Showing posts from September, 2019

What's Left Over

I  have an odd "piggy" bank on my desk that I've used for years to collect any loose change I  happen to have at the end of the day. 

The bank, which is shaped like the red phone booths you find in the United Kingdom, was originally a tin of Wilson's Pure Butter English Shortbread cookies. 

This little bank has resided either in my bedroom or home office for more years than I can remember.   I  used to fill it up pretty quickly,  but now it takes a lot longer because I  don't often use cash to pay for things. 

In fact, it's almost full now, which means it won't be long before I'll take it down to my local grocery store.  There they have one of those machines that you pour your loose change into where it gets counted, and then you are able to exchange your receipt for cash.    

I'm always amazed at how much money can fit into that little red bank.  

I got to thinking this morning about the holiness of that act--how it points to a startling truth.  You s…

Stop Going To Church - Week Two

Today we are going to be concluding the short two-part sermon series on the vision of our church, and what it means to us.

If you missed last week, you missed a golden opportunity to hear a pastor tell a congregation, "Stop Going to Church!"

There was more to it, obviously.  Because I do want you to come here, and worship with us, and get involved and support your church family...

So the statement went something like this:  "Stop going to church, BE the Church."  Because the church isn't a destination, it's not somewhere you go, it's not a building.  It's who we are.

And at Shepherd of the Hills, we believe that the best way that we can be the Church right here in our own context is when we are guided by our vision.

And what is our vision exactly?  Love God, Love Everybody.

This is not some touchy-feely, politically correct statement.  It's one of the most challenging things that Jesus ever said.

And it is Jesus who said this, to be clear.  We didn…

We All Need Some Saving

In my former life, I would identify myself as a Jesus-follower by saying that I was "saved." Using the term "saved" was shorthand for saying that I had prayed whatever prayer that you needed to pray in order to become a Christian. 

But there was a deeper sense of that term that hid a fairly insidious kind of theology.  

When you use the term "saved" to determine who has been redeemed by God, and who is "going to heaven," you need a term to identify everyone else.  

So everyone who wasn't part of our group was deemed to be "unsaved."  

When you pull those terms out of their church-y context and hold them up to the light, it makes you cringe a bit, doesn't it?  Saved and Unsaved.  

Sadly, well-meaning Christians use these terms all of the time without thinking of the implications for those who hear them differently. 

We're "saved," and you're "unsaved."  
We're in, and you're out.  
We belong, and you …

Lost And Then Found

Today we're going to pick up where we left off yesterday with a quick study of two poems by the great British poet William Blake.  

Yesterday, we explored the meaning of his poem "The Little Boy Lost," and today we're continuing with "The Little Boy Found."  

The little boy lost in the lonely fen, 
Led by the wand'ring light, 
Began to cry, but God ever nigh, 
Appear'd like his father in white. 

He kissed the child & by the hand led 
And to his mother brought, 
Who in sorrow pale, thro the lonely dale, 
Her little boy weeping sought. 

Both of the poems in our little study were part of a volume of poems by Blake entitled Songs of Innocence.   So, it should come as no surprise that the loss of innocence is a theme here, as we mentioned yesterday.

The loss of innocence does seem to be inextricably connected to feelings of isolation and abandonment, though. 

In "Little Boy Lost," you get the sense that the poet is experiencing the loss of childlike f…

You Are Not Alone In This

A hundred years ago, I graduated from Florida State University with a degree in English Literature and then got halfway through a Masters degree in British History with a minor field in Renaissance Literature.  

I'm telling you all this not so that you will find me a bit more interesting (although that would be a great by-product), rather so you will know why we're going to be studying poetry by a British poet over the next two Daily Devos. 

Here's the first poem in our little literary study.  It's entitled "The Little Boy Lost" by William Blake:

'Father, father where are you going?
O do not walk so fast.
Speak father, speak to your little boy,
Or else I shall be lost.'

The night was dark, no father was there;
The child was wet with dew;
The mire was deep, & the child did weep,
And away the vapour flew.  

This poem resonated with me so much that I just had to share it, along with the companion poem, which we'll read tomorrow. 

The poet takes on the person…

Heaven Inside Of You

One of the actionable items in my sermon this past week got me thinking about one of Jesus' sayings that I think about from time to time.  

Jesus responded to a bunch of religious people who were asking him for a sign that the kingdom of God was actually breaking through into our reality.  He told them this: 
Jesus, grilled by the Pharisees on when the kingdom of God would come, answered, “The kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, ‘Look here!’ or, ‘There it is!’ And why? Because God’s kingdom is already among you.” Luke 17:20-21 (MSG)I kind of identify with those Pharisees.  A sign would be good.  It would be great to have a timeline.  I wish that the world was better.  I wish God would show up and make everything right.  

I wish that there was something tangible that I could hold on to when it feels like all of my spiritual words and grand theological ideas aren't cutting it.  

And then Jesus responds by saying: 
"Listen, you…

Clearing Away Your Vision To See Yourself

Some years ago, I spent an entire summer serving as a chaplain in a large hospital in downtown Orlando as I completed a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education.  

That summer became one of the most formative times of my early pastoral career.  It was there in that hospital that I began to learn about the practice of awareness---of myself, my junk, my baggage and biases.  

Once, I was reflecting with my supervisor on a situation where I'd been visiting with a woman in her hospital room, when her adult son who lived with her arrived.  

After a few moments, I found myself growing angry at them both.  The more I learned about their situation, and what I perceived as their dysfunction, the madder I got.  

As I was relating this to my supervisor, I suddenly realized that the reason I'd been so angry was that they reminded me of family members I'd been in conflict with.  

Because of my lack of awareness, I was not able to be objective when I was with them. I was stuck in my own head, unab…

Stop Going To Church - Week One

Today we are going to be sharing the first of a two-part sermon series entitled "Stop Going to Church." 

We're going to be focused on one passage of Scripture for both installments of the series, so you can think of this as just one long sermon stretched out over two weeks, if that helps you think with me more clearly.

I'm going to say something that you probably have never heard from a pastor before... are you ready? 

I want you to stop going to church. 

Bet you never thought you'd hear a pastor say that, right? 

Seriously.  Stop going to church. 

There's a bit of twist with what comes next.  You probably knew that was coming, though right?

You definitely need to stop going to church---just BE the Church. 

Because the church is not a place you go to... it's who you are.  The church isn't a building, it's a people. 

In fact, the word that is translated as "church" in the New Testament is the Greek word ecclesia which means assembly, or gathering.…

Addicted To Self?

Did you know that you can become addicted to the way you look at life?  And by "addicted" I mean actually addicted.

It's true.  Psychologists and therapists have discovered that non-substance addiction happens on a cellular level, just like substance addictions.

According to the psychiatrist and spiritual director Gerald May, addiction to money, power, and relationships have the same effect on our nerve cells as addictions to substances.

But he also says this:
"... even if we had been talking about addiction to images of ourselves or of God... we could have said much the same about what happens to our nerve cells."In other words, if you view the world, yourself, even the way you understand God in relation to yourself in unhealthy ways---you can become addicted in a very real way.

What this means is even though you may know deep down inside that the way you are seeing the world is off-kilter... or how you react to conflict is destructive... or the words coming out of…

Moving Beyond Stereotypes To Something Beautiful

As I am still in the process of recovering from my recent trip to the Holy Land--I thought I would share this Devo from the archives.  It is a powerful one, and I hope it speaks to you.  

Some of the most beautiful and awful aspects of being human are discovered in the frail and finite ways that we interact with one another. 

There is beauty to be found in the mystery of another human being--mystery that is contained behind the facade of a smile, an imperceptible nod or blush. 

We've all had those moments when we think we know someone, but then they surprise us with their wonderful secrets and closely-held bright thoughts and ideas, and we realize (to our delight) we never really knew them at all. 

But there is something awful in this frailty, too.  More often than not we never try to look beyond the surface and tend to believe the worst about a person before getting to know them properly. 

We also assume things about one another based on appearance, class, religion, gender and so many…

Holy Land Day Twelve (Wednesday): Everlasting Name

Today as we begin our journey home from our pilgrimage in the Holy Land, I'd like to reflect for a moment on our visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in the northern suburbs of Israel on Mt. Herschel.

The meaning of the words yad vashem in English is, "everlasting name," and comes from Isaiah 56:5, which reads:
"To them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever."The 2-3 hour tour through Yad Vashem is an incredibly sobering and heart-wrenching experience.  As you walk through the exhibits, you feel as though you are traveling deeper and deeper into darkness.

I have found myself being brought to tears of repentance as I read the way that Christians all over the world twisted Scripture and did violence to the Gospel in order to justify not only their participation in the Holocaust but also their indifference to it.

How that must have wounded the h…

Holy Land Day Eleven (Tuesday): Valley of Elah

As part of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land this week, we visited the Valley of Elah where David defeated Goliath.

Most of us grew up with the story of David and Goliath as a story of someone small overcoming someone mighty by trusting in God and being courageous.

But what I've come to believe is this story reveals that not only was David uniquely positioned and prepared to defeat Goliath but when David stepped on to the battlefield against him, the giant never had a chance.

In 1 Samuel 17, the Philistines (a more powerful rival tribe) were threatening the Israelites. Both sides were lined up on either side of the Elah Valley when this happened:
4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span.The subtext here:  The dude was big. Like 9 feet tall big.
8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, "... Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects…

Holy Land Day Ten (Monday): The Southern Steps

Today our band of Holy Land pilgrims will be visiting the Southern Steps of Herod's Temple.  These were also known as the Teaching Steps because it was a common sight to see rabbis teaching their disciples upon them.

You can still stand on a portion of those same steps not long after you walk on the first-century streets that led worshippers and visitors to the Temple by a marketplace.  Jesus almost assuredly would have walked those same streets, and he undoubtedly taught on the Southern Steps.

But the story that we'll be focusing on today is from Acts chapter 2---the Day of Pentecost, which occurred roughly fifty days after Jesus was raised from the dead.  It was the Feast of Shavuot, or the "Feast of Weeks," one of the great feasts in the Jewish tradition.

The Feast of Shavuot commemorates the moment when God gave the Law to Moses--49 days after the first Passover when the Israelites fled slavery in Egypt.

In Acts chapter 2, Peter stands on the Southern Steps and deliv…