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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Seeing People, Learning Lessons

In a city like the one where I live, most growth is up. So all of us spend a lot of time on elevators. Thus we all know elevator etiquette: Do not speak to anyone. Do not make eye contact. Stare at the numbers as the floors change.

Of Spirit and Mind: A Pentecostal’s Battle Against Depression

She stopped eating and looked at me. “Are you serious?” She was more commenting than questioning. “Why would you go see a counselor? They don’t have any wisdom. They can’t help you. Are you depressed?”

Bittersweet: A Meditation for Teachers

There are weeks, even months, when we look forward to arriving at school each morning. We open our doors and relish the start of a new day of learning and laughter with our students.

Faith Postures: Noticing Our (God-repaired) Selves

Sometimes I mistakenly read the Bible like a Jane Austen book. Life seems so simple in Pride and Prejudice or in Sense and Sensibility; the good people are good, the bad people are bad, and everyone knows who is who.

Holy Ghosts: Deadly News (For Raymond)

The news came crawling
Like dreaded, deadly spiders into my ear,
Spewing their gossip like a lethal poison.

The Social Implications of Salvation

The Christian’s aim, Rauschenbusch believed, was not to pass through an evil world in safety, leaving the world’s evil unshaken; rather, it was to seek a moral and religious transformation of humanity in all of its social relations.

Meditations on Mark: The Soldiers’ Cynicism

One wonders what prompted the soldiers in this passage to act like they did. Why are they so mean and hateful towards Jesus? This is their first interaction with him.

Death and Life

We lose so many good people. When Jesus finally arrives at his friends’ home, Lazarus has been dead for four days.

Grateful for Mistakes

“Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive. Find a way to be thankful for your troubles, and they can become your blessings.” (author unknown)

Bells: A Meditation for Teachers

Telephone bells, doorbells, school bells, and fire alarms all alert us and prepare us to go into action. Our modern use of bells is totally different than one hundred years ago. Church bells rang the hour of the day and told of a death.

An Invitation to Joy

If we relied on Mark, we would have to stretch to get a story worth a Christmas carol. Mark has no shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, no Mary, no Joseph, no manger, no wise men, no Herod.

When We Have to Choose: The Indecisiveness Roadblock

God’s word is packed with informative insights for Christians who want to move around the roadblock of indecisiveness. In addition, many characters introduced to us in Scripture flesh out these insights in their lives.

Guilt: A Meditation for Teachers

One unfortunate thing we often learn as small children is how to fling guilt at other people. We find that guilt is a sticky substance that seems to attach better to some than to others.

Reminders To Be Generous

Begin this month by thinking about generosity. If you live in gratitude, you will naturally be a more generous person—generous with your attention, generous with your support for others, and generous with your material resources.

Examining the Wreckage

A poem from On Paying Attention.

I am drawn to plane crashes….

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.

A Quiet Life: Living at Peace with One’s Self

One great embarrassment of Christians is that we talk so much and so loudly. Interviews and conversations of all kinds often remind us of a pride of lions feeding, snapping and snarling, each lunging in for a moment and then getting shoved aside by others.

Between What We Dreamed and What We Got

After all those years of stumbling around in the middle of nowhere, dealing with all the conflict and controversy of his contrary constituency, you’d like to think that Moses would get to lead the parade into the land of promise.

Jesus’ Use of the Psalms

For ordinary Christians who experience opposition and negative feelings, we are invited to bring the full breadth of these experiences into the realm of God.

People Go Where They Know

As a teacher (regardless of the age group we teach), one task is to communicate to those who come each week that we are prepared for them.

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.