Posted on February 15, 2018
I sometimes wonder how often we ministers will have to keep writing pastoral responses like this one. As the psalmist asked, “How long, O Lord?” (Psalm 13:1)
The unspeakable tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is just the latest in what seems an unending saga of senseless acts of violence and tragic losses of life. It is especially disturbing that our very lexicon now includes references that do not require explanation. Simply say “Columbine” or “Aurora” or “Virginia Tech” or “Sandy Hook” or “the Vegas concert” or “the Orlando nightclub” or now “Parkland High School,” and everyone understands what you’re talking about. Gun violence has become part of our norm. That is a sobering, saddening, and staggering reality. There is no “norm” anywhere that should include that.
Posted on February 5, 2018
With credit to Pastor David Sumrall of the Cathedral of Praise in Manila, Philippines, I want to share with you a thought I got from him. He did an online devotional last month from Genesis chapter 2. As you recall, chapters 1 and 2 of the Bible’s first book offer slightly different renditions of The Creation Story. In chapter 1, God forms males and females simultaneously. In chapter 2, however, God forms man first, observes for a while, and basically says, “I can improve on that” and so fashions woman. Anyway, in chapter 2 we read the verse, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground....” A few verses later the author writes, “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and bird of the air....” What jumps out at you from those two verses? God used the same resource (dirt from the earth) to create the full, wide array of living creatures (cats and cows, eagles and elephants, foxes and frogs, hedgehogs and humans).
Posted on January 29, 2018
Our younger daughter, Katharine, gave me the most fascinating gift for Christmas this year. I suspect many of you have one or a version similar to it. It's called "Echo." It's a high quality speaker that includes computer-generated artificial intelligence. There’s a voice in the speaker that responds only to its own name, which is "Alexa." It is absolutely beyond intriguing.
Posted on January 16, 2018
“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) How many times have you heard that text quoted in January? A gazillion or more? Probably. “Surely,” you think, “preachers ought to be able to find some other text for beginning a new year.” Well, you’re right. There are plenty of “other” texts for this month. I just don’t think there are any “better” ones.
Posted on December 25, 2017
Read Luke 2:1-7
The Birth Story begins with statements about political oppression (“a decree went out from Caesar Augustus”), poverty (“wrapped Him in swaddling cloths”), and exclusion (“there was no room for them in the inn”). But in spite of all that, it is impossible to articulate what must have been the unparalleled joy Mary felt when “she gave birth to her first-born son.” Whatever her old world may have been like, something new was breaking into it, something like light in darkness that brings courage and hope unknown before.
In seasons of stress or change, it is easy to focus on that which produces anxiety. But, it is also our option to focus on “good news of great joy.” With the arrival of Jesus into a life, a home, or a church, what new potential for joy and meaning do we find? Answer that question, and you will have discovered the personal power of Christmas.
Posted on December 18, 2017
Read Luke 1:46-49
“My soul magnifies the Lord, for He that is mighty hath done unto me great things.” These verses from what we call The Magnificat must be put it into context. Mary still didn’t understand Virgin Birth. She still had anxieties about what people would think. She still didn’t fully comprehend the Messianic nature of her Child. She still had fears and worries. But amid all that, she was aware that (a) something was about to happen that would change her life in a beautiful way, and (b) God was responsible. She didn’t allow some of the troubling particulars of her life to blind her to the undeniable blessings at her doorstep.
Advent is about that. The Birth of Jesus doesn’t magically erase all our problems. But, it does put them in perspective. It reminds us that even in bad times, there are also blessings if we just look for them. Maybe Advent is a good time to do just that – to intentionally name (even write down) one-by-one the blessings that make our lives warm and wonderful. Take that inventory, and perhaps it will lead you to sing with Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord, for He that is mighty hath done unto me great things.”
Posted on December 11, 2017
Read Luke 1: 30-35
When she responded to the angel’s words with fear and doubt, asking, “How can this be?,” the angel replied: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God... The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
Fear and anxiety are givens in this life. No one escapes from that. But amid the stresses and pressures we face day-by-day, the same assurance Mary received from the angel is also our own. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” That passage assures us that peace and power are the products of Divine Presence. Because God’s Spirit is with us, we can navigate life’s deep waters. How do we sense God’s Presence? How can we access it when we don’t always feel it? And what power do we feel when we simply say, “I am not alone”? Those are Advent questions worth pondering prayerfully.
Posted on December 4, 2017
Read Luke 1: 26-29
“But she was greatly troubled at the angel’s words....” So begins the story of young Mary, a teenaged girl not yet married, who had been chosen to become the mother of the Messiah. She didn’t expect that. Who would? No one assumes an angel will randomly show up, announcing that you will become the parent of the Savior of the world. “She was greatly troubled at the saying.” How could she have been otherwise?
And aren’t we still sometimes “troubled” by the awareness that, ready or not, Jesus is coming... to us? Just think of the implications: What will He see in our lives? What will He expect from our lives? And, how might He turn our lives upside down? Those are Advent questions to consider prayerfully, for the answers we come up with may change not only the essence of our December but, indeed, the essence of our lives.
Posted on November 27, 2017
It’s almost that season of the year when we will begin to see the holiday movies on TV: “A Christmas Carol,” “A Christmas Story,” “The Santa Clause,” “Miracle On 34th Street,” “White Christmas,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” One we can count on seeing numerous times in December is “It’s A Wonderful Life” with Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart.
Posted on November 20, 2017
The late Neal Maxwell (a university administrator and spiritual motivator) wrote: “We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count.” Jesus said as much more than once: “What do ye more than others?” “Take up your cross and follow me.” “This is my commandment, that you love one another.” As the old adage puts it: “Thanksgiving is an action word.”
Posted on November 13, 2017
In the New Testament book of James (who some scholars think was the brother of Jesus), we read the words: “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Good gifts we can imagine: good friends, good food, good health, good weather... But “perfect” gifts? What on earth is that about?
Posted on November 6, 2017
The first chapter of the first book in the Bible tells the story of Creation. The author wrote a lovely narrative about his ideas of an all-powerful God who decided to make a world, to fill it with every kind of living thing, and finally to populate it with creatures designed in the image of the Divine. Step by step, after each new thing is added (water, earth, shrubs and trees, birds of the air, fish of the sea, beasts of the field, and human beings) God says, “It is good.”
Posted on October 30, 2017
I write this just after having learned of the death of Antoine “Fats” Domino. I guess I thought he would live forever. Sadly, at least in this mortal realm, no one ever does.
Posted on October 23, 2017
You know the cliché, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks"? It's not true. We old dogs can be taught, and sometimes the lessons are surprising.
Posted on October 16, 2017
Do you ever wonder how phrases we use all the time originated? According to my friend, Helen Kennedy, some have fairly interesting histories. She shared a list of such stories with me, two or three of which I’ll share with you in this blog.
Posted on October 9, 2017
“We know that God is here with us and here for us, and God will help us put things back together again.” Those were the words shared with me by a friend who lived through the back-to-back hurricanes on St. Thomas Island. You’ve seen the photos of the Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico and Mexico and Florida and Texas. I spend my life working with words, and I cannot find the words to adequately describe the devastation we have witnessed in those areas over the last few weeks.
Posted on October 2, 2017
In one of the Psalms of Lament in Hebrew Scripture, we read the words:
O God, the heathen have come into thy inheritance;
they have defiled thy holy temple;
they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
They have given the bodies of thy servants
to the birds of the air for food,
the flesh of thy saints to the beasts of the earth.
They have poured out their blood like water …
How long, O Lord? - Psalm 79:1-3, 5
The psalmist’s words accurately describes our feelings as we are shocked, stunned, and saddened by yet another senseless and indefensible act of gun violence. As I write this, the death toll in Las Vegas is over 50 and expected to rise, and the number of those injured is in excess of 400. There is no rationale or justification for what took place there. The victims were innocent people, unknown to the gunman, who were simply enjoying a musical concert when a madman opened fire from a window 32 stories above the crowd.
“How long, O Lord?,” asked the psalmist. Today we ask that same question with similar fears and tears. How long until a culture of love and kindness begins to make more sense than a culture of anger and aggression? How long until governmental leaders make the reasonable decision that only police and military personnel need rapid fire automatic weapons, thus those guns can be prohibited for sale to the public without in any way jeopardizing 2nd Amendment rights? How long until a violent society realizes that violence is not the answer? How long until we begin to pay attention to the fact that what we feed to our children (e.g., violent video games) are seeds that may grow into actions when those children are older? How long until we realize that human life is sacred and whatever we do to another, we do to Christ himself? (Check out Matthew 25 when Jesus taught precisely that.) How long until we practice civility on social media, and thus help de-escalate the vitriol that has become our norm? How long until the madness ends and we stop worshiping violence and begin worshiping God? How long until each of us in our own personal ways decides to contribute to making the world kinder and safer?
Today we pray for the victims in Las Vegas, that those who were killed may enter into eternal life in an Eternal Kingdom where there are no weapons and there is no death. We pray for their families. We pray for those who were injured that they may fully recover, both physically and emotionally. Tomorrow, we keep praying – that our God of Love will reveal to us that there is a better way than what we have descended to. It is the way of One called the “Prince of Peace.” And only by following Him can we find our path out of the shadows of misery and into the Light of Life.
Posted on October 2, 2017
On Sunday, September 17, I shared with our Marble family that I will be retiring from here sometime next spring. The years have passed so quickly, and every minute here has been a blessing and a privilege for Page and me. Now, I find myself imagining what life might be like post-Marble. A good deal of that, obviously, will depend on how I choose to construct it.
Posted on September 18, 2017
This is my third blog while on a train en route from Venice to Naples. My trilogy is written. It’s amazing how prolific one becomes simply by adding an unlimited intake of carbs in a short period of time.
Posted on September 11, 2017
This is my second “train blog” on the journey from Venice to Naples. If I can do one more before we arrive, I’ll have a trilogy.