Up Close And Personal

Sometimes things look a lot more put together and beautiful from farther away.  

From a distance, the basket of flowers on my front porch look dazzling and perfect, but when I move in and inspect them from a few inches away, I can see the blemishes on the petals, and the individual flowers that have begun to brown.  

The closer I get, the more I am able to see them as they really are.  

It's then that I have a choice to make.  I can choose to remain close and aware of their blemishes and find beauty in them anyway, or I can keep my distance and maintain an unmarried (and incomplete) view of them.  

The poet Mary Oliver wrote of this choice in her poem "The Ponds." She acknowledges that close proximity brings a more intimate relationship, but it's sometimes tempting to simply hold the world at arm's length.  

Still what I want in my lifeis to be willing to be dazzled--to cast aside the weight of factsand maybe evento float a little above this difficult world. 
I think t…

Speak Now - Week 3: "Let Us Not Love With Words"

Today is the Fourth Sunday of the Season of Easter, and it's also is the third installment of our sermon series on the New Testament book of 1 John entitled "Speak Now."

Throughout this study, we'll be focusing on what it means to not only follow Jesus but also how to speak about our faith in life-giving ways.

As we identified last week, the problem that we have in our culture right now is that when someone says "I am a Christian," it's hard to tell exactly what that means.  So many people in our culture have negative feelings about Christians and what they believe Christians stand for. 

And the reasons they have these negative feelings is because the people who are speaking the loudest in our culture about what it means to be a Christian have completely lost the plot.  My hope is that this series will help give us the tools and the empowerment we need to speak up in love about what Jesus has done for us. 

Last week we learned that the definition of a Chris…

Something There Is That Doesn't Love A Wall

I spent the last three days of this week honing my leadership skills and learning some new ones with a group of lead pastors from around the country (and one from Canada).  

I was the only Presbyterian in a room full of non-denominational, Pentecostal and Baptist leaders, which was a bit outside of my comfort zone.  

Whatever our theological differences might have been, however, we didn't dwell on them.  Every single one of us in the room was after the same thing: We wanted to be better pastors and leaders--for the purpose of sharing the Good News with a world that needs to hear a word of hope.  

Every so often I find myself grieving over the seemingly hopeless divisions between Christian groups, churches, and denominations.  And sometimes my grief turns to anger, and my anger leads me to create barriers.  

The walls that have been up between Christians have done very little to advance the kingdom of God, which was the focus of Jesus life and ministry, and the task he gave to his foll…

Forgiving As You Have Been Forgiven

Years ago, I had a conflict with a church member and youth group volunteer who was spreading lies about me both in the church and in our community.  When the truth came out, and she knew that she had been exposed, she never returned to the church.  

For several months, I did my best to try to arrange meetings, sent her emails, called and left voice messages on her phone and even sent her a written letter pleading with her to speak with me so we could be reconciled.  She never responded.  

I eventually grew angry at her and stayed angry for a long time.  She'd done a lot of damage to my ministry and had done her best to divide our church.  Further, because of her unwillingness to work it out, the bad feelings between us simply festered.  

I don't remember when exactly, but I eventually found myself feeling sorry for her.  Because of her shame over being caught in a lie, she'd lost her church family, her community support, and the ministry she loved.  

Bob Goff recently wrote, &…

Hearing What You Need To Hear

On March 10, 1983, MTV played the video for Michael Jackson's "Bille Jean" for the first time.  

Up until that time, MTV executives refused to play the video because they claimed the fledgling music video channel was dedicated to "rock-n-roll."   They only agreed to air the video after the president of CBS Records to pull all of his artists from the channel if they didn't do it.  

Before it aired "Billie Jean," MTV was on its way to bankruptcy.  It had lost $50 million and was projected to lose even more.  Michael Jackson's next three videos off of his Thriller album saved the channel and helped it turn a profit just a year later.  

The problem was, MTV execs had surrounded themselves with people who had the same tastes in music as they did---a move that created an echo chamber where they were only hearing from people who agreed with them.  

Far too many Christians today seem to be doing the very same thing as those MTV execs did.  

We'll spend…

God Right Here

Some years ago, I asked the students in a confirmation class I was teaching if they would attempt to draw a picture of what they thought God might look like.  

Several of the students sketched a portrait of an old man with a long white beard.  Others toyed with the idea of God as a flash of light.  A couple of students drew ancient symbols of the Trinity.  And a handful of others simply left their pages blank.  

What do you picture, when you try to conjure up images of God in your imagination?  

If you're like most people who believe in God, you probably imagine God much like those students did.  And I would also wager that you tend to think of God as being "somewhere else" looking down upon us.  

Richard Rohr once wrote, "The belief that God is "out there" is the basic dualism that is tearing us all apart." The idea that God is somehow above and unconnected to our material reality is a destructive notion.  It affects the way we treat the earth, our bodie…

The Face and Heart of God

Just giving people commandments on tablets and stone doesn't change the heart. It may steel the will, but it doesn't soften the heart like a personal encounter can. 
 - Richard Rohr 

Some years ago, when I was working on my Master's degree at Florida State University, I was walking with some fellow students through one common of the many areas on campus when we encountered a street evangelist, who had attracted a crowd. 
The evangelist's name was "Brother Jed," a loud and obnoxious self-appointed preacher, who makes a career out of protesting on college campuses all over the United States.   
Jed's modus operandi is to say as many offensive, bigoted and hateful things as possible in order to start arguments with people, which he then records on video to post on his website.  
In short, Brother Jed is a jerk.  
On this particular day, Brother Jed had a huge sign that was using the word "gay" as an acronym to spell this unbelievably horrible sentence, &…