Showing posts from March, 2010

Finish Strong

This Sunday is Palm Sunday.

There is a traditional sort of Palm Sunday sermon that I want to preach.  It's the one where I challenge my listeners to ponder the fact that the same people who cheered Jesus when he rode into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover were shouting "Crucify!" the following Friday.

And then I would say, "We are no different, you and I.  We cheer Jesus when we think he's going to fit our little mold, when we think he's going to solve all our problems and give us what we want.  But when we see that Jesus isn't the kind of Messiah we want, we turn on him."

That is a good sermon.  I can't ignore the presence of that message in the narratives of the Triumphal Entry.  Take a look at the painting above, for instance.  What do you see that is unusual about it?  It looks as though Jesus is entering into a cathedral, doesn't it?  I love this painting. It reminds us that we still try place Jesus into our church-shaped boxes.


Good to Great to Gone

How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In by Jim Collins (Harper Collins, 2010)

When Jim Collins wrote his books "Built to Last"and "Good to Great" some years ago, he had no idea that some of the companies that he would be profiling as bastions of corporate success and longevity would be gone or nearly gone just a few short years later.  No one--or hardly anyone--foresaw the bloodletting that would take place in the global economy throughout 2008-2009--a bloodletting that resulted in the demise of more than one corporate giant. 

Collins latest book, "How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In" begins by surveying the destruction of the Great Recession, and taking stock of the many companies that were "built to last," but didn't.  What Collins discovered, as he and his team culled through the names of once-great companies in recent history that have gone the way of the dodo, was that many of the "mighty&qu…

Baggage: Week 4 - Released From Our Baggage

I know about depression. 

Several years ago, I was struggling with direction and purpose and found myself angry most of the time.  I also found that I didn't really want to muster the energy to do the most basic things--like get out of bed or go to work or to school.  

I spent a lot of time playing video games and sleeping.  When I had to, I would "gird up my loins" as the Bible puts it, and be present where I was supposed to be present.  And then I would be exhausted. 

Finally, I decided to see a therapist.  I didn't tell anyone that I knew except for my wife, who basically gave me an ultimatum before I agreed to go.  She'd had enough, and I didn't blame her.  I saw a therapist once a week for a year.  I missed a few sessions in the beginning and he had to get tough with me.  When he threatened not to see me again if I blew off another session, I buckled down and saw it through to the end.  At the end of that year I discovered that I finally had the tools to re…

The Reverend's Big Bulletin Adventure

I did something this past week that has felled lesser ministers. 

I changed the worship bulletin.

For those pastors out there reading this, I could very nearly hear your audible gasp. And right now your stomach is probably doing flips just to imagine what it would be like to do this in your own church.  But you've wanted to, haven't you? 

You've hated it... that thing.  

You know... That thing that you produce each week that is full of liberally and randomly used Microsoft Clip Art...  That thing that you produce that makes the Earth weep each time you run it because of all the trees that died in order to promote the Men's Prayer Breakfast...  That thing that has more inserts than a newspaper on Black Friday... 

You want to change it, don't you?

Now for those of you non-church-y type folk who might be reading this, I know what you are saying. 


Exactly.  There are certain things that church-y people do and say that should just go unexplained.  Qu…

N.T. Wright's "Justification" - A Review

Justification: God's Plan And Paul's Vision by N.T. Wright (IVP Academic)

I was watching an interview with Bishop N.T. Wright recently when he was asked about the "big" issues in his writing and teaching--issues like resurrection, salvation and justification.  The question was essentially, "What about these big issues can you simplify for us lay people who struggle to understand them?"  Interestingly, Bishop Wright chose to focus on justification, particularly on the way in which it cannot be understood in Paul's writings apart from it's context.  Evangelical, conservative author and pastor John Piper had just written a book which was directed as a refutation of Wright's Pauline scholarship, particularly as it related to the 1st century Jewish context within which Paul was writing.  Piper actually warned his readers in his book not to get "misled" by the historical and textual criticism used by Wright to lift up how 1st century Judaism …

Hear No Evil - Book Review

Hear No Evil:  My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost by Matthew Paul Turner (Waterbrook Press)

Matthew Paul Turner and I lived parallel lives--up to that point where he went off to college and got the degree that I probably should have had, and my dream job in the music business.  Well, it was the Christian music business, which wasn't part of my dream job, but there you go.  Turner is the popular blogger, Christian critic, author, and cultural commentator who writes, comments, critiques and sometimes snarks a bit at  Last year a friend sent me Turner's book "Churched," a compilation of essays on growing up as a fundamentalist Baptist.  I was thrilled when I saw Hear No Evil was in print, but it took me a while to get to it.  It was worth the wait.  Hear No Evil essentially chronicles Turner's life story in essays-- as his life relates to music, that is.  I couldn't put it down, to be honest.  Each essay draws the reader cl…

Cupidity: Book Review

Cupidity: 50 Stupid Things People Do For Love - Hayley & Michael DiMarco (Tyndale)

Hayley & Michael DiMarco have written a number of books about marriage, relationships, sex, dating, etc. from a Christian perspective.  Their many books and DVD projects as well as their efforts to combat homelessness and hunger can be found at Their most recent book, Cupidity deals with relationship issues--particularly issues surrounding the "stupid" things that people do to themselves and one another in the name of love.  The "50 Things" are broken down into Emotional, Mental, Physical, Social and Spiritual "acts of cupidity."  It is an engaging and lighthearted read, filled with quizzes, exercises, discussion guides and plenty of "sidebar" discussions that illuminate each section quite well.  There are plenty of places for both married couples and singles to land in this book, and it has a certain sense of openness and honest…

Emotional Baggage

W "Baggage" sermon series Week 3

The question that I posed this week on the website that I created for my Lenten sermon series, "Baggage" was simply this:  

Is Church A Safe Place To Fail?

I got several responses.  This one was my favorite: 

No way. We may be called to be "losers" according to the Gospel (to lose our life to find true life), but failing means that you don't "fit" into the club of pretty people that are so successful at hiding their faults, failures, and emotional scars. Organized church has become a hospital that asks people to be healed before they come. And heaven forbid you work for a church and fail...unacceptable...and in the words of the modern-day prophet, Donald Trump, "You're Fired!"

Having worked as a staff member in churches for over twelve years, I completely feel that comment.  Case in point:  While I was preparing for this sermon, I sent out an electronic email that had a mistake in it.  Almost immediat…


I used to smoke.

Two packs a day, in fact.  My cigarette of choice was Salem Ultra Lights.  My wife told me that the menthol made my breath smell a bit more tolerable, and I could fool myself into thinking that because they were "ultra light" that they weren't bad for me. 

I enjoyed smoking a whole lot. 

The first thing I reached for when I got up in the morning was my cigarettes. 

I liked to smoke when I drove.  It passed the time and it made me feel cool.

I pretty much had to have a cigarette after I ate. 

I also lit up after... you know... "business time" if you know what I mean. 

Sex... for those who don't know what "business time" is all about.

You know, come to think of it I pretty much smoked to reward myself for all of the things I accomplished during the day.  Getting up. turning on the TV, drinking coffee, finishing an assignment...

I guess you could say that I was addicted. 

Every time I thought of quitting, I got anxious.  I would won…

A New Kind of Brian McLaren

A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming Our Faith by Brian McLaren (HarperOne, 2010).  
Brian McLaren has been under fire these past few years.  He's been called a heretic (one of the more kindly monickers), and been likened to the anti-Christ and/or Satan.  In his "friendly" note to his critics, McLaren offers this bit of advice to those who have attacked him for his ideas and thoughts on Christianity and the people who call themselves Christians.  "I repeatedly tell people, if they are happy and confident in your approach, that they stay with it and ignore me, my work, and my friends entirely. I am not here to steal any of your "market share" or do you harm in any way."
Sadly, the vitriol and the hate speech that is leveled at McLaren almost exclusively comes from "Christians" and "Christian" leaders.  Having grown up in a fundamentalist Baptist culture, I am familiar with the fear-mongering that takes place…