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Showing posts from March, 2019

Is God Really "Up There?"

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If you were somehow able to time travel to 1974 and drop into the Fairfield Road Baptist Church in Greenville, SC around the Sunday school hour, you would have found six-year-old Leon in a tiny classroom in the church basement staring critically at a flannelgraph board. 

Flannelgraph was the go-to teaching aid for generations of kids in the 50's, 60's and 70's.  We didn't have videos back then.  We barely had running water and electricity. 

[That last bit was for anyone who might have been reading this, who said: "Man, Leon is old."  Whatever man.]

So let's imagine that you asked the six-year-olds in my classroom the following question: "Where is God?"  How do you think that they would respond?

Most likely they would raise their arms, and point to the sky.  "Up there."

It's interesting that those first impulses we have about the otherness of God are so often informed by the idea of distance.  In other words, God is far away, somewhere o…

You, Made Indestructible

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I've made a lot of mistakes in my life.  More than most people, I'm pretty sure. 

I was brought up with the notion that God punished you for your mistakes.  I came to believe that when you stepped out of line, God was obligated to give you a holy whack upside the head.  That's how it worked.

So when I made a poor decision, chose the wrong path or just flat out messed up because of willfulness, immaturity, or plain old stubbornness, I fully expected God's judgment upon me. 

And even as a young adult, when I stopped believing in God for a season, I still had this haunting feeling of foreboding that I couldn't shake.  When something bad would happen to me, there was a little voice that would whisper in my ear: "You deserved that." 

Fast forward many years... I found my way back to faith and embraced a new way of imagining a loving and forgiving God that changed my whole life. 

But despite all of my new understanding of God as the essence of love, and what that me…

There's Magic In All Of This

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The birds were singing in my back yard this morning in the moments just before dawn.  I poked my head out my back door clutching my just-brewed cup of coffee, and I listened.

A friend of mine told me that there is a difference between birdsong and birdcall.  A call is a warning, a signal of alarm, a communication of location, among other things.  Birdsong, on the other hand, has to do with attraction, stimulation and the proclamation of vigor.

It's kind of romantic, in other words--as romantic as birds get.

I was thinking about that this morning as I listened to the birds singing.  I imagined that the biological imperative they all felt to sing had less to do with the propagation of their species and more to do with the Divine spark within them.

Basically, I imagined that they were singing for joy because the morning was about to break.  The sun that was just beginning to dispel the gloom of night was a sign of resurrection, new life, and a new beginning.

I had just listened to a wonde…

Letting God to Let God

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They call it "falling" asleep because discovering you have nothing to hold onto is how it always begins.  - Dobby Gibson

I remember the moment when as a young man I decided that I no longer believed in God.

I recall that I was walking on pavement that may have part of a parking lot (the details aren't as important as the feelings I felt).  Suddenly, I said out loud, "I don't believe in God."  And then I waited.

There was a small part of me that expected a lightning bolt to descend suddenly and swiftly from the clear, blue Florida sky to turn me into a smudge spot on the pavement.  But there was nothing.  Just the sound of traffic, and a bird or two.

I remember feeling disappointed for a moment.  What I didn't realize was that the lost feeling I felt right then was simply the feeling of letting go of my old constructs of God, and the fear that had been the foundation of my faith.

I felt a sense of freedom then, but it was a disorienting kind of freedom, and n…

The Perils of A Checklist Faith

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A Facebook acquaintance, who also happens to be an outspoken conservative Christian, posted the following "test" on her Facebook feed the other day.  

How faithful are you in your Christian life? Give yourself a point for each level. Then work to earn points for each level you have not yet achieved. Remember we are all a work in progress. You are to be commended even if you are a new Christian at the very first level.
How many points thus far?
- Level 1. Salvation
- Level 2. Baptism
- Level 3. Sunday morning church attendance
- Level 4. Sunday School attendance
- Level 5. Sunday evening attendance
- Level 6. Wednesday evening attendance
- Level 7. Church membership
- Level 8. Regular Bible study
- Level 9. Regular Bible memory program
- Level 10. Bible college courses
- Level 11. Have an Active Witness
- Level 11. Have Active Converts
- Level 12. Have Immediate family members that are saved.
- Level 13. Other avenues of Christian service
No need to post your results. Just strive to improve y…

What Would Jesus Undo? - Week Three: Unbelief

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Today is the Third Sunday of the season of Lent, one of the most sacred seasons in the historic calendar of the Church.  The word Lent comes from the Latin word for forty. Practically speaking Lent is the roughly forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

But the season of Lent is also a spiritual as well as a temporal journey.  As Christians, we believe that we are journeying with Jesus during this season--mirroring in a way the 40 days that he spent in the wilderness before beginning his ministry.

Throughout this Lenten season, we will be asking a very important question: "What Would Jesus Undo?"  What does Jesus need to undo in our lives so that we can more fully embrace a life of following him?

Today we're going to be addressing something that absolutely needs to be undone in our lives before we can truly follow Jesus with our whole selves:  Unbelief.

Before we jump into the sermon today, we're going to do an exercise that I used to do when I was a director of student …

What Would Jesus Undo? - Week Two: Hypocrisy

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Today is the Second Sunday of the season of Lent, one of the most sacred seasons in the historic calendar of the Church.  The word Lent comes from the Latin word for forty. Practically speaking Lent is the roughly forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

But the season of Lent is also a spiritual as well as a temporal journey.  As Christians, we believe that we are journeying with Jesus during this season--mirroring in a way the 40 days that he spent in the wilderness before beginning his ministry.

Throughout this Lenten season, we will be asking a very important question: "What Would Jesus Undo?"  What does Jesus need to undo in our lives so that we can more fully embrace a life of following him?

Today we're going to be addressing something that absolutely needs to be undone in our lives before we can truly follow Jesus with our whole selves:  Hypocrisy.

I want you to do something for me this morning.  I want you to imagine that you are watching late night TV.  Let's sa…

Living In The Real

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Last night my wife and I went out with some of her staff for an impromptu gathering at a new brewery in our former hometown in Florida.  

It was a perfect night.  The breeze that drifted through our outdoor seating area was cool enough to be refreshing, but not cool enough to bring chills. And there were no mosquitos.   

We ate, laughed and drank together in the gathering dusk.  We spent $30 on bingo cards, and I won $23 of it back.  At one point I actually took a deep breath, closed my eyes and simply rested.  I felt so much joy and peace.  The moment felt eternal.  It was real.  

I read a wonderful quote from Richard Rohr a couple of weeks ago that I wrote down and have been thinking about ever since.  He said this:  
What healthy religion is saying is that real life is both now and later. You have to taste the Real first of all now.  Far too many Christians are living with the mistaken notion that their faith is all about the future.  The gist of this wrong-headed theology states that …

Paying Attention To Wonder In The World

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Years ago, I had the opportunity to learn some transformative lessons from Rob Bell, one of the most effective preachers/communicators of this generation. 

I had the good fortune of spending several days with Rob in a small group setting taking in all the wisdom that he had to offer when it came to effective communication, and sermon planning. 

We had just listened to him talk about how he'd rescued a plastic frisbee from being run over in the middle of a busy Chicago street, and how he felt that for some reason it was important for him to save some of the pieces because there was something about it that he felt he might use one day.

At one point, someone asked Rob "How do you know when something like that is special?"  I remember him pausing for a second and then sharing with us that it was simply a feeling that he would get when he saw things in the world that struck him as holy, beautiful and wonderful. 

And then he told us that the most important thing was to have your e…

What You Really Need To Give Up For Lent

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Last Sunday after the worship service, people were filing out the door of my church as I was shaking hands and greeting them as they did.  

As they were leaving, one of my church members told me that they appreciated the sermon and that we were talking about what needed to be "undone" in our lives in order to more fully follow Jesus.  

But then he said, "We probably ought to be talking about giving up some other things for Lent, though."  I asked him what he meant exactly, and he replied, "Maybe we could talk about giving up racism, bigotry, and homophobia for Lent... just for starters."  

What I didn't have time to tell him before he left was that he had basically just planned my sermon series for Lent next year.  Why next year?  Well, for starters my sermons are already planned for this year, and there's plenty of good stuff in them that I believe we all need to hear.  

[And listen, if you don't attend my church you can still watch the sermons e…

Letting Go of Attachments To Worry

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The other day I was reading The Way To Love, an excellent little book by Anthony Di Mello, which I highly recommend.  

While the entire book is pure gold when it comes to dispensing the wisdom of overcoming attachments to this world and truly following Jesus, there was one passage that just got to me.  

Di Mello wrote something so profound in one of the chapters of the book that I've been thinking about it for days.  Here it is:  
Think of yourself in a concert hall listening to the strains of the sweetest music when you suddenly remember that you forgot to lock your car.  You are anxious about the car, you cannot walk out of the hall and you cannot enjoy the music.  There you have a perfect image of life as it is lived by most human beings. When I read that passage, I had an instant resonation with it because I've been there, you have too.

Maybe you weren't in a concert hall "listening to the strains of sweet music," but it could have been when you were simply tryin…

Reading The Liner Notes

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In his excellent book, "Life's Too Short To Pretend You're Not Religious," author and theologian David Dark asks the following pointed questions: 
What happens when almost everything appears to be one google away and yours for nothing save the willingness to sit still for it?  Do hungry hearts still research the names in the liner notes, tracking down the source material of the things they love? Thirty-plus years ago, I worked in an actual record store that almost exclusive sold vinyl albums.  I mostly worked there for the employee discount, which was substantial.

There was a time all the way back then when I did an inventory of my vinyl albums and counted over 600 of them.  Now I've only got a couple of dozen, but the collection is growing.

One of the many beautiful things that I've always loved about vinyl records is reading the liner notes, which are placed there by the artist, and serve essentially as footnotes or endnotes for the tracks on the record.

It was…

What Would Jesus Undo? - Week One: Hollow Worship

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Today is the First Sunday of the season of Lent, one of the most sacred seasons in the historic calendar of the Church.  The word Lent comes from the Latin word for forty. Practically speaking Lent is the roughly forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

But the season of Lent is also a spiritual as well as a temporal journey.  As Christians, we believe that we are journeying with Jesus during this season--mirroring in a way the 40 days that he spent in the wilderness before beginning his ministry. 

Throughout this Lenten season, we will be asking a very important question.  It's a question that begins with "What Would Jesus---"? 

If you've been around church-y world for a while, you probably remember that there was a Christian fad that made the rounds a few years ago based on a question that began like that. The question was this:  "What Would Jesus Do?"  And the initials WWJD got plastered all over shirts, bracelets, Bible covers, you name it.  Christians lov…