Showing posts from October, 2018

Stand At The Crossroads

A couple of years ago, we were visiting friends in Chicago, and I had the opportunity to drive all over the city for the first time in a very long time.  Essentially, four years of my life were spent here when I was going to seminary and serving as a youth director in Evanston, just north of the city.  
It's funny, but it doesn't take you long to remember those old paths when you return to a place you knew so well.  Without even noticing it, I began driving without my GPS as I went from one place to the other.  I just kind of knew where to go.  
I also began remembering little things from the past. A vivid memory of a walk in the park with my oldest son rushed back to me.  I saw the neighborhood where we took our kids trick-or-treating on a bitterly cold Halloween.  The park where my middle son crawled on a blanket when he was not yet a year old. 
Those memories and the places where they were made are all a part of me, but I am different than I was then.  I've changed and gro…

The Importance of Solitude

Just about every day of the week I wake up at 5AM, shuffle downstairs, make myself some coffee and begin my day.  

Typically, I'll have about an hour and a half of complete peace and quiet before the busy-ness of the day begins.  There have been plenty of disciplines in my life that I've let ebb and flow, but I've held on to my early morning quiet time for dear life.  

Sometimes I wonder what would happen to me if I didn't have that time to read, pray, write and reflect in solitude every morning.  I'm thinking it wouldn't be good.  

Some years ago, during a visit to Israel, I had the chance to visit a site high above the Sea of Galilee--a site many believe to be where Jesus often retreated in solitude when he needed some time alone to pray and recharge.  

In Greek, the name of the place is Eremos Topos or Solitary Place.  

Throughout his ministry, Jesus seems to move back and forth between the bustle and mass of humanity found in the villages and cities where he min…

Attitude of Gratitude - Week One: A Little Lower

This week we are beginning a brand new sermon series entitled, "Attitude of Gratitude," which will take us all the way to the end of the November and the season of Advent, which is nearly upon us. 

November just seems like the perfect month to talk about gratitude, don't you think?  We are becoming masters of the art it ti-ming around here, man.  Boom.

Two recent studies conducted by the Pew Research group and the Public Religion Research Institute revealed something interesting about the attitudes of gratitude in the U.S. 

According to the Pew study, 78 percent of people say they feel strongly thankful at least once a week.  

But the Public Religion study revealed that most of us are more anxious, less hopeful and more distrustful than ever.  

Clearly, there's a disconnect here.  Diana Butler Bass believes it comes down to the fact that as individuals we value gratitude as a virtue, and we strive to express it in our own lives.  But as a society, we are becoming less an…

God Wants Less From You, Not More

This morning I read the following passage of Scripture from the Gospel of Matthew: 
Give your entire attention what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. - Matthew 6: 34 (MSG)I love this version of Jesus' teaching on worry from The Message, which was translated by the late author and Presbyterian minister Eugene Peterson.  When I read this verse today, it was like I'd never really read it before.  

This is a season in my life when I feel as though there are far too many things that need doing, but I don't seem to have enough time or energy to get them done as I would like.  There are days when it feels like I'm moving from one crisis to another.  

And I know for a fact I'm not the only who feels this way.  There are a lot of us out there who are doing our best to put one foot in front of the other so we can just keep going until there…

Haunted - Week Two: Haunted by Hurts

This week we are moving forward in our sermon series for October--a series that we've entitled "Haunted."  

I shared earlier how I began thinking about this series some time ago when I was reflecting on the various counseling sessions I've done over the years with people in crisis.  Almost all of those people had something in common: They were haunted by something in their past--regret, doubt, fear or hurts. 

I started thinking about how so many of us are haunted by our past, and how much that affects the way we feel about our present situations and how it can also ruin our vision of the future.  But it's difficult to let go of some of these powerful, negative emotions.  They can haunt us terribly and in some cases can keep us just a step or two away from falling apart. 

And so we've been coming back to a very simple and profound truth throughout this series--a truth that is life-changing and transformative for those who are haunted by their past.  


Eleven Lifetimes

Communication expert Anna Chui, who is the editor of the website Lifehack loves to write about love, life, and passion.  

Chui believes that it takes about seven years to truly master a task, career, hobby, etc.  Further, she also calculates that since the average healthy person lives to around 88 years of age, most of us have about 11 different chances to become masterful at something new.  

For Chui, it all comes down to attitude, self-talk, and hope as to how people will spend their 11 "lifetimes."  

She says that some people self-talk their way into fear by saying things like, "I'm only trained to do one thing, and if I'm not doing that, then what good am I?"   

Others talk about themselves as though they are already dead gone by saying things like, "I used to be good at [insert thing they used to be good at here] but then [insert thing that happened to keep them from doing that thing they used to be good at doing].  

But there are some people who keep …

May God Rid You of God

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. - 1 Corinthians 13:11

The God of my youth was a severe, judgmental and punishing god---the kind of deity who was just waiting for me to mess up so he could crush me like an insect.  

This was the only god that made sense to me then.  How else could you rationalize the horrors of violence, natural disasters, disease, hunger and the like except through the lens of this punishing, judgemental god?  

But there came a day when the images of that god no longer worked for me, and so I walked away from that god--believing that I was probably an atheist, or at the very least an agnostic.  

What I didn't realize at the time, however, was that my understanding of God was changing, growing and going through a necessary stage of development.  In order to have a fuller understanding of God, I needed to fire that old god image and consign it to the d…

Defining Sin

The faith tradition that I was raised in was obsessed with "sin."

I grew up being constantly reminded of all of the things that were "sinful" in the world, and what I needed to do to avoid them.  

At my Christian high school, we used to have an annual chapel service where the girls were separated from the boys for a talk about sex, lust and other assorted carnal activities.  

The girls were essentially taught that they were responsible for all of the lustful thoughts that boys might have. The boys were taught that girls were constantly out to get them, so they needed to guard themselves against their feminine wiles.  

One year, the pastor of the church that sponsored the school told all of us boys that if we had lustful thoughts we ought to get down on the floor and do push-ups until they went away. 

Among the many problems with fundamentalist Christianity is that it narrows the scope of sin, and ignores the more insidious and destructive aspects of it on the whole of l…

The Museum of Failure

The Museum of Failure, which is located in  Helsingborg, Sweden, is easily one of the most interesting museums in the world.  According to its website, the Museum is "...a collection of failed products and services from around the world."  

Since the majority of inventions and attempts at innovative projects fail, the museum was created to showcase these failures and "to provide visitors a fascinating learning experience."  

Dr. Samuel West, the creator, and curator of the museum claims that he came up with the idea for the museum because he was "... so tired of reading and hearing the same boring success stories..."  West goes  on to say, "It is in the failures that we find the interesting stories that we can learn from."  

As I was reading about the Museum of Failure, I got to thinking about how I've created my own museum dedicated to my failures.  

While it exists only in my mind, my museum is fairly large--at least a few stories tall--and co…

Words Matter

One of the many things that I've learned over the years is that almost every English translation of the Bible has moments where they mangle the original sense of the text and leave the reader with an incomplete understanding of what the authors meant.  

Perhaps one of the most dramatic of these mangled moments occurs with the Shema, a prayer that is introduced in Deuteronomy and then repeated by Jesus.  

The Shema (perhaps the most important prayer in the Hebrew tradition) is one of the great gifts to the world.  It's found in Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 5 and is also repeated by Jesus in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). 

It essentially reads:  Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord your God is One.  And you shall love the Lord Your God with all of your heart and all your soul..."  

Most of us see this prayer as having a largely symbolic kind of meaning.  As Dr. Joel Hoffman notes: 
"The English word “heart” refers to emotion and generally exclu…

And The Walls Came Down

Well they blew the horns
And the walls came down
They'd all been warned
And the walls came down
They stood there laughing
They're not laughing anymore
The walls came down...  The Call

The story of how Joshua conquered the city of Jericho is recounted in Joshua chapter 6 from the Hebrew Scriptures.  

According to the story, following God's commands, a retinue of armed Hebrews, trumpeters, and priests carried the Ark of the Covenant around the impregnable walls of the city seven times before shouting, and blasting their trumpets. 

And then the "walls came tumblin' down," in the words the old spiritual song.  

For centuries Archaeologists have argued over the evidence in the remains of the ancient city.  It's clear that the walls were breached at some point, but not clear that they collapsed in the way it's described in Joshua 6.  

When I was in the ancient city of Jericho last week I found myself staring out over the results of those archaeological digs, and I had…

Haunted - Week One: Haunted By Fear

This week we are beginning a short two-part sermon series entitled, "Haunted."  The basic premise behind this sermon series is centered on the fact that all have something in common:  Each of us has things in our past that we wish hadn't happened.

We've all experienced pain, doubt, regret or fear in our past.  But for some of us, it still feels like it was yesterday.  Many of us are haunted by things in our past.  We're haunted by regret, doubt, hurt and fear, and sometimes it feels as though we will never be free of the things that are haunting us.

This is not the way God intends for us to live.  For God so loved the world that he sent His Son, Jesus, whose first sermon proclaimed that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to set the captives free to bring good news to those who were haunted, wounded, bleeding, stumbling and lost. 

And so I want to lift up this simple, but life-changing idea for the next couple of weeks:  

You don't have to be haunted by your past…