Up From Cynicism

Over the past several years,  I have, thankfully, emerged out of a fog of cynicism.

I went through a season where I was so frustrated with the actions of people who described themselves as mature Christians that I almost threw out the notion of mature Christianity altogether.

So I became skeptical of certain evangelical standards such as quiet times, spiritual accountability, and Sunday morning altar calls. read more

Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Takeaways From Frederick Buechner’s “The Remarkable Ordinary”

I just finished reading Frederick Buechner’s The Remarkable Ordinary: How To Stop, Look, And Listen To Life.

Buechner is a Princeton grad, Presbyterian pastor, essayist, novelist, and occasional preacher.  He just turned 92 and so is not turning out much new material, but this little volume spoke, well, volumes to me. read more

Behind The Scenes, Week 2 — The “Beauty And The Bleh” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Introduced the squirm-in-your-seat concept of a “sexual audition” from Esther 2;
  • Meditated on both the nature of the bible — why such a story in holy writ? — and the activity of God — does he cause stuff, respond to it, or something else altogether?
  • Recognized the persistence of God’s enemies;
  • Landed at this bottom line, inspired by Pastor Strain of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi:  God makes his enemies serve his ends.

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There is a reason this message is called Beauty & The Bleh.  Because there’s a beauty – Esther – and there’s a whole lot of bleh – the situation she is in, the things people do to her and with her, the enemies on the prowl, and even, maybe, possibly, the ways she is a willing accomplice in some or all of it.  Beauty. Bleh. And it’s one of those stories that as I dug into, I threw my hands up and was like, “how in the WORLD can I preach THIS?”  I  will leave it up to you to decide whether I actually do or not. read more

Behind The Scenes, Week 2 — “Beauty And The Bleh”

So there’s a beauty: Esther.

And there’s bleh: her life situation, her predicament, her enemies.

Why have both synagogue and church always included such a sordid, “godless,” story in their Scriptures?  What does Esther 2 have to say to us in 2018.

Quite a lot.  It’s a message I am eager to give because I believe it’s one that will shape how you see the world. read more

Methodist Experiment

With some frequency, our Next Step Membership Workshop will involve an experiment.

A Methodist experiment.

And while the people in the class change, the results of the experiment rarely do.

Here it is.  At the beginning of our third evening together, I ask the group, “what do Methodists believe?” read more

Does Greatness Come In A Moment Or Must It Be Sustained? A Post Connecting Literature, Tennis, And Preaching

Way back in the spring of 1984, as I was winding up my English degree in college, I took a class on theories of literary interpretation.  It sounds kind of high falutin’, and I suppose it was.

The teacher was Louis Menand, who has gone on to a measure of fame as author, commentator, and professor.  You can read more about him here.  And I knew him “when.” read more

Top Five Tuesday — Top Five (Or Six) Stories That Didn’t QUITE Make It Into Your Illustrated Children’s Bible

We’ve all seen these:

And what’s inside most of those illustrated children’s bible tends to be a much-sanitized version of the real thing.

By making Scripture palatable to pre-schoolers and pre-teens, we rob it of its wildness and unpredictability.

Sometimes what you find when you actually open the bible up is shocking.  Hilarious.  Nuanced.  Bloody.  Rated PG-13.  Or R. read more

#BehindTheScenes Launches — The “Control Freak, Meet Trophy Wife” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Started a series on a book that I have avoided for 28 years:  Esther;
  • Continued a recent trend of devoting July to overlooked sections of the Old Testament; in 2014 it was “Lost & Found” from I Kings 17-19; in 2015 it was “On The Up And Up” from the Songs Of Ascent in Psalm 120-135; in 2016 it was “Crash Test Dummies” from Judges; and last year it was “Unhappy Campers” from Exodus and Numbers;
  • Featured a sixty second teaching snippet from Dr. Michael Brown;
  • Drew many connections between family dynamics, recovery, and the ancient story that is Esther;
  • Landed at this bottom line:  People control you when they can’t control themselves.

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Here’s something that I know most of us if not all of us have in common:  we’ve been around Control Freaks.  Those people in our lives who – often with good intentions – do their best to control their environment, their situations, their surrounding, and … the behavior of their friends and their family.  Your behavior.  I’ve got more than a little of this in me, especially when it comes to controlling my environment & surroundings.  Like I ALWAYS wear two pair of socks (at the same time, one for comfort, one for grown up look), I ALWAYS eat the same thing for lunch, I ALWAYS have a cup of water up here with me.  This control gives me security, as in, if I can control THIS HERE, I can thrive OVER THERE.  read more

“Behind The Scenes” Launch: “Control Freak, Meet Trophy Wife”

What if we told you that there is a book in the bible in which God is never even mentioned?

Not once.

Did the writer omit God’s name from the script on accident?

Or was it intentional?

This summer, we’re looking at the book of Esther.

A book where God is more producer than actor.

Where he works more in the edit room than in front of the camera. read more

What I Thought The Bible Was. What I’ve Learned It Is.

Until about 12-15 years ago, I thought of the bible like this:

A collection of pearls.  Isolated jewels, verses that packed punch and meaning, the parts always greater than the whole.

In this way of reading the bible, the book of Ephesians, for example, means little more than this gem from 2:8-9:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. read more