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Showing posts from April, 2021

Growing In Your Faith - Are You Doing It Wrong?

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I was reading an article this week about how a prominent Christian leader, who had (until now) wisely eschewed all of the culture wars rhetoric, made the mistake of getting embroiled in a controversy on social media because of some ill-worded tweets.   As he began to be backed into a corner, this Christian leader doubled down on his poor theological choices, and simply declared that since the Bible was his ultimate authority, he couldn't possibly be wrong about what he said.  And he also assumes that his interpretation of the Bible is the right one, of course.   This whole thing got me thinking about how so many of us Christian-types seem to use the Bible for our own purposes---to prop our arguments, to bolster our own world view, and even to weaponize our words to further divisions or even to create them.   You see, the Christian leader in question has the idea that the Bible is immutable, unmoving, and unyielding in the face of cultural change and transformation.  He believes tha

Forgiving and Loving Yourself Sets You Free

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I have this small whiteboard that lives between my computer and my keyboard, and I write notes on it throughout the week as I move from meeting to meeting.   Sometimes the notes that end up on my whiteboard are just one-word reminders of things that I need to get done or the name of someone I need to call.  I also jot down short phrases of ideas that I want to pursue.  I have to confess that there have been more than a few times when I have written down a word or a phrase and then forgotten why I wrote it down.  Also, my handwriting is terrible, so there have been some moments when I haven't been able to decipher what I scribbled down.   When these moments occur, I often get angry with myself for being such a goof.  I berate myself for not having the foresight to use better penmanship or to just be focused enough to write down enough information.    It astounds me how quickly my whiteboard can become an instrument of self-judgment and criticism rather than a helpful tool that merel

Third Sunday of Easter - "Resurrection and Broiled Fish"

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Today is the 3rd Sunday of the Season of Easter---Happy Easter y'all!  Hey, and guess what?  Christ has still risen! The passage of Scripture that we'll be exploring today takes us into a meal that the Resurrected Jesus has with his followers... and a moment when they realize that everything has changed.   But first, let me ask you a question...  What's the best meal you've ever had...  and why was it the best meal you ever had?   I did a little survey this week on social media, asking people that question and I'm going to share some of those in a moment, but before I do that, let me share with you my favorite meal...   I got to thinking about why we remember these "best meals," and what that might mean.   Charles Spence is the head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford University, a lab that looks into how our senses interact.  Spence did a TED talk a few years ago where he explained why our best meals, are our best meals.  He said that the way

Prayer As An Uprising

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To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world. - Karl Barth Have you ever prayed that God would do something for you... give you something... grant your wishes, desires, hopes, and dreams?   Even though most of us probably figured out a long time ago that it doesn't work that way, we secretly try it anyway---long past the moments we realized it.  I recently stopped myself in the midst of pleading with God to grant me a wish, and muttered out loud: "Who am I kidding? You're not really listening anyway, are you?"Then, I sort of shyly cast my gaze up to the stars and said, "Sorry."   I know, right?  I'm the guy who has written many of these devotionals about prayer and how it works, and what happens when we do, and there I was doing the thing that I said not to do... treat God like a slot machine.   I was reading an essay by Peter Counter from the collection Empty The Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church, and

Don't Be Talked Out Of Your Joy

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When I was in middle school my football team won the state championship for our school association in Colorado.  I was a starter and played tight end and defensive back.  Now I'm not one to brag, but... I was pretty good.  I caught a handful of TD passes and ran for a couple more over the course of that season, and added a few interceptions as well.  I loved playing football.   We moved the next year to a new state,  and I was quickly recruited by my new classmates to join the high school football team, which I gladly did.  Because I loved playing football.  And then I didn't love it so much anymore.  My coaches the previous year in my old school were tough, fair, encouraging, and they knew how to coach kids well.  The coaches on my new team were tough, but that's all they had in common with my former coaches.  They sucked the joy for the game right out of me.   I remember one practice, an assistant coach (who was the angriest, meanest Baptist I've very met) picked up a

I Could Tell You About The River--Or We Could Just Get In

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I was listening to "Rivers to Ocean," a +song by singer/songwriter Bill Callahan, and there is this line in the song that caught my attention, so I wrote it down and have been thinking about it ever since.  Well, I  could tell you about the river, or we could just get in…  This morning when I read it again, I was struck with a vivid memory of my twelve-year-old self all dressed up in a too-big short-sleeved dress shirt, a garish clip-on tie, and carrying a massive Bible.   I was doing door-to-door witnessing with a group from the fundamentalist Baptist church we went to at the time, and I was dressed up for it.  I'd even slicked my hair back with some Bryl-cream, which gave it a greasy, shiny kind of sheen.   We went out that night to an apartment complex near our church--knocking on doors and asking people, "If you died right now, would you go to heaven or hell?"   Door-to-door evangelism is not unlike door-to-door sales, except you get more doors slammed i

Is God Visible In Your Church?

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Soren Kierkegaard once wrote a parable about a man who authored a best-selling book on God's faithfulness during hard times.  Then came a day when the man suffered incredible personal hardship, and he began to doubt his own writings.  Out of desperation, the man reached out to a pastor who didn't know him personally in hopes that he would find some objective comfort and guidance.   After listening to him relate all of his doubts about the goodness of God, the pastor told the man he didn't have any real words of comfort, but he did have a recommendation for a book to read about the love of God.  It was the book the man had written.   Sometimes I feel a bit like that guy---especially over the course of this past year.  As a pastor, I'm often asked to make sense of the senseless and point to where God is in the midst of suffering and awfulness.   And there have been more than a few times when I had no idea what to say because I was struggling to see God at that moment, too

The Gift of Celebration

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To say that this past year has been challenging is an understatement of epic proportions.  Also, the kind of challenge that I'm talking about here has landed on all of us in one way or another.  I also get that it's not entirely over yet no matter how much I want to will it differently. But even so, sometimes there are moments of light and celebration in the midst of all of the uncertainty, and it gives me hope.  Yesterday, we went to my youngest son's first flag football game.  We sat outside in the bright warmth of a Texas Spring day, cheering on his team, and just enjoying the moment.   As I looked around, I saw families doing what families do at those familiar weekend events.  Laughing, visiting with friends, and letting our kids, just be kids for a change.   I found myself looking past the masks and social distancing because they've simply become part of the way we cope with the lingering presence of a global pandemic that has taken away so much from all of us.   I

Bracelet of Grace

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I was reading something that author and speaker Bob Goff wrote a few years ago about boats and nylon bracelets, and it got me thinking.   Apparently, people who spend a lot of time on or around boats, fishing vessels, and the like will take a piece of nylon rope, put it around their wrist, and then melt the ends together.  This produces a virtually unbreakable "bracelet" that can be used to help grab their wrist if they fall overboard into the water, and can't get back into the boat.   I've had my fair share of moments when I have tried to scramble back into a boat after being in the water (by choice, mind you), and I get how hard it would be to pull yourself back in if you were tired, and didn't have the strength.  It got me thinking about the story of Peter when he got out of his fishing boat during the middle of a storm to walk on water--just because he wanted to do what Jesus was doing.   The other disciples stayed in the boat, but no Peter.  When he saw Jesus

Kept From Seeing Jesus

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Today I was reading through the story from Luke's Gospel of the post-Resurrection Jesus encountering two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  The part of the story that has always troubled me is the way that the disciples in question are somehow unable to perceive that the stranger they meet on the road is actually Jesus.  Here's the text:  Luke 24:13-16;  13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. The way that this is worded is odd, don't you think?  "...but they were kept from recognizing him."  Kept?  By what?  I mean these people ought to have known Jesus by sight considering they were his followers.  They were familiar enough with the Twelve that they go back to Jerusalem aft

Eating Chicken Wings With Jesus

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I've been watching videos from some of the various and sundry self-proclaimed "Christian prophets," and other assorted internet hucksters who offer up all kinds of odd predictions and prophecies in the name of Jesus.  I have this daydream where Jesus and I are watching this schlock together and he leans over to me and says, "I can't believe these people are actually on my  team."   Also, we're eating chicken wings for some reason--really good chicken wings.  But I digress...  The prophets that tend to catch my attention more easily are the ones who declare they know when Jesus is going to return, or at the very least can offer a fairly accurate prediction of the event.  Ever since I can remember, these kinds of folks have been seeing the signs of the "end times" in all manner of current events, so it's no surprise that they are ratcheted up over all of the happenings of the past year.  At the heart of all of these predictions is an escapist

You Are Enough

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There is this version of Christianity that far too many of us can't seem to shake.  It's the version where you have to fix everything that is wrong with you before God can love you.   Maybe you have had some experience with that version.  Lord knows I have.   The funny thing about that version of Christianity is that no matter how much you think you left it behind, at some point it seems to find its way back into your way of moving and being in the world.  Back when I was a kid, it was a straightforward kind of thing.  If you didn't strive toward holiness (which meant abstaining from most of the fun things in life) all of the time, because your eternal soul was in peril.   Even when I got older and realized that most of the fun things in life were fun because we were meant to enjoy them reasonably and well, I couldn't shake that feeling that I wasn't doing  enough to make God love me.  So many of us hang on to that aspect of the tired, old version of Christianity we

Lessons Learned From Baking Biscuits

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I bought a bag of frozen biscuits the other day--Pillsbury "Grands" to be exact.   The impetus for this purchase of frozen biscuits came after I had discovered that Whataburger is packaging and selling the Honey Butter sauce it puts on biscuits and chicken sandwiches.   Listen, a bottle of that honey butter stuff leapt into my cart as I rolled by the display. I swear it.   Also, don't hate on me.  I can't make biscuits from scratch.  One of the directions on making the biscuits in the oven was to ensure that they were touching when you put them on the baking sheet.  The directions indicated this was a sure-fire way to make sure they rose to heights of fluffy goodness.  I got to thinking about why the biscuits rose better when they were touching one another, which led me to do some research online.   I didn't find any solid scientific explanation--just some blather about how the dough "climbs" better when the biscuits are next to each other. But virtually

Easter Sunday 2021 - The Discovery

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  Throughout this season of Lent we have been using the theme of Wilderness to help us draw closer to Jesus as we journeyed together with him during these past 40 Days.  There have been twists and turns along the way, and it's not been a stretch to connect our experiences during Lent with the wider experiences we've all felt this past year.  A year ago, we celebrated Easter for the first time with an all virtual worship service, and we had such high hopes that we would have all put the pandemic in our rearview mirror by now.   It has not been an easy journey.  But here we are---together.  The worst is definitely behind us and we are making plans to return to in-person worship in our Sanctuary as soon as we possibly can.   This past year has been full of unexpectedness, and so I thought I would reflect on the unexpected discoveries that we have made---and do it on a day when we celebrate the most unexpected moment in history.   First, I think we all were surprised by the unexpec

Hineni, Hineni

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  Today is Good Friday, the day that Christians all over the world commemorate the crucifixion and death of Jesus--a day of holy solemnity for those of us who would consider ourselves his followers.   I have reflected more than once this week on Jesus' lament on the Cross when he experiences the loss of God in the worst moment of his despair and pain.   "My God, My God! Why have your forsaken me?" There's a hollow kind of comfort that I feel when I read that passage.   I find comfort that when Jesus cries out in desperation over God's silence in the face of tragedy and grief, he joins the voices of all who have made that same cry---even my own.   But it is a hollow comfort because there isn't any immediate answer.  This is why we too often want to skip to the end of the story, rather than sit with the seemingly paradoxical moment where God feels the loss of God.  I decided to spend some time listening to Leonard Cohen's last album You Want It Darker , a ma

Grace Blowing Through Your Hair

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When I was a kid I loved to put my arm out of the window of our family car and pretend that I was channeling all of my being into my hand... and I was flying.  Sometimes an adult in the car would tell me to pull my arm back in because they'd heard some story somewhere about a kid who got his arm knocked off when he was hanging it out.  The thought of this as a possibility put a bit of fear into me, but not enough to keep me from doing it.   Then one day, I decided to put my head out and let the wind hit my face while we were moving along at a brisk pace.  My mom grabbed the back of my shirt and jerked me unceremoniously back into the car.  My mom didn't get upset about all that much, so it made an impression.  "Don't do that again!" she exclaimed.  "You scared me half to death!"  The fact that mom was upset and exorcised enough to grab a handful of my shirt and yank me into the car was enough for me. I never did it again.   But I loved the way it felt wi