Showing posts from June, 2019

Following Jesus Is A Race to The Bottom

When he was teaching his disciples about the importance of letting go of their misguided notions of success and power, Jesus espoused a counterintuitive path to enlightenment that didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense.  He told them: 
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”Jesus told his disciples that the way to greatness in God's kingdom was a race to the bottom.  It was a path marked by servanthood and surrender.  He outlined a way that was full of self-sacrifice and self-emptying.  To become more... you must become less.  To be great you must become nothing.  

Take a moment and think about what that might mean in your own life.  What would you have to…

Rapha & Yada - "Be Still & Know": Reimagined

One of the most well-used verses in the Bible comes to us from Psalm 46:10, which reads like this:  He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;    I will be exalted among the nations,    I will be exalted in the earth.”That one line---"Be still, and know that I am God"---finds its way into greeting cards, wall art, church signs and the like.  And it sounds so nice, doesn't it?  But what does it actually mean?

What does it mean to be still and know that God is God?  Well, to dig deeper into that phrase to see what it's really saying, I'm going to have to bust out some Hebrew--so, don't hold it against me.

The Hebrew word that's used here for the phrase "be still" is the word rapha. And get this... It means "to hang limp, sink down, be feeble."  That's a heckuva lot different than what we usually take the phrase "be still" to mean, right?

I don't know about you, but whenever I have heard that verse in the past, I thought it…

The Pathway To Hope Begins With Letting Go

It's hard to watch the news on TV.  Most of us have stopped doing so, to be honest.  More and more people get their news in snippets from social media, forwarded emails, or from the push notifications on their smartphones.  

But any way you look at it, the news we get is usually bad.  And most of us have an overwhelming sense that everything is screwed up.  We live with a steady sense of foreboding almost all of the time.  

In recent years writers like Steven Pinker and Hans Rosling (among others) have been making the case that we are wrong to be so pessimistic about the future and that there is ample evidence to demonstrate that things in the world are the best they've ever been.  

The problem is, the statistics on drug addiction, depression, low life satisfaction, and suicide rates in the developed world are not just sobering, they're alarming.  

Author Mark Manson  recently wrote: 
Basically, we are the safest and most prosperous humans in the history of the world, yet we ar…

Summer Solstice Redux

Today I went back to the archives for this encore devo.  I've updated it a bit because this was written before my mother's death, and I've learned a few things since then...  

When I was a kid, summer was like magic.  During those summers long ago, I would wake up in the morning with a rush of possibility.  There would be this fierce sense of joy that would fill my chest as I contemplated the day to come.  

And those days would last so long, wouldn't they?  When I was young I wanted to wring every bit of adventure out of those summer days and nights.  I would stay outside as long as I could---until it was almost too dark to see.  

One memory seems to stand out for me today--it's one that I've brought to mind over and again throughout my life.  

In my mind's eye, I can see myself at age 10, catching fireflies with my cousins in the gathering South Carolina dusk.  My parents are young--younger than I am now.  My mother, grandmother, four uncles, and my aunt are a…

From 10:30 to Half Past Midnight

I'm traveling today so I thought I would share an "encore" devo--one that meant a lot to me, and I hope still speaks today:  

In 1654, the famed mathematician, Blaise Pascal had a profoundly mystical, and spiritually uplifting experience one night from 10:30PM until 12:30AM.  How do we know this?  He wrote it down on a piece of paper that he later sewed into the lining of his coat.  

We can only surmise that the reason he did this was to preserve it and keep it somewhere close to his heart.  It was only after his death that the paper with his words from that night were discovered.  
His note began: "The Year of grace 1654... From about ten-thirty in the evening to about half an hour after Midnight... Fire."  Pascal continued his note by writing: "I separated myself from [Jesus]; I fled him, renounced him, Crucified him. May I never be separated from him!" 

And then finally this: "Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director. Eternally in joy f…

To All Those With Checkered Pasts

Twenty-six years ago my wife Merideth and I were driving away from the church parking lot of the church we'd been attending for a few months when she said something that was so ridiculous it made choke with laughter.

To be fair, I was a smoker then so when I started laughing, I would pretty much start choking, and I'd just lit up a cigarette then. 

I looked over at Merideth and realized she was staring at me with this small smile on her face and her eyes really wide.  It was unnerving.  "What?!" I exclaimed.  "What's wrong?!"  Then she hit me with this:

"You would make a great minister." 

There was no context for this, and no evidence (in my mind) that would lead her to say such a thing to me.  It was ridiculous. It was out of the question.  It deserved the derisive, choking laugh of a smoker. 

Here's what I was thinking:  Leon, old buddy, your past is more checkered than a pair of classic Vans shoes... or a checkerboard... or a checkered quilt…

Stop Worrying About Going To Heaven When You Die

In his recent book Unraptured, author Zach Hunt asserts that one of the worst things to have ever happened to Christianity in America is its obsession with "End Times" theology, and the perpetuation of a faith that isn't grounded in the present.

He describes it like this:
"[A Christianity] focused on the future like a zero-sum game, a faith so over-spiritualized and focused on heaven that it has no practical relevance for the here and now."  This reminded me of the Oliver Wendell Holmes quote: "Some people are so heavenly minded, they are no earthly good." 

Jesus wasn't about that.  Jesus was firmly planted in the here and now.  He spoke more about money than he did about heaven or hell. 

He used plain language to tell stories about the expansive nature of the kingdom of God rather than the overly religious language of the narrow-minded religious elites. 

And, as Joan Chittister puts it: 
He cured on the Sabbath, mixed with foreigners, taught theology t…

No One Really Cares About Our Church-y Arguments

For some reason, I've been thinking this morning about a woman who was a member of one of my former churches.  

I had so much in common with her and her husband--similar interests in music, movies, TV shows and even a shared love of sarcasm and twisted humor.  

But in the end, this woman became disillusioned with both me and the church because of her far-right religious beliefs and her extremely narrow view of the Bible.  

She had a few confrontational meetings with me, and then she and her husband eventually stopped attending.  

It didn't stop there, though.  She grew angry and vindictive, even going so far as to try to convince friends of hers still in the church they needed to leave, too.  

She was so certain that she was right, and that I was wrong that she was willing to malign me, demean me and tell outright lies about me.  It was a hurtful time, to be sure.  

I've spent a lot of my life being triggered by people like this woman.  It's so easy and tempting to just get …

Living Life For A Living

I've had more than a few conversations lately about how short life is, and how time seems to fly by more and more quickly, the older I get.  

I was talking to a friend who said it feels like she just woke up one day and her daughter was grown and in college.  "Where did my little girl go?" she told me. 

I had to agree.  My eldest son and his wife are moving to Chicago this week so he can attend law school.  That very sentence makes me shake my head in disbelief.  

Where did the time go?  How can I have a kid that's married AND going to law school? And why am I asking myself these things in italics?

The way I see it, you have a couple of choices when it comes to the life you've been given:  You can decide to embrace every moment and live it to the fullest, or not.  It's kind of that simple.  

God knows I've spent my fair share of days not really living life for a living. Those days are easily forgotten, and they all seem to run together.  

The days that are mem…

Letting Go Of A Rearview Mirror Approach To Life

I spent a lot of years wandering, trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life.  

There have been times when I have looked back on those years and wished I could have them back.  I have thought about all the things I would have done differently in order to expedite my journey and wished that I'd done them.  

Over time, though, I've learned to love all of my wanderings and to see them as necessary and vital to the person I've become, and to my calling in life. Nothing was wasted, in other words.  It was all part of the journey.  

I was reading through some of the Proverbs in the Hebrew Scriptures this morning and came across this one:  
Many are the plans of a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails. - Proverbs 19:21It got me thinking about the fact that once I got my mind around the idea that God has greater purposes for me than I could ever imagine---grand ideas, wonderful things, abundant life... that's when I started to see all …

Power Up: Week One - "Powered Up To Love"

Today we are launching a brand new sermon series that is going to take us all the way through the summer months--it's entitled "Power Up" Becoming Empowered By The Holy Spirit.

That's right, we're going to be talking about for the next several weeks--the Third Person of the Trinity, or the Holy Ghost if you're into the traditional, spooky kind of thing.

Some people have written about the Holy Spirit as the "Forgotten God," because most pastors, churches, denominations or church-y organizations spend most of their time talking, preaching and singing about Jesus, with a healthy dose of God, the Father, Creator and Sustainer in there, too.

But the Spirit seems to get short shrift in most churches, unless you happen to be Pentecostal, and then it's all about the Spirit, baby.

What or Who is the Spirit?

What images come to mind for you when you think of the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Ghost?

A dove?
A dove on fire?
Casper the friendly ghost?
Is it in you, like G…

I Am No Longer What Happened To Me

There is a thing that happens to us when we experience trauma, or we find ourselves the victim of abuse, violence or a tragedy. 

It's a thing that sometimes finds us sometimes later in life when repressed memories or feelings come flooding to the surface.  Or in many cases, it simply hangs over us like a cloud, always there, never really allowing the sun through. 

What am I talking about? 

It's the thing that happens when we lose our identity in what happened to us so completely that we believe we are defined by it.  It's when we become synonymous with what happened to us, and without that identity, we don't even know who we are. 

I know this intimately, as do many of you who are reading this.  But we don't have to live this way.  The self that has been created when we lose ourselves in what happened to us, is a false self.  It is not who we really are.

Who we are instead is defined by the great love of God, the One who is constantly speaking into our brokenness and th…

Take The Long Way Home

When I was a kid and used to read the comics in the newspaper, one of my favorites was Family Circus, created by Bil Keane.  

Keane would often run comics that depicted the circuitous paths that his son Billy would take on the way home from the bus stop, to the mailbox, or a short cut with his grandma.  

Here's one that I found today that shows Billy's journey from bed to bus: 

I often find myself asking my 8-year-old son where he is going when he heads off in the wrong direction on an errand.  I want him to move in straight lines, but he seems programmed to do the exact opposite. 

At what age do we lose the desire to take a long way home?  

I think it happens slowly over time as we grow busier and busier, and so full of ourselves and our abilities.  

At some point, we stop longing to wander.  We don't get lost anymore.  And when we do, we immediately pull out our smartphones to show us the way.    

And this inability to make the road by walking affects our life of faith, I'm…

Welcome, Welcome, Welcome

I'm always looking for prayers, poems, quotes, and lines that inspire me and make me think... Or ones that convict me to be a better human... Or give me a platform from which to leap further into the world, rather than away from it. 

And sometimes the thing I discover is so unbelievably perfect that I can't help but write it down, ponder it, and sometimes share it with you here in these little reflections I write every day. 

I recently discovered a prayer that was adapted by Fr. Thomas Keating, and then adapted again by Fr. Richard Rohr, and adapted by me. 

Feel free to shape your own adaption to it---apparently, this is a thing. 

Welcome, welcome, welcome. 
I welcome everything that comes to me today
because I know it's for my healing and growth. 
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,
situations and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control. 
I let go of my desire for affection and esteem,
approval, and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and sec…

The Most Perfect Prayer

I've been reading the fourteenth-century Christian masterwork, The Cloud of Unknowing, and it's been blowing my mind.  

There's a lot of archaic language in Unknowing, to be sure.  But still, it's an odd feeling at times to be reading it, and to forget that it's seven hundred years old, and yet so incredibly relevant.  

Take the passage I read today, for example.  The anonymous English author of Unknowing insists that the most perfect prayer that a person can pray is made up of one, simple word:  "Help!"

The author wrote this by way of an explanation:  
Why do you suppose this little prayer of one syllable is so powerful enough to pierce the heavens?  Well, it is because is the prayer of a person's whole being.  A person who prays this does so with all the height and depth and length and breadth of their spirit.If this sounds overly simplistic, it's because it is.  And yet, it is also incredibly profound and deep.  To coin a phrase from one of my favo…

Lessons Learned From Falling Into The Pool

I fell into my pool this morning (Friday) at 4:49 AM. 

I'm aware of the exact time because I glanced at the clock on my cable box as I walked shivering back into the house afterward, glad that there was no one there to see it. 

Oh. I bet you want to know how I fell in the pool.  I just bet you do. 

It happened, like a lot of accidents in the home, prior to coffee being consumed. So, I was not at my best--mentally, or physically, as it turns out. 

Both myself and Elway the dog were awakened at the same time around 4:45AM to the sound of cats screeching at one another.  One of the screeching cats was mine, but the other was an interloper. 

[So it wasn't that kind of screeching, okay. Get your mind out of the gutter. My cat has morals. And also... she's "fixed."]

Elway and I went downstairs and outside to investigate and discovered the strange cat under our patio table.  I grabbed a broom to force the new and awful cat out, and it fled, pursued by Elway. 

As I stumbled alo…

Pentecost 2019

Today is Pentecost Sunday--the birthday of the Church!

We read the story of that day from the book of Acts just a moment or two ago, but we need to set the stage as to why that day was so important, and why we are here celebrating it today.

The passage began with this line:

1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

And then there is this line after that:

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.

So what was happening here?  Why were there so many people gathered in Jerusal…