September 10th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

Tomorrow our nation, and our allies around the world, will pause to remember the events of September 11th. As a teacher, my wife Rochelle, will cease teaching science and spend the day guiding students through reflection about the terrorists attacks in New York and Washington. My daughters, in first and fourth grade respectively, will do much of the same.

In advance of September 11th (and since this blog post every Tuesday and Thursday), here a reflection on peace which I penned last year.

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There are any number of scriptures we Christians don’t take seriously, but maybe none are taken less seriously than Romans 12.18-20. Here, the apostle Paul instructs the church this way: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’”

Living at peace is tough business and “Christian America” has particularly struggled with it in the wake of September 11, 2001. The reasons are obvious. We were struck! Hit! Devastated! All by an enemy that had long been at war with us, though many of us knew or cared very much about them. At the time it felt reassuring to hear President George W. Bush tell New Yorkers — and the rest of the world — that the people who did this would hear from us.

We needed protection from the twisted minds that could envisage, plan, and celebrate the kind of destruction visited New York, Washington, and Shanksville, PA. Innocent people were targeted, children were killed, families undone. It was a slaughter, pure and simple. And in some sectors of the world, there was dancing in the streets.

It was no wonder then that so many of us — Christians, that is — supported combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. I did! Full steam ahead.

And I wasn’t shocked to learn, even years after 9/11, that the majority of Christians supported torture in some instances. It’s not that we’re evil or vengeful, it’s that we’re human. We have spouses and children; parents and grandparents; friends and classmates; that we love, that we want to protect, and we have a country we want to flourish.

What’s more, many of us believe that God has blessed us to live in the best, most humane, most prosperous and healthy country in the history of the world. And we want the best of that country to live forever and would love for others around the world to enjoy the benefits and blessings of our system. In sum, the September 11th attacks came from a place of evil, and as scripture teaches, evil must be resisted.

But the scriptures teach us about peace too.

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May 28th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

You have a role to play in helping your preacher preach better. At the top of the list are time and prayer.

A sermon, like any form of communication, can go in one ear and out the other. Worse, a sermon can find hospitality in the head and hostility in the heart. Many of us struggle with the weekly homily. We struggle applying it, remembering it, living it out, and making sense of it in a world wherein we hear so many messages all the time.

Try theses 5 Strategies to “Getting” the Sermon.

1. Dwell In The Word. If Sunday morning is the first or only time you’ve spent in the scriptures this week, you’re bound to miss a great deal. Understanding God means encountering him in the scriptures. Knowing the scriptures will give  the sermons a depth and richness that only accompany knowing the Bible.

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December 11th, 2012 | No Comments »

Today, we return to the pen of Walter Breuggemann and his wondeful book of prayers, Prayers for a Privileged People

Newborn Beginning…after Caesar

The Christ Child is about to be born,
the one promised by the angel.
Mary’s “fullness of time” has arrived.
Except that the birth is scheduled
according to the emperor:
A decree went out that all should be numbered.

Caesar decreed a census, everyone counted;
Caesar intended to have up-to-date for the tax rolls;
Caesar intended to have current lists of draft eligibility;
Caesar intended taxes to support armies,
because the emperor, in whatever era,
is always about money and power,
about power and force,
about force and control,
and eventually violence.

And while we wait for the Christ Child,
we are enthralled by the things of Caesar –
money…power…control,
and all the well-being that comes from
such control, even if it requires a little violence.

But in the midst of the decree
will come this long-expected Jesus
innocent, vulnerable,
full of grace and truth,
grace and not power,
truth and not money,
mercy and not control.

We also dwell in the land of Caesar;
we pray for the gift of your spirit,
that we may loosen our grip on the things of Caesar,
that we may turn our eyes toward the baby,
our ears toward the newness,
our hearts toward the gentleness,
our power and money and control
toward your new governance.

We crave the newness.
And while the decree of the emperor
Rings in our ears with such authority,
give us newness that we may start again
at the beginning,
that the innocence of the baby may
intrude upon our ambiguity,
that the vulnerability of the child may
veto our lust for control,
that we may be filled with wonder
and so less of anxiety,
in the blessed name of the baby we pray.

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What are you and your family reading this Advent?

Posted in Christmas, missional, prayer
November 6th, 2012 | 22 Comments »

As is the case every now and again, Christians start to look at numbers and trends behind those numbers and get worried. We never get worried when the numbers look good (read: bigger numbers). However, we do get nervous when the numerical trends are headed downward. In my home tribe (Churches of Christ) the trends haven’t been good for a while. And when the number begin to sink, Christians begin to look for the Jonah to toss overboard.

We are not the only ones though. Even though Christianity is thriving across the world, in many places in America, we are seeing fewer and fewer folks in the pews. Predictably, people like me begin to posit as to the cause. It makes for good blog reading; but ultimately the reasons we assign to decline are more about what we personally dislike rather than what our non-Christians friends don’t get. All we need is one or two Sunday morning sleepers to echo what we feel to verify our thoughts. Recently, folks I like such as Rachel Held Evans, David Kinnaman (You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith) and others have jumped into the conversation about why people are leaving church – especially young people.

As I read these reflections, I largely agree with the conclusions they reach about American religion. What bothers them bothers me. What bothers my non-Christian friends bothers me too. Yet this Sunday, as I have nearly every Sunday of my life, I will wake up, get dressed, load the family in the car and go to church (And yes I’m using “church” as word meaning “a place where certain things happen.” Don’t worry, missional friends, I know the difference between “worship service” and the “church.” This is just easier for people).

Anyway. I’ll get up and go to church. And so will some of my best friends in the world, some of the best people I’ve ever known. And while everyone else is ruminating on why others or they left the church, I want you all to know why I stay. And no, it’s not because I’m a preacher.

I stay because…:

  • …over 30 years ago Godly men and women sacrificed their time, talent, and energy to teach me the scriptures. Those scriptures have and continue to anchor my life. I’d be lost without them. I’m grateful that they sowed love and honor and attention into my life. Those people thought going to church was a pretty big deal. My past teachers would strongly disagree with my current theology, but I would not be anywhere without both the light and the path they laid before me.
  • …I’ve spent more than a few Sundays in church services that stunk musically and homelitically, but God’s presence seemed to seep through the cracks of the door and settle itself on the pew next to me when I was willing and able to see it.
  • …I was taught that “church” isn’t actually a place where certain things happen, but the people of God. I don’t like thinking of myself as the kind of person who quits people.
  • …my two daughters haven’t heard all the stories of God yet. They know Jesus and Joseph and Samson and Ruth and Naomi, but they don’t know everything about Hosea and Gomer and David and Bathsheba. They can’t live rightly without knowing those stories. And the church wants to help me tell those stories.
  • …it’s so easy to blog and say things about forgiveness, reconciliation, graciousness, and the “one another” passages, but it’s impossible to do them without some “one anothers.”
  • …some days I wonder if I believe in God the way I want to believe in God. At church I’m reassured by both the Joel Osteen Christians and the Dark Night of the Soul Christians that there is something really big that we all don’t fully “get.” If we did get it we’d be neither that happy nor that sad.
  • …when I’ve gone off and done everything wrong and been a complete jackass, someone at church will hug me and tell me they love me.
  • …I’ve come to realize that no one is saved by their theology and everyone in church is significantly wrong about something. I can find a congregation that practices what I want them to practice, but I’m not arrogant enough (and that’s saying something) to assume that the way I think it is is actually the way it is.
  • …I listen to classical music and NPR; I read lots of books and the New York Times; I don’t watch RealityTV and every week I’m in the same room with people who listen exclusively to country music; who wear work boots to weddings; and who enjoy fishing and hunting. I love being a part of the only place in the world where all kinds of life and living connect with each other because we understand that what makes us different isn’t even close in terms of the immensity to what brings us together. I think when Paul said that “we no longer see people from a worldly point of view” he kinda meant it.
  • …when I sit in my church in Texas my mother is doing the same in Georgia, my brother is doing the same in North Carolina, and my father is doing the same in Mississippi. In all the highs, lows, ins and outs of broken families, this we share. Every Sunday, if only in the smallest ways, we are healed.
  • …I fell in love with my wife at Abilene Christian University and one of the first things we started doing together was going to church. Plus, I think she’s most beautiful when she sings.
  • …I’ve heard one too many stories of lives on the verge of or a notch past destruction when they stumbled into the door of a church only to find hope in the lives of other people equally shattered.
This is why I stay.

Ultimately I don’t expect the church to be perfect – to have faith, hope, doubt, science, marriage, parenting, or politics all figured out. Shoot, I’m just happy when there’s a children’s church. Call it low expectations if you want. I call it grace. If I can’t practice grace here, how can I practice it anywhere? I’ll tirelessly work to right the wrongs in the church and world, but I can’t leave church because of poor theology or even the harmful, destructive, horrible practice of poor theology. She is a bride. She is married to my elder brother, Jesus. I will love her, respect her, and treat her well. It’s His wedding, not mine. And if He can love her so can I.

Tell Us. Why Did You Go? Why Do You Stay?

September 27th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

Can you think of any organization that better fosters commitment and loyalty?

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

Though the title is tongue-in-cheek, La Cosa Nostra, as an organization, though criminal, creates for its members a sense of identity, belonging, purpose, and deep commitment. Here’s why:

They Know What They Do. There’s no ambiguity about the mission, and no uncertainty about what should and shouldn’t happen. The leadership structure is clear, unambiguous, and defined. They askew distractions – such as side deals and working outside of certain constrains and neighborhoods – and resist petty arguments. They do what they do. And they do it better than anyone else.

They Know What They Don’t Do. For years, drug dealing was outlawed within the mafia.  The saying was, “If you deal, you die.” Dealing drugs, though lucrative, brought too much attention to a secretive organization and wasn’t worth the heat. They knew what they were not going to do which allowed them to continue doing what they did well even better.

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