Joe:  OK, so it is Monday after “one of those weeks.”  During the past seven days you have (1) conducted two funerals, (2) been informed by the chair of your Trustees that the church’s air-conditioning system is dying and the Fellowship Hall’s roof still leaks, (3) are facing the need to exit a long-time staff member because of ongoing performance issues, and (4) have verified that the church’s worship attendance was lower this quarter than any time during the past three years.

Is this caution flag on your next church?

The Randomness of Tragedy and the Richness of Grace

The events of this past week reminded me of what Thomas Friedman wrote about how people adjusted to the random horror of the civil war in Lebanon. The conflict reached the point where mortar rounds fell indiscriminately on both the rich and the poor neighborhoods of Beirut, on both the Christians and the Muslims, on both the loyalists and the rebel sympathizers. It didn’t matter which side you were on, you died. Jesus was in a similar Middle-eastern city when people asked him to comment the unfortunate victims of Pontus Pilate’s killing spree.

Lent 3
Sunday, February 28, 2016

Yesterday we laid to rest our faithful dog, Bella. She was a small shepherd mix, with a gentle disposition, who loved to travel. She suffered more than she needed to over this winter because she refused to take her medication, and I ran out of ways to sneak the pill into the food that she was losing interest in eating.  As we held the graveside service, I realized that I had crossed a line. Before Bella adopted us, I was uncomfortable offering up to the Lord requests concerning the welfare of pets. “There are no cats in heaven. And no, Lassie doesn’t have a soul,” I would say.

Dog telling me to simply enjoy this day

God is Sufficient

The Gospel teaches us to love our neighbor and that no one truly loves God who isn’t in a right relationship with others. Yet Psalm 27 talks about the other side of our religion. There are times when you go it alone. It may be that someone, or an organization, is oppressing you. You may be driven out of your home or separated from those you love. I think of a family member who is struggling with a messy divorce and has a broken relationship with one of his teenage daughters. Perhaps distance, illness, or death has separated you the one person that matters most to you.

Lent 2
Sunday, February 21, 2016

In Genesis 2:20, Adam was given the task of naming all of the creatures, and so it is said, science was birthed. In almost any subject, advanced study requires learning the precise names of things. Potters learn a vast number of words to describe the hue, texture, and luster of various glazes. If they say, “its only words,” they will condemn themselves to an incredible amount of wasted time and fruitless experiments before creating anything of beauty. How much more so, the art of living, even an ordinary life, in the midst of a complex society.

Church leaders need to learn how to speak about minorities

Psalms for Lent

Because they don’t provide the evangelical fervor of Paul, or the face to face encounter with Christ of the Gospels, many pastors don’t preach the Psalms. Yet, the Psalter provides the steady middle way of spiritual formation. Few people leave worship thinking that the responsive reading of Psalm 91 was the best part of the hour, but in their heart, the psalm is often the most resonate voice. So, it may be good to not only make reference to the psalms throughout Lent, but also wrestle with how these ancient poems help us to grow as Christ’s disciples and spiritually integrated persons.

Lent 1
Sunday, February 14, 2016

This morning, there was news about a french chef who committed suicide after losing one of the Micheline Stars that had been awarded to his restaurant. The commentators spoke about the eighteen hour work day that chefs/owners regularly put in and the competitive grind of the business. Whether you become a doctor, a cook, a lawyer, or an importer of fancy candlesticks, someone will say to you, “If you want to succeed in this business, you need to give 110 percent.” You will hear that and interpret it to mean that your career is worth 9, 13, or 18 hours of your life each day.

This life is worth more than a Micheline Star

The Passing of Old Religion

Under the old system of religion, religious leaders were called reverend (as if they were to be revered for their higher degree of holiness), those who prayed or spoke with God were thought to have halos or skin that glowed, and keeping track of all the petty laws and rituals of orthodox belief was a full time job. Moses represents the old religion when he veils his face. Many of us represent old religion when we expect people to treat us as holy people just because we spend an inordinate amount of time in church. Hear the good news; in Jesus Christ we are all equal inheritors of holiness.

Epiphany 5
Transfiguration Sunday
Sunday, February 7, 2016

Please don't tell that story

I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time... but he only stayed with a foreigner

Jesus has a way of telling stories that no one wants to hear. He is like that sister-in-law at the family reunion who gathers the young teens and tells them how their grandfather drank his way into an early grave. In Luke 4:21-30, Jesus is in the pulpit at Capernaum, and he goes reaching for an illustration to help him make his point. He reaches back to the Old Testament and tells about the great prophet, Elijah, once took shelter in the home of Syrian widow. Elijiah was a refugee and the Syrian people, including this defenseless widow with her orphan son, took him in. Now, stand in the pulpit of your church and tell the same story.

Epiphany 4
Sunday, February 3, 2013

Many of the politicians that I’m not voting for have one thing in common, they distrust science. They may be respected physicians, but they’ll balk at the fundamental theories that have enabled science to provide us with genetic testing, and one day, will cure cancer. Or, they may be savvy business pros, but they’ll ignore the environmental red-ink of climate change, or the science that says that this debt cannot be deferred. This primary season has be marked by a constant stream of bogus statistics, created by candidates to support their pet policies. Scientists have a term for this, they call it Confirmation Bias.

Simple answers are the easy and broad path

Vocations

There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

I like the word, 'vocation.' It is built upon the Latin for calling and reminds us that what we do in life, whether it is a paid career or a volunteer service around the neighborhood, is done because of what God spoke into being when he made us. We are called and we respond. I also can’t help but notice what Paul says about our vocations in 1 Corinthians 12. He says that they are related to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts are given to everyone of our members. Many use them to build up the church.

Epiphany 3
Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Facebook friend of mine has a really big camera. He took it to Italy and posted a picture that he took of a second story window. Imagine this; on crowded cobblestone street, he has set up his tripod and the camera, which is about the size of a microwave oven. It has bellows and takes pictures on sheets of film that are as big as a paperback book. It has a special feature that allows you to raise the lens to correct for the natural tendency of buildings to go all pointy at the top when you look up. The parallel lines in my friend’s photo of a crumbling Italian building, did not converge.

Taken from street level of a 2nd story  window

Not my time, not my wine

Jesus seems to be disrespecting his mother at the wedding in Cana (John 2:4). She asks him to do a miracle in front of everyone. “Jesus this is your cue,” Mary says. “The wine has run out and our family is responsible.” His response is, “Not my wine, not my time.” Later in John 7, he will tell his disciples that everyone expects him to do miracles on cue, but it really isn’t his time, yet. There is a messianic kingdom coming. We won’t always be scrambling to keep our kids fed.

Epiphany 2
Sunday, January 17, 2016

“In the way we regard our children, our spouses, neighbors, colleagues, and strangers, we choose to see others either as people like ourselves or as objects.They either count like we do or they don't. In the former case we regard them as we regard ourselves, we say our hearts are at peace toward them. In the latter case, since we systematically view them as inferior, we say our hearts are at war.” 

Orthodox priests standing between Ukrainian protesters and Ukrainian police

Fire and Rain

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. Through the flame, you will go. But it will not consume you.

The passage from Isaiah about God promising to be with us through hell and high water is almost as famous as James Taylor’s song: 

I've seen fire and I've seen rain. I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end.
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I'd see you again.

Epiphany 1
Sunday, January 10, 2016

Passively Entering the New Year

To write well, I avoid the passive voice. Or to put it the wrong way, my writing is becoming less passive. Yet, when Paul greets the church at Ephesus with the rich and sonorous, ‘blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…’ everything he says for the rest of the page is passive. It has to be this way. God already is fully blessed by His nature and totally the gift-giver in our relationship with Him.

Christmas 2
New Years
Sunday, January 3, 2016

Holiday Pilgrimage

We only have one childhood story about Jesus, that of his amazing the elders in the temple. I’m not really sure what this story tells us about Jesus, or his Home-Alone-ish family, but its context deserves some reflection. A couple times a year, people would pilgrimage to the temple. Diaspora Jews would make these trips less frequently, perhaps, once or twice in a life-time. We have little in today’s world that is equivalent to this. As someone who cares about mental health, family systems, and healthy transitions, I think this is our loss.

Christmas 1
Sunday, December 27, 2015

Wednesday, I drove my wife to the emergency room with what had been, only an hour before, a minor condition. Within a short time after arriving, a doctor said to me, “It is a good thing that you brought her in when you did.” Why did I bring her in when I did? Because we had health insurance. If we were uninsured, as we had been back in the 1980s, I would have held off. It’s just a bug, it will pass. My dithering may have been fatal.

 

Health Insurance Debate

The problem with Trump is that he doesn’t live in a world where he can see a woman in a hijab, shepherding her children onto the school bus and think to himself, “hey that family shares my hopes and dreams.” The problem with our country, is that 30% of the people want to live in Trump’s world. It’s a world where language is used to hurt, not heal, where might makes right, and where public service has been forgotten. It is the land of a people who desire a king (1 Samuel Chapter 8) and a man who says, “I’m smart enough for the job.”

Be careful in desiring a King, see 1 Samuel 8

In with the Vipers

John the Baptist doesn’t make any friends by calling everyone brood of Vipers. Now note that Jesus doesn’t contradict John. To understand their shared message, we need to focus on what is healthy and not, relating to pride and shame. What would John, or Jesus, make of the boast, “I am proud to be an American” or the current rush in France to buy tricolor flags since the Paris attack?

 

Ask yourself, “Why am I in ministry?” Most of us are here, not because of a single mind-blowing worship experience, but because our hearts were quietly, over time, nurtured by the Holy Spirit. There is a Way of the spirit which we simply desire more of. There is a Way that is more compelling than riches, or the fleeting entertainments of this world. How many of in our church or place of service might be compelled by the same motivation? If the number is as low as a dozen, from out of the hundreds that we break bread with, are these people too few to be considered?

Saying No to metrics is like saying No to Monsanto

Does the Voice in the Wilderness Matter?

Every four years our country makes a show of sending the presidential candidates through the rural villages of Iowa and New Hampshire. For a few fleeting moments, common people seem to matter. They have a voice in Ottumwa.  Individuals in Concord can ask the next president if he or she knows the price of a gallon of milk. Yet the Bible speaks about the voice in the wilderness as being something more than just symbolic. We are all made to travel through wilderness from time to time. Life is enriched by trauma and displacement. There the soft voice of God has a chance to rise above the static.

Avent 2
Sunday, December 6, 2015

Church should be defined by its imitation of Jesus, who spoke a blessing upon everyone he met. Jesus spent his days walking among the fallen and touching those who needed his healing. His few sharp words, were directed towards those who spoke nonsense and shame towards the weak. And, even though Jesus had been educated in the highest place, he continually prepared for his peripatetic teaching work by going off alone in prayer. He only spoke about God from his own personal experience. He was in this Way, the word made flesh (John 1:14).

Will the church turn and heal?

On the Way

This is the season when we get in the car and journey to see family and friends. When the kids complain because it’s three hours in the car to Grandma’s, we remind them how Joseph and Mary saddled up the old Yugo and drove a hundred miles, the limit of that car’s extended warranty, in order to get tax forms from Quirinius’ office in Bethlehem, because Nazareth was too small a town to have wi-fi. The thing we mustn’t miss in our attempt to explain the oddness of Palestinian life, is that faith is a journey. Jesus invited people to follow him.

Advent 1
Communion
Sunday, November 29, 2015

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