The Kingdom is Near

There is a difference between our current culture, and the people described in Mark  Chapter 1. People today do not expect God to intervene in their personal lives, nor do they expect God or Jesus to suddenly appear in the sky and kick their oppressors to hell and bring his faithful into a new kingdom of peace and justice. We have become un-apocalyptic as a culture, in spite of social media’s trending of fake stories about zombies, ebola, and the muslims in burkas.  The hope that underlays Jesus (and John the Baptist’s) message is that God’s kingdom is near.

Epiphany 3
Sunday, January 25, 2015

Love on the Journey

Life is, in its simplest telling, a journey story. This is why our hearts are drawn to stories like the Hobbit, the Exodus, and Homer’s Odyssey. Psalm 139 tells us that the journey has purpose. It assures me that [God has] searched out my path and my lying down, and is acquainted with all my ways. Such knowledge is overwhelming. Whatever you say about this Psalm, don’t water down the intense and poetic way it expresses God’s love for us as individuals. 

 

Epiphany 2
Sunday, January 18, 2015

Spiritual passion is the fuel that keeps a congregation active and excited about the faith it has to share with the world. Without spiritual passion, a church, no matter what its size, will either crash and burn or become a hollow shell of its former glory. Just as the body is fueled by a nutritious diet, so a church is fueled by a healthy, passionate, spirituality. 

Three Questions - One answer

For more, see Ezekiel's Bones by Bill Kemp

John and Austerity

Meditation consists of intentionally eliminating the things that are so familiar that we have allowed them access to our souls. Spirituality begins with naming our inner idols and the material albatrosses hanging around our necks. So, Jesus comes to be baptized by John in the Jordan. Then, he immediately goes further into the wilderness for forty days. These two events lack noise. They lack clutter. What specifically is missing from these two events?

 

Epiphany 1
Sunday, January 11, 2015

A certain young pastor came to Jesus and said, “Lord, I already know how to be saved. What I need to know is how to move on from this parish and find the situation that I really deserve.” And Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord? I am not your bishop. Have you filed your statistical reports? Does your church pay all of its denominational askings, and have you organized every committee according to the rules you have received? Have you gone to all the workshops, visited all of the shut-ins, and said the invocation at the rotary each month? “All these I have done,” the young man said.

Reality Check 101 has a three step process for healthy ministry

It's About Time

Today, we have a problem with Time. Not just the lack of it, or our capacity to waste it in trivial TV watching, but in our very understanding of it. Today, we process Time in very short chunks. We abbreviate it, as we cook our food in the microwave. We truncate it, forsaking even the dumbed-down daily half-hour news show (17 minutes when you take out the commercials and feel-good fluff), for Facebook posts and Twitter-feeds. We rape Time by our reluctance to ask the big question about how history is shaped, and where it all will end. Apocalypse is not just a prelude to Zombies, it is one answer to the vital question, How will Time end?

Christmas 2
1st Sunday of New Year
Sunday, January 4, 2015

Old and New

We have this image as we face the New Year of an old man being pushed off of life’s stage by an infant. Meanwhile, in the Bible, we find the baby, Jesus, being brought by his parents to the temple on the first Sunday after Christmas and there are these two old geezers blocking the way to the altar. Simeon and Anna, both older than eight track tapes, have to say their bit before we can get on with the story of the incarnation. And we say, ‘Oh I get it. Everything new gets old real quick.’ But we don’t get it. The exact opposite is being spoken by the Holy Spirit.

Christmas 1
Sunday between Christmas & New Year's
Sunday, December 28, 2014

“Surprise! I’m not going to church right now.” Recently I gave a fellow struggling Christian author a complimentary copy of my Reality Check book for her review and asked her to pass it on to her pastor when she was though with it. She looked embarrassed and confessed that she wasn’t going to church right now. She had moved across town a few years back and not found a place that she was at home in. This is someone whose day job involved handling difficult people and doing boring repetitive things because you are responsible for getting it done. She wasn’t someone who flaked out on her commitments. She was committed to Christ.

Churches, like phones, look different to different generations

The holiday season is filled with teachable moments. As you prepare for the children’s Christmas pageant and approve various images for advertisements and to placed on the worship screen, have you exercised care to represent the diversity of the world that Emmanuel entered into? We might have a black wiseman in our nativity set, or at Easter, make mention of Simon of Cyrene’s race, but is this mere tokenism? What about wrestling with the exclusivity of our approach to the holiday season?

How do we picture Christmas?

Say Yes to the Dress

TLC does a bit of fluff called “Say Yes to the Dress.” It shows brides arguing with their mothers as they choose a dress for her to wear for three hours on one day and costs — well, if you have to ask the price you’re not really putting yourself into their demographic. It’s Queen for the Day, remade for today’s cable channel surfer, minus the backstory of how miserable the woman’s life was before this moment and how much she needs to feel special for an hour. My hatred of Say Yes…  may be why Isaiah 62:10 popped out a me this week.

Advent 3
Sunday, December 14, 2014

The recent brouhaha over President Obama appointing a soap opera producer as ambassador to Hungary reminds me of the way congregations choose their leaders. There is a word for when  nomination committees give out church offices as rewards for financial or political gifts. It’s the sin of simony, much protested by Martin Luther.  But, I wish there was a word for doing the opposite. Too often, nominating committees beg people who work 9 to 5 at finances or in the building trades, to serve on the stewardship committee or as trustees. The resulting leadership is articulate and knowledgable, but lacks passion.

Simony - the word for today

How does it begin?

I’ve learned a trick from Sci-Fi guru Orson Scott Card, when I’m at the bookstore, looking for a novel, I always read the first 13 lines of the book. If the author doesn’t nail it in the first half a page, the book isn’t likely to be worth it. Mark’s gospel is a good read. He begins with ordinary folk flocking out into the wilderness to hear a prophet. What would make them do that? They have a need to know that life will turn out Okay. Some of them have lost children to malnutrition. Others are struggling through failed marriages.

Advent 2
Sunday, December 7, 2014

The story is that Alexander the Great had a mistress named Campaspe. She was beautiful and he was proud of her, so proud, that he took her to the famous artist, Apelles, who painted her in the nude. Alexander loved this painting. He noticed something, though. The reason Apelles did such a good job at the painting, was because Apelles saw Campaspe’s beauty more clearly than Alexander did. Now you would think, Apelles would get in trouble for ogling  the Great’s girl. But Alexander chose instead to give Campaspe to Apelles as payment for the painting, which he took home to his palace.

Alexander watches as Campaspe is painted

Keep Awake

There are times in our lives when someone needs to shake us. We sing, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Something’s burning. We open a window and spray air freshener. The snooze button of our alarm clock has been taped down. Advent is meant to take a double edged sword to our post-turkey somnolence.  First, it reminds us of the generations who longed to see the wrath of God come and break the mountains of oppression that bound them. Then it tells us that the Jesus whom we want to receive on Christmas morning with Walmart gifts and egg nog, belongs to those who are awake, looking for him in the cold night.

Advent 1
Sunday, November 30, 2014

Henry's Questions

Imagine Henry, a Easter-Christmas nominal Christian, coming to your church this week and hearing Jesus’ story about how on Judgement Day, God will sort us all out, like a shepherd separating sheep from goats. Henry has never spent a day upon a farm. He wonders what is so bad about goats. He gets the bit about how people, who are only nice when they know that there’s something in it for them, deserve Hell. But, what’s this talk about all of humankind being brought before God (Jesus) and given only one chance to make it into heaven? Henry, like Hamlet and many other fictional people, views his life as a series of good and bad decisions.

Pentecost 29
Sunday, November 23, 2014

Many churches are in conflict today. Often these fights have become abusive, traumatising parish leaders. I can give at least three reasons for why the American church scene has become so rancorous:

1) The steady decline in American church participation has caused us to feel depressed in our church work. Depressed people are risk adverse, passive aggressive, and argumentative.

2) The constant emphasis on church growth and how laity are keeping their pastors from being successful, has made us all feel ashamed. Shame-based cultures shuffle blame around rather than dealing problems in an objective fashion.

Is your church experiencing conflict?

Beware of Women with Tent Pegs

You have to have three items handy before you tell the story of Deborah; a glass of milk, a tent peg (a sharpened stick will do), and the biggest sledge hammer you can find. Unfortunately, the Lectionary ends the story of Deborah at Judges 4:7. You need to tell the whole story, all of Judges 4. I think it’s fun just to read it — ham it up, if can — let people draw their own interpretations. Many will say, “Surely, that’s not in the Bible!” Then you can give one, or more, of the following reasons why the story of Deborah and Jael is important to remember.

 

Pentecost 22
Sunday, November 16, 2014

This week in Illinois, I had a lay person complain to me about his church. The church had been one of those success stories. A small congregation in the 1980s, receives a dynamic and gifted pastor who stays for over 20 years. In that time, the church grew. It became a large church with staff. When that pastor left, however, a rapid decline set in. They went through a series of pastors and now they are a small congregation again. “Wow,” I said. “I have just heard the same story from a church in Pennsylvania.”

Having a 1 in a million pastor is random reinforcement

Final Lecture

If you are hearing Matthew 25 or preaching it in church this month, there are some things you ought to keep in mind. First, the context of the three parables that Jesus tells, is that of his final week on earth. Like final lecture of the late CMU professor, Randy Pausch, Jesus’ last stories have special significance. Usually, we say that these three stories are Eschatological, that is, they deal with the final judgement of humanity and the second coming of Christ. But, I think that it is worth digging deeper.

Pentecost 27
Sunday, November 9, 2014

About once a year, I attend the contemporary worship service at a church adjacent to the University of New Mexico. I like this church and enjoy the informal, but well organized, youth-oriented service. The praise band is lively, but punctual. The pastor knows how to give an appropriate message for that setting. The church has invested heavily in lighting and sound, so that the fellowship hall is ideal for contemporary worship. But, where are the college kids? I didn’t see any.

 

Are you marketing to college-age adults?

Jesus Redefines Sainthood

In the past, I have emphasized the all in All Saints Day. Not this year. There isn’t an ‘all’ in Jesus’ definition of saint. In this Saturday’s holiday lection, Jesus begins his sermon on the mount with a series of blessings (Matthew 5:1-12). Each of these Beatitudes are a reversal in our definition of saint. Those with impoverished faith are sanctified. The theologically trained go unnoticed.  The meek are praised and the ambitious considered un-saintly. Mourning counts for something. The bad theology that considers our misfortunes to be punishments for being less than perfect, is thrown in the trash bin.

All Saints Sunday
Sunday, November 2, 2014

From time to time, churches go through transition. It may be a change of pastors, made more traumatic by the length of the exiting pastor’s term (more than 8 years), an over or under-functioning leadership style, or the presence of parish conflict. It may be that the church is changing locations or involved in a merger or parish realignment. It may be a transition to a different form or category of clergy leadership. These major changes require theological understanding and prayer. They are best undergirded by congregational study and a renewed emphasis upon the importance of worship and the sacraments.

Church Transition takes us thru wilderness

From Mount Pisgah’s Lofty Height

The story of Moses and the great wilderness transition comes to an end on Mount Pisgah (Deuteronomy 34:1-12). Like all great stories, it is bitter-sweet. The future lays before Moses. He can look into the Promised Land, but not enter. His role has been to guide the people out of slavery and through a transitional period. I’ve always felt that those who look for some sin to be the cause of Moses not crossing the Jordan, miss the point. Most of the world’s greatest leaders were given boundaries. Winston Churchill led Britain through World War II, and then was promptly voted out of office.

Last Sunday in Pentecost
Sunday, October 26, 2014

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