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.

Formations 11.05.2017: Monument to Ivan the Terrible Erected

A bronze statue has been erected in Moscow to one of the most brutal rulers in Russian history. The monument is the first of its kind in the Russian capital and only the second in the entire country. The statue was first placed in the city of Alexandrov, where the locals protested.

Connections 09.03.2017: Participation Trophies

Sometimes kids get participation trophies. You know—if you’re on the team, you get a trophy. If you come in last, you still get a trophy. Why? Because you participated. The practice is controversial among some adults who argue that we shouldn’t teach our children that they’ll be rewarded for “only” participating.

Connections 08.27.2017: What about Me?

I write to you today after yet another harrowing time in our nation—a time when any progress we have made in race relations takes a few giant steps backwards. Once again we are reminded that the loud voices of a relatively small group are occasionally more powerful than the quiet voices of the many.

Connections 08.20.2017: Trajectory

The name “Jesus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which means “The Lord saves.” The most famous biblical Joshua led the Hebrews to occupy the promised land, which wasn’t easy since people lived there. So it’s more accurate to say that Joshua led the Hebrews to conquer the land.

Connections 08.13.2017: To Be Bold…

Surrounded by adoring, needy crowds, Jesus is bold enough to tell them enough is enough; it’s time for them to go home and move forward with their lives. He needs to recharge on his own with the Lord. I love many things about this brief story.

Connections 08.06.2017: Knee-Jerk Compassion

This Sunday’s lesson focuses on the fact that we sometimes have inadequate resources to meet the great need before us. It asks us to honestly face and confess our inadequacy so we can be open to God’s provision. It calls us to trust that God will use our meager resources to help meet people’s needs.

Crossroads: Sharing Jesus with Others

As a young teenager, I remember telling one of my best friends about Jesus while we were at a slumber party. She was having a hard time and she was crying. Her parents argued a lot and she was worried about what was going to happen. Everyone else was already asleep, and I was doing my best to make her feel better.

Formations 03.05.2017: Taking Off Our Masks

It’s that time of year when cheap plastic purple and green and gold masks are sold at the front of party stores. This means that it’s almost that time of year when we follow Jesus and those early Israelites before him out into the wilderness. Jesus goes out there, whether he knows it or not, to be tempted by the devil (4:1).

Connections 02.26.2017: Jesus Is Lord

Sometimes I need to read about Jesus’ transfiguration. Instead of walking by his side down the dusty roads, listening to his stories about how to live in God’s present kingdom, eating the food from one of his miraculous multiplying meals, watching him heal the sick and bless the kids and care for the poor.

Connections 02.19.2017: Getting Past the Great Filter

It was 1950, and some scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico were walking to lunch. Along the way, they talked about some recent reports of UFOs and a New Yorker cartoon that attributed the recent disappearances of New York City trash canisters to alien activity.

Connections 02.12.2017: Above and Beyond

I am both awed and horrified by these passages where Jesus expands the reach of well-known laws almost beyond human capabilities. What awes me? We can easily list basic rules of humanity, and we tend to think that we are covered. We are obviously better than others who break such foundational rules.

Connections 02.05.2017: Excessive Righteousness

In my imagination, when Jesus tells his disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20), I see them looking at each other with expressions that say, “He’s got to be kidding!” After all, you couldn’t get any more righteous than a scribe or a Pharisee.

Crossroads: Fishers of People

Has anyone ever said to you, “Stop what you’re doing and follow me?” That’s not quite how I became a children’s minister, but it’s close. From the time I was a young teen, I knew that I wanted to be an accountant. I was good with numbers, and people who like numbers tend to be accountants.

Connections 01.29.2017: The Nature of the Beatitudes

I have also viewed these Beatitudes as something to strive for. Do you want the kingdom of heaven, comfort, the earth, and so on? Then be poor in spirit, mourning, meek, etc. But as I read these again this week, I realized something. Every quality Jesus lists here is either innate or enforced.

Connections 01.22.2017: The Speed of Light

Light travels at 186 thousand miles per second. That means it travels about six trillion miles in a year, so that’s the distance in a light year. The sun is “only” about 0.000016 of a light year (93 million miles) from Earth; its light reaches us in about eight minutes twenty seconds.

Connections 01.08.2017: Going Under

I was watching a made-for-television film about Jesus. In its depiction of Jesus’ baptism, he joined John in the Jordan River. As they stood in the river, which came up to their waists, John poured water over Jesus’ head.

Formations 12.18.2016: A Glimpse of Holiness

Angels almost always appear on the biblical scene saying, “Don’t be afraid.” And they are indeed frightening creatures, at least in the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic writings.

Formations 12.11.2016: Even in this Place?

John the Baptist heard the train coming before anyone else, but today he’s in prison. By the river he proclaimed, “Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” (Matt 3:2). Now he sends some of his disciples to find out if he got it wrong, if they should start looking for someone else.

Formations 12.04.2016: Pace Yourself

I was late coming to Advent. The church of my childhood and youth never observed a season of preparation leading to Christmas day. We were left, then, to “get ready for Christmas” the same way secular people did.

Formations 11.27.2016: Paying Attention

As we enter Advent, we don’t only remember Ancient Israel’s hope and longing for God to rescue them. We also recognize our own hope that Christ would come as a fuller part of our world.

Connections 10.09.2016: One Foundation

The church I attend is brand new. We became official in spring 2015. Our name is new, our sign is new, and our hymnals are new. Our bylaws are new. We’re so new that our mission is still evolving. But we have a history that stretches backward much longer than eighteen months.

Formations 06.19.2016: Pilate’s Indecision

Pilate comes near the end of the story of Jesus. Whatever Gospel you’re reading, by the time you arrive at Pilate’s palace, you’ve already gotten a pretty good idea of who Jesus is. You’ve seen him heal with compassion. You’ve seen him go out of his way to include people that most would have written off.

Formations 05.29.2016: Asking and Listening

Ernesto Sirolli is widely renowned throughout the world as an expert in economic development. He has led successful International Aid efforts in communities in Zambia, Kenya, Algeria, and other African countries to develop sustainable economies.

Formations 01.03.2016: Baby Names of 2015

Jackson and Sophia are the most popular baby names of 2015, but there are some interesting trends further down the list. According to a USA Today report, the gender-neutral name Royalty is up 90% this year.

Uniform 12.27.2015: A Generous Gift

I have a confession to make. There was a time when I thought Christmas was about me. Now, don’t think I was worse than I was. I knew that Christmas was really about the birth of Jesus.

Formations 11.22.2015: The Greatest Commandment

“What is the greatest commandment?” the legal expert asked. It was the perfect opening. If Jesus had wanted to say something like “All Scripture is equally important,” there was his chance. But he didn’t take it, because he didn’t believe that was true.

Reading through the Lens of Jesus

Jesus opens up the depth of meaning in the Scriptures so that we can find depth of meaning in our lives and in our discipleship. In relationship with Jesus we become participants in the kingdom of God.

Formations 08.30.2015: Choosing to Forgive

It seems the news has been full of people who have every right to lash out at those who have caused them harm, but have chosen instead to forgive.

Formations 08.16.2015: Making Peace

Kanye West is famous, among other things, for interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 Video Music Awards. When Swift beat out Beyoncé for Best Female Video, the rapper rushed the stage to explain why Beyoncé’s should have won instead.

Formations 08.02.2015: Loving—and Forgiving—Our Enemies

Two days after Dylann Roof murdered nine members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the families of his victims posted a YouTube video in which they extended forgiveness and urged Roof to repent.

The Decline of the American Church, Boy Meets World, & Me

People can slice statistics any way they want to (and already have), but the short of it is this: While Christianity still remains the majority religion in the U.S., it is on the decline.

Uniform 02.15.2015: Are You a Sheep or a Goat?

I’ve heard the story of the sheep and the goats for years. When I was younger, I felt sorry for the poor goats that would burn in the eternal fire.

Uniform 02.01.2015: To Fast or Not to Fast

I confess: I’ve never gone without a meal. In fact, I’ve never gone without a snack when I felt like I needed one. Fasting from food is something I’ve never seriously considered.

Thrive: Words of Promise – Amy Shorner-Johnson

As you look forward toward a new year, what are your hopes and dreams? While I am not a person who typically makes resolutions, I am always grateful for some time to reflect on the year.

Crossroads: The Christ Candle

Christmas Day has finally come! Christ is born! Today, we light the Christ Candle in the center of our Advent wreath. All the candles glow today. The world is bright and warm.

Thrive: The Depths and Mysteries of Life – Amy Shorner-Johnson

I am always grateful for the testimony of the women who came to the tomb. This story is a powerful witness and an affirmation of the women’s part in the sharing of the good news that God gives us.

Uniform 12.28.2014: Faith for the Unexpected

One of my favorite movies to watch at Christmas is The Bishop’s Wife. In it, a frazzled bishop, played by David Niven, prays for God’s guidance as he struggles to raise funds for a new cathedral and maintain a healthy relationship with his wife (Loretta Young).

Thrive: The Gift of Acknowledgement – Amy Shorner-Johnson

During the Christmas season, we often talk about loneliness and remembering those who are marginalized, those who might also feel abandoned as they get lost or overlooked.

Flame: Loom Band Advent Stars

Here’s a way to use up some loom bands in a reflective Advent activity. After sharing the story of the WIse Men, make 5 popsicle sticks into a star shape and secure each point of the star with a loom band.

Thrive: Vulnerability and Risk – Amy Shorner-Johnson

Who among us hasn’t tried to push the attention away from ourselves when we are afraid? When the teacher starts calling names and the answer seems evasive? When the boss looks for someone to hold accountable?

Thrive: Love is Stronger – Amy Shorner-Johnson

Cyber Monday. Some of us have already spent some time trying to get the best deal online. Whether or not you participated in the last few days of shopping, it can be hard to avoid the hype that begins as we countdown toward what is supposed to be one of the most “wonderful times of the year.”

Thrive: Couldn’t You Stay Awake with Me? – Cynthia Insko

I love the beach. I don’t go often, but when I do, I pay close attention. Engaging my senses, I take it all in. I smell the musty, fishy breeze, taste the salty air, feel the sand between my toes.

Thrive: When Did We See You? – Cynthia Insko

Back in 1994, I received an invitation that changed my life. I was serving as campus minister in a city that housed a cutting-edge research clinic for the treatment of AIDS.

Thrive: Is it Fair? – Cynthia Insko

I have three children. It’s very important to me to avoid favoritism and treat each fairly. For example, when the last brownie is left in the pan, I meticulously cut it in three equal parts.

Thrive: Are You Ready? – Cynthia Insko

Each Sunday at the threshold of our Godly Play children’s worship classroom our doorkeeper bends down, looks each child in the eye, calls her by name and asks, “Are you ready?” Answering “Yes,” one by one the children enter our sacred space.

Thrive: Insisting on Titles – Katie McKown

Most of us understand it’s impolite to blatantly brag. We might want to do it, but we know culture frowns upon it; however if we’re keen enough we’ll find a way.

Thrive: We Work – Katie McKown

It is a famed pastime to predict when Jesus will return. Who knows when Jesus will return? Scripture tells us “only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) Perhaps then we should shift attention from when Jesus will return to how to live while we wait “for [we] do not know on what day [our] Lord is coming.”