Prayer When in the Wilderness

The wilderness imparted some new insights about the practice of prayer. As the preceding chapters make clear, I prayed virtually every day. Some days I felt circumstances closing in, and as a result, my prayers glowed with a white-hot intensity.

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.

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.

Live the Stories: Jesus Gives Peter Instructions

Remind the children that many of the disciples who followed Jesus were fishermen before they left their jobs to learn from him. When Jesus died, they returned to their jobs of catching fish.

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.

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.

A Column Turned Prayer for Ascension Sunday

God of the true church, we acknowledge that we know these songs we sing too well, some of them even by heart.

Worshiping During the Week

I want to tell you about my friend Ethan. I met Ethan at the church I serve. Ethan is a man about town; everyone knows when Ethan is around, and he makes sure of it.

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.

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.

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.”

Spiritual but Not Religious

Many would say, to use a modern phrase, that Lincoln was “spiritual but not religious.” Such a posture should be celebrated as an expression of heartfelt belief and longing, but it should also be considered with a word of caution.

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.

Meditations on Luke: A Judas Living Inside Each of Us

In his memoir Telling Secrets, writer and preacher Frederick Buechner tells about his childhood after his father committed suicide. In addition to the trauma of losing his dad was the grief of being forbidden to speak of what happened.

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…

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.

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.

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.”

Getting It All Together

Jesus’ boat lands on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee—no longer in Jewish territory. This is like landing in Cuba. Along the edge of the lake, tombs are cut into the mountain. The village graveyard is this land’s version of a mental institution.

Faith, a Prayer for Epiphany

God of life,
God of all our becoming
winding
changing
hopeful
fearful years—
we praise you
for your faithfulness.

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.

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.

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.

Don’t Let People Rob You of Your Joy

I realized that joy is something beyond the measure of human capability. We’d rather crucify joy than find hope in it.

Solitude Matters: Listening to Your Soul

There was a big oak tree behind my school, Ridgecrest Elementary. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent in that big tree as a young boy, sometimes with friends and sometimes all by myself.

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.

Light the Candles and Push Back the Darkness

During Advent, in churches and private homes around the world, candles are lighted and the stages of the journey to Bethlehem are observed. It is the time when we sing familiar hymns commemorating the birth of the Christ child.

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.

A Bit of Hell

“I’m a fake,” she said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean that I get up and I teach my Sunday school class when I don’t even know if I believe what I’m teaching anymore.”

Laughter Matters: Finding Levity in a Heavy World

A couple of weeks ago, my sister Laurie called from her home in Houston to check on us. We talked about our families and did some “catching up,” and then she started telling me a funny story.

Saints, a Reminder of Life’s Beauty

Renowned writer and philosopher Fyodor Dostoyevsky said it best: “The world will be saved by beauty.”

Holy Ghosts: Deadly News (For Raymond)

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

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.

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.

Abram, Sarai, and Pharaoh

The Genesis storyline takes a turn when famine strikes. Abram goes to Egypt to live as a resident alien. Before they reach the border crossing, Abram starts to worry.

Choose Discipline, Not Disease

The people of Judah were in the grips of a great enemy. King Nebuchadnezzar and the armies of Babylon had conquered their land, taken away the sacred items from their temple, and carried many of the people far from home. The people needed wise political and religious leadership to know how to live in such difficult times.

Examining the Wreckage

A poem from On Paying Attention.

I am drawn to plane crashes….

The Hybrid Church

The pandemic of 2020 forced all of us into innovation mode for a short time, and in some places there was great pressure either to continue online or to return to in-person worship in the building.

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.

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?

In Community

We are in all kinds of communities, and we should be grateful for each of them. There are of course the neighborhood we live in, the one we work in, our city or town. Our churches are communities of faith but also communities of friendship.

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.

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.

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.

Mission and the Families of the Earth

The story of ancient Israel offers one powerful example of the way gives meaning to each particular family. The challenge is to find the point of intersection between the story of the family and the purposes of God in the world.

The Struggle to Cope with Time

The prayer, “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart,” serves as the turning point in the larger prayer of Psalm 90. The human experience of time is a major theme of the psalm as a whole.

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.

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.