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Showing posts from January, 2018

The One Who Holds The Future

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A friend of mine recently posted a twenty seven year-old photo of us on Facebook from a trip we took to New York City with two other friends---one of whom was my roommate, Greg (the guy in the leather jacket and cool hat).  



The photo was taken on top of one of the towers of the World Trade Trade center, marking the beginning of an epic trip to the city, upstate New York and eventually Toronto.  I was just twenty two years old in that photo--younger than my oldest son.    

Just over ten years after this photo was taken the World Trade Center would be destroyed on 9/11. Thirteen years later, at age 39, my old roommate Greg would lose his life in a tragic motorcycle accident, brought on by a drunk driver.   

If the passer-by who took our photo that day had been from the future and took the time to tell me that those things would come to pass, I would have never believed it.    

Standing on top of those seemingly indestructible buildings, I would have never imagined that both towers would be…

God Revealed In Our Midst

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Some years ago, I started attending an ecumenical prayer gathering of pastors and church leaders in the small town where I was serving as a pastor.   

After a couple of meetings, I began to notice some patterns in the ways some of my colleagues spoke about their decisions and the ways they planned their own lives.  

They would say things like, "The Lord spoke to me the other day..."  or "I knew the Lord wanted us to do this..."  or "I knew I was being led by God to say this..."  

All-too-conveniently, the things my fellow pastors were claiming God was telling them to do seemed to be the very things that they were already sold on as good ideas.  

Unfortunately, uncritically claiming ones own ideas and desires as a flash of divine revelation is something that Christian-y people do all the time.  

I've seen it taken to the extreme ("God led me to leave my wife"--an actual statement a guy shared with me once), and I've also seen it used to dimini…

Love Is Stronger Than Hate

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This past weekend my wife and I spent some time in New York City with a friend who was having surgery there.  We also took the time to experience some of the sights of the city.  

One of the most meaningful things that we did was to visit the National 9/11 Museum and Memorial on the site of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in an evil terrorist attack seventeen years ago.  

It's hard to fathom the kind of hatred and twisted religious fundamentalism that would cause such death and destruction.  As a people, we lost a lot on that day.  We lost our innocence, our naive view of the wider world, our overall sense of safety... 

I felt old resentments well up inside of me, and hard words began to form on my lips.  And then Merideth said to me, "We have to be better.  We have to come from a place of love. We need to speak that into the world."  

About that time we rounded the corner and saw a display in the gift shop of a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, "Love Is St…

Room For Doubt

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Over the years, I've been pretty open about my struggles with doubt as it relates to my faith. 

One of those times came a couple of years ago after the horrific tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School--when a crazed gunman callously executed little children.  After that happened, I had a dark moment or two about what God was up to, if God was up to anything at all.  

I realized after Sandy Hook that all of the things I had been programmed by Christian culture to say were pretty useless and trite. In the end, I had to dive to the bottom of my doubt during that dark time in order to find some ground to push off of in order to return to the surface. 

I once had a church member meet with me to share his numerous concerns about some of my recent sermon topics.  In particular, he took umbrage over my openness when it comes to my struggles with doubt.  "You shouldn't teach people that it's okay to doubt," he chided me.  "You should lead people to the tru…

Love Is Bigger

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As I write this morning I am looking out the window of an airplane, and marveling at what is shaping up to be a spectacular sunrise.

It’s marvelous that I am tens of thousands of feet in the air, gazing out the window at rose colored clouds and soft orange and yellow beans of sunlight bursting through, and I’m also online writing this devotion.

What a world, am I right?

While I am reflecting on all of these marvelous things,  I am also listening to one of my favorite albums from 2017–U2’s Songs Of Experience.  One of the songs, “Love Is Bigger Than Anything It’s Way,” is really speaking to me this morning. 

If I could, I would come, too
But the path is made by you
As you’re walking start singing and stop talking. 

Oh, if I could hear myself when I say 
(Oh love) love is bigger than anything in its way. 

For some reason those words, combined with the sunrise and the overwhelming feeling that I am being drawn into something bigger, something greater than myself as I’m hurtling along at breaknec…

Don't Miss The Miracles

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In the Gospel of John there is a passage that relates the story of how Jesus healed a man near the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem--a spot where a number of sick people would lie.   

We learn that the man had been an "invalid" for thirty-eight years, and the moment of his healing is related this way: 

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. 

So this guy is healed and walks away carrying his mat--walking upright and well for the first time in thirty-eight years.  

But then he encounters the overly-religious people in the community who take offense at the fact that he is "working" on the Sabbath.   Here's what they said to him: 

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath,  and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”  

Don't you just love that?  

This guy had been flat on his back for thirty-eight years.  Mo…

Broken Screens

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A couple of years ago, a freak accident cracked the glass on the screen of my laptop, and turned half of it into a bunch of pulsating, lines that would grow even more dense and fuzzy the longer the computer was left on.  

When I finally got it fixed, after weeks of only being able to see half of my screen, it was amazing to see the whole display.  I finally could see what I was doing when I was editing, writing and creating.  

I started thinking about how many other areas in my life might be just like that--where I wasn't able to see the whole picture.  I thought about all of the circumstances, people, situations even my own beliefs and convictions where things were a bit fuzzy and not at all clear.  

For most of us, instead of finding new ways to see more clearly in those circumstances, we simply put up with the fuzziness, and before too long, the distortion becomes the norm.  We lose our vision for what we could see if we had the right lenses.  

The Apostle Paul wrote about this in …

Who, Me?

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"As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. 'Follow me,' he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him." - Matthew 9:9

When Jesus called Matthew to be one of the twelve disciples, he was really stretching the good will of the other eleven.  Matthew was a tax collector, which meant that he took advantage of his own people in order to line his pockets. 

And worse yet, Matthew was one of the tax collectors who set up on the docks and taxed the fishermen who were coming in from fishing all night.  Since most of Jesus' followers were fisherman, they probably already knew and couldn't stand Matthew.  

But Jesus called Matthew to follow him, and it says in the text that Matthew simply got up and followed.  He left behind his booth, his livelihood, and his old life, and embraced a new way of living and a new set of traveling companions. 

That text tells me that Matthew must have been longing for that moment deep insid…

How To Neighbor - Week 3: "Orphans Embraced"

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This week we are continuing our sermon series entitled "How To Neighbor"-- series focused on how we can enter into real relationships with our neighbors in need, and how to do good in those relationships.  
The world is becoming more and more connected--and even though we may not share a fence with our neighbors, we can still share in their burdens and joys... if we are willing to step outside of ourselves and learn what it means to truly be a neighbor.

We've explored how we can fulfill our calling to be true neighbors who empower the power, reconcile racism and now we're going to explore how we are called to embrace those who are orphans...

Did you know that human beings have what could be called an obsession with orphans--in literature and culture.   I recently read an ancient Algerian folktale entitled "The First Tears."
Once there was a child wandering about on the earth who was an orphan. He had neither father nor mother, and he was very sad. Nobody paid a…

Known

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"I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.  Show me the wonders of your great love..." Psalm 17:7

There is this moment early in the Gospel of John where Jesus meets Nathanael, a young man who would soon become one of his twelve disciples.  Nathanael is brought by Philip, who had already been captivated by Jesus and called to follow.  

When Philip introduces Nathanael, Jesus declares to all who are gathered, "Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit."  Nathanael asks Jesus, "How do you know me?"  Jesus replies, "I saw you while you still under the fig tree when Philip came to get you."  

Nathanael is amazed because not only has Jesus asserted that he knows who Nathanael really is, he then goes on to prove it by miraculously revealing his knowledge of something that he could not have known except through divine sight.  

And in that moment Nathanael pledges his loyalty and love to Jesus by sayin…

The Thread

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One of the many things I love about poetry is the way that it often expands rather than contracts the imagination.  And the best poems challenge you to enter into the story they are telling, the moment they are describing and make it your own. 

I read this poem by William Stafford this morning, and I was moved by the imagery it lifted up.  
There's a thread that you follow.  It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn't change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you can do can stop time's unfolding.
You don't ever let go of the thread.  
This poem by Stafford ultimately begs an important question.  Did you think of it yet?  It took me reading through the poem a couple of times before it occurred to me to ask it.  Here it is:  

"What is my thread?"  

How would I describe th…

The Story

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For God so loved the cosmos as to give the Son, the only one, so that everyone having faith in him might not perish, but have the life of the Age.  - John 3:16 (literal translation from Greek)

John 3:16 is probably one of the most famous and well-used verses in the entire New Testament--which is why so many of us miss the intricacies of its message.  We've grown too used to it.

Which is why I used a literal translation instead of one that might be a bit more familiar.

Read it again with new eyes.

Those first few words---For God so loved the cosmos  We usually translate that into "world," but isn't cosmos a whole lot bigger?

And what about the words so loved?   God so loved the cosmos--the universe--all of Creation.  When you think of it in those terms doesn't it expand your view of this God--the kind of God who still loves, still dotes on what God has created?

But it's the next words that truly set the stage for all that comes in the second half of the verse.…

Hope Rising

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24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side,  I will not believe.” (John 20:24-25)
Doubting Thomas. 

For centuries, Christians have affixed this ignominious nickname to the one disciple of Jesus who  wasn't in the room the first time Jesus appeared to his followers after the Resurrection. 

When I was a kid, I was taught this story as a cautionary tale about how I shouldn't doubt when it came to my faith.  

But now when I read it, I don't see Thomas in that light at all.  

When you go back a couple of chapters in the story we find Jesus telling his followers that he was heading to Jerusalem even though there were people there who wanted to kill him.   

And then Thomas tells the other disciples "Let us go now to Jerusalem so that …

How To Neighbor - Week 2: Racism Reconciled

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Today we're going to be continuing the sermon series we started last Sunday, a sermon series entitled "How To Neighbor" As the world grows more connected, our neighbors are closer than ever. You might not share a fence, but you can still share their burdens and joys. 

Each week of this four-week focuses on a different aspect of how to build relationships with our neighbors and how to do good in the context of those relationships. 

Last week we talked about how we need to ask ourselves if we have the awareness, access and ability to step into mission and empower the poor.  

Today we're going to be talking about how we can see racism reconciled.  

First things first.   

There's a question that I need to address before I say another word.  

And that question is, "What authority do I have to speak on the issue of racial reconciliation?  I'm a middle-aged white guy with a whole bunch of implicit bias and baggage.  My hands are not clean when it comes to racial issu…