God Is Greater than Our Hearts

I once owned a car with a broken gas gauge. When the tank was empty, the needle pointed to “E.” When the tank was half full, the gauge still read empty. When the gas tank was filled to overflowing, the needle budged just a little, moving slightly to the right of the empty mark.

Loyal Dissenters: Reading Matthew 22:21 Together

When English Baptists in the seventeenth century read Matthew 22:21, they heard Jesus establishing a limit on the authority of civil power. Caesar did have legitimate concerns in this world—collecting taxes, for example—and, in those areas, he could exercise his power as he saw fit.

The Issues Paradox

Churches in the modern age troll for pastors who know how to grow a church. They are desperate for men and women who know how to promote, market, and sell. When the pulpit becomes empty, churches now look for sales-types, the same kinds of people who would succeed in real estate and life insurance.

Meditations on Luke: The Last Laugh

The ministry of Jesus is such a ridiculous thing that it draws laughter. Everywhere he goes, he says and does things that are so out of step with what seems to be obvious reality that people think he is crazy. Imagine what the neighbors said when Jesus, somewhere around the age of thirty, walked away from his father’s vocation as a carpenter.

A Place at the Table

Sometimes it’s easier to be a man. Your last name is not an issue. Wedding plans take care of themselves. Mechanics tell you the truth. You never have to drive to another gas station restroom because this one is “just too icky.” Three pairs of shoes are more than enough. The same hairstyle lasts for years.

The Weight of Pain

Why does pain almost always seem to weigh more, to have more substance, to impact us more powerfully, than joy? For many people, the moments that have been most life-changing have been, not the moments of joy, but the moments of pain.

Wrinkles

Most of us can remember the exact moment when we looked in the mirror and saw our first gray hair or the first noticeable wrinkle on our face. We were still young, perhaps only in our twenties.

A Prayer for When Exhilaration Gives Way to Routine

We live on the highs, don’t we, Lord? At least you may have noticed that we try. Of course, this isn’t realistic. But that never keeps us from striving. We become accustomed to the thrill. Addicted to the high of achievement and feedback. We get used to accomplishment and growth.

Overcoming Ethnocentrism

A major barrier that impedes growth in multicultural, multiracial churches is known as “ethnocentrism,” the tendency to view the norms and values of one’s own culture as absolute and to use them as a standard against which to judge and measure all other cultures. Many times this tendency is cloaked under the attitude that “they don’t do it like us.”

Hard Things Are Hard

Hard things are hard. Sometimes life is just plain hard. You can’t escape it or get around it; you just have to live through it.

Cultivating Cross-cultural, Cross-racial Relationships

I recently attended a basketball game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Washington Wizards. The Mavericks’s home arena was packed to capacity. People from many cultures and races attended the game. They were smiling at each other, cheering together, and even sharing popcorn.

Live the Stories: Noah’s Ark

Remind the children of how Adam and Eve made a mistake in last week’s story. That mistake caused the world to be an unhappy place where people didn’t treat God or each other the right way. Begin by asking the children if they know what an ark is. They may respond by stating that an ark is a boat or something that Noah built.

Strangers: A Meditation for Teachers

They walk, run, tumble, and drag into your room on the first day of school—complete strangers. At the beginning of the year they all seem to look alike.

Meditations on Luke: Forcing Our Way In

It would be hard to count the gallons of ink that have been spilled over the years trying to interpret verse 16. For one thing, the wording in the original Greek is terse and difficult to translate into an English equivalent. Beyond that, the phrase deals in imagery that is awkward and feels out of place.

Honesty: Believing There Are No Ifs, Ands, or Buts

This verse is about a merchant weighing out a customer’s goods. When the customer pays for a gallon or for a pound, the Lord demands a gallon delivered, or a pound, and not a drop or a hair less. Don’t even begin to walk down a dishonest path. But the command is about much more than buying and selling; it’s about honesty and truthfulness.

Meditations on Mark: The Transfiguration

It is an obvious fact that you cannot look directly at the sun. Expose your eyes to that much intense light for more than a fraction of a second, and you can do permanent damage. And yet it is also an obvious fact that were it not for the sun’s intensity, life on Earth wouldn’t be possible.

The Spiritual Significance of Star Wars

The same excitement that makes Star Wars a great entry point to the rudiments of physics, for example, also makes it a great resource for spiritual reflection and discussion.

Waiting for You – Addie Davis

Your achievements represent hard work and dedication—a milestone—but you will discover that there are no resting places, just breathers along the way, for you must get on with the tasks of missions, education, and employment. You must certainly get on with the business of living.

The Helper’s Paradox

Ministering from a stance of personal deprivation is both foolish and ineffective. That is why the Helper’s Paradox is important to remember: The best way to take care of others is to take care of yourself.

Caring for Country

Even standing in line at the National Archives is inspiring. The original Declaration of Independence is on the left: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness . . . . That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The Fourfold Pattern for Common Worship

When the people of God gather then for Sunday worship, the “order of service” is not accidental or simply because “we’ve always done it that way.” The structure of common worship should be determined by our very best understanding of who God is, what God is about, what God expects and wants, and who we are in relationship to God.

Meditations on Mark: Family in the Kingdom of God

Few wounds cut deeper than those inflicted on us by our families. I have known plenty of otherwise strong and accomplished adults who still carry in their spirits the pain of broken relationships with parents, siblings, or children. This is an indication of the family’s importance in God’s plan for humanity.

Souvenirs: A Meditation for Teachers

We collect souvenirs so that we will not forget special people and places. Sometimes the memories that return when we see or touch a momento are more wondrous and inspiring than the actual experience. Often our favorite souvenirs are the simplest ones: a Christmas tree ornament, a shell, or a postcard.

Meditations on Mark: Permanence

Scientists in Britain recently made a fascinating discovery. After centuries of mystery and debate, they finally located the body of King Richard III, who was killed in battle in 1485. The location of his grave was lost to history until February 2013, when DNA tests confirmed that they had indeed found the late king.

Soul: Fire in Preaching

In my experience, eighty percent of the fuel for preaching comes from sources outside the study. I do not mean scouring the countryside or the urbanside for sermon illustrations.

Homeward Bound

“I want to go home” is not just the plaintive cry of kindergarten students on the first day of school; it is the longing of every person who pays attention to his or her heart. For some, nothing is better than going home.

Love as a Way of Living

Without question the word “love” sums up and depicts the essence of our Christian faith. Nonetheless, most Christians struggle in a world often filled with problems, difficulties, suffering, pain.

Imagining God

How do you and I imagine God? I realize that God exceeds our capacities for imagination, but most of us live with some mental image of the Divine. It’s almost necessary. For example, when I pray, I can’t speak with any intimacy to something that is formless, shapeless, and total mystery.

Justice, Kindness, Humility

One morning in my eighth grade social studies class, the teacher said, “The world is one-third Christian, twenty percent Muslim, and thirteen percent Hindu.” We thought that was the goofiest thing we had ever heard. Where I grew up in Mississippi, there were four religions—Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and heathen.

Presenting Portraits of Jesus

When Mark sketched out our first Gospel account of Jesus, he was not simply writing a direct history or creating a photo account about Jesus. He was doing something far more significant than recording a Vine. He was providing a testimony about the figure he believed was the most important person who ever lived.

Facing Dualism

Like everyone else, I sometimes take a dualistic view of the world. Things are good or bad, black or white, true or false. This attitude always accompanies the temptation to be judgmental.

Seeking, a Prayer for Epiphany

God of all times and places, we move into this new year as travelers seeking the shelter of your presence in all our comings and goings. Like the magi we move from familiar surroundings, crossing borders to enter unknown times and places.

Coming, a Prayer for Advent

Come to us, Lord Jesus,
in every purple-patterned life,
every wrap of loving arms
in shivering December.

Helping Each Other Grieve

As well as being a joyous time, Christmas can be difficult for people touched by tragedy or loss in the past year. Grief is isolating. While the rest of the world seems to be celebrating, tragedies years and decades old resurface.

Meditations on Mark: Prepare the Way

This is the promise John the Baptist makes in the opening chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Mark doesn’t begin with the story of Jesus’ birth. Rather, he jumps into the middle of the story with Jesus already as an adult, ready to begin his ministry. This is the urgency in Mark: The Messiah has come.

Holy Hilarity: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

The conclusion to the flood story addresses a variety of topics, including what we eat and how we eat it, capital punishment, and the connection of all life on earth. It does not specifically address Big Macs, whether to execute by firing squad or electric chair, or the importance of talking to your plants.

Thanksgiving Supper

At 10:30 on Thanksgiving Day, I am standing in a long line waiting for a box of Thanksgiving. We are not in a restaurant, as you might expect, but in a nondescript building—a VFW hall, Rotary Club hall, or Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall.

Unless You Come unto Me as These

This one is going to be a problem for us. You know that most adults have forgotten that they were children once upon a time. In fact, how long has it been since most adults have included “once upon a time” in any sentence?

Self-fulfilling Prophesies

When we were young children, our parents would tell us that we were smart, hesitant, too thin-skinned, impatient, or cute. We often accepted the labels our relatives gave us before we had a chance to understand the significance of our attributes.

Time and Patience

In my work with mediation and conflict resolution, there are two major tools: time and patience.

Faith Postures: Noticing When We Obstruct Christ

I did something one weekend of which I am ashamed. I did something I can never take back and something for which I can never be sure of the ramifications.

Satisfaction: A Meditation for Teachers

Concluding a school day is a lot like finishing a meal—you know immediately whether or not you feel satisfied. When the day is over and we close and lock our door, we know immediately whether we feel full or empty.

Reimagining “Church” and “Christians” as the “Jesus Tribe”

This may be unsettling to some, but the earliest followers of Jesus did not refer to themselves as Christians. I am rather glad about this because the word “Christian” has too much baggage attached to it.

Evangelical Common Worship on National Holidays

In general, we come to common worship from a week in which a secular society has tried to shape our identity as something radically different than what Scripture says it is.

Bringing Our Pain to God

Think about the people you know who are in terrible pain right now. Violence, death, loss, trauma, or physical or mental illness has touched them, even destroyed them. If they should come to worship, is there an appropriate context for them to acknowledge their pain before God?

9 Tips for Interpreting Scripture

Many of us grew up hearing preachers proclaim, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” By now, I hope we realize that the task of biblical interpretation is a tad more complicated.

Headlines

Many mornings when we check the news, the headlines announce an event that will alter the course of our lives. If you had the power to change one headline that has occurred in history, what headline would it be?

Nine Helps for Teaching

It’s summer. Families are traveling and the youth you do have are drowsy, but the following nine guidelines will help you build toward meaningful teaching and learning in the classroom.