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?

Naming Our Demons

In the ancient world, people believed that knowing a person’s name gave them a degree of power over that person. You might use your knowledge of someone’s name to give the person a blessing or place a curse on him or her.

Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, my grandmother, and bad theology

My favorite grandmother took her own life in 1950—eleven years before I was born. My other grandmothers were fine (my father’s father provided me with four grandmothers), but my father’s mother is my favorite.

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.

The Identity Crisis in Unemployment

When I got home from my last day of work, I put my key in the door and it struck me that something was wrong with my key chain. I panicked for a second, thinking someone had stolen my keys.

Noah’s Lawsuit: Is God Trying to Say Something?

The headline reads like a punchline: “Owners of Noah’s Ark sue over rain damage.” Does God have a sense of humor or what?

The Decision Paradox

People seldom have to choose between right and wrong. Once upon a time, not long ago it seems, I embarked on a journey to be a pastor. I felt call to do battle with the forces of evil in the name of God.

Ancient Israel as God’s Archetypal Family

The story of Israel is then an archetypal story. All families of the earth share similar stories about their emergence as a people, the land or space that they inhabit, and the challenges and obstacles that they have overcome.

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.

Sins I Could Have Committed, but I was on the Other Team

The teachers never checked the area between the gym and the cafeteria—the perfect place for high-stakes penny pitching. Fifth-grade boys lined up during recess and threw pennies at a brick wall.

Cancer Is Not Evil

The most significant source of strength I draw from as I deal with cancer is not some coping mechanism that comes naturally to me. I don’t have three keys for stress-free living to offer my readers. Instead, the most important, most helpful sources of inspiration and strength for me have been my beliefs about God.

Of Course, You’ll Have the Good Taste Not to Mention that I Spoke to You

You may have already recognized that the sermon title is taken from one of the greatest, most socially relevant, and downright funniest movies ever made: Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles.

5 Guidelines for Building a Racially and Culturally Diverse Church Staff

One of the best ways to communicate a goal of racial and cultural diversity is to have a diversified staff. Actions do speak louder than words.

Before I die . . .

When the waitress brought our food, I tried to find a way to ask, “How am I supposed to eat this?” I had to think fast.

With All Your Heart

Good counselors ask good questions. The counselor who helped me work through my season of depression once asked me a question that revealed a source of my pain and a path I needed to take toward healing. She asked, “Who knows your whole story?”

Meditations on Luke: The Depth of Darkness

One the greatest measures of human creativity is our ability to rationalize almost anything. No matter how destructive our actions, no matter how foolish our choices, no matter how selfish our behaviors, no matter how dark our impulses, we can always come up with a good excuse or a reasonable explanation for them.

Pain Can Give Birth to New Life

The day my first grandchild, Liam, was born, Linda and I arrived at the hospital and went to my daughter Elizabeth’s room to spend time with her and her husband, Josh. Every two or three minutes, Elizabeth would have a contraction, a passing moment of tension and discomfort.

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.

My Speech to Seminary Graduates

Once again, no seminary has chosen me to give the speech at their graduation service. My mother and I do not get it.

Trying to Make the Unhappy Happy

Trying to make the unhappy happy. There probably isn’t much future in this, God. We like to be liked, and we love to be loved. At least some of us. Well intentioned psychology has partly vilified some among us as people pleasers. Take away any personal tendencies, and we are left with more practical concerns.

The Potter’s Wheel is Still Turning

God told Jeremiah to go the potter’s house because, through the work of the potter, God would reveal his message to Jeremiah. The prophet watched as the potter worked at the wheel, purposefully shaping the clay with a beautiful and useful end in mind. But, as the potter worked, something went wrong.

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.

About Tomorrow

Tomorrow. The word alone is enough to give pause, for wrapped in its syllables are promise and hope. There is the grace of time, too, which we will surely need now and then. I like the fact, Lord, that we get to start over and make a new one each day.

Brokenness, a Prayer for Lent

God, it takes courage to be the creatures
you made us to be.
Year after year we add to our experiences of the world,
pushing against our limits
to find out what will budge and what will not.

Mystery, a Prayer for Lent

God, thank you for faithful signs
of spring that tell us you love the world.
Give us glimpses of your creation
that are sights for sore eyes…

The Theology of Extremity

What matters most to God? In recent years that question has grown larger and deeper at the center of my soul. My struggle to discern what really matters most to God has settled around a rather unsettling phrase: “the theology of extremity.”

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.”

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?

Six Ways to Embrace Your Uniqueness

As we put our hands to the plow of the new year, consider these six ways of transforming yourself and your Sunday school class.

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.

Catching a Glimpse

The first Christmas comes and goes, and most people don’t notice. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and a few others catch a glimpse of what is happening, but they’re just a handful.

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.

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.

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.

Coming, a Prayer for Advent

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Worship Hour Outline: Dreams

We come to dream with you, Spirit of Hope. We confess that some of our dreams have been selfish ambitions, and that we have often been driven by personal gain and little interest in others or your will.

Thou Shalt Remember Thou Art Creative

The question I get more than any other—more than “What’s the meaning of life?”, or “Why do people suffer?”, or “Why are the New England Patriots so . . . them?”—is “Can I learn to be funny?”

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.

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.

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.

Who Blesses Whom

Isaac was a unique, funny, lovable guy, albeit frustrating at times. He had a way of wiggling his endearing, stubborn soul into your heart like I imagine a little brother would. He was a man of few words, but he could always communicate what he wanted in any given moment.

Death and Life

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