May 24, 2018

Do you ever find yourself encountering a word or phrase over and over in the space of just a few days?

This last week or so the words have been slightly different, but the core concept has been consistent: awareness.

Most of us are more attuned to be aware of what we perceive to be God’s absence in our world. We see the tragedies and trauma that abounds in our broken world and we feel God-forsaken. But maybe the real issue isn’t as much God’s absence as it is our lack of an awareness of God’s presence.

On Mar’s Hill, Paul quoted a pagan philosopher who said, “in him we live and move and have our being” (Act 16:28).

Writing to the church at Colossae, Paul reminds them that in Christ “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

Jesus told his disciples, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20).

The only absence of God that we experience in this world is a perceptual one. The inescapable reality is that we constantly live in the presence of God.

Today, attune your heart to God’s presence with you.


“…and that’s enough!”

May 15, 2018

He strode to the microphone, stoked to share the verses he had mastered in the scripture memory contest in his Sunday School class.

Not to be outdone, he had picked the shortest verses on the list so he could learn them the fastest and claim the prize.

But as he stood there, his nerves got the best of him as he began to recite his verses from 1 John 4:

God is love……

and he panicked…..he couldn’t remember the rest of the verse. So he blurted out

….and that’s enough!

And it is!

Lifted Up, Not Cut Off

May 3, 2018

The first few verses of John 15 are simultaneously beautiful and haunting.

But the beauty of Jesus’ invitation to abide in him is too often overwhelmed by the prospect of being removed, pruned, cast into the fire. The thought of not producing fruit–or enough fruit–and being cast aside, evokes fear.

How much of our fear, I wonder, is unnecessary, driven by bad translation and misunderstanding of the cultural reference to the viticulture of Jesus’ day?

The word translated “removes” or “cuts off” is airei, which is better translated, “lifts up.” In other words, the vine-grower takes care to lift up the young shoots, directing them upward and cleaning the dust off them lest they become contaminated and be stunted or else rot and perish.

So what is the “fruit” that these branches are supposed to bear? Fruit is the natural outworking of the inner life of the plant. It is how the plant reproduces itself; plants always bear seed according to its kind.

So if Jesus is in the Father (and the Father is in him [see John 14:20]), then the fruit that Jesus bore was the manifestation of the Father’s essence and nature. And if we are in Jesus and he is in us (again, see John 14:20) then the fruit we will bear is the manifestation of the Father’s essence and nature expressed in us.

Given this understanding, why, then, would he cut us off or destroy us if we are abiding but bear little (or no) fruit?

If the Father is glorified as we bear much fruit (John 15:8), then these verses become a promise that the Father will lovingly care for us, lift us us and encourage us, support and nurture us as his essence and nature is manifested in us, not hack us off and throw us into the fire. He has begun a good work in us, and he will bring it to completion, Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:6.

So the next time we hear these verses from John 15 read, let’s hear them as an encouraging promise that we will be lifted up, not a threat that we will be cut off.


Letting Go and Letting Be

April 30, 2018

Sometimes life is hard. Stuff is thrown at us, and it hurts. And it’s easy to hang on to those hurts.

But we need to let go in order to let be.

Letting go means we surrender our right to prosecute our war against an idea, institution or person. 

Letting be creates space where we can receive the lesson what we have let go has come to teach us. 

Let go. And let it be. 

It’s Not All About the Show

April 24, 2018

I don’t think God cares about our religious show.

Most of the time it means more to us than it does to him. 

He’s more concerned about how we treat those in the margins–the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the naked, those in prison.

’cause he says how we love them is how we love him. 


April 18, 2018

Last week, through a series of scheduling issues that only folks intimately acquainted with the liturgical calendar probably care to understand, the Church celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation. (Due to the actual feast day falling in Holy Week, the celebration was moved to the week after Easter.)

Listening to the Gospel appointed for the Feast, one detail in the account in Luke 1 stood out to me above the rest: “Greetings, favored one!”

Mary. An unmarried teen mother probably around 14 or 15. Engaged to an honorable man, but pregnant. Engaged, but still, she was pregnant out of wedlock.  The religious establishment of her day said she should be stoned for her transgression.

Then Gabriel shows up on the scene.  He knows the details.  Yet he greets her with perplexing words: “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

The religious establishment said that she was disgraced and God-forsaken because God could not possibly be with her since she was a “sinner.”  (We all know that God doesn’t hang around with “sinners.”  Funny….this time God-in-the-flesh was hanging around inside one!)

Thankfully, God doesn’t see things like we do.  And so Mary listened to Gabriel’s message.

There was no way she could do everything the religious establishment required her to do to overcome the disgrace and humiliation that religion heaped on her.

So she began to live from a place of favor.  She believed what Gabriel said, and she lived her life as a favored one.  She did what she did because she lived from a place of favor, not for favor.  God’s messenger was clear: She was favored. She hadn’t done anything up to that point (that we know of from Scripture) to earn it, and she didn’t have to strive and stress and strain in order to keep it.  She had it.

Living from a place of favor changed everything for Mary.

And it does for us, too.

The Determining Factor

April 14, 2018

Who is the most important person in a baseball game?

Pitcher? Batter? Short-stop? Third base coach?

If you ask parents at a T-ball game, the answer obviously is going to be their child. If you ask a college scout, it’s the talented player he has come to watch. If you ask the coach it might be the strongest batter or fastest pitcher.  And while all those have a measure of truth, in the end, there’s one person who is most important.  They’re usually dressed in blue and gray, and they have the best spot to watch the action–directly behind home plate.

You see, the most important person in a baseball game is the Umpire. Their call, while often challenged, is final. They are the determining factor between a ball and a strike, between a runner being safe or out, between foul and good.

The Apostle Paul says “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” (Colossians 3:15, NIV)

The word translated as “rule” more completely means “to act as umpire” or “to arbitrate.” So how does that work?

The Good News Translation puts it like this: The peace that Christ gives is to guide you in the decisions you make; for it is to this peace that God has called you together in the one body.

When we are facing choices or making tough decisions and one of the options leaves us with an unsettled feeling and the other has a peaceful feeling about it, choose peace. The peace that Christ gives should guide us.

Today, let peace be the determining factor in your life.