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Showing posts from May, 2019

It Takes A Poet

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This is what poets are paid for... to watch clouds, look at chipmunks.  Someone has to keep an eye on these things. - Billy Collins

How do you talk about God?  Do you ever really think about it?

For most of us, our conversations about God are pretty short and sweet, or they are reserved for the life sphere we've dedicated to "church" or church-y activities---which is just one among many of our life spheres of influence.

Put all that aside for a moment.  If you are actually talking about God, what kind of language would you use?

Chances are, you'll borrow from the words you've heard or read in Scripture.  You'll use phrases you've heard in hymns or praise songs.  Or you will come up with something on your own---something that reflects your experience of  God in the world or in your life.

We try to capture the essence of God with our words, but our attempts always fall short.  Think about it.  How do you speak of the unspeakable?  How do you describe what is be…

Fight Like The Third Monkey

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I was really in need of some inspiration this morning.  

My headspace wasn't the greatest, mostly filled with thoughts about how I'm not being all that I should be... and my upcoming sermon isn't very good... and I had no idea what to write for today's devo... and I'm wishing I'd done a better job on a handful of tasks...   

I do that to myself more often than I'd like to admit.  I hide that stuff pretty well, though.  Most of us do.    

Right about the time when I was about to throw up my hands, I came across a graphic that a friend had posted on social media.  It had this quote, which made me chuckle, then grin, then laugh out loud.  

It was exactly what I needed to see.  And so I'll share it with you:  
Fight like you are the third monkey on the ramp to Noah's ark, and brother, it's beginning to rain.Come on!  You know that's fantastic.  And now that you have this quote in your arsenal, you will never be the same again.  Because that is the on…

Walking Away From A Transactional God

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When I was a kid, I heard the same awful sermon virtually every Sunday.  I heard it from different preachers in different churches, but it was always the same.  

You see, I grew up fundamentalist Baptist.  If you don't know what that means, think about being a Christian, but with absolutely 0% joy and 175% more guilt and shame.  Oh, and a constant fear that you might burn in hell for all eternity.  

When I was an older teenager I found myself wondering about the people sitting in pews around me.  Some of them seemed like nice people.  They were sincere and kind, and a few of them even seemed to be a bit joyful.  

And so I would look at them, and silently ask, "Why are you here?  

Why do you sit through the same awful sermon every week about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket and all those 'lost' people out there with it?   

Why do you sit there and take it while this preacher reduces the Christian faith to a quid pro quo kind of thing where you have to work you…

I Am Whatever I Believe You To Be

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I am whatever I believe you to be. - Byron Katie

When I read the above quote from Byron Katie, the esteemed author, and spiritual director, I didn't know what to make of it at first.  

And then the other day it occurred to me that I knew exactly what it meant.  

You see, I spent a lot of years in my early days of church ministry worrying over whether I had the right theology and was believing the right things.  

My concerns soon extended to the world around me, and I began to view people as either right or wrong, for me or against me, inside or outside.  

My world view became narrowed by this dualistic way of thinking, and I found myself growing arrogant and over-confident in my certainty.  And then my certainty had the rug pulled out from under it.  

It took a crisis of faith, and a long journey back to myself to discover that my judgments of others, my long diatribes against those who didn't believe the "right" things were merely projections of my own doubts.  

What I'…

Witnesses - Week Five: "Come and Help Us"

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This is what is known as the Season of Easter in the historic church calendar, and for the next several weeks we'll be continuing to celebrate Easter, and we'll also step further into our sermon series, "Witnesses."

Because where we are in respect to Easter Sunday is about the time that those first-century followers of Christ were asking a question--which is the same question you and I ought to be asking, too:    "Jesus rises.  Now what?"

It's a good thing that we are not alone in asking this very question.  Jesus' disciples wondered the same thing, and almost immediately after Jesus was raised from the dead.  We know this because of the book of Acts.

I love the arc that the story in the book of Acts takes.

It begins with a bunch of scared people in a room, wondering what is going to happen to them---disciples of Jesus, who are afraid to venture outside the door because they think they might be killed.

It ends---literally---with the word "unhindered…

Christ Isn't Jesus' Last Name

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"Christ" is the name for God's plan to materialize his formless Spirit. - Richard Rohr
I've been thinking a lot lately about where Jesus can be found in the world around me, and I have some questions. 

It's odd, I know.  It's just one of those things that you do when you're a pastor and a writer, and spend most of your time reading and thinking about that kind of thing for a living. 

And there's this...  

Sometimes I find myself wondering about Jesus' presence---because things seem to be a bit messed up in the world at the moment, which leads me to believe that whatever Jesus is up to is way beyond my understanding. 

I have come to grasp something really profound, though.  

"Christ" isn't Jesus' last name.  Jesus is the Christ, which means "Messiah," or "Anointed One," which in the Gospel of John is interpreted as the "Logos," or the "Blueprint," or The Creative Expressive Word of God.  (that las…

Bare Your Soul, Share Your Truth, Don't Be Afraid

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"My faith is personal.  I don't need to talk about it in public."  

I've heard that phrase or something like it dozens of times over the course of the last twenty years of ministry.  

I get it.  Sometimes I wish that the judge-y, church-y people who are always going on and on about their faith in public would keep their ideas to themselves.  

I'm sure that same desire causes a lot of people to decide to keep their life of faith private and girded against critique and controversy.  But when we choose the path of least resistance, we often miss out on opportunities to speak grace and peace and life into the universe.  

And in case you haven't been paying attention, the universe needs some grace, peace, and life right about now.  To put it quite simply, if those of us who have that kind of message to share keep quiet... people will listen to whoever is talking.  

And no one wants that. Trust me. 

It's hard to put yourself out there.  I get that, too.  It's har…

Let The River Flow

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Many years ago, I had a conversation with a pastor acquaintance about his personal mission statement.  I know.  I have riveting conversations.  

He told me that he believed his ultimate purpose was "to know and do the will of God."  Then he said something like, "It's just that simple."

As I recall, I pointed out that his stated purpose was a lot more complicated than he imagined because it was all predicated on the ludicrous notion that a person would be able to know the mind and will of God.  

"The best you can do is guess at it, right?" I asked him.  "And what if you guess wrong?"  And then--because I've always struggled to understand this--I added, "Or what if you think you believe something to be God's will, but it's actually yours."  

The guy had no good answers for me.  He grew flustered and blurted out, "If you are maintaining your Christian walk, and doing everything to stay in the word you'll be able to di…

Learning Humility The Usual (Hard) Way

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As the twig is bent, the tree inclines.  - Virgil

One of the most difficult lessons to learn on the Way of Jesus is the lesson of humility.  It's difficult most of all because of how most of us are forced to learn it.

Typically, we don't learn humility because of a revelation we have over a cup of coffee on some random Tuesday morning as we are checking email, getting kids ready for school, or planning our day.

It's not like it comes to us like a flash, "Oh! I really could benefit from being more humble!"  Unfortunately, almost all of us learn humility by being humbled.

It's the moment when we fall flat on our face when we were so certain of our footing... so confident in our abilities... so reliant on our talents.

But if we are being honest, the thing that hurts the most about those humbling moments is the fact that we weren't actually all that certain or confident, and we'd buried those feelings deep down inside, afraid to admit the truth.

And we can go i…

The Heartbeat of A Stone

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The world is turning
in the body of Jesus and
the future is possible. - Lucille Clifton 

The great Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran penned a short parable once about two men engaged in a debate over the oneness of things.  

In order to make his point that all things in Creation are connected, the older and wiser of the two asked his companion to pick up a stone that was lying at his feet, and then said to him: 
All things live and glow in the knowledge of the day and the majesty of the night.  You and the stone are one.  There is a difference only in heartbeats. When I read that it resonated with me so much.  The idea of stone having a heartbeat... that there is a mysterious and wonderful kind of energy and life in all of Creation...  all of it just left me humming with reverence.  

And because I'm a nerd about these things, all kinds of Bible passages went through my head.  

Like the moment when Jesus told by religious leaders to tell his followers to stop praising God on Palm Sunday: “I tel…

Witnesses - Week Four: "The Same Gift"

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The Season of Easter has just begun, and we'll be celebrating Easter for the next several weeks, as we launch into a brand new sermon series.

And this is just about the time that those first-century followers of Christ started asking a question--which is the same question you and I ought to be asking, too:   "Jesus has risen.  Now what?"

It's a good thing that we are not alone in asking this very question.  Jesus' disciples wondered the same thing, and almost immediately after Jesus was raised from the dead.  We know this because of the book of Acts.

I love the arc that the story in the book of Acts takes.

It begins with a bunch of scared people in a room, wondering what is going to happen to them---disciples of Jesus, who are afraid to venture outside the door because they think they might be killed.  

It ends---literally---with the word "unhindered" as the Apostle Paul sits imprisoned in Rome, which was widely known as the "very end of the Earth,"…

Learning To Read The Bible Differently

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The other night I taught the first of a seven-week Bible study class that I've been really excited to teach.  At one point in the class, I was just reading and teaching from the text, and there was this great energy in the room that you could absolutely feel. 

And I thought to myself: 

"I'm sitting here on a wooden stool in a classroom teaching from a several-thousand-year-old passage of Hebrew scripture, and everyone is engaged, and the energy is crackling--and I am about to come out of my skin with joy!"  Who knew the Bible could still be so exciting?!?

Despite all of the energy that we felt in the moment last night though, I am constantly reminded of what an uphill climb it is to try to talk about the Bible to people.  

And the reason for this is because of the way the Bible is constantly misrepresented by people who claim to hold it in such high esteem.  

Far too many terrible conversations that exclude, diminish, discriminate, belittle and shame begin with the words,…

Anxiety Is The Dizziness of Freedom

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I struggle with acute anxiety occasionally--just enough for me to understand a little of what it's like for people who feel anxious all of the time.  It's not fun.  

If you have never suffered from acute anxiety, you may not know what it feels like.  It can take the form of tightness in your chest, accompanied by an overwhelming desire to run or scream or both.  

Sometimes it hits you so hard it feels like you can't breathe.  Or it will take the form of a sinking feeling of dread that you can't shake no matter how hard you try.  It can also fling you into a rage if you have an aversion to tears, or it can send you on a crying jag if you are afraid of your anger.  

I know, super fun, right?  

The other day I read this quote by the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard that helped me reframe my anxiety and begin to think of it differently.  He said:  Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. 

Kierkegaard believed that life without anxiety was a life without any possibility. 

The reason we…