A lot has happened in the last 24 hours. It’s an incredible thing to see things a second time after so many years. Many of the places we have visited are familiar. But even in the familiarity there are many new experiences and new ways of seeing the familiar. The Church of the Nativity is a very special place – you can sense thousands of years of pilgrims footsteps and prayers. As restorations continue, new elements peak from underneath years of smoke, grime and plaster.

There were also new experiences today. Seeing this mountain that Herod the Great had his engineers and slaves actually move was awe inspiring. From the top of this great man made mountain, you can see clear across southern Israel. You would have NO problem seeing what was coming from any direction – and that was part of Herod’s genius.

But I think 2 other moments were the incredible take-away’s of the day. The first came inside the High Priest Caiapahas’ house. This is the place Jesus was tried. It was where he was beaten. It was where he was imprisoned as he awaited Pilate, Antipas, and the cross. At one level of the structure is a place where prisoners were beaten – where Jesus may have been tied up, spat upon, punched and slapped. Below this level is a dried up cistern that would have been used as a prison or holding cell. Prisoners were lowered with ropes into a pit. Today there are stairs that will let you stand in this heavy space.

In that tight confined space, Bishop Fairley read words from the Psalms – “i have been cast down into a pit and I am alone.” The words were heavy. The space was heavy. The moment was a reminder of what the Savior endured long before the cross. His passion and destruction was complete – it was more than what I often focus on.

The other key element was dinner in the Palestinian area of Bethlehem with a Christian family. This is an area literally “walled-off” from the rest of Israel for the sake of safety. Understanding the conflict between Jew and Palestinian is no simple task. News agencies may like us to think that it’s simple, but they write for ratings and, in many cases, to keep a version rooted deeply in our hearts and minds. Eating dinner with this family was humbling. As we ate, other family members came in to say hello and we learned that their house was actually just a part of a larger structure built for the entire extended family. There was joy. There was hope (even when the father hadn’t worked in several days due simply to his address and a permit needed to leave Bethlehem). There was a sense of something deep and rooted in that house (it was a family redefined…at least from our western perspective).

As I sit here in my room reflecting, I find this heaviness both good -something i want to drink in slowly and fully – and something disturbing. It is disturbing because I find myself wanting more. Being in the pits is something most of us are familiar with and yet Jesus’ pit was very real – this family who opened up their home have learned to live within the pit. And I realize, in the pit is where God has done some great work in my life. It is in the pit where I have been fine tuned and the pressure has helped me be stronger.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not gonna start looking for a pit to jump into (physical or emotional). But I pray the next time I feel like I’m in one maybe I’ll remember the heaviness of this night, and I’ll whisper a prayer of remembrance and one of thanks.

Tomorrow onto the Temple Mount where I’ll be praying for you and then on to Jericho and the Dead Sea to test my buoyancy. Until then, shalom from Jerusalem!

Grace and Peace



When History is more than story

One of my college professors invited me into a journey that changed my life. I remember sitting in a Life of Christ class with Dennis Ingolfsland when he mentioned this strange group of “historians” named the Jesus Seminar. I put the word historians in quotes because they were motivated largely by a presupposition about the historical truth of Jesus and the Christian faith. In further discussions, Dennis invited me to the incredible world of contextual Biblical Study – I began reading people like N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington III, and Joel Green (I was later able to study under both Ben and Joel and was introduced to their O.T. equal, Dr. Bill Arnold).

As a result of their teaching, I fell in love with Scripture in a completely new way. The stories became more than something to read as a nighttime story or to put on some green flannel and be wowed by legends. Early in life, I almost equated people like King David, Moses, Elijah and Gideon to the likes of Hercules and Perseus. Suddenly, mythology became rooted – it became real – it became something of substance.

That’s all intro for today’s post – today, I watched my boy experience a similar shift as ancient stories – people and places – turned real. Traveling to Nazareth and seeing a cave (albeit with a humongous church built on it), and seeing an archeological site that has uncovered 6000 years of history, and to see aqueducts and a theater built under the watchful eye of Pontius Pilate, and then driving into Jerusalem itself is like opening your eyes with a whole new set of lenses with which you can view the world.

These places have been important to me for years and, now, they are something I share with my son. Watching him stand on top of the aqueduct and interact with people like Bishop Fairley is something that makes my heart soar. And, since these sites mean so much to me, I was able to share things with my other traveling companions and hopefully increase their appreciation and love for not only the sites  but the stories that occurred there.

At one meal, one of my travelers said “I think more christians back home need to come here and see this – it just makes every thing so much more real.” Amen. I couldn’t say it better. When I say things like “coming to Israel is like reading a 5th gospel” I really not exaggerating. This country has boosted my faith once again. It has quickened my thoughts and is inviting me to deeper study and appreciation for this big book we drag out on sundays. Our scripture stories are more than bed time tales. They are life – they are alive – and they, like this place, can beautifully ruin your approach to life.

Tomorrow, we visit some of the holiest sites in the Jerusalem area; including: the church of the nativity, the Herodian, the shepherds fields, and Gethesemane. For dinner tomorrow, Alex and I will meet up with a Palestinian Christian family in Bethlehem and learn from them about living in this land.

But…that’s a story for another day, so from The Olive Tree Hotel, in beautiful Jerusalem, Israel…Shalom for now.


grace and peace


Day 2 – Stunning, Overwhelming, and an Extremely proud daddy!

I used to tease my dad about getting emotional when my little sister or I did something. It really didn’t matter what it was – band, choir, grades (she has always been smarter than me), stuff he understood and stuff he didn’t, Dad always showed his pride in us with tears and smiles. Big strong marine that he is – his kids (and now grandkids always bring him to tears). Well, today was my turn.

I knew today was going to be one of those days that overwhelmed me, but I truly wasn’t expecting 3 moments that took my breathe away. The first was at the archeological dig for the city of Magdala (Mary Magdalene’s home town). this place was a new stop – only recently uncovered and dedicated since I was here last in 2013. We were given a tour by Father Kelly (great Irish man of God living here and helping the ministry of this incredible place). In this place that had been covered by dirt until 2009, was home to a synagogue dating to the 1st century – it was a place that Jesus would have known, would have visited, would have physically touched.

To truly capture this place would take multiple visits and more posts than I have words to describe. The most fantastic find (among so many) that I want to share was an inscription in the synagogue. In one of the stones “Jesus is Lord” was etched. That makes sense to me, but for it to be found in rock dating from around 40-60 AD confirms that the early church believed in the divinity of Jesus well before any councils and any generational shift (basically this means that the theory that the Jesus of faith was something dreamt up by the church years later for the sake of power is nothing but a dream of naysayers). I heard the words of Father Kelly and my mind popped. This was a game changing find!

Moment 2 happened on the Sea as I was asked to share today’s devotional. As a pastor, one of my absolute joys is to teach and share the stories of scripture. But, as I said in my previous post, this Sea of Galilee messes with you. I couldn’t really bring myself to preach – just read the story from Mark 4:35-41, and invite our fellow pilgrims to place themselves in the story and hear the words, the command of Jesus – “Be Calm! Be Still! Don’t Fear! Have Faith.”

If that wasn’t enough, having my son by my side reading filled my heart with so much joy. He ended up reading at 3 different locations (2 of which he wasn’t prepared for – and 1 of which had some serious OT names that were very difficult). He read with enthusiam. He invited people to feel what he was reading. He spoke with authority. He shared with passion. He incarnated what he was reading. I could see it in his face, I could see it in the other pilgrims, and I could feel my own pride and joy radiate.

Moment 3 is connected. We went to the ancient ruins of the city called Bet Shein. It was one of the 10 cities called the Decapolis in the book of Acts. II Samuel also has a pretty brutal story involving Saul in this story as well. I watched his inner child spring to action. He ran from place to place watching, exploring, soaking up the sites. I smiled as I watched him, remembering that I did the same thing 5 years ago. From the Roman bath house, to the public latrines (he wanted a picture by the row of toilets, but we couldn’t jump the line), to seeing the temple to Dionysius, and the amphitheater, Alex absorbed the space. We made it to the top of the tell where he found a tree used in the movie Jesus Christ Superstar. He was in heaven.

This moment, where scripture and history came alive to him was almost too much for me. The story we love – these 66 books that make up our Bible – is real. It’s rooted in history. It has a place. And Alex is not only seeing it, but it is swirling in him. It’s swirling in dad too. And it is truly a joy filled moment.

Tomorrow, we head to Nazareth, Megiddo or the valley of Armegeddon, and Caesarea Maritime on the Mediterranean Sea. These have been deeply moving places for me – let’s see how they touch us tomorrow. Again – another story, for another day.

Until then – Shalom from the city of Tiberius, in Galilee of the Gentiles, in Israel.

Grace and Peace.

Israel 2018 – Day 1 (plus a few hours here and there)


There is a wonderful feeling that occurs when you come home. Sometimes it’s easy to misplace that feeling. Coming home on a normal day can be somewhat underwhelming. But go away for a while, and coming home is totally different…it’s like, well, coming home.
This “coming home” feeling has been my primary response these past 24 hours. Even Jimmy Nammour, our tour guide (and incredible man of God), saw me and said “welcome home.” So much is familiar and that is a very good thing. When folks would ask me if I was excited, my response was “of course,” but I also was unsure. Would I be disappointed? Would it mean or feel differently? Well, it’s been different but it has also been so comfortable.

What has already added to this trip has been the addition of my traveling partner, Alex. Traveling across the globe with your child and seeing things through his eyes is priceless. Watching him in awe of the clouds from the window of the plane, to arriving and being in a different culture has been fantastic. He is not a child anymore, but his joy and his appreciation for what is in front of him is truly a gift to me. And being able to watch the scriptures come alive as he stepped near the Sea of Galilee was beyond my words. His excitement at each stop has been like stepping back in time to Christmases when he was 5.
As for my own thoughts, the Sea of Galilee stills awes me. It certainly doesn’t awe me due to its size – it’s small compared to many I’ve been on in the States. But it’s almost like the sea itself has a soul – like it’s longing for you to experience what happened on it. At each stop this morning, the crashing waves were like reminders to be still and listen – to be silent.

Equally awe inspiring to me is this place Banais – or Caesarea-Philippi. This spring that feeds the Sea of Galilee has such a dark history – with pagan worship and sacrifices that would make me squeamish to think about. But it’s also a place where Jesus was confessed and accepted his title as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. In a place that was said to be the actual Gates of Hades, Jesus would say that the confession would make such dark places shake.

As the day comes to an end, I reflect with a smile and with a heart of thanks. So many have urged, encouraged, and helped make this trip possible for my son (and me). I am experiencing something that few will ever get to – and I am, again, in awe. This place means so much to me – it’s like I’ve come home. Tomorrow, I have been asked to share a devotion while on a boat going across the Lake – to say I’m excited might be an understatement, but that’s a tale and a story for another time.

For Now…Shalom from the city of Tiberius in Galilee of the Gentiles in Israel.

Silent or Silence

One of the more exciting stories in the Old Testament is found in 1 Kings 18. It’s a story of a bold prophet standing against a vile king, a hateful queen and 450 false prophets. It occurs following a very long drought – no rain that dried up and crippled the nation. The prophet of God was the easy one to blame – “he did this to us.” So Elijah is prompted by God to seek out the evil King and the people – he’s going to confront those who wanted him dead. They weren’t just apathetic to Elijah, they hated him.

The king receives word that Elijah is coming and so he summons all the people. The King is ready for a public trial and execution. As the crowd grumbles, the prophet turns the tables on everyone, “how long will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” The people are mad at Elijah, and Elijah reminds them that their current situation is of their own doing – they’ve chosen another provider, a different sustainer and giver of life.

The next line grips me. After this statement of challenge, scripture shares these words “but the people were completely silent.” Elijah then jumps into action and issues a real-life throw down to the people and the prophets of Baal. Make an altar, offer a sacrifice, and which ever God is real will consume the sacrifice. All agree, and for hours the prophets of Baal dance and cut themselves and make all kinds of noise with no return – no action on Baal’s part.

Elijah mocks the prophets lack of success and quiets the crowd. He sets up the altar, he prepares the sacrifice and then just to be very clear, he drenches every bit with gallons and gallons of water. Then Elijah simply prays “you are God, would you prove it to these people – let them see your power that they may see you and once again know you.” Simple words of longing – not to win, but to bring the people to repentance and to restoration.

And…then…the fire…fell. 

The sacrifice, the altar, even the dirt were consumed. The people responded and their hearts were turned back to the LORD. God won and the people hadn’t sought God, they just responded to seeing God’s glory. The prophets were dealt with. Ahab retreated and his wife threw a hissy-fit and Elijah…he went into hiding (but that’s another story).

As I re-read this story this morning, I was struck by that small line at the end of verse 21 – “but the people were completely silent.” I’m a big believer in taking time each day to be silent. In a world full of noise, we all need silence. Sadly, so many times the noise is hard to turn off – both externally and internally. It’s one thing to turn off the radio or even get away from AC/Heater fans or other noises – it’s another thing all together to let the demands and voices that are rattling inside our minds and hearts fade away.

Some of us reject silence because we’re so accustomed to noise that silence is unnerving. Some of us can’t handle the silence because there, in the quiet, we have to face things we would rather ignore. And yet, our souls need silence…we need quiet…we need a pause.

But silence can also be a very damning thing for the child of God. The hebrews gathered to confront the man who had brought such calamity on Israel. But Elijah came to confront the people with their wayward devotion -their divided hearts – their choosing of another to be their God. And the people were silent.

The phrase makes me shutter. How often do I let noises and distractions and even the longing to serve God become an idol – another deity that I choose to set up in front of the One who wants me to be found in His love and grace? Sadly, I know my answer. I don’t want to be silent in this way. I don’t want to rely on some big event to draw me to the arms of love. I want to be so aware of His glory that I walk around as that drenched sacrifice given consumed by the fire of his Holiness and grace.

Spending time…

When I was a teenager, my youth pastors were insistent that to be a leader in our youth group I had to be spending time growing my faith. Pretty much on a yearly basis, they would pull out the “TAWG” talk. Don’t know what the “TAWG” is? It’s an acronym for Time Alone With God. Honestly, I hated the talk. I hated it because TAWG Time sounds goofy (still does) but even more because I knew, even as 13 year old, that spending time with God was important for not just my soul but for my everything. I think another reason TAWG bothered me was because it sounds so simple – take time every day and be with God. My problem was that it was never as simple as it sounded. I struggled to make the time and then I struggled to feel like the time meant anything – like I was going through motions. I knew it mattered because even on my worst days, I could feel the lingering effects of connection with God (even when I didn’t feel the connection during my TAWG time). I can remember searching for devotional books or trying my hand at journaling or stepping out into the “read the bible in a year plan” only to be frustrated when the devo was dry, or my writing seemed blocked, or when I got to Leviticus. 

Now that I’m nearing 40, I still often have to force myself into times of TAWG. I can find the excuses – usually it’s the warmth of my bed on a cold morning – and I still struggle with devotionals or reading plans from my Bible App. But I also understand how much more important this time is – how needed it is – how much I actually crave it when I do oversleep. I don’t hear the audible voice as I sit and read and think and pray. I don’t have warm fuzzy feelings every morning. But I do know that the day has really begun once I drink that last sip of coffee and say amen. 

I’ve learned something since those yearly “TAWG” talks. My youth pastors probably even said this, but I was hung up on the duties and the tools more than the point. Spending time with God isn’t solely about what I do – it’s about who I do it with. I can read scripture and it can be like plodding through a muddy field. I can listen to worship music in my car and have all kinds of good vibes, but I can also do that with artists like Queen and Norah Jones. I can use the “Lord’s Prayer” or the ACTS model as a guide to prayer and say nothing more than words. But TAWG is more than doing some things – it’s about being with my Abba.

Henri Nouwen has said that the most important message we need to re-learn as a creation is that we are the “beloved children of God.” This God is not distant and unengaged. This God instead has chosen to enter into our story and make sure we can actually know him. I know the male-pronoun bugs a lot of people, but that’s getting hung up on small things. God has revealed himself as ABBA – as daddy. That’s not about male or female – it’s about intimacy and closeness. God wants you and I, his sons and daughters, to be with Him. 

Any parent knows that when a child calls out daddy or mommy, things are different. There is something about that closeness – that raw depth that just melts away all the other junk. “Hey DAD” sounds a whole lot different than “hey daddy.” This is what I’m learning my TAWG needs to be – it’s an opportunity to say “hey daddy – good morning, I’m so glad your my abba.” I don’t need another devotional book (I have plenty). I don’t need another reading plan (even though I use them every day). What I need is to remember that the God of the universe – the God of the seas and storms – the God of the ups and downs – the God who has blessed us with the gift of coffee – has set apart this time to be with me. It is my time with my daddy – the one who loves me beyond words. It is a time for more than something I could do – as if one more book could seal the deal – and instead a time to be. 
PS – one of the most recent distractions from being with my daddy has been the political insanity in the US right now. The noise is deafening. Calls for justice and mercy are as much a part of my heart as the blood that pumps through my veins. I abhor the thought of people seeking asylum and help being left out due to our fear. But I equally hate the rhetoric of both sides that is being used by good people. As I cringed at my social media feed this morning, I felt the nudge of the holy – “hey Jim, instead of being mad or irritated, how about pray for those involved? How about pray for the President – I mean really pray that his heart would be soft? How about turn off the noise and pray?” I think it’s time for some TAWG or maybe better yet Time With My Abba.

Who are you?

Things on my social media feed –
1. The golden globes – awards for people who make movies

2. National Championship Game involving Alabama and Clemson

3. Presidential transition 

These are currently the 3 primary mentions on my social media feed. Normally, I wouldn’t really give much attention too any of them. But for some reason, today I read them and as I did I noticed in all the stories a recurring theme. 

The first mention was the Golden Globes. Statues were given in recognition of work in film and it was a star-studded affair. At one point on the famous red carpet, NBC correspondent Jenna Bush was interviewing the artist Pharrell about a movie he was actively involved in. During the interview, she misspoke and mixed up titles with another movie. I’ve seen the video, Pharrell stumbled in response and the interview went on – it was a little awkward, but obviously it was a misstep by Bush. But apparently enough people spoke up about because the next morning, Bush had to offer a public apology for her misstep. People said she had disrespected the actors and those who worked on one film. She was accused of “hurting people” by her words. I watched a clip of her, fighting tears, to apologize for messing up. 

The second topic was the College National Championship game between Clemson and Alabama. As an SEC fan, I am committed to despise every other team in my conference (though I will always root for them during bowl games). After living in Alabama for nearly 2 years, I have first hand knowledge of that team and their fans. I don’t know much about Clemson, other than their team wears Orange and Blue and their coach has a funny name. In the days prior, I heard both coaches called geniuses and arrogant morons. I heard football players called heroes and over-privileged goons. I heard that these same players are given all kinds of luxuries and that they also need to be paid because they are being “taken advantage of.” 

Finally, a cross over between the Golden Globes and our President-elect. At the Globes speeches were given. Actors/Actresses gave thanks to parents, spouses, kids, co-workers, and God as they received their little golden statue. One actress, the incomparable, Meryl Streep, received a lifetime achievement award. In her speech, she spoke out for the disabled – a worthy cause indeed – but she did so in a way to embarrass the new president-elect. There were a few on my Social Feed who immediately defended the president from those “wacko” Hollywood clowns. While others, on my same feed, joined in the chorus of bemoaning the president-elect, calling him an “idiot” and other less-than-respectful terms. 

What does all this have in common? Well, to put it mildly, disrespect. When I was little, I was taught by my mom, dad, grandparents, uncles and aunts, teachers, pastors, practically everyone, to show respect. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin at all” as the little bunny from Bambi would say. It seems that as I’ve gotten older, we are teaching a very different lesson. Rather than looking for positive things to say, it is expected that we not only looking for negative , but we actively seek it out. It is en vogue to promote the failures of others and it is expected that we smear someone’s face in that failure and that we rejoice in their just desserts. It is the expectation and it is the rule. 

I have voted in 7 Presidential Elections (might have been 6 – it’s early as I type this) and my candidates haven’t always been elected. I’ve voted for local leaders, state leaders, senators and congressmen but I haven’t always had “my candidate” win. But guess what, they were still my Leader, Senator, Congressman or President. I could strongly disagree with their policies or some of the things they said, but it was my understanding that they were still a leader that I was to respect (even when they did disrespectful things). 

“But Jim, we need to speak out against abuses so that we don’t allow this country to become taken over by a Hitler/Stalin/Mussolini.” “We need to hold people accountable and make sure things are right.” Problem is, we can’t agree on right. And I totally agree about speaking out against injustice – it seems very little angers God more than injustice and the abuse of the vulnerable. But having a voice and tearing another down can’t be the way, can it? Bemoaning a TV correspondent because she got caught up and said the wrong name isn’t about accountability. It’s about making ourselves feel good because someone screwed up. Calling young men who play football self-entitled brutes, isn’t going to change my day, is it? Criticizing a leader with words instead of actually doing something about the actual behavior is nothing more than joining in on a “I’m louder than you” shout-fest. 

And all of this negativity is not what a Christian is to be known for. We are to be known for what, or better yet, who we follow. We are to be known as a people of divine and incredible Love – a love that comes from the one who gave himself up for us. We are to be known as a people who pray for our enemies – who bless those who persecute us – who praise and encourage those who are downtrodden. We are to stand against injustice, but not just with words on a facebook post – we are to stand with actions, love in action. We aren’t supposed to look like the rest of the fallen world – we are to look like JESUS, and I think we’ll be hard pressed to find a Jesus who acts so self-entitled and self-congratulatory. 

And when it comes to our leaders, we are called to pray for them – whether we agree or not. Is he your president? Yes. Remember, Paul never said that Caesar wasn’t the emperor of the Roman world – he even appealed to Caesar. Paul said pray for Caesar – the same man who would later cut off Paul’s head. When we see those with various disabilities belittled, we should stand and say “nope.” But more than just saying “nope” we should be giving the example of acceptance and love. 

Christian, in the words of Peter, you are a different people, a royal priesthood and a peculiar people. We are not to be associated with the negative talk, the banter, the nastiness that is so prevalent in our world. We are to be different. The very simple question is: Are you, am I? Are we bearing fruit that is in kind with the branch we have been grafted into? Or are we just part of the crowd?

Formation for 2017

““It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
I’m beginning a new journey in 2017. Part of it comes after a “request” and conversation by a colleague of mine to think through Spiritual Formation and the Disciplines as a plan for our communities. It is something I have long been interested in but it something I feel unbelievably unqualified to do. It is one thing to have an interest, and even dabble in spiritual practices of this sort. It is another thing all together to devote a year to them – to not just study them but to embrace them and let them marinate within my daily steps. 

James Bryan Smith is an author whose books I treasure. In one resource, he invites his fellow adventurer to begin a year of formation by asking 2 questions related to the four functions or main ways that Jesus is known in the life of his followers. His questions are “in our relationship with Jesus, which of these four have we experienced and understand the best” and “which of these do you need/want to grow in during the coming year?” Here are the 4 areas:

Jesus as Lord: he lives at the center of my life

Jesus as Friend: he understands and comforts me

Jesus as Savior: he forgives my sins and sets me free

Jesus as Teacher: he teaches me wisdom and guides me into truth

As I begin this journey, I realize that in the last several years I have spent a lot of time with the Teacher and Friend roles. These are comfortable – places where it has been an easy focus. It doesn’t mean that I’ve reached the summit, but they are areas that I have definitely spent more time within. Jesus as my Lord is also an area that I believe has been an intellectual focus for me. Certainly, I’ve wanted this to be a part of my heart growth, but I also know that it is an area that I still struggle with. I still fight the “gods of this age” that vie for my attention, time, finances, and energies. 

But, there is one of the four are that I currently think needs to be my focus. It is an area that I’ve studied a lot of but that I’ve also allowed to rest on the shelf of my life. The area of Jesus as my savior is one that should be simple. It’s the focus of much of Christian music and worship. It’s a major highlight of a good portion of the Christian year. But it’s also something that, due to what I feel is an over saturated focus, has been something I’ve distanced myself from. Please hear me, I’m not saying that I’ve forgotten or stepped away from this life-altering element of my life, of our faith, etc. But it has been much easier to focus on Jesus as friend, teacher and even Lord than all the heaviness of Jesus as my Savior. 

Author Brennan Manning says that to missplace the reality or intensity of the “paschal of Christ” is to miss out on what it means to be His follower. Ouch. I certainly haven’t intended this – it’s really been a move against the morbidity that many followers love to focus on regarding the Christ. But, in that pursuit of the Life of Christ, is it possible that I have misplaced the death and passion of Christ? Well, that is the question that I begin my 2017. 

What about you dear friend? Maybe you and Jesus as Savior are “just fine, thank you very much.” But what about Friend – do you know that he wants to be a friend that sticks closer than a brother? What about your teacher – have you allowed yourself to fully allow the author of life to have time teaching and inviting your to deepen in your knowledge of Him and His world? Or what about Jesus as Lord – is he the real center of your life? Which of these areas are you most comfortable with and which do you feel are areas to grow in during 2017? I certainly believe that all 4 will make an appearance but which one would you need to spend some time meditating with? Which one would draw you out as you begin the year? 

A Plea

How are you feeling today?

Worn out?







Maybe it’s all of those feelings…all at once. 
This isn’t a political post. Over the course of this election cycle I have refused to enter into the debate or the fray. I have listened and watched the pundits. I have heard the rhetoric on both sides. I have tried to remain positive in the midst of overwhelming negativity. 

So, what does today bring?

There is a lot of uncertainty about the days that are before us. There are more questions – maybe more than ever before. There are a ton of options of how we can respond – regardless of how we voted yesterday. We can gloat. We can bury our heads in despair. We can sit in a corner and fret away the day. We can type words and emote all over social media. We can do a lot, but if we are to move forward we need more.

It may be an understatement to say we are a divided people. It also seems pretty clear that there is a lot of pain. And I’m not even sure we know where that pain comes from or what that pain is about. It’s like we have a wound that has appeared and we have all kinds of ideas of where it came from, but that wound just can’t heal.

This pain affects us all, and I don’t just mean in terms of policy. Our pain is felt by men and women, young and old, white, black and other. I have 2 middle schoolers who are dealing with emotions and concerns that I didn’t have to entertain until I was in graduate school. I have millennial friends who are worried about the future, and boomers who are worried about their legacy. 

In light of all this, I would like to make a plea. My plea is simple – Be Better. If you are scared today, don’t let it swallow you. If you feel vindicated by election results, choose to be a voice of compassion. If you are angry, choose to find joy in something else. If you must endure voices around you that are calling for a move to Canada, or are filled with malice – endure and be a light and an a glimmer of something better. If you look at the other side and see ignorance, choose instead to be a voice of unity. If your candidate won or lost, let today be an opportunity to reach out and befriend someone you disagree with.

If we can agree that division is all around us, do something today that will develop understanding and conversation. If we feel that we are segregated, find someone different and say hello – be an encourager. Be Better and be what we all want – and refuse to be sucked into being what none of us wants. 

Elections, leadership decisions and plans will all happen – but they don’t have to manipulate or control the way in which we live, respond, and interact with one another. Rise above – be better – be the voice you want to see. 

We have much to be “grumpy” for…

About 6 months ago, I decided to do some research on the idea of Sabbath. At the time, I felt that to much of life was blurring past and I was missing out on a much needed pause. I read a lot of classics about the practice of Sabbath and I googled and pinterest-ed myself into content overload. I sat down with two of my colleagues and we decided to talk about the needs and the rythmns of this sabbath idea. At the time, we didn’t know we would be working together, but today I call these 2 men colleagues and I meet with them each week. During the conversation one of them shared that during a recent season of life he chose to off-line for the weekend. He disconnects himself from social media completely. He said at first it was annoying, but over time he felt so liberated that he just kept the notifications from Facebook and Twitter turned off – eventually he removed the apps from his phone completely. 

I remember listening to him share and thinking “he’s nuts.” I wish my reaction was more spiritual but really I couldn’t help but think he was being extreme. What kind of nut turns off their lifeline to connection with so many people?!? So, I did what I normally do when I’m around extreme folks, I smiled and decided to ignore him. But his comment wouldn’t go away – it just kept hanging around and nagging at me. Then I started to wonder, what if I tried it during my days off? What if I just turned it off when I was with my family on our Friday-Saturday times together? First I noticed how quickly I went to push a button when I was bored – it was like an automatic reaction to check something on facebook. Then I started to watch those around me and realized how right my friend is. 

I’m a people watcher. I love working from Starbucks or walking in places just so that I can watch folks. I’m not watching like a creeper or anything. I just really enjoy seeing people engage their world and how oblivious we are to our surroundings. As I began looking up instead of looking at a glowing screen, I noticed that most folks were as addicted to their screens as I was. We weren’t having conversations or connecting to one another or to the beauty around us, we were to busy thumbing messages or liking puppy pictures. I remember sitting in a room full of family and friends and most everyone was looking at a screen. And my reaction was to want to grab my phone and see what I was missing. 

Now, this could come off as pretty judgy but I don’t mean that at all. That’s too easy and quite frankly we have too much of that in our world. In fact that’s one of the reasons for my post today. Most of the stuff I find on my social media feeds is pretty judgy right now. The political environment just lends itself to it. I have friends on all sides of the issues. It is normal to read one update that supports Candidate A and another who sees Candidate A as the anti-christ (and don’t even get me started on candidate b). It seems that negative is the flavor of the day – it’s everywhere, and when I have my head in my screen that negativity seeps into my soul and just is a killer!

A couple weeks ago I heard a sermon by Bishop Swanson, a Bishop in my United Methodist Church. The UMC is in the middle of the divide – truth be told, we have lived in the middle since the very beginning. Bishop Swanson was speaking passionately about craving a fresh move of God in our midst. At one point, he paused looked at the congregation and said something like “if you want to see more of God’s goodness, start thanking him for the goodness that’s around you.” He continued, “when we are a thankful people, we will find more things to be thankful for.” He wasn’t preaching some “feel good” message. He was challenging us – he was pushing us to be more than grumps but be alive.

His statement had my head spinning. I already have a ton on the daily plate – stuff that can feel overwhelming just by itself – and then I add all the stuff from my social feeds. Good grief! I start letting all that negativity creep in and the next thing I know I’m grumping to everyone I encounter. I’m convinced that this is not pleasing to God in any way. We weren’t created to be negative and grumpy. We were created for way more – we were created to reflect the goodness of a God who wants the restoration of the world! We walk in His world – a world filled with vibrancy and energy and raw beauty. Those of us who call our selves christians are the ones who have received “good news” – does it show? Can the world see it? Or are we as buried in our screens as the world around us?

For this reason, I’m taking up my “extreme” colleagues idea. I’m not bailing on Facebook and Twitter (there’s a lot of good on those tools), but I am going to try and be more aware and more awake to the world around me. I am going to try and take Bishop Swanson’s word to heart – I want to be more thankful so that I will have more things to be thankful for. And instead of disappearing from the darkness or ignoring the HUGE looming questions of our world, I’m going to do something even more extreme than stepping away from facebook. I’m going to pray as if my prayers really mattered. Instead of vilifying either candidate, instead of worrying about plans that aren’t going as I wanted, instead of drowning in a sea of my own grumpiness, I’m going to choose a thankful heart. Instead of complaining, I’m going to sing songs and take pauses and breathe in the beauty God has given me. I have much to be grumpy for, but I have even more to be thankful for!