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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Responding to the Apollo 13 Miracle

We hear a lot about miracles today, and there is a large volume of work addressing the subject—more than I could address in this book. In my experience on the Lunar Module team during Apollo 13, I felt moved in a special way by what I felt was answered prayer and the miraculous recovery of the crew.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Meditations on Luke: Maundy Thursday

These words, straight from Jesus’ lips, have a haunting tone. Jesus is fully aware of what is about to happen. Nothing about our Lord’s passion is an accident, a mistake, or a coincidence; it is all part of the Father’s plan, and Jesus knows it.

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.

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.

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.

The Wind and the Spirit

What would you do differently if you could start over? What would you change if you could be born again? If I could edit my life, I would skip junior high football, wrecking my father’s car, and the last five minutes of my first date. I would stop my mother throwing away my baseball cards.

The Baggage We Carry

My excitement about being on El Camino De Santiago—the Way of St. James—walking in the footsteps of the millions of pilgrims who came before me, carried me for the first portion of my journey. My feet were still in good shape—no soreness or blisters, not even any calluses yet—and I was sticking to the schedule I’d designed to keep myself from overdoing 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.

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.

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…

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?”

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.

Faith, a Prayer for Epiphany

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

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.

Meditations on Luke: “Do Not Be Afraid”

Over Christmas one of my daughters asked me a question. “Daddy, why is it that every time an angel shows up in the Bible, he always says, ‘Do not be afraid’?” I responded, “Well, what would you do if an angel suddenly appeared in your room one night?”

Facing Grief, at Christmas and Always

I am neither a nihilist nor a pessimist. For heaven’s sake, I am pastor of America’s home of Positive Thinking. I am, however, a realist. And as such, I have a theory about life. Here it is: Life is not the last five minutes of the movie.

How Does Christmas Feel?

When I was a high school student, I did not compile a particularly enviable record as an athlete or as a scholar. I did, however, achieve a fleeting measure of notoriety as an Elvis impersonator.

Meditations on Luke: Our Given Identities

When my wife was pregnant with each of our daughters, we felt a degree of stress in coming up with names for them. For one thing, we didn’t want to offend anyone in our families of origin. Use names from only one side of the family and you may alienate folks on the other.

Visiting an Ill Church Member

People who are ill at home, in the hospital, and in nursing homes need care far beyond medical attention. Especially at this time of year, we can find ourselves in hospital elevators or pulling into unfamiliar driveways to offer a kind word and warm presence. Before you visit, though, consider the following suggestions.

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.

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.