Thursday, August 31, 2017


This is our younger son, Josh. Today he turns 21. 

Both of our children are gifts to me, blessings in my life. Sometimes its good to stop and remember why a person is a gift, and since today is Josh's birthday, and since it's a milestone number-wise, today I remember why he is a blessing and what I have learned from him.
  • Josh asks questions. He always has. Irritating questions (sometimes, when he was younger). He wants to know things, he wants to understand the plan. Asking questions is good; we should do more of it.
  • Josh doesn't let his limitations stop him. He has limited right arm mobility, and yet he plays the trumpet and the piano - and more - and he does it with excellence. We aren't limited by what we consider obstacles.
  • Josh has dreams. He has a plan. He knows what he wants to do. He has goals and vision. We should do that.
  • Josh knows how to manage his time. Now. He didn't always, but he has learned to do it. Each semester, he has had over 21 hours of classes in college, participated in extracurricular activities, cultivated friends, and had fun in life. I'm amazed at everything he gets done, how well he does it, and how he plans ahead. We should do that.
  • Josh is kind. He treats other people with thoughtfulness and kindness. He encourages those he is teaching. We should be kind.
  • Josh knows how to see the humor in life. I love it when he has the time to tell us stories about his life. He finds the humor and shares it.

I'm grateful for our sons (both of them). I'm thankful for the adult men they have become, and amazed. On this day, the anniversary of the day 21 years ago, when Josh came into the world, I thank God for him.

Of note: I'm taking a break from posting next week, but will be back the second week of September.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Perspectives: Zippered Chair

One morning, I was having breakfast in a hotel, and I looked across the room and saw this chair. It has a zipper up the back. I had to take its picture, and use it for a Perspectives post.

Ok, in all practicality, the zipper is probably decorative. But still...don't you want to know what is in the chair? Don't you want to know what will come out of the chair if you unzip it?

This kind of curiosity is why children crawl into wardrobes and travel to Narnia. It's why Pandora's box was opened. This kind of imagination is how books are written like the Lord of the Rings books or the Dragon Rider series.

Imagination is a gift from God. Go forth today and consider who lives in the chair. Nurture your curiosity and imagination. 

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

You Can Fly

The gospel song I'll Fly Away was written by Alford E. Brumley in the 1920's. The writing was influenced in part by an older secular ballad that was probably "The Prisoner's Song." He had the idea for I'll Fly Away while picking cotton on his family's farm as he hummed the ballad. I imagine he thought to himself, "That'll preach!"

The authorship of The Prisoner's Song is disputed, but it is probable that it originated from Guy Massey, who heard the song from his brother Rob Massey.  Rob Massey spent time in prison, and probably heard the song there. One story says that the lyrics were carved into the wall of a county jail in Georgia.  

I was thinking of that song (I'll Fly Away) after Bishop Abrahams of South Africa told us that it was part of African folk-lore that "you can fly." He told of an older man who would whisper it in the ears of men who had been captured in the slave trade as they waited to board the boats. It gave them courage to face the horrible.

These stories have nothing to do with each other. The African folk-lore story is not part of the history of I'll Fly Away. As far as I know, anyway.

I linked these two stories in my mind because I hear some pastors who judge I'll Fly Away - not liking its theology. I think about the encouragement offered to the man who was about to become a slave (You can fly), the fear of the man in prison who carved a poem into rock that said, "Now if I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly," and the hearts of those who have been lifted by I'll Fly Away.

Maybe it's best not to judge, but to encourage. It might be one of the ways we can fly.


Monday, August 28, 2017


A few weeks ago I attended a Generosity Conference at Lakeside Chautauqua in Ohio. One of the speakers was Bishop Ivan Abrahams, who is the General Secretary of the World Methodist Council. He was born in, grew up in, and currently lives in South Africa. He spoke about what made the difference in the fight against apartheid.

He said it wasn't so much what the church did - it was what individuals did - standing for what they knew was right. 

And then he used a word I had never heard before. He talked about someone doing something Nicodemusly. Consider Nicodemus in John 3. He come to see Jesus in the middle of the night to have a conversation with him. Why at night? I do think it was symbolic in John's writing - darkness versus light. But I also think he came at night because he didn't want anyone to know that he was doing what he was doing. He did it Nicodemusly. 

Do we do that? Do we do either of those things?

  1. Do we approach Jesus in a way that is hidden from everyone else because we don't want to be seen acting as a "Christian?"
  2. Do we do what is radical and unexpected in order to encounter Jesus? 


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Perspectives: Balanced Rocks

This image, taken at Spruce Knob when Steve, Josh and I were there in May, prompted a few thoughts:

  1. How did those someone get out to that point in the field of rocks to stack them together? How would anyone be able to successfully cross those boulders without falling or breaking an ankle? What do we avoid doing because the way to get there is too difficult to imagine?
  2. How do those rocks stay balanced? Spruce Knob is not a mild weather kind of place. There is wind there, people. Are the rocks glued together? How do we find balance in life so that we can weather the wind? What is our glue?
  3. Why go to all the trouble to do this? To balance the rocks? What in our lives looks odd to other people but is where God is calling us to go?

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Rewriting the Story

How do we respond to people who are experiencing grief? Do you find it one of the most difficult things we do as part of a Church - to try to offer comfort to those in grief? Do you struggle with what to say? To do? I do, and I think we all do. I think this struggle is why people say words that they think might be comforting but really aren't.

Our former pastor tells the story of when his son died. Someone said something to him along the vein of "God must have needed another angel." It wasn't comforting to Jack (our pastor). It made him angry, and he expressed the anger to the person who said it. I can't blame him.

How do we provide comfort? If you are reading this because you think I might have an answer, go find another blog. I don't have one. 

Last year our dog died. She had been at the vet, being boarded, and the technician gave her to the wrong owner. She broke loose, ran away, and was hit by a car. What was comforting during that time was the kindness offered by people, the friends who listened to our story and sympathized. What was not comforting was the person who said, "That's why I always hire a dog sitter rather than board our dog."

Oh, well.

Peter Wallace, in the book, says that Jesus reacted to other people's grief by promising hope, encouraging faith, and by revealing himself. The last one in that list might have been my favorite. Consider the story in Matthew as the resurrected Jesus walks with the two people going to Emmaus. He listens to their story (a loving act), and then rewrites their story for them, sharing it in the light of scripture. 

Comfort in the face of grief rewrites the story. The ending doesn't change, but the experience is rewritten as people show us concern and love.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Jesus and Grief

I remember years ago that a minister who attended our church taught a Sunday school lesson on grief. He said that we can experience grief over the loss of anything. Think about that. One of his examples were the first scratch on a new car. I don't mean to compare the grief we experience over a scratch with the grief a mourning parent feels over the loss of a child, and I don't think David (the minister) meant to make that comparison, either, but the emotion of grief is not reserved for what we feel when someone dies.

Peter (see yesterday's post) provides several examples of when Jesus experienced grief, and what motivated that emotion.
  • Jesus' experience of grief was linked to compassion. Wallace says that the Greek root of the word compassion means "love, tender concern, and grief." That resonated for me. Often our compassion for someone else is linked to grief at their situation.
  • Jesus experienced grief in reaction to what religious leaders were doing. I asked the class if they could think of modern examples of this; all of the examples they gave were connected to the government, which surprised me (not that I don't agree with them). I was thinking modern examples might include how some churches might exclude from the community those who are divorced, or those who have a different sexual orientation. I think of churches that don't allow women to have leadership roles. 
  • Jesus experienced grief when he was sad. The best example would probably be when he cries at Lazarus's tomb. I always surprised when people try to explain this away. Why wouldn't we expect him to be saddened by the death of a friend?

Another ah-ha moment for me in the chapter is the paragraph Peter writes about the beatitude: "'Blessed are those who grieve, for they will be comforted.' Of the nine Greek words used for grief in the Christian scriptures, the word used here is the harshest emotionally. This is the heart-wrecking, soul-rattling sort of mourning for those who are dead, a grief over the most intense loss."  I think we can find solace in both the idea that Jesus experienced that kind of grief (think of him standing outside of Lazarus's tomb, or retreating to be by himself after the death of John the Baptist) and that God is present with us even in that heart-wrenching time in our lives.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

The Passionate Jesus

Our Sunday school has been reading and discussing the Peter Wallace book, The Passionate Jesus. The premise of the book (as I would state it) is that we need to be aware that Jesus was an emotional person. The book explores how Jesus experienced emotions such as love, grief, anger, joy and fear, how he reacted to them, and how he can serve as  role model for us as we deal with these emotions.

I lead the discussion on the grief chapter, and in subsequent posts, I'll dig into that, but I wanted to first explore a few questions with you.

First, do you imagine that Jesus was passionate? Does Peter's thesis surprise you? Do you disagree with it, or does it resonate with you? I think I've always considered that Jesus was a passionate person. My first encounter with that idea would be the story of the clearing of the moneychangers from the Temple. For me, this shows how Jesus could be angry, and how he would express that anger. I think if a person read that chapter in the gospel, he or she would be hard pressed to NOT see Jesus as a person who had passionate emotions.

I do think, however, that we teach our children about a calm, sedate Jesus, who was almost British in his outward emotions. Think of the artwork in a children's Sunday school room. It might include Jesus as a shepherd, carrying a sheep  or Jesus surrounded by children, looking angelic. Even crucifixion artwork would show him quietly dying without -- well -- screaming at the pain of it all. I'm not sure how we would teach children differently, but I think we do foster the idea of an emotional-less Jesus.

Secondly, do we consider our emotions to be a part of us, created in the image of God? And if that is the case, why would we ever expect that the person who for us is the best reflection of God we have to not have emotions. I'm glad Jesus experienced emotions. If Jesus is to be my advocate, I want him to have experienced anger and fear, joy and grief.

And if Jesus experienced emotions, then who better to serve as a role model for how to deal with what can be difficult?

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Prayer of Supplication

Oh, God, our God,
Our minds are full of worries,
and our hearts are full of concerns.
We lift them all to you,
knowing that you are God,
and we are not.

There are those among us 
who are ill,
who are mourning,
who are hurt, 
who are hungry.
Care for them.
Help us share their suffering.
Bring them healing
Through us or 
in spite of us.

There are those among us 
who are joyful,
who are celebrating,
who are singing,
who are happy,
who are dancing.
Smile on them.
Help us to share their wonder.
Bring them laughter,
through us or
in spite of us.

Each of us has 
spoken or unspoken needs.
Hear those.
Make us aware that we are not 
the only ones who have needs.
Help us to answer the needs of others.

Walk hand in hand 
with those who lead us.
Give them wisdom.
Give them ears to hear you
and hearts to follow you.
Raise up from your children
the leaders who you choose,
and help us to follow them wisely.

Let us church be a church.
Let your church serve you
in obedience and grace.
Lead us so that the world is changed.


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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Prayer of Praise

Oh, God, our God,
In our hearts, 
In our minds,
In our very souls
is a never imagined gratitude
for all that you are in our lives
And in the lives of those around us.
We offer our praise.

We know that the praise we offer
will be a pale return 
for what you have given to us.
For the grace you shower on us.
For the forgiveness that change our lives.
For the love that shows us who you are.
All that we have that matters is from you.
We have nothing to offer except our pale praise.

Inhabit our praise 
so that it is worthy.
Sing with us so that our song
is pleasing to you.
Help us to pray,
so that our prayers are lifted to your ears.
Inhabit our worship.

Oh, God, our God,
You love us in ways we cannot imagine
Or understand
Or grasp.
Help us to love you
Help us to love others
in ways that reflect
our grateful we are to you.


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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Prsayer of Confession

Oh God, our God,
This morning we come as a church
that has not heard your word.
That has failed to be obedient.

The people around us are hungry.
There are people who are lost.
There are people who are alone.
And we do nothing.

Oh God, our God,
You became human
Left God,
And you came to save us.
You came to rescue the oppressed.
And in our gratitude,
we do nothing.

Forgive us, we pray,
and free us for joyful obedience.
Free us from other idols
those things that distract us from following you.
Free us from the past
that clouds of view of the future.
Free us from our sin
So that we can with joy and passion
Offer God to others.

Free us
Forgive us
Change us


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Monday, August 14, 2017

Prayer for Worship

Oh, God, our God,
Who could imagine it?
Who could think it?
Who could even begin to believe 
that you welcome us to worship?

Grant us the grace 
to know your presence.
Grant us the ability
to sing your praise.
Grant us the humility 
to confess ours sins.
And lift away our pride
so that we can accept your forgiveness.

Use this time to remind us
that we belong to you.
That you are our God,
and we are your people.

And when we leave his place,
Help us to remember that you have 
gone ahead of us,
and prepared the way
for the ministry you send us
out to do.


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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Prayer for Tonight

Oh, God, our God.
Hear our cry today.
Hear the heartbeat of our sorrow.
Hear the franticness of our minds.
Hear our cry at the hatred.
Hear our disbelief.
Hear our shock.

We stare in horror at men
walking with torches.
Carrying mace and lighter fluid.
Driving a car into a crowd.
We cannot believe that 
hatred would surround 
as it did.
Reality doesn't seem true.
And yet we know it is.

We pray for the life that was lost.
For the pain that was inflicted.
For those who were afraid,
For those who were threatened.
We pray for the ones we want 
to surround with our arms in protection.

We pray for the lives of the lost.
For the hatred they spouted.
For the fire and pain and venom.
For those that threatened.
We pray for the ones 
we find hard to forgive.

We pray for ourselves
and our neighbors.
For forgiveness as we see those
who are different than we are
as different
instead of beloved.

We ask tonight that you would
change the world.
And if you can,
use us.

On my blog in the coming week I have scheduled a series of prayers. These were planned and written weeks ago, but as I queued them up to publish, I felt something missing. Tonight needs a prayer. Alan preached today about standing up and stepping out of the boat - where is God calling you to stand up and walk tonight? How do you respond to the hatred that was shown in Charlottesville? What will you do? What will I do? Tonight, we need a prayer.

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Thursday, August 03, 2017

Good Soil and the Sower

In worship a few weeks ago, the preacher talked about the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. As he talked about how we are sometimes like each of these kinds of soil, I started thinking about churches - and how our churches are sometimes like each of these kinds of soil. I'm exploring each of these in a series of blog posts.

"Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears[a] listen!” (verse 8-9) and "But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (verse 23)

How can we be the church that has good soil? How can we be the church that hears the word of God and let's it sink deeply into our being, so that it bears good fruit?

Can we intentionally seek to understand God's word? How do we do that?

Can we lose our fear of doubt? Lose our fear of change? Lose our fear of the person who is different? How do we do that?

Can we become passionate about following Christ? So passionate that we put that priority ahead of other distractions? So passionate that we are willing to invest our time and talents? How do we do that?

No one said it would be easy? How do we change our ways?

Having said all of that - over four days - I wonder if the focus on the soil is wrong? This is the question that the preacher in worship asked. The parable is referred to as the Parable of the Sower. How can we be a Sower like Christ? This sower throws the seed everywhere. He doesn't worry about whether it will take root or not. He doesn't pick and choose, or hesitate to be generous in his planting. He just throws the seed. There is a trust in this kind of planting. There is also a relief from worry in this kind of planting.

Trust that the growth and the harvest are in God's hands. Let go of the need to control. Be generous and even wasteful. Can we just do what we are called to do? Can our churches be that kind of sower?

Note: I am attending a Stewardship Conference next week, and won't be posting. I will be back to posting on August 14. See you then!

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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Seed among Thorns

In worship a few weeks ago, the preacher talked about the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. As he talked about how we are sometimes like each of these kinds of soil, I started thinking about churches - and how our churches are sometimes like each of these kinds of soil. I'm exploring each of these in a series of blog posts.

"Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them." (verse 7) and "As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing." (verse 22)

How are our churches distracted from hearing the word of God? Imagine this. Imagine sitting in a committee meeting and working through the details of a budget. You see the numbers. You see the income and the outflow. You see the shortfall or the excess. Do the members of that committee see the ministry? Do you remember the people who are the "giving units?" Do you think about the children who will be attending the Sunday school classes or the searching young person who needs to hear about the word of God? Are churches distracted from ministry by the "details" of it?

Would churches rather focus on keeping the floors clean than remembering that the homeless person with dirty boots it the one who Jesus loves? Would churches rather be angry about the broken window than remember that the boy scout who through the ball through the window will only encounter Christ in that building - and no where else? Would churches rather have everyone in the same pew week after week than make space for someone new?

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with clean floors and rules about throwing balls or the fellowship of sitting near a friend, but do we allow those things to take priority of reaching the lost, the lonely or the unloved?

How are we distracted from hearing the word of God? What can we do to change our ways?

(To be continued tomorrow)

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Seed on Shallow Ground

In worship a few weeks ago, the preacher talked about the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. As he talked about how we are sometimes like each of these kinds of soil, I started thinking about churches - and how our churches are sometimes like each of these kinds of soil. I'm exploring each of these in a series of blog posts.

"Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. (verse 5) and "As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy yet such a person has no root, but endures only for awhile, and when trouble or persecution arise on account of the word, that person immediately falls away." (verses 20-21).

What about churches that seem to be shallow environments for the word of God? Imagine a church that begins a ministry with great excitement, and then, when the going gets rough, they give up? Are there churches that think everything has to be effortless or easy? Are there churches that don't understand the complicated idea of transformation - and that it won't be easy? Do churches sometimes shy away from what is difficult or involved simply because it is hard?

And what about churches that only have a shallow grasp of who God is and what God is calling them to do? What about the church that offers "salvation" through a simple prayer but doesn't have an intention way to develop believers into disciples? What about churches that offer Sunday School for children with no depth - just babysitting without the grace of helping children to grow in Christ? Is our ministry of education for both children and adults challenging? Does it call for us to stretch our minds and our faith? Does it leave room for doubt and the sanctification that can come from it?

How are our churches not allowing the seeds of God's word to sink deeply into our spirit? What can we do to change our ways?

(To be continued tomorrow.)

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