Showing posts from October, 2020

Jesus Juva

The great composer Johann Sebastian Bach was known to pray a prayer out loud when he was beginning a new composition.  The prayer was a simple one--just two Latin words: Jesus Juva.  Roughly translated, the simple Latin prayer meant: Jesus help or more specifically, Jesus help me.And while he would often sign his compositions with his initials and the letters SDG (Soli Dei Gloria) which stands for "To God Be The Glory," there were times when Bach would place the letters JJ at the end of a piece, particularly if that piece had been commissioned by a powerful patron.  Jesu Juva - Jesus help me... I've been thinking about the implications of that prayer for a while.  I've prayed variations of Jesus Juva more than a few times in my life, and more often than not I  prayed it specifically because I was facing something I wasn't sure I could handle. Or when I knew something bad was about to happen... 
Or I felt absolutely out of control...  Basically, I have prayed a vari…

Jesus Wants To Save Christians

I joined a Facebook group for atheists and agnostics about a month ago.  Don't start freaking out, friends.  I'm not jumping ship and paddling away.I joined the group because I need to hear what they have to say.  I want to be instructed by their objections to religion, particularly my own.  Most of the posts that are made in the group highlight the many ridiculous, racist, bigoted, hateful things that far too many Christians in America say and do.  Not surprisingly, I  find myself agreeing with almost every one of those critical posts.  Plus, some of the posts are just super clever and humorous, and I'm slightly irreverent anyway, so they make me smile a bit.   But there's a darker side to all of this that can't be ignored.  Statistics have been revealing that more and more people in America are becoming disillusioned with Christianity, giving up on it completely, walking away from their faith...  because of what they experience through the poor witness of Christi…

Surrender and Take Responsibility

Despite the differences that so many of us seem to have right now during this contentious and uncertain season of our shared history, we all can agree on at least one thing... Every single one of us... without a doubt... has entertained a solitary desire at least once in our lives, and that desire, when formed into a thought, might sound something like this: "I wonder what it would be like if I won the lottery." See how easy that was?  Unity achieved.  We are all one in the spirit of a universally shared (albeit fleeting) thought about what it would be like to suddenly be filthy rich.  I have to confess that I've had that thought on more than one occasion in my life.  I've daydreamed and wondered about all the things I would do if I won one of those really big Powerball lottos.  But there's an inherent problem with my reverie... I never play the lottery.  In fact, I've often reviled lotteries as a tax on people who can't "do math."  No matter ho…

The Voice Within You

We got fruit flies in our house some days ago, and they are grossing me out.  The little buggers got in through some fruit that we had in our fruit basket---fruit that outstayed it's welcome by more than a few days, apparently.  The implications of all of it make me ill. At first, we thought they were gnats, but we soon became disabused of that notion after a bit of research indicated just exactly what they were based on where they seemed to be congregating.  The way you get rid of these pests is to clean the dickens out of the areas to which they seem to be attracted, and then you do something odd, and kind of icky:  You put apple cider vinegar mixed with a bit of dish soap into a bowl, and the flies can't help but land it, and then blessedly drown.  So now I've got two bowls full of apple cider vinegar, dish soap, and about a hundred dead fruit flies each.  Just writing about this makes me feel queasy.  But there it is.  I got to thinking about the theological implicatio…

Strolling Down Facebook Memory Lane

I start most of my days with a little trip down memory lane by scrolling through the "Memories" aspect of my Facebook page.  If you don't know about this particular aspect of Facebook, there is a link you can click on the side of your page that will show you a smattering of the posts you made on the current date--starting with a year ago and going as far back as when you first created your Facebook page.  It's a strange time capsule of sorts that captures some of your memorable posts, photos, and musings from days gone by.  I really enjoy checking them every day, just to remember and sometimes to reflect.  One of the strangest aspects of this daily visit with my Facebook memories is to see how much I've changed---not just in appearance (which is fairly sobering at times), but also in the things I believe, and the way I see the world.  On more than one occasion, I've been taken aback by my own posts---stunned at the statements I made that I no longer agree wit…

YoUnited States Of America - Week One: Avoiding Election Infection

With the election almost over--I feel like it's completely appropriate for me to conduct my own poll.  Everyone's been talking about polls, examining polls, taking polls, interpreting polls, denying polls (if they're not winning in them), affirming polls (if they are), so why not get in on the act?Here are my poll questions for today, and we'll do this all by show of hands, and since none of you are here--it really doesn't matter, you can answer however you feel like. First question:  How many of you are enjoying this election season?  You are just digging this whole thing.  You are watching it like a train wreck about to happen. Raise your hand.  Okay, second question: How many of you are ready for this to be over?  You've already handed in the towel, waved the white flag, given up. Raise your hand.Okay, last question.  How many of you think that politics should come up in church?  That a preacher should talk about politics from the pulpit?  Many of you knew w…

You Are An Artist

I was reading a bit today about the connection between suffering and creation.  These are the rabbit trails I chase lately as I do my best to navigate the crazy world within which we find ourselves. 
The mythology that surrounds the idea of the "suffering artist" is one that persists in our post-post-modern world, and it seems to have even more traction than ever in our current uncertain, and anxious times.  
The idea behind this mythology is that it is suffering that produces great art.  There is a kernel of truth in this, however.   For my part, I have always been haunted by a phrase from author Colleen McCullough, who famously wrote: 
"The best is only bought at the cost of great pain."
There is so much truth in that line on so many levels. It takes sacrifice to do the best things, and suffering sometimes is part of that process. 
But there is a flaw in the mythology of the perpetually suffering artist in that it does little to explain the simple fact that there are …

When You Had To Climb A Mountain To Get It

In her excellent little book The Writing Life,  Annie Dillard tells the story of a photographer who brings his best photo prints year after year to a master photographer for his advice and blessing.  Each year the master would place the photos in stacks, rating those he thought were very good, and those that weren't up to his standards.  He began to notice that the photographer continued to bring a particular photo that was continually rejected. Finally, he asked, "Why do you keep bringing this photo back?  I keep telling you it's not good enough."  The photographer picked up the photo and replied: "I keep bringing it back because I had to climb a mountain to get it." I loved that story when I heard it.  It reminds me that sometimes what is most precious to us is often what was gained only through great sacrifice, and struggle.  And this is also true... Our hard-won prize might not look like that much of a prize in the eyes of the world around us, but to us…

We Are Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made Of

Many years ago, I had the privilege of studying for a semester at Oxford University in England. It was one of the most profoundly transformative experiences of my life, and I cherish it to this day.  
The "Dreaming Spires" of Oxford hold a special place in my heart because it was there that I  began to truly dream of what God might be leading me to do in terms of a life in ministry.  
One night that summer, I got the chance to see Shakespeare's The Tempest performed in an amphitheater by the river.  It's one of my favorites of the great Bard, and perhaps no other line from that play affects me like Prospero's speech from Act 4, Scene 1: 
Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant f…

When You Unfollow Jesus

The Facebook tool that I have used the most lately has been the "Unfollow" tool.  If you don't know about it, let me share.  It's a tool that enables you to stop seeing posts from one of your Facebook friends who constantly posts things that make you crazy, without unfriending them.  So you can still be "friends" with them, but you don't have to see any of their posts anymore... ever.  I got to thinking deeply about the implications of this over the past week after I angrily "unfollowed" a handful of people who (in my humble opinion) had gone over the edge of decency with their posts.I thought it was a win-win situation.  I wouldn't have to see evidence of the opinions they held that I found distasteful and disappointing, but I didn't have to remove them from my "friends," which may have hurt their feelings.  But then I had to ask myself this challenging question: Were we really "friends" if I could no longer see an…

Trusting In Advance What Makes Sense In Reverse

I spent this past week on a much-needed study leave---squirreled away alone in a house in the Hill Country of Texas.  I needed to do some thinking, some resting, and also to work on finally taking some of the hundreds of Devos I've written over the past five years and turn them into a book. I'm hoping by the first of the year to be able to make the announcement that a 365-day daily devotion book (including daily prayers) will be ready for release.   The Daily Devo started as an idea that my wife put in my head many years ago when she told me that I ought to start writing and publishing every day because she thought that I might actually have something worth sharing. I decided then to test it out a bit during an important sermon series where I wanted to include additional teaching that didn't make it into the sermons.  The reviews were great, but it was a lot of work, so I decided not to continue. Then my communications director began to implore me to start doing a daily de…

Isolated Week Two: Understanding the Prayer of Jabez

Today we are going to continue the sermon series we started last week, a three-part series entitled, "Isolated: Finding Joy Where You Are."  This series will explore what it means to find joy where you are---even in the midst of isolation the kind that has been brought on by the most challenging season in the history of all of us.  So it's confession time... and listen you don't have to be shy about this because all of you are sitting at home and I can't see your faces if you start feeling guilty... Here's the confessional challenge for us:  At any time during this pandemic did you... in a moment when no one was around... when you were feeling really low...  make the decision to do something that you aren't really proud of... but that you did anyway...  and what I'm talking about here is...  Making a mental to-do list of all of the things you wanted God to do or to provide for you, or fix,  in order to make your life better right here and now?  I have…

There Is Only Forward

The other day while I was writing and listening to music and heard a snippet of a song by artists Jaymes Young that went like this: So wake me up when they build that time machine
I want to go back... 
That line stayed in my head most of the day, and I started thinking about why it resonated so much with me, apart from the obvious reasons... namely, the dumpster fire of a year that we've been experiencing.  The words from the song come to me again and again.  "I want to go back... I want to go back..."  And then I thought, "God, how I just want to feel this for a while... to imagine that it is possible, to think about what I would do if given the chance..."But there is no going back.  You see, the past isn't really a true thing for any of us.  It's a construct that we've created from selective memory, imagination, and even fantasy.  Sure, there are historical moments, but even those are subject to interpretation, even for those who witnessed them.  Th…