Showing posts from July, 2019

Reject Religion, Embrace Jesus

Several years ago, both I and my marketing staff person came up with a provocative billboard idea for the church we were serving at the time.  

The artwork was big, bold and quickly attracted attention.  In huge letters, it read:  Reject Religion. Embrace Jesus.  The church logo and phone number were right below.  

Some of the more traditionally-minded members of the church were appalled at the message and didn't hesitate to tell me so through angry emails, phone calls and even in person. 

I told all of them the same thing: Jesus didn't come to start a religion, Jesus came to start a revolution. 

In fact, the people Jesus railed against the most were the overly-religious people who hid behind traditions, rules, and regulations instead of engaging the world with the love of God. 

And it was the religious people of his day that unjustly tried Jesus in a rigged trial, and had him executed. 

In his poem To The Christians, the great British poet William Blake describes seeing a vision of…

Some Thoughts On Sin

In the churches I attended as a youngster, the idea of sin, and what constituted a sin were frequent topics of discussion.  

When I was very small, I just knew that sin was bad, and that there were a lot of things that were sinful.  As I got older, I began to notice a pattern when it came to how sin was defined in my church-y context.  

In short, I came to the unshakable realization that everything enjoyable in life was probably a sin.  There was even an 80's pop song about defining sin from the Pet Shop Boys that I listened to (which was a sin) secretly, of course (also a sin). 

Here's a bit of the lyrics: 
When I look back upon my life
It's always with a sense of shame
I've always been the one to blame
For everything I long to do
No matter when or where or who
Has one thing in common, too
It's a, it's a, it's a, it's a sin
It's a sin
Everything I've ever done
Everything I ever do
Every place I've ever been
Everywhere I'm going to
It's a sin
When I …

Beauty Is In The Eye of the Beholder

The other day I was driving to the north side of Austin with a friend from out of town.  At one point we drove across the famous 360 Bridge that boasts incredible views of the Texas Hill Country and the Austin city skyline. 

My friend exclaimed over the view, and then told me, "What an awesome place to live!"  I had to admit, the view, the location, the city... all of it is pretty fantastic.  

Unfortunately, when you've driven over it a number of times you tend to stop focusing on how beautiful it is and all you can see is the traffic ahead of you, and how long it's going to take you to get to your destination.  

And then your friend who hasn't grown used to it, helps you see the beauty once again.  

I feel like the ability to not only see but also appreciate beauty is a skill that we are losing in our current culture.  

We lose this skill when our attentions are almost always fixed to the small computers who hold six inches or so from our faces... Or when we never pa…

What Happens When We Pray?

I've been thinking about prayer lately, and (like I do with most spiritual matters) I've let my thoughts lead me to wonder, and my wondering to questions.

For instance, here's a question that I get asked a lot about prayer, and it's one that sometimes keeps me awake at night: 

Why bother praying? If God is all-knowing and outside of time, then God already knows the outcome to all things.  So what's the point of praying about it? 

Good question, right?  Or how about this one? 

Why does it feel like some people's prayers get answered and mine don't?  Is it my fault?  Did I do something wrong?  

The truth is, I don't have a lot of concrete answers on these kinds of questions about prayer.  I struggle with them, just like anyone else. 

But here's what I do know.  When I pray, I feel something.  And by "pray," I mean when I journal because journaling is a prayer to me.  I have a hard time praying out loud, and I don't kneel beside my bed and fo…

How Do You Find Your True Self?

In her excellent book on the Enneagram, Marilyn Vancil speaks to an aspect of human development that affects every single one of us---the struggle to embrace our authentic selves.  

Instead, of living into our God-given authenticity, Vancil asserts that most of us settle for an adaptive version of ourselves.  This version of us is what gets created over time as we deal with wounds, fears, doubts and the challenges of life.  

It's also a shadow of who we are meant to be.  

This morning I happened to be listening to "East" a song by Ryan O'Neal, and I realized how his lyrics painted a vivid portrait of the moment when we realize we've been living as a shadow of our true selves. 

In this stanza, O'Neal writes about a time when he felt authentically himself: 

i set out to rule the world
with only a paper shield and a wooden sword.
no mountain dare stand in my way,
even the oceans tremble in my wake.
the tide is brave, but always retreats.
even the sand, it cowers under my …

The Thin Places

Some years ago, I paid a visit to a homebound church member, who I hadn't seen in a while.  

We chatted for a bit, but then she suddenly blurted out:  "You know I died once."  And then she asked, "Do you want to know what I saw?"  

The lady told me that a few years earlier, her heart had stopped during the middle of a surgery, and she was technically dead for a few minutes.  

She told me that she floated above her body for an instant, and then she found herself standing in front of a long, wooden garden fence.  She walked along the fence, and after a few moments, she found a hole in the fence and looked through it. 

What she saw defied her imagination.  On the other side of the fence was the most beautiful garden she had ever seen.  It was filled with colors, beautiful scents, the sounds of birds and incredible light.  

She told me that the light was the most beautiful thing of all.  It didn't come from the sun, she said, but it radiated softly over everything. …


What does it mean to say, "I am a person of faith," or "I have faith?"   

For some people, it means that you have ascribed to a particular set of religious traditions.  For others, it means that you put your trust in the Divine.  

There are some who believe that to have faith means that you have decided to be faithful to the doctrines and dogmas of your denomination, sect or religious community.  

Sadly, for many others, it also means that you have lost your ability to reason.  

In his recent book Days of Awe and Wonder, Marcus Borg talks about faith from his location as a scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures or (as Christians refer to them) the Old Testament.  

Borg points out that the Hebrew word for faith in the Old Testament is emunah, which has its origins in the sound that a baby donkey makes when it is calling for its mother.  

Marcus Borg says that there's almost an element of desperation in that kind of meaning, but that there's also an element of confidence…

Further Thoughts on Speaking Life

Yesterday I preached a sermon on how we desperately need the Spirit of God to help us learn to speak life into the world, and not death.  

I just watched the video of the sermon, as I typically do on Mondays.  

Mostly I watch to see what nervous tics, idiosyncrasies or other annoying things I did that I need to work on to make me a better preacher.  But I also evaluate the content and delivery as well.  

As I thought about it more, I felt like there was something I should have said to the congregation about how they needed to be speaking not only truth to power but grace and peace as well.  

Our words can heal, but they can also destroy, and it's the latter that seems to be preoccupying our culture, and our elected leaders.  

And then I came across this quote from theologian N.T. Wright today in my daily reading:  
We know that we've got to get to Caesar with the gospel, we know today far better than many generations that we have to announce to the principalities and powers that the…

Powered Up - Week Six: Taming the Tongue

This week we are going to be continuing our summer sermon series entitled "Empowered."  We've been studying how the Holy Spirit of God empowers us to be the people that God longs for us to be.

And today we are going to be learning together how the Spirit empowers us to have self-control, particularly as it relates to how we speak, the words we use, and how our speech has the power to create life or destroy it. 

Language has the power to create meaning --both good and bad.

When we are small, and learning to talk we quickly realize that we are connected to the world by being able to describe it, and ourselves within it.  

We learn the words to ask for food and drink--for candy in the supermarket aisle--to watch cartoons on TV...  We can tell our parents when we are hurt, hungry, angry, sad...

And then we quickly begin to figure out that our full inclusion into our surrounding community depends on our mastery of language.  

There comes a time when our parents spelling out things …

Living Your Most Abundant Life Now

I've written more than a few Daily Devos on the topic of the dangers of prioritizing the next life over this one.  

And I've also said more than once that theology that purports the chief end of Christianity is simply "to go to heaven when we die" is not only poorly done, it's dangerous.  

But there's more to be said on this, I think.  Anthony de Mello spoke into this in one of his teachings on awareness:  
Nobody seems to be grappling with the problem of:  Is there a life before death?  Yet my experience is that it's precisely the ones who don't know what to do with this life who are all hot and bothered about what they are going to do with another life.  There are more than a few reasons why it is so important for followers of Jesus to not get too "other-worldly" focused.  

To begin, there is much to be done right here and now to fulfill our calling as kingdom-bearers and bringers.  

And along those lines, as Jesus-followers we ought to be acut…

Welcoming the Stranger Among You

As reported recently in Newsweek, there is a Pew Research study that is making its way around the internet, and it's causing a bit of a stir in Christian circles. 

In this survey, respondents were asked if the US has a responsibility to accept refugees.

The fascinating thing is that the group that seemed the most committed to mercy and love toward the stranger was made up of people who said they are religiously unaffiliated.  

If this surprises you, read on because here's what the report indicated:
Sixty-five percent of those who claimed no religious affiliation also said they felt the U.S. had a responsibility to care for those who are being displaced by violence or war.Meanwhile, among self-identified, white evangelical Christians who responded to the study, only 25 percent said that they (to quote the article):
"...felt a responsibility to help people who have been forced to leave their country due to horrifying circumstances."According to this study, white evangelical…

The Sin of Certainty

There's a lot of certainty going around right now.  

Lots of people seem pretty certain about their views on politics.  It doesn't seem to matter from which end of the political spectrum they happen to inhabit... they are pretty certain that they are right.  

And then there are the people who are so very certain about their religious beliefs.  I know a lot of these people.  Heck, some days I'm one of them.  

These folks are often more certain about their religious convictions than they are about politics.  Sometimes they are so much the same thing that it's hard to tell their religion apart from their politics and vice versa.  

But here's where things seem to be unraveling for us...  

It's not enough that we are so very certain about our beliefs, views, and opinions... it's like we can't stand anyone who holds a different belief, view or opinion.  

I read this amazing poem by the poet Yehuda Amichai yesterday, and it spoke to me so much I had to share it: 

Discovering the Beauty in Hardship

If your life is hunky dory, and you are prancing through your house this morning with a danish in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other without a care in the world... 

First, let me tell you that there are a number of us out here in the world who are not morning people, and so if you must prance... do it quietly. 

Second, if this is you, then I need to say that today's Daily Devo might not apply to you at this particular moment.  BUT it most assuredly will apply to you at some point. 

You see, today I'm speaking to all those who are going through a valley of sorts... those who are struggling to put one foot in front of the other... those who are feeling like the weight of the world is pressing down on them.

I'm speaking to all those who are experiencing a difficult season, marked by grief, loss, confusion, pain, suffering, doubt, fear, depression...  you know who you are. 

Because this is all of us.  None of us get through this thing called life without a nick or two on our…

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Today I'm continuing the brief exploration of light and darkness that I started last week.  Hope this speaks to you. 

The first line of Simon and Garfunkle's classic song, "The Sound of Silence" (which was recently redone by one of my favorite bands: Disturbed) goes like this: 
Hello Darkness, my old friend... I've come to talk to you again.   I've always liked that first line.  I've never been afraid of my darkness.  It's an essential part of who I am.  Sometimes (and I almost hesitate to say this) it's a welcome respite from the light.    

As I was pondering today's Devo, I realized something that I'm sure most of us already know:  It's so much easier for most of us to think and talk about light and lightness than it is to dwell on darkness.  

But there are two things I want to point out about darkness that most of us typically gloss over when we're dealing with it in our lives... 

To begin with, there's no such thing as total dar…

Step Into The Light

I'm going to spend the next two devos talking about Darkness and Light.  I have this notion that we need both in order to be whole... hope these speak to you. 

I love living in a place where most of the days are sun-drenched.  I'd have a hard time trying to make a go of it in a town where most days were cloudy and grey.

[Full disclosure, however...  when the thermostat hit 101 degrees yesterday, here in Austin... I did feel a bit defeated.]

Don't get me wrong, I love me a good rainy day... or a crisp, foggy Fall morning... but if I go too long without seeing the sun, it messes me up. 

When I lived in Chicago, I would see billboards pop up during the winter time advertising professional therapy and counseling for people suffering from something called Seasonal Affect Disorder, which is a depressive disorder brought on by the grey skies of winter... months of grey skies... months.  

The fact that the acronym for this disorder is S.A.D. is not a coincidence, I'm thinking.  Bec…

The Purpose of Pain

We live in a pain-averse culture. 

If you are aching from your workout, there's a remedy for that.  Slight headache?  No problem, there's a remedy for that, too.  No need to suffer, am I right? 

Lost?  Just take out your smartphone and get some driving directions. 

Speaking of smartphones, there's an infinite number of apps that you can download to reduce any amount of discomfort, trouble, adversity that you might be facing. 

You also don't have to listen to anything or anyone that upsets you either. 

If your university invites a controversial speaker to speak, just get a bunch of your friends together to protest the heck out that, my friend.  They'll disinvite them toot sweet --- if you are loud enough. 

Don't agree with the news you are getting?  Find a TV news channel that gives you exactly what you want to hear, and then watch that sucker to your heart's content. 

No one should be uncomfortable, right? 

Here's the trouble with all of this...  without pain, …