Showing posts from October, 2019

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…

Learning To Listen & Be Heard

I've been trying to keep up with the goings on in the world around me lately, and to do so I've had to break my self-imposed fast on news and news-related things.  

It's not been easy, mind you, but I've decided that since we're entering into an election year... I need to be more informed in spite of what it does to my blood pressure.  

I'm not going overboard here, but once a day, I go to some trusted news sources and read the briefings on breaking news, both locally and globally.  It's a mess out there, friends.  Take it from me.  

But I'm learning some things as I take in all of the chaos and negativity that is constantly being spun by the various and sundry news media outlets.  

I'm learning that most of us have grown weary of poor behavior, lies and nonsense from our elected officials.  We're growing resistant to manipulation and subterfuge.  We're longing for hope.  

I'm also learning how important it is to hear from people on the margi…

Transforming Pain Into Life & Hope

Over the course of my career as a pastor, I've had numerous opportunities to help people bear painful burdens of loss, betrayal, doubt and fear.  

As a result, I've seen how pain can shape us, mark us and often scar us for life.  

I have counseled people who learned to deal with their pain, transforming it into hope and eventually new life.  

I've also seen others who hold on to their grief like an old, terrible friend--refusing to embrace hope, and never really living.  

There have been those who were wounded deeply in childhood, and whose anger still burned so fiercely that they set fire to every relationship they ever had.  

And I've encountered the betrayed, who were never able to trust again, and who held the world at arms length, refusing to embrace even those who would love and cherish them.  

It's always a mystery to me how some of us are able to transform our pain, and others of us are not.  I've often wondered what role our faith has to play in it, and how …

I Want To Believe But... Week Two

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.

Architect Matthew Fredrick once wrote that even though most of the objects that architects draw lend themselves to simple line drawings, there are some things like cars, furniture, trees and people that don't.

He says that a fairly common way of doing these drawings to first draw the box you imagine the object came in.  Then draw the object within that simplified container. 

Interestingly, this is what most of do with our concepts of God.  We are so overwhelmed with t…

How You See Yourself Matters

I  have this distinct memory from when I was in kindergarten.  

A kid was building a tower with this light weight, oversized building blocks that looked like bricks.  He built it pretty high, taller than his own head, and then stood back proudly. 

Another little boy was standing by watching all of it, and suddenly stepped forward and pushed the tower to the ground before walking away.  

The kid who built the tower began to cry.  The teacher came over and asked him what happened, but he was crying so hard he couldn't speak.  I had seen the whole thing and was about to come forward with the truth when a little girl nearby suddenly pointed at me and said, "HE did it!"  

I remember having to go sit in the corner despite my protests of innocence.  The kid who built the tower said nothing in my defense, and just went back to rebuilding.  

And now, forty-six years later I can remember that moment like it was yesterday.  That's how deeply the sense of injustice and indignation wa…

A Crowded Table

We celebrate Holy Communion at my church every Sunday.  I love this about us.

It speaks to me that after all is said and done in our weekly gatherings, we break bread, pour the cup and are filled with Jesus before we leave to go out into the world. 

And we do it together--as one.  Which wasn't always the case. 

This past year we came to the realization that when we were welcoming everyone to the table, we were relegating our members and friends who had gluten intolerances and allergies to a different station than everyone else. 

Funny.  We thought we were being inclusive by offering an alternative.  But by singling people out, it just highlighted their differences, and despite all of our good intentions we weren't really being all that healing or life-giving.

So we made all of the bread we use for Holy Communion gluten and allergy free.  No more isolated stations.  No more differences.  All of us together. 

One of our members emailed us and told us that she had never realized how mu…

God Is A Tour Guide

Years ago, I served as a chaplain at Florida Hospital in downtown Orlando as part of my requirements for ordination.  

There was this poor guy in my group who was completing the same thing for a different denomination, and he never ceased to irritate me with the ridiculous things he would say.   

If I  had written a textbook on all of the wrong things to tell people when they are going through some of the worst times in their lives, this guy would have taken up at least half of the book.

One of his go-to phrases was to say to people, "God puts us through these tribulations in order to test our faith, and to help us to trust Him more."  

No matter what the rest of us, or the instructor, or the books that we were reading told him to the contrary, the dude just kept saying that to people.  He refused to back off of what I  believe is actually destructive theology.  

To be fair, lots of people say the same thing when they or someone they love is going through tough times---mostly in …