Showing posts from October, 2019

When It Feels Like You Are Moving In Place

I listen to a lot of music throughout my day.  It often helps me make spiritual connections to the things that are going on around me and in me.  

Lately, I've been listening to the new album Surviving by the band Jimmy Eat World.  For the record (see what I did there), I think this is their best album in years. 

If you have never heard of Jimmy Eat World, don't worry---there's still time.  But only if you like really good rock and or roll with an alternative kind of twist.  

There's a song on Surviving entitled "555" that has been speaking to me about what it means to struggle when you are trying to pray and keep spiritual practices--hoping all along that you'll experience God, or even just feel something happen... and it doesn't.  

I keep my focus on the simple things
Try to find some peace along the way
Wish I knew how long I'm supposed to wait
Holding on
But just barely

Got the feeling I've been talking to a dead, dead line
Always a reason
To let it …

Seeing Resurrection In Everything

In her beautiful and haunting poem "The Ponds," Mary Oliver captures a moment where she gazes into a small pond, choked with lily pads as it is reflecting sunlight.  

From a distance it looks stunning, but as she draws closer she sees it fully as it is, with all of its imperfections.  She looks at the the mottled leaves of many of the lily pads, the underbelly of it all and notes the "unstoppable decay" 

It becomes a sign and symbol of the inevitability of mortality, yet there is something within in her that clings to hope, and longs for more.  She writes:  

Still, what I  want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled--
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I  am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing--
that the light is everything...  

When I read this poem I'm reminded of the words of John the Revelator who speaks of the power of Resurre…

The Path To Wholeness

I'm trying something out today, and I'll have to tell you how it goes as I move.  I'm going to take my own advice, practice what I preach, if you will.

Not that I don't strive to do that, mind you... It's just that sometimes I need to actually practice what I'm preaching.  I  mean that in the purest sense possible.  Like, I need to work at it, make it happen, and actually do the things.

It's a good thing that I get the chance to share these things with you all because it holds me accountable.  Now I kind of have to report back at some point. 

Here's what happened: 

Yesterday, I preached on how the path out of suffering is marked by perseverance, which leads to self-realization then hope, confidence and love.  I didn't come up with that---the Apostle Paul did, and he knew a thing or two about suffering and love.

I woke up today with those thoughts in my head, and armed with a list of spiritual practices to perform in order to figure it all out.  But like …

Belonging Before Believing

I was at an event this past weekend and I heard something that truly resonated with me---a phrase that I've heard more than once over the past few months in a variety of settings. 

The context where I heard this is important.  It was part of a larger conversation about ministries to young adults, and how the church seems to be swinging and missing when it comes to reaching them. 

For the pasty several years people who report on church trends have been sounding the alarm over the increasing number of young adults who are leaving the Church.  

Additionally, for the past five years the fastest growing religious affiliation in the U.S. every year is "None." 

The Church is messing it up.  Badly.  Which is where this phrase that I heard comes in... 

Here it is:  Belonging before Believing.  

The idea is that before people can truly come to understand the fullness of what it means to be a Jesus-follower, or an engaged part of a faith community---they need to belong first.  They need …

I Want To Believe But - Week Four

Today we are going to conclude our sermon series for the month of October entitled, "I Want To Believe, But..." 

This series addresses the fact that many of us struggle with our images of God, and some of us struggle so much that we find that it's hard to believe in God altogether.  

I recently read something from Anthony de Mello that spoke to me about this: 

The fact is that you're surrounded by God and you don't see God, because you "know" about God.  The final barrier to the vision of God is your God concept.  You miss God because you think you know.  

Some of us may have said:  "I want to believe, but..."

I  can't believe in a demanding God.
I  can't believe in an angry, joyless God.
I  can't believe in an absent God.
I  can't believe in a heartless God.

My hope is that as a result of this series, we'll be able to discover together new ways to think about God that are free from these kinds of boxes. 

Let me ask you a question...…

Busting Up Your God-Boxes

I've been teaching and preaching lately about how we need to dismantle the unhelpful boxes that we try to place our ideas about God into--boxes that we use to try to make our images of God more manageable.  

The problem with this is that many of us tend to find ourselves over and against our images of God.  We label our boxes of God with words like "demanding," "absent," "angry," or "heartless."  

And then some of us decide that those boxes really are God, and so we walk away from them, believing that we can no longer... believe.  

Or we cling to them so tightly, making them into something they aren't.  We hold on to them as though they are the only ways to see God, and our entire belief system becomes supported by these false images of God.  

Which is often the moment that some people who are trying to figure out what God is all about see the labels on our god-boxes, and think to themselves, "There is no way I can believe in a God like…

Plowing In A Straight Line Takes Patience

Have you ever sent someone a text, and then they don't text you back for a really long time?  Like fifteen minutes?  Or maybe you have a friend who only checks their email a couple of times a day.  Maddening, right?  

We live in a culture that is permeated with what I call the "tyranny of the urgent."  We've all become so accustomed to getting what we want when we want... or getting answers quickly... or finding our way without getting lost... 

I worry sometimes about what this is doing to us as a society.  

Sometimes it feels as though we struggle to do the hard work of becoming better as a society, as people because it might take too long.  

It seems to me that if we don't see immediate results to the things that ail us, or irritate us... we move on to the next solution, and the next, and the next without putting in the hard work and patience it sometimes requires to see real change.  

Jesus once told his followers: 
"The kind of person who never really gets to …

The Journey of A Thousand Miles...

There's this little plaque that I have had for a number of years and it's made it's way with me to all of the various offices I've occupied.  

Engraved on the front is an oft-used quote from Lao-Tzu that goes like this:  

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
I remember when I bought that plaque.  It was from one of those stores where you buy plaques for your house, and fake plants, mirrors and bowls to put potpourri in.  

But that little plaque spoke to me when I bought it because I felt at the time like I was at the beginning of a journey--early on in my career as a pastor.  But mostly I wanted it because I longed so desperately to internalize the truth of it.  

I have taken some notable first steps over the years---steps toward knowledge, experience, faith and trust.  I've stepped away from comfort more than once.  I've stepped forward when it didn't always make sense to do it. 

I  would like to say that every time I was about …

When The End Feels Like The Beginning

Throughout my career as a pastor I've had more than one occasion when I've had people who sought my counsel when it came to struggles they were having with grief, difficult decisions, relationship issues, addiction, bitterness, anger, abuse and more.

There is one thing that people seem to want to know more than anything else, and it comes in the form of an often unspoken question that hovers like a shroud over them:  "Why does it take so long?"

Why does it take so long to work out my grief?
Why does it take so long to get over that betrayal?
Why does it take so long to feel alive again after abuse?
Why does it take so long to be well after being addicted?

 I never have really good answers when it comes to that kind of thing.  "Everyone is different," I'll tell them.  "You have to do this at your pace," I'll say. 

Or I might share that even though it might feel like a long time to them... they are actually making progress. 

It's easy to say thi…

God Is Closer Than You Think

Yesterday I preached a sermon that ended up being deeply personal. 

It didn't start off that way. 

I  was preaching on the topic of how we need to dismantle the boxes we create to try and fit God into, and was focused on the box we tend to label, "The Absent God."  

In other words, I was taking on the big question that so many of ask, "Where is God when it hurts?"  My point was that God is closer than we think--that God is with us in our brokenness, sorrow and even with us when we feel the loss of God. 

You can watch the sermon here, if you want.  Just click these words.  

And I felt pretty good about the sermon.  I even had a nice illustration that was about someone else's experience with the presence of God in their life.  

But when I sat in my office yesterday morning going over the sermon, I knew that I  needed to tell my own story.  So, after wrestling with it for a bit, I decided to share an experience I had with God's presence on the day my mother died…

I Want To Believe But... Week Three

Today we are going to continue our sermon series for the month of October entitled, "I Want To Believe, But..." 

This series addresses the fact that many of us struggle with our images of God, and some of us struggle so much that we find that it's hard to believe in God altogether.  

Some of us may have said:  "I want to believe, but..."

I  can't believe in a demanding God.
I  can't believe in an angry, joyless God.
I  can't believe in an absent God.
I  can't believe in a heartless God.

My hope is that as a result of this series, we'll be able to discover together new ways to think about God that are free from these kinds of boxes. 

Let me ask you a question...  

Have you ever wondered where God was when it hurt?  

Maybe you experienced an incredible tragedy in your life, and you asked that question...  Where are you, God?  

Maybe you suffered a loss... Or you endured years of abuse... Or you lost your job... 

Or maybe the suffering you experienced was …

Learning What It Means To Be The Church

Is it safe to just be who we are? - Lana del Rey

I was talking with a friend of mine and we both were bemoaning the fact that our society and culture is so divided and filled with tension. 

Our conversation quickly turned to the way that the Church sadly reflects that same tension through the many Christians who are often at the forefront of cultural divisions, adding to the tensions, rather than easing them.

No matter what side we tend to land on the cultural issues that seem to divide us, Christians of all stripes often find themselves wondering about one another, "You can't really be on my team can you?" 

The other day I found a humorous illustration in one of my daily readings.  I'll recreate it with my own little twist here:
Little girl: Are you a Presbyterian?
Little boy: No, we belong to another abomination.
The Apostle Paul once posed a very pointed and poignant question of one of the churches he was trying to help through a particularly difficult rift.  "Is Ch…

We All Long To Be More

Every one of us---no matter what else seeks to divide us--are joined by a singular and piercing desire:  We long to be more than we are.  

C.S. Lewis once wrote:  
We seek an enlargement of our being.  We want to be more than ourselves. How we go about pursuing that desire, and the varying degrees that we are driven by it informs the shape of our lives.  It also helps direct the paths we take on our life's journeys, the directions we are drawn to go and the destinations we find along the way.  

And we also discover along the way that in order to be more, we have to let some of ourselves go, we have to surrender selfish dreams, give up destructive behavior and thinking, and make room in our souls for what is good, beautiful and true.  

For some of us, the realization of what we must give up in order to live into our true humanity is too terrible to bear, and so we find ways to excuse our staying right where we are.  

In his book Awareness, Anthony de Mello wrote about this pointedly: 

I Am Smart. I Am Blessed. I Can Do Anything.

There is a video that is making the rounds on the internet that has already amassed millions of views on various social media platforms and news websites... and it's not political, scandalous, racy or filled with outrage.  

It's a three year old little boy from New York named Ayaan, who, while on his on way to preschool, motivates himself with a unique and beautiful affirmation.  

On the video you can hear Ayaan say over and over again, "I am smart. I  am blessed. I  can do anything."  

Check it out in the player below.  If you can't see the video playing in the player, there is a link below that to a website where you can watch it.

Come on!  How unbelievably sweet is that?  And man did that hit me in the feels when I saw it, how about you?  Hey, I'm not crying--you're crying!  

And how much do you want to hug the boy's mom who is filming the video?  Her…