Jesus the Christ became a refugee.

 

Are we going to turn away mothers and fathers doing everything in their power to ensure that their children are safe?  Ask any parent what they would do if faced with a similar situation and the resounding answer you would get would be “anything.”  Those seeking refuge did not ask to be put into this situation. They did not ask for the homes to be bombed or their lives to be radically changed. All they ask is for compassion, shelter, grace, love and acceptance. What they are asking from us is the heart of the gospel.

 

We turn away Mary and Joseph all the time. Mary and Joseph come to us in the form of hungry children, refugees from war torn areas and families living paycheck to paycheck; to deny them denies Christ. While we might think that we would not be so cold or brash, to judge someone based on their country of origin, gender or immigration status means that we have decided to turn away the image of God. We metaphorically say “there is no room in the inn for you tonight.” Is there room today? Who are we turning away in the name of our religion or personal/political causes?

 

We have to see each other as the bearers of the image of God. This reflects the world in which God wants us to create. Christ taught that the most important and greatest commandment was to love God and to love every person just as much as you love your own self.

 

People are more than the product of their decisions, religion, country of origin or perceived sins. They are beautiful children of God who God loves just as much as God loves you and me. The coming of Christ into the world was the invading of the secular space and showing humanity that God’s love is real, God’s mercy is right and God’s grace is given to all people, in all places and at all times. Faithful Christians must reclaim this not just when it is convenient but at all times.

 

We might feel uncomfortable or scared thinking about “welcoming the stranger,” but what is scarier is letting fear overshadow love, letting the unknown overshadow grace, letting our anxieties stop us from sharing the love of Jesus Christ. There are no easy answers.  This is tough and faithful work but it is the fulfillment of the most basic teachings of the Bible: love God and love your neighbor.

 

May we see past our preconceived notions and caricatures to see all of humanity as living, breathing, bearers of your divine image.  No place of origin, nationality, belief system or status can ever change that fact.