Blog Archive

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2010 (89)

  • 15.03. - It’s Not About You, It’s About Me (0) (Uncategorized)
    What other kind of preaching would we expect from a church which takes its cues from the marketplace? Why should we be surprised to find that we have traded our prophets for Madison Avenue pitchmen? Our best sellers and our worship leaders may say that it’s not about us, but everything about the church’s practice proves otherwise.
  • 16.03. - My Tribe (8) (The Church, Uncategorized) (attendance, christian, church, house, Koessler, stranger)
    For years we have largely blamed ourselves for this struggle. We have been convinced that the problem is us. It must be our fault. We have expressed our grief to God, repented weekly and tried to soldier on, doing our best not to “forsake the assembling” of ourselves together. All the while living a kind of gypsy life, moving from congregation to congregation (I warned you that my story was a sordid one).
  • 17.03. - Playing Technopoly (1) (Culture)
    I have been reading Wendell Berry on my digital reader. I feel guilty about it. Berry, a beautiful writer whose prose reads like poetry, composes all his books in longhand. His wife types the manuscript on an old Royal typewriter. He will not purchase a computer.
  • 18.03. - George Bailey Lassos the Moon (6) (Christian Life, Uncategorized, Will of God)
    I haven’t thought about God’s will for some time. Not seriously. Not in that obsessive way that I used to back when I was a college student, wondering about God’s plan for my future.
  • 18.03. - 100 Top Church Blogs (1) (Uncategorized)
    Saw this list of the 100 top church blogs (http://churchrelevance.com/resources/top-church-blogs/) on Tim Challies blog today (http://www.challies.com/). Very helpful!
  • 21.03. - God is Your Gardener (0) (Uncategorized)
    But by-and-by there came a change. Somehow it lost all power to raise itself. It trailed in circling disorder on the ground. And when its flowers blossomed, and cried for air and sunlight, do what it could, it could not raise them from the mud.
  • 22.03. - A Forgotten Classic on Preaching (3) (Preaching, Uncategorized)
    Not long ago while rummaging through Google books, I stumbled across a forgotten classic on preaching by J. C. Ryle.
  • 24.03. - Sentimentality and Preaching (0) (Preaching)
    Sentimentality is not confined to the arts. It can also afflict the sermon. When the sermon becomes sentimentalized the preacher’s need to feel good about the experience of preaching leads to manipulation.
  • 25.03. - Apostolic “Strategery” (6) (Uncategorized)
    I am neck deep in strategic thinking. The school where I teach is engaged in an aggressive strategic planning initiative. We are working with an excellent consulting team and are asking hard but important questions about the present and the future. But all this has got me wondering about the apostles.  The execution of the … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 26.03. - The Holy Spirit and Strategic Planning (4) (Uncategorized)
    I have been pondering the questions Marshall Shelley raised in response to yesterday’s post. Marshall wrote: “My sense is that “strategic thinking” is the commercial vernacular today. The artistic vernacular today would be “self-expression.” What would have been the equivalents in Paul’s day? Was there a “trade language” or an “artistic language” or worldview that … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 27.03. - Saturday Night Fever (1) (Uncategorized)
    I read somewhere that Charles Spurgeon prepared his sermons on Saturday night. I don’t know if it is true, but I can believe it. While I don’t encourage such a strategy, I do know that there are times when the necessities of ministry make this unavoidable.  Of course, there are also times when the cause … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 28.03. - Behold, Thy King Cometh Unto Thee (0) (Uncategorized)
    “Let us set our own soul on that rocky hill and see Christ come to it. Long heard of, not a stranger, having often passed before our sight, at last He comes finally and formally to claim us for his own, to solemnly assert that we belong to Him, to bid us make our choice … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 29.03. - The Rhythm of Holy Week (0) (Uncategorized)
    Holy week begins with shouts of acclamation and high expectations. To the disciples, who failed to grasp Jesus’ foreshadowing of what was about to take place, it must have seemed that the one on whom their hopes were pinned had finally come into his own. His success would be theirs. But nothing happens. Jesus visits the … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 30.03. - When Communication is Not Proclamation (0) (Uncategorized)
    "We preachers so want to be heard that we are willing to make the gospel more accessible than it really is, to remove the scandal, the offense of the cross, to deceive people into thinking that it is possible to hear without conversion.”
  • 31.03. - The Gospel of Judas (0) (Uncategorized)
    Why do we try so hard to rehabilitate Judas? To explain his false heart and find some hope for his redemption?
  • 01.04. - Love Bade Me Welcome (0) (Uncategorized)
    Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,                 Guilty of dust and sin. But quick-eyed love, observing me grow slack                 From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning                 If I lack’d anything.  “A guest, ” I answer’d, “worthy to be here.”                 Love said, “You shall be he.” … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 05.04. - Ministry Monday-Shepherd of the Flock (6) (Uncategorized)
    On a steamy August day in 1985, my wife Jane and I left our apartment in the suburbs of Philadelphia in a U–Haul loaded with all our worldly goods and our little Ford hitched to the back. After four years of seminary, I was eager to begin my ministry as a pastor. At first I … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 07.04. - On Preachers and Preaching: Are Preachers Born or Made? (7) (Preaching, Uncategorized) (church, homiletics, preachers, Preaching)
    My homiletics students often wonder whether preaching can be taught. Are preachers born or are they made? At last, this YouTube video provides a definitive answer to this question. What more can I say? Like this:Like Loading...
  • 09.04. - Out of My Mind: Going to the Dogs (11) (Uncategorized) (death, dogs, heaven, Jesus' words, love, marriage, middle age, Yorkshire Terriers)
    If I find it hard to imagine a heaven without my dog, it is even harder to picture a heaven in which I am not married to my wife Jane. We have enjoyed so many things on earth together it only seems natural that we would explore the undiscovered country hand in hand. It disturbs me to read Matthew 22:30, where Jesus says, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”
  • 12.04. - Ministry Monday: Vision’s Dirty Little Secret (4) (Uncategorized) (leadership, ministry, ministry vision, pastoral ministry, vision, Wendell Berry)
    In saying this, Berry has uncovered the dirty little secret of most vision work. Vision is often as much about us as it is about the future, a fact which explains why so many visionary leaders also turn out to be narcissists.
  • 14.04. - On Preachers and Preaching-Inflecting the Text (2) (Preaching) (Harry Emerson Fosdick, on preaching and preachers, preachers, Preaching, sermon, sermon application, sermons)
    Preaching is an exercise in inflection, one that involves much more than pitch, volume and tone. In the sermon the preacher makes God’s written word incarnate by speaking the biblical author’s words into the contemporary context. This is an inflection not merely of the preacher’s voice but of the text itself. The task of inflection … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 16.04. - Out of My Mind: Housecleaning as a Spiritual Discipline (0) (Uncategorized)
    It has been said that all men are pigs. While I can’t speak for all my gender, I know that this has been true of me. Neatness has never been my strongest point. Like other families in the 50’s and 60’s, I grew up in a home where mom stayed at home, cooked the dinner … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 19.04. - Ministry Monday: The Best Day to Take Off (9) (Uncategorized)
    Why do so many hate Mondays? Monday's curse is that it is a day of starting over. No matter how well the service went yesterday, when the next Sunday rolls around, we will have to do it all again.
  • 21.04. - On Preachers and Preaching: Haddon Robinson on Sermon Application (1) (Preaching, Uncategorized) (Center for Preaching at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, Haddon Robinson, Preaching, sermon application, sermons)
    Listen to Haddon Robinson talk about the importance of nuanced sermon application.
  • 23.04. - Out of My Mind: What Kind of Personality Does Jesus Have? (4) (Jesus, Uncategorized) (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Christianity Today, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jesus, personality, Scott McKnight, When Kingfishers Catch Fire)
    The Gospel writers emphasize the person of Christ but not his personality.
  • 26.04. - Ministry Monday: The Future of Ministry (3) (Culture, The Church, Uncategorized) (church, ministry, pastoral ministry, the future of the church, William Willimon)
    What is the future of ministry? In a recent blog post William Willimon proposes ten theses about the future of the mainline church.
  • 28.04. - On Preachers and Preaching-Why I Use Notes When I Preach (9) (Preaching, Uncategorized)
    Is it better to preach without notes? Why I use a manuscript.
  • 30.04. - Out of My Mind: Flat on My Back (10) (Uncategorized) (ambulance, death, emt, last words, police, purpose, taxi, taxi cab)
    There is nothing like getting run over by a car to provide a moment of clarity.
  • 03.05. - Ministry Monday: How Soon is Too Soon to Move On? (11) (Pastoral Ministry, The Church) (accepting a call to a new church, call, pastor, pastoral change, pastoral ministry)
    Unfortunately, steady is not very appealing to churches. Today’s church would rather have dynamic instead. Ours is a Corinthian age which prefers the silken color and flash of Apollos to the plain cloth and reliable stitching of Paul.
  • 05.05. - On Preachers and Preaching-Why Theology Matters in Preaching (10) (Preaching) (doctrine, on preaching and preachers, Preaching, theology, theology and preaching)
    Church members are asking fundamental and profound questions about the nature of God’s relationship with humanity, the origin of evil, and about their own personal significance. Meanwhile, the church’s theologians, who have been reflecting on these questions for over two millennia, are talking among themselves.
  • 07.05. - Out of My Mind: John Wayne, Jesus and Me (4) (Uncategorized) (Bible Study, Cavalry Trilogy, John Ford, John Wayne, John Wayne Movie Bible Study, Nick at Nite)
    If Nick at Nite got religion and started a Sunday school, I imagine it would look something like this.
  • 10.05. - Ministry Monday: The Lost Language of Worship (7) (Uncategorized)
    Contemporary worship suffers from an emotional bias. It is disproportionately upbeat. I am not necessarily talking about the tempo of the music, although this bias is sometimes reflected in the tempo. I am talking about its emotional tone. The culture of evangelical worship has little tolerance for grief in the assembly. Oh, we recognize that … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 13.05. - On Preachers and Preaching: Text or Audience? (0) (Preaching, Uncategorized) (Biblical Preaching, Bryan Chapell, Chapell, Christ Centered Preaching, expository preaching, Haddon Robinson, Joseph Stowell, Preaching, Robinson, Stowell, textual preaching)
    Should the preacher begin with the text or the audience? In this video Joseph Stowell, Haddon Robinson and Bryan Chapell discuss the legitimacy of textual preaching.
  • 14.05. - Out of My Mind: Just Another Barbarian at the Gate (3) (Uncategorized, Writing) (Anne Lamotte, Annie Dillard, Donald Miller, Kathleen Norris, writing)
    There is a general trajectory toward entropy in all artistic progression which suggests that my day will eventually come.
  • 17.05. - Ministry Monday: What Happened to Bob? (2) (Pastoral Ministry, Preaching, Uncategorized) (evangelism, gospel, Martyn Lloyd Jones, on preaching and preachers, pastoral ministry, Preaching)
    I have been preaching long enough to know that the power does not lie in my rhetoric or my structure, as important as those things are to my preaching. This is not the first time that the Holy Spirit has stolen my thunder.
  • 19.05. - Jonathan Edwards: Marks of a Work of the True Spirit (2) (Revival, Uncategorized) (Douglas A. Sweeney, Essential Edwards Collection, Jonathan Edwards, Moody Publishers, Owen Strachen, revival)
    I have always maintained that it is not hard to bring "revival" to Bible college students. All you need is a hot day, a chapel service and an open mike. Wait long enough and eventually somebody will take the mike and confess to looking at pornography in the dorm.
  • 21.05. - Pitfalls for those in Ministry: The Holy Becomes Commonplace (4) (Uncategorized) (exegesis, Holiness, ministry, pastoral ministry, piety, Preaching)
    "You will not have been long in the ministry before you discover that it is possible to be fussily busy about the Holy Place and yet to lose the wondering sense of the Holy Lord.”
  • 24.05. - Ministry Monday: Attending to the Culture of Our Souls (2) (Pastoral Ministry, Uncategorized) (ministry, pastoral ministry, pastors, silence, solitude, spiritual disciplines)
    John Henry Jowett says, "We must assiduously attend to the culture of our souls."
  • 25.05. - The Mourner as Leader (0) (Uncategorized) (Jason Byassee, Kaddish, mourning, Steven Kepnes, worship)
    My colleague Heather Moffitt sent me a link to Jason Byassee's post on "The Mourner as Leader." Byassee comments on Steven Kepnes' book Jewish Liturgical Reasoning. It is Kepnes' observation about the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning for the dead, that captures Byassee's attention.
  • 27.05. - Out of My Mind: Not With a Bang (0) (Uncategorized) (aging, ceremonies, graduation, time)
    This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang but a whimper. I often think of these words of T. S. Eliot this time of year. His description of the end of the world feels very much like the end of the school year to me.
  • 01.06. - Deliver us From Our Strengths, O Lord (0) (Pastoral Ministry, Uncategorized) (clergy, leadership, pastoral ministry, pastors)
    From our strengths and social virtues, O Lord, deliver us.
  • 03.06. - How ‘Christ Centered’ Should Our Preaching Be? (1) (Preaching) (Christ Centered Preaching, evangelism, evangelistic preaching, gospel, Jesus Christ, preach, preacher, Preaching)
    One of disparities between apostolic preaching and our own is the degree to which we have marginalized the gospel. We have not abandoned the gospel, only relegated it to the outskirts of our Christian experience.
  • 07.06. - On Preachers and Preaching: Why Don’t We Preach Like Jesus? (4) (Preaching) (Jesus, on preachers and preaching, Preaching, the preaching of Jesus, The Preaching of Jesus: Gospel Proclamation Then and Now, William Brosend)
    Why don't we preach like Jesus did?
  • 09.06. - Out of My Mind: Shame on You (1) (Uncategorized) (forgiveness, grace, shame)
    There is nothing quite so healthy as shame.
  • 14.06. - On Preachers and Preaching: The Divorce Between Theology and the Pulpit (2) (Preaching) (on preachers and preaching, Preaching, theology, theology and preaching)
    Preaching and theology were lovers once. As is so often the case in these matters, each is inclined to blame the other for the separation.
  • 16.06. - On Preachers and Preaching: The Divorce Between Theology and the Pulpit Part II (0) (Preaching) (on preachers and preaching, preachers, Preaching, theology, theology and preaching)
    The church’s suspicion of the practical value of theology, though misguided, is not without some basis in experience.
  • 18.06. - A Rumor of Angels (1) (Uncategorized)
    In a world in which enchantment has once again been awakened and where angels and demons are part of our every day entertainment, we must keep the “rumor of God” alive.
  • 21.06. - Preaching and the Authority of the Text (0) (Preaching) (authority, authority in preaching, authority of Scripture, Jesus, on preachers and preaching, preachers, Preaching)
    We cannot put Jesus at odds with the text of Scripture without putting Jesus at odds with himself. To attribute authority to Christ but to deny it to the Scriptures is a contradiction.
  • 23.06. - Worse Things Have Been Said (10) (Pastoral Ministry, Preaching, Uncategorized) (authority, leadership, pastor, pastoral authority, pastoral criticism, pastoral ministry)
    A few months after I graduated from seminary, I spoke to a friend about my discouragement with the church I was serving. I was annoyed by his blunt reply but could not disagree with his point.
  • 24.06. - Helmut Thielicke: Preaching Amidst the Rubble (2) (Preaching) (death, Helmut Thielicke, Preaching, Thy Kingdom Come)
    To preach is to take your stand before the pit and bear witness to the rubble of this ash heap world that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
  • 30.06. - Death: Our Enemy and Teacher (0) (Uncategorized) (death, sin, sin and death, sting of death)
    We are pilgrims who traverse an “empire of ruins” with death as our fellow traveler. Unable to rid ourselves of this cheerless companion, we attempt to rehabilitate it instead, treating death as if it were a neighbor and not a trespasser.
  • 06.07. - Offering the Hope of the Gospel in the House of Death (6) (Uncategorized) (comfort, funerals, gospel, Preaching)
    How do you offer comfort to people who have no reason to hope for it? What can you say to those whose loved ones have ordered their lives in such a way that they have left little room for God?
  • 12.07. - The Role of Theology in Preaching (4) (Uncategorized)
    Joe Thorn was kind enough to interview me on the subject of theology and preaching. If you are interested, check out his blog: http://www.joethorn.net/.
  • 13.07. - Now That the Book is Done… (1) (Writing) (writing)
    This is the kind of joy that I think a mother must feel just after giving birth.
  • 15.07. - They Still Speak Even Though They Are Dead (0) (Uncategorized)
    For an author this is a little like strolling through the graveyard and meditating on the day of your death.
  • 16.07. - When the Prayer Matters to Us More Than God (0) (Prayer) (answers to prayer, Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray, difficulties with prayer, how to pray, prayer, praying)
    There are times when the prayer matters to us more than God.
  • 22.07. - The Power of the Pulpit (16) (Uncategorized) (Preaching, pulpits)
    The pulpit has fallen on hard times in today’s evangelical churches.
  • 27.07. - Disappointed With Jesus? (12) (Uncategorized) (disappointment, disappointment with God, disappointment with the church, doubt, Ravi Zacharias)
    We often say, “Christianity may disappoint you, but Jesus never will.” I do not believe this for a moment.
  • 03.08. - With Wandering Steps and Slow (1) (Christian Life, Uncategorized)
    "They hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow, through Eden took their solitary way." John Milton-Paradise Lost
  • 05.08. - The Problem with the Problem of Evil (2) (Uncategorized) (apologetics, God, questions about God, the problem of evil)
    For my part, I do not think the Bible answers the question about the problem of the origin of evil in a way that elimnates the tension we feel.
  • 10.08. - (0) (Uncategorized)
    God grant me the grace...
  • 11.08. - Worship With a Difficult Child (1) (The Church) (children, church, grace)
    “Reality doesn’t always conform to expectation,” Heather observes. When her son was 14 months old he began to exhibit what she describes as “debilitating behavioral challenges,” just weeks after she joined a new church.
  • 12.08. - Four Reasons We Are Disapponted With Jesus (0) (Uncategorized) (disappointment, disappointment with God, God)
    Four reasons why we may be disappointed with God.
  • 17.08. - My Conversation with Chris Fabry (0) (Uncategorized) (Chris Fabry Live, Disappointed with Jesus, disappointment, Moody Radio)
    Here is a link for those who are interested in listening to my conversation with Chris about disappointment with Jesus.
  • 18.08. - Every Pastor a Potential Hero (16) (Christian Life, Pastoral Ministry, Uncategorized) (pastoral ministry, pastors, trials, trouble)
    We must not fear to bring before us the gloomy view of the ministry.
  • 19.08. - Ten Challenges Pastors Face: Challenge #1-Hard Work (3) (Pastoral Ministry) (pastor, pastoral ministry, pastors, work)
    It is may be easier for the pastor than for any other professional to look so busy and do so little.
  • 23.08. - Challenges Pastors Face-Challenge #2: Routine (0) (Pastoral Ministry) (Christianity, Local church, pastor, Pastoral care, pastoral ministry, Pastoral Resources, Religion and Spirituality, sermon)
    Challenges Pastors Face-Challenge #2: Routine Even the best of us must sometimes feel as if we are on a treadmill. Sunday night leaves many a pastor dreading the approach of a new work week as much as any factory worker or office employee.
  • 25.08. - Ten Challenges Pastors Face-Challenge #3: The Challenge of Being Misunderstood (2) (Pastoral Ministry, Uncategorized) (Christianity, Churches, Local church, pastor, Pastoral care, Religion and Spirituality)
    Not long after he started attending our church, Ed asked me about something that had been bothering him. It was a question that took me by surprise. It had nothing to do with election or the fate of the heathen. It didn’t concern some obscure point in the Bible. Ed wanted to know what I … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 31.08. - Challenges Pastors Face-#4: Ministry to those in Distress (4) (Christian Life, Pastoral Ministry, Uncategorized) (Christianity, God, Jeremy Begbie, pastor, Religion, Religion and Spirituality, suffering)
    Trouble is Heaven’s goad. God applies it to good purpose in the life of the believer and unbeliever alike. For the unbeliever suffering often serves as God’s rude awakening, a sharp slap intended to bring the sinner to his senses. It is a measure of the deceitfulness of sin that this aim cannot be achieved unless suffering is also … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 02.09. - Challenges Pastors Face-Challenge #5: Living Under Scrutiny (3) (Pastoral Ministry, The Church, Uncategorized) (Christianity, pastor, pastoral ministry, Religion and Spirituality, the pastor's family)
    Every pastor feels the pressure of living under scrutiny. It is not the pressure of living in a “glass house” that creates difficulties so much as it is the burden of expectation. Often church members hold the pastor to a double standard, expecting far more of him than they do of themselves. Some of expectations are warranted. James warns those who teach that they will be “judged more strictly” (James 3:1). Does he mean that they are held to a higher standard? Or simply that those who prove to be hypocrites will be condemned more severely? He is at least implying that teachers will be held to their word. Unfortunately, congregations do not always limit their expectation to the pastor. Sometimes the entire family feels pressured to live by a standard that church members do not always apply to themselves. The embittered pastors’ child is so common it is almost a cliché. The factors that contribute to this are complex and not always easily addressed. But a basic starting point must be the recognition that contrary to the expectation of some church members (and a few pastoral parents), God does not hold the children of clergy to a higher standard. They are not more holy than other children. Though there are certainly some benefits to growing up in a pastor’s home, this “privilege” also has its drawback. The children of pastors are exposed to the inconsistencies of the church more than other children in the congregation. They hear the criticisms leveled against the pastor and feel the pain when he is mistreated. You cannot avoid the scrutiny of the congregation. Nor can you keep them from having unrealistic expectations. But you don’t have to live up to a double standard. Nor are you required to enforce it upon your family. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. 1 Cor. 4:1-5
  • 07.09. - Challenges Pastors Face-Challenge #6: Feeling Underutilized (0) (Pastoral Ministry, The Church) (Christianity, pastor, pastoral ministry, success, William Carey)
      William Carey’s famous maxim was: “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” Yet some of us suffer from a nagging fear that we are underutilized in our current field of service. Our preaching ability merits a larger audience or our leadership gifts would bear more fruit if we served a congregation … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 11.09. - Lone Pilgrim (4) (Uncategorized) (bobdylan, Lone Pilgrim, Sacred Harp, World Gone Wrong)
    Bob Dylan’s version of Lone Pilgrim has the feel of an old hymn in the style of The Sacred Harp. The lovely melody has echoes of How Firm a Foundation and the words speak of a believer’s hope beyond the grave. I came to the place where the lone pilgrim lay,And pensively stood by his tomb,When … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 13.09. - Ten Challenges Pastors Face-Challenge #7: Social and Intellectual Isolation (0) (Uncategorized) (Christianity, church, Minister (Christianity), pastor, Pastoral, pastoral ministry, Pastoral Resources)
      An old commercial portrayed the Maytag repair man as the loneliest person in town. But the loneliest person in the church may be the pastor. Pastoral ministry is inherently relational. How, then, do we explain the feeling of isolation that sometimes afflicts pastors? To what can we attribute it?  Pastoral isolation often manifests itself … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 15.09. - Ten Challenges Pastors Face-Challenge #8: Prophet or Priest? (0) (Pastoral Ministry, Preaching) (Christianity, God, Minister (Christianity), pastor, pastoral ministry, Priest, Pulpit, Religion and Spirituality, sermon)
    I first felt a calling to preach when I was in my teens. To my surprise my mother, who was not a church going woman, beamed with pride when I told her about my intention. “Oh, Johnny,” she gushed, “you’d make a darling minister.” I did not want to mouth poetry in a clergyman’s tame … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 21.09. - Ten Challenges Pastors Face-Challenge #9: Preaching Beyond Our Experience (0) (Preaching, Uncategorized) (Christianity, pastor, Pastoral Ministry; Ministry, prayer, Pulpit, Religion and Spirituality, sermon)
      I once heard a pastor lament, “My prayer is better than my preaching and my preaching is better than my life.” One of the great challenges of the pulpit is that of preaching beyond our experience. We are the first to feel the sting of the sermon’s reproach. In preaching against the sins of … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 23.09. - Ten Challenges Pastors Face-Challenge #10: Feeling Inadquate (2) (Uncategorized) (Christianity, John Newton, pastor, pastoral ministry, pastors, Religion and Spirituality)
    Anyone who has seriously considered all the challenges a pastor must face cannot help feeling inadequate. The task is immense. The stakes are high and the things which are most important to us in our ministry are usually things over which we have little or no control. Like the apostle Paul we ask, “Who is … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 27.09. - Working For God: Part I (0) (Pastoral Ministry, The Church) (Christianity, christinan work, Jesus, pastor, pastoral ministry, pastorate, Religion and Spirituality)
    Before I entered the ministry I worked for the General Motors Corporation trudging up and down the floors of the company’s world headquarters in downtown Detroit delivering telegrams. Every floor seemed to have its own culture. There were the computer technicians in their white lab coats in the basement who always seemed glad to see … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 05.10. - Working for God: Part II (0) (Uncategorized) (Christian work, God, Jesus, ministry, Parable, Parable of the talents or minas, pastor, pastoral ministry)
    When Scripture declares that those who “direct the affairs of the church well” are worthy of “double” honor (1 Timothy 5:17), it implies a standard of recompense which is correlated with performance. Paul’s reasoning seems to be something like this: All those who direct the affairs of the church are worthy of “honor.” The “good ones” … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 07.10. - Downward Facing Dog (5) (Uncategorized) (Christianity, R. Albert Mohler Jr., Religion and Spirituality, Wii Sports, Yoga)
       Al Mohler made headlines recently when he criticised the practice of yoga. According to an Associated Press report, Mohler stated that yoga’s idea that the body is a vehicle for reaching consciousness with the divine is “just not Christianity.”     Of course, Christians who practice yoga are not using it to reach the divine consciousness. They … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 13.10. - Falling Into the Culture Gap: The Allure of “Hipster” Christianity (3) (Culture, Uncategorized) (Brett McCracken, Christianity, Christianity Today, gap, Hipster Faith)
    Recently Gap Inc. reversed its plans to change the company’s familiar logo because of the widespread unpopularity of its new image. Visitors to the Gap’s website scorned the new logo, ridiculing it for its ugliness and complaining that it was something a child could have created using clip art.  It seems reasonable to assume that … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 19.10. - Fear and Loathing in Deerfield (2) (Uncategorized) (EHS, Evangelical Homiletics Society, Pastoral Resources, preachers, Preaching, sermon, Trinity International University)
    Last week the Evangelical Homiletics Society (http://www.ehomiletics.com/) held its annual meeting at Trinity International University. I don’t attend the EHS conference as often as I should, partly because they meet at a difficult time in the semester and partly because I don’t enjoy traveling (probably more the latter than the former). This year, however, I … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 22.10. - Ordinary Radicals (5) (Uncategorized)
    I was thumbing through a Christian magazine the other day when I came across a full-page ad that I thought was for a mission organization. Turns out it was actually an ad for an insurance company. But I didn’t notice at the time because three-quarters of the page was taken up by the picture of a young … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 28.10. - Are You “The One?” (1) (Uncategorized) (Christianity, Denominations, leadership, Organization, Pastoral Leadership, pastoral ministry, pastors, Patrick Lencioni, Religion and Spirituality)
    During a faculty workshop on leadership yesterday, it occurred to me that churches and Christian organizations are drawn to messianic models of leadership. Our prayers and search processes seek to reveal “the one” who will lead us into the organizational land of promise. Occasionally the search uncovers an individual who ushers in a “golden age” which lasts only … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 31.10. - Giving Up the Ghost (1) (Uncategorized) (Ghost, Halloween)
    I saw an article on the web yesterday listing the top ten haunted hotels in the United States. Apparently some people choose their vacation spot in the hopes of seeing a disembodied spirit.   The Bible does not say much about the real possibility of the dead communicating with the living, beyond its very clear condemnation … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 20.11. - The Preacher Who Failed (1) (Pastoral Ministry, Preaching, The Church, Uncategorized)
    I was deeply moved the other day by David Grayson’s description of the Scottish minister in his book Adventures in Contentment:  The Scotch preacher was finding his place in the big Bible; he stood solid and shaggy behind the yellow oak pulpit, a peculiar professional look on his face. In the pulpit the Scotch preacher … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 28.11. - Worship’s Dull Surprise (2) (Uncategorized) (Boredom, Christ, church, Fred Craddock, God, sermon, Sundays, worship)
    In a new book about creating sermons based on hymns, music and poetry, Thomas Troeger observes that today’s church suffers from an imagination deficit. Troeger notes that “the starved imagination of the church and the resultant drought in the soul have driven many people from the community of faith.” He cites Fred Craddock’s observation that many parishioners “are … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 30.11. - Echoes of Heaven (0) (Uncategorized) (Christianity, Christmas, God, Hymn, Robert Wuthnow)
    In his latest book entitled Wonder Reborn: Creating Sermons On Hymns, Music and Poetry, Thomas Troeger describes the effect the hymns he learned as a child had upon his imagination. While Troeger was raised in the northeast, his mother came from South Carolina. She often complained that churches in the north did not sing the hymns she … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 16.12. - What I Learned During Final Exams (6) (Uncategorized)
    Brant Cole, one of my students in Pastoral Theology, slipped this cartoon in with his final exam. I like it so much I think I will frame it and hang it on my office wall! If you have trouble reading the captions, click on the picture for a larger image. Final exam time is when … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 24.12. - The Myth that Became Reality (3) (Uncategorized) (Christ, christian, Christianity, God, Jesus, Virgin birth of Jesus)
    As a child, my favorite book was a collection of Greek myths. I checked it out of the library again and again and read it from cover to cover. To this day, when I stumble across a copy of it in the bookstore, I can’t help thumbing through it. I was captivated by the colorful pictures … Continue reading Blog Archive

2011 (23)

  • 17.01. - The King’s Speech (9) (Preaching) (Christianity, Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, George VI of the United Kingdom, King's Speech, Speech and language pathology)
    My wife Jane and I went to see a movie recently and had an unusual experience. When the movie was over the audience applauded. Not the half-hearted formal applause that you sometimes hear when people feel obligated to do so. But genuine, heartfelt applause from people who had been genuinely moved by what they had … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 03.02. - Bonhoeffer: Martyr, Prophet, Spy…and Youth Pastor (1) (Uncategorized) (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Little Exercise for Young Theologians)
    Author Eric Metaxas has written a massive new biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer entitled Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. In some ways, Metaxas’s book is as intimidating as its subject. Skillfully written, thoroughly researched and comprehensive in its scope, it is a work that is worthy of someone who was larger than life.  For many evangelicals, … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 22.02. - Lord, I believe… (2) (Prayer, Uncategorized) (Albania, Christianity Today)
       A news item in a recent issue of Christianity Today reported that the Albanian Minister of Culture recently signed an agreement giving legal recognition to 135 churches of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance. I could not help but smile when I read the report.     When I was a student in seminary, Albania was the particular … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 25.02. - Real Christianity? (2) (Uncategorized)
    I had a very interesting conversation with Chris Fabry on Chris Fabry Live! on Friday. The question Chris posed was: ““How much do you have to change in order to become a real Christian?” Once you’re a Christian, how much time do you have to quit certain sins?” You can listen to the podcast here (click on hour … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 06.03. - Oh, Hell. (2) (Uncategorized)
    By now most of you are probably aware of the controversy Rob Bell has ignited with the advance publicity for his new book. Bloggers and preachers are accusing him of rejecting the Bible’s teaching about hell and of being a Universalist. I don’t know whether Rob is a Universalist or not. But I do know … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 09.03. - Day of Prayer and Awkward Coversation (3) (Uncategorized)
    Every year mid-way through the Spring semester Moody Bible Institute cancels classes and devotes an entire day to corporate prayer. We call it the “day of prayer.” But at least for me, it would be more accurate if they called it “the day of awkward conversations with God.” I never cease to be amazed at … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 14.03. - A Beginning of Sorrows (7) (Uncategorized) (Christianity, Earthquake in Japan, Japan, Jesus, Religion & Spirituality)
    It seems hard to comment on what has happened in Japan without somehow trivializing it. Perhaps, like Job’s three false comforters, we would be better off to remain silent. Yet as those who claim to have a word from God, we are expected to make sense of the world. This is the kind of thing that … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 17.03. - Since You Asked (0) (Uncategorized) (Ask an Expert, Bible, God, Jesus, Nephilim, Question, Question Answering, Religion and Spirituality)
    I was on the radio yesterday morning. It was one of those call-in programs where people ask questions about the Bible. The regular person (the man who has all the answers) was gone. So they called me. I didn’t mind. But I’m afraid I wasn’t very good at it. My answers were too tentative. Too qualified. Too … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 22.03. - Between Heaven and Hell (3) (Uncategorized) (C. S. Lewis, God, heaven, Jesus, Martin Luther, N. T. Wright, The Christian Hope)
    Hell is not the only doctrine that has fallen out of favor in our day. Heaven has fallen on hard times as well. We used to sing, “Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace.” But these days Evangelicals are more likely to speak of the kingdom than of heaven. Justice is more … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 28.03. - Like Most of the Pastors I Know (4) (Pastoral Ministry, Uncategorized) (Christ, Christianity Today, Jesus, pastor)
    I spent this past weekend in Montana with a bunch of pastors. I only got to see the mountains from a distance (except for the one we were on) but I saw the pastors close-up. I found them to be like most of the pastors I know. They are true shepherds with a deep affection for … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 02.04. - What I Learned from Dave and Paul (1) (Christian Life, Uncategorized) (Christ, Friendship, God)
    For some time now I have been puzzling over God’s tendency to expect more of me than I expect of myself. Every time I read the Scriptures I get the sense that my standard of expectation and his are not the same. He tells me to love God with all my heart, soul and strength and to … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 09.04. - Love Wins! It Also Criticizes. (5) (Uncategorized) (Hell, Love Wins, Rob Bell, theology)
    The furor over Rob Bell’s book Love Wins seems to have died down. The book is out and Rob has clarified his position. Those who loved Rob before the book still love him and those who don’t… Well, you know how these things go.  The rumblings from this controversy have uncovered the fault lines in contemporary … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 13.04. - Church Going by Philip Larkin (0) (The Church, Uncategorized) (Christianity Today, church, Philip Larkin)
    Once I am sure there’s nothing going on I step inside, letting the door thud shut. Another church: matting, seats, and stone, And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff Up at the holy end; the small neat organ; And a tense, musty, unignorable silence, Brewed God knows … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 03.05. - A Rat’s Eye View (1) (Uncategorized) (Hell, sin)
    A lot has happened since I blogged last. There was a royal wedding. The worst tornadoes in a hundred years left bloody scars on the Alabama landscape. Osama Bin Laden was  executed. And that was just since last week. Kind of makes you wonder what is going to happen next. If I lived near the sea, … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 22.05. - Left Behind-Again! (4) (Uncategorized)
    Now that May 21 has come and gone, perhaps we should ask how so many of us knew that Jesus wasn’t coming back on Saturday. It is true that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2-4). Harold Camping should have known better than to set the date. … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 04.08. - Back in the Saddle (5) (Uncategorized) (Amazon, anxiety, CBD, Christianbook.com, Helmut Thielicke, worry, Zondervan)
    Regular followers of my blog–all three of you–will have noticed that I have been on hiatus. I wish I could give you a really spiritual reason for this. For example, I would like to say that I spent the past three months in a cave in the wilderness seeking God and have now come with new … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 10.08. - The Dust of Childhood (3) (Uncategorized)
    My oldest son Drew moved into his own apartment last week. It was not a big task. He doesn’t have much and the apartment is nearby. But it still felt like a major effort. The excavation of his bedroom took the most time. He worked on it over several weeks (not constantly) and the result reminded … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 18.08. - Standing By Truth (5) (Uncategorized) (christian, Christianity, church, Linguistics, Religion and Spirituality, Wendell Berry)
    I ate dinner in a church basement the other night with a group of friends and colleagues. When it was over our host dismissed us with a blessing and his assessment of our experience. It was, he assured us, the essence of Christian fellowship. This is the sort of thing one often hears at church.  At potlucks, … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 10.09. - How Have We Changed? (0) (Uncategorized) (9/11, Greg Wheatley, Inside Look, Leadership Journal, Rosalie de Rosset, Skye Jethani)
    Recently I was a guest on Greg Wheatley’s radio program Inside Look along with Skye Jethani senior editor of Leadership Journal and my colleague Rosalie de Rosset. Greg asked us to discuss how our lives have changed since 9/11 2001. Here is a link for those interested in listening to the program:   http://www.moodyradio.org/radioplayer.aspx?episode=75453. I am excited to announce that my latest book … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 11.09. - In Memorium (0) (Uncategorized)
    [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDIaVyXNR5Y&feature=related] For some the memory fades with time; the pain takes longer. The song “Closer to the Light,” originally written as a tribute to the late Mark Heard, is from Bruce Cockburn‘s Dart to the Heart. Like this:Like Loading...
  • 22.09. - Grace & Personality (3) (Christian Life, Uncategorized) (Christ, christian, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Martyn Lloyd Jones, Religion & Spirituality)
    Not long ago I had dinner with an old college friend named Dave. I reconnected with him last year through the magic of social media, but until the other night it had been 25 years since the two of us had talked face to face. Dave was just as I remembered him. Older, of course, but the same … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 17.11. - Barbie’s Bad Choices (0) (Uncategorized)
    Well, Barbie has gone and done it again. A recent news report revealed that the world’s most famous doll has opted for a makeover. Sporting pink hair, tattoos, leopard skin leggings, and a dog whose name has vulgar implications, this limited edition Barbie looks like she has been spending too much time hanging out on … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 22.11. - Encourage a Blogger (0) (Uncategorized)
    Chris Drombetta, one of the students in an online course I facilitate, is writing a series of blog posts on preaching. I know he would be greatly encouraged if some of you would visit his blog and add your comment to his posts. His blog address is http://chrisdrombetta.blogspot.com/. Like this:Like Loading...

2012 (7)

  • 16.02. - Book of the Year (0) (Uncategorized) (& Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching, Folly, grace, PreachingToday Book of the Year, PreachingToday.com)
    I am very pleased to announced that my latest book Folly, Grace & Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching was named book of the year by PreachingToday.com in the preacher’s soul category. Here is a link to find out more about this award. To celebrate this honor, Zondervan is giving away one copy of Folly, … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 05.03. - How Do You Preach Easter? (0) (Uncategorized)
    Already planning your Easter service? You may be interested in my post entitled “How Do You Preach Easter?” on the EngagingChurch blog. Like this:Like Loading...
  • 09.03. - First Person (0) (Uncategorized) (First Person, stranger, Stranger in the House of God, Wayne Shepherde)
    I was very pleased to be a guest on Wayne Shepherd’s First Person. Hope you will check out the interview. Wayne describes his program this way: “FIRST PERSON, a weekly, 24 minute radio program, was created out of a simple desire to pass along to you the “short stories” of people whom I bump into every week … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 18.10. - Imagine There’s a Heaven (1) (Uncategorized) (heaven, Religion, spirituality, theology)
    ewsweek’s cover story last week asked the question, “Is heaven real?” Inside, neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander describes the near-death experience that convinced him the answer must be yes. I could not help being interested in Dr. Alexander’s account. I’ve been thinking a lot about heaven lately—ever since the doctor told me I had prostate cancer. … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 14.12. - Advent Poem (0) (Uncategorized) (Advent, Christianity, Christmas, Christmas poetry)
    Mary went down to Bethlehem, bone weary and riding on a donkey. Great with Child, she did not feel like the queen of anything. While the constellations, wheeling in their courses like drunken sailors, shown a little above her. And all of us shuffling a long road longing to hear the morning stars shout for … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 21.12. - The Announcement to the Shepherds (2) (Uncategorized) (Advent, Advent poem, Advent poetry, Bethlehem, Christ, Christmas, Christmas poem, Christmas poetry, Jesu, poem, Sheep, Shepherd)
    We were taken by surprise when the light broke. Blinded and afraid we cowered and the poor sheep fled into the hollow. “Do not be afraid” the angel said. But we could not help it and we could not follow the flock that had forsaken us. So we just stood by in white light and … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 23.12. - The Myth That Became Reality (0) (Uncategorized) (C. S. Lewis, Christ, Christianity, Christmas, gospel, Jesu, Nativity, Religion, theology)
    Once upon a time there was a young girl who lived in a small village. She was poor but virtuous. One day, shortly before her marriage was to take place, she was startled by an unexpected visitor. “Do not be afraid,” the visitor said. “I have good news for you. You are going to have … Continue reading Blog Archive

2013 (13)

  • 15.03. - My Dream Jesus (1) (Uncategorized)
    I once had a friend who spoke with Jesus in her dreams. He showed up unexpectedly, like a friend who drops by on a whim. When I asked her what Jesus said to her on these occasions she just smiled and shook her head, as if that explained everything! “That’s my Jesus,” she exclaimed. I … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 18.03. - Ordinary Radicals (3) (Uncategorized)
    In his book on Christian ethics entitled Vision and Virtue, Stanley Hauerwas notes that modern Christians find the everyday morally uninteresting. “The Christian life is a constant struggle to wrestle the truth out of the everyday” Hauerwas writes. “Recent Christian ethics has concentrated its attention on the crisis situation or the ‘big event.’ The Christian life … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 25.03. - Why Humility is Hard to Find (5) (Uncategorized) (christian, Christianity, humility, Jesus)
    We all love stories where some great person stoops. The Mayor of a great city moves into the housing project for a month. The CEO of a billion dollar company works on the loading dock for a day. The NBA star joins a pick-up game in the neighborhood. The college president helps a freshman unload … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 13.04. - The Eighty Second Rule (6) (Uncategorized)
    I learned about the 80 second rule this week. Apparently the attention span of those viewing content online is less than a minute and a half. The person who told me this warned, “You only have 80 seconds to get your message across before they click through.” I suppose I should be encouraged by this. After … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 24.04. - Not So Loud! (1) (Uncategorized)
    During one of my classes today I noticed a student furiously typing away on her smart phone. I do mean furiously. She was silent (except for the tapping of her fingers). At first I wanted to believe that she was taking notes. But I’m not that interesting. I am certainly not interesting enough to inspire … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 25.04. - The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (2) (Uncategorized)
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  • 30.04. - Ghost (0) (Uncategorized)
    Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of my mother’s death. I turned twenty the year she passed. I will turn sixty this year and will have lived ten years longer than she did. I often think of the things she has missed in the intervening time. She never met my wife and never saw my children. She … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 03.05. - Does This Mean We Are Friends Now? (2) (Uncategorized)
    Well, J. C. Penney apologized to me this week. I was not expecting it. In fact, I wasn’t even aware that something had come between us. But there it was, on the television. J. C. Penney admitted that it was wrong. “It’s no secret,” the television ad said. “Recently J. C. Penney changed. Some changes … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 06.05. - Do We Have to Mention Jesus in Every Sermon? (8) (Uncategorized)
    Today a student asked me whether I thought it was necessary to mention Jesus in every sermon. Why would a Bible college student even ask such a question? Actually, there are several good reasons. One has to do with the nature of the Bible itself. Students are rightly taught to respect the human author’s intent in … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 10.05. - This is the Way the Semester Ends (6) (Uncategorized) (T.S. Eliot)
    I dreamed that I died last night. I dreamt that I was officiating a wedding and died in mid-sentence. I’ve heard it said that if you don’t wake up during such a dream you really will die. I am skeptical but I didn’t have an opportunity to test the theory. My wife Jane woke me before … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 22.05. - This Empire of Ruins (0) (Uncategorized) (Bible, God, Helmut Thielicke, Jesus, Lord's Prayer, Oklahoma City, sermon, Stuttgart)
    The images coming out of Oklahoma City are so painful to see that it is hard to say anything about them without somehow trivializing the tragedy. It seems better to hear from someone who has lived through a comparable experience. I was reminded of a passage from Helmut Thielicke’s series of sermons based on the Lord’s Prayer. … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 20.08. - Hard Work (3) (Uncategorized)
    I spent the morning listening to Dr. David Gill talk about the theology of the workplace. He is the Mockler-Phillips Professor of Workplace Theology and Business Ethics at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and Director of the Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Workplace. He has a wonderfully redemptive angle of vision and a winsome … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 22.08. - Now We Are Sixty (3) (Uncategorized)
    Winnie-the-Pooh was out walking in the forest one day, thinking about lunch. He would have gone on thinking about it, but it occurred to him that he had come to the path that led out of the forest. It was a very old path, overgrown and lined with hoary willows. Pooh had been there once … Continue reading Blog Archive

2014 (6)

  • 10.04. - Breaking Silence (0) (Uncategorized)
    Somewhere in my family history I learned to communicate by interrupting. It is rude, I know. I try to moderate but I am not always successful. To be honest, I should probably say that I am rarely successful. I try to wait for a lull in the conversation. But I cannot contain myself. The thoughts … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 15.04. - Easter and My Fear of Death (0) (death, Uncategorized) (Christ, death, Easter, fear, fear of death, Jesus, Jesus Chris)
      I am afraid of death. I know that I am not supposed to be. Hebrews 2:15 tells me that one of the reasons Jesus shared my humanity was so that He could “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:15). I believe that this is true … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 25.04. - Black Box (0) (Uncategorized)
    By now most of us are too familiar with what is euphemistically referred to as a “black box.” It is that piece of technology which searchers have relied upon to try and locate disappeared Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. In the long days that have followed the mysterious disappearance of this flight, our hope for survivors … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 01.05. - Shepherding the Suffering (1) (Pastoral Ministry, Uncategorized) (hospital, hospital visitation, pastor, Pastoral care, pastoral ministry)
    When I was a pastor I thought it was my job to make suffering people feel better. I was dismayed at how unsuccessful I was at it. I counseled the hurting and prayed for the dying, Yet people seemed no better when I left than they were when I arrived. Their condition had not significantly … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 22.12. - Still Wonderful (0) (Pastoral Ministry, Uncategorized) (Christ's Bith, Christmas, Holiday spirit, Nativity)
    A popular song calls Christmas the most “wonderful” time of the year. But some pastors might be tempted to use a different word to describe the season. Christmas is to churches what Black Friday is to retailers. It is the busiest time of the year, when attendance reaches its peak. Church’s Christmas services are viewed … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 27.12. - Now That Christmas is Gone (1) (Uncategorized) (Christmas, Holiday Blues, Holidays, New Year's Day, Post Christmas Blues)
    Now that Christmas has come and gone, I have a confession to make. I am happy to see its back. Christmas is one of those guests who look better from a distance than then they do close up. The holiday is resplendent in its approach, drawing near in garments that speak of transcendence. But upon … Continue reading Blog Archive

2016 (1)

  • 15.12. - Silent Night (1) (Christmas) (Advent, Christmas, Nativity)
    Now that Advent has arrived, I suppose it is time for my annual Christmas lament. I am reluctant to speak. I am afraid of adding another shrill note to the year’s collective shriek. Everybody, it seems to me, is up in arms. Every word is an affront. It is tempting to blame our national mood on the election, but I believe its roots go deeper. If the outcome of the election had been different, I do not think that the tone would have changed. It would only have meant that different voices would be singing the same parts. We are all outraged now.

2017 (5)

  • 12.04. - Believing is Seeing (Jesus, Uncategorized)
    I think that the experience of the disciples during the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry was a lot like ours. The week started with such promise. Yet almost immediately things begin to go South.
  • 20.04. - How to Create the Ideal Colleague (0) (Uncategorized) (Community, Hypocrisy, Idealism)
    The other day a group of us were asked to describe our ideal colleague. You wouldn’t have been surprised by the result. The person we came up with was winsome. Generous. Quick to forgive. Patient with everyone but not afraid to say the hard thing. In other words, perfect. It occurred to me when we … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 25.04. - Speaking of God (0) (Prayer, Uncategorized) (How to Address God in Prayer, Lord's Prayer, prayer)
    When I was a pastor some people addressed me as “pastor.” Others called me “Pastor John.” Some called me “Preacher” and a few referred to me as “Reverend.” If they asked what I preferred, I usually said, “My friends call me John.” But what about God? How should we address Him? Sir? Your Majesty? Some other title? He has several in Scripture. Jesus reveals the answer in the opening to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9: “This, then is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven….”
  • 28.11. - How Silently, How Silently (2) (Advent, Christmas, Uncategorized)
    Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, I feel that I can listen to Christmas Carols in good conscience. Though to be honest, I actually started somewhere around Halloween. Yesterday I was reflecting on the line from O Little Town of Bethlehem which goes: “How Silently, How Silently the wondrous gift is given….” In this lyric Philips Brooks is … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 12.12. - Bethlehem Night (0) (Advent, Christmas) (Advent, Bethlehem, Christmas, Shepherds)
    What makes this night different from all others? Our faces lit before the fire, we repeat the old stories and count the constellations. Or we sit in the habit of silence like someone long married. Until the angel appears with its stab of glory and we are sore afraid. We hear his shouted greeting at … Continue reading Blog Archive

2018 (54)

  • 22.05. - About Time (0) (Eternity, time, Uncategorized) (soul)
    I had a dream about my boys the other night. They really aren’t boys anymore. My two sons are young men in their late 20’s and early 30’s. But when I dream about them, they almost always appear as little boys. I, on the other hand, am ageless in my dreams. Not so much when I wake up.
  • 23.05. - This is What Forgiveness Feels Like (0) (Forgiveness, Grace, Uncategorized)
    few years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. Although it was a common form and treatable, I was shattered by the news. I felt betrayed, not so much by God, but by my own body. I lay awake nights thinking about the thing I had inside me and wishing that I could go back to … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 23.05. - Just As He Was (0) (Uncategorized) (Billy Graham, calling, success)
    I heard the news of Billy Graham’s passing, it brought to mind a story I heard about him several years ago. Billy came to a small Bible conference in Western Michigan and asked to speak at the evening service. The leaders of the Bible conference politely turned him down. But over the next few days, … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 23.05. - Mob Action (0) (Jesus, Uncategorized)
    wasn’t a parade, it was a procession. It was also a coronation of sorts. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem the multitude walked with Him, some going before and others following after. They cast their cloaks down upon the road before Him and cut branches from the trees to lay them down as well. They shouted … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 23.05. - What’s in a Name? (0) (Uncategorized)
     other day I saw a billboard for an area university that promised that its graduates would be “conquerors.” This was not the word I expected. It seems to me that another description might be more accurate. Competent comes to mind. Or perhaps capable. Or maybe even hirable, as long as it was combined with the additional … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 23.05. - The Seven Deadly Virtues (0) (Sin, Uncategorized, Virtue)
    the latter part of the Fourth Century, a monk named Evagrius Ponticus compiled a list of eight sins that people commonly commit. This wasn’t an exhaustive catalog of sinful behavior. The eight actions he singled out were meant to represent the main categories under which all other sins might fall. His list included gluttony, fornication, … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 23.05. - The Seven Deadly Virtues-Love (0) (Love, Seven Deadly Sins, Sin, Uncategorized, Virtue) (love, lust, seven deadly sins, sin)
    first of the seven deadly sins is lust. For most of us, this word is associated with sexual sin. But the Bible employs the term more broadly. In the New Testament, the Greek term that is translated lust is often one that simply means desire. In addition to illicit sexual desire, it can refer to … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 29.05. - The Seven Deadly Virtues-Satisfaction (0) (Seven Deadly Sins, Sin, Uncategorized)
    have been bothered by my weight most of my life. I was heavy as a child, a condition which my mother euphemistically described as “big boned.” I was so obsessed with the fear of being fat that even when I was thin, I did not think of myself as thin. I am no longer thin … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 05.06. - The Seven Deadly Virtues-Prosperity (0) (Seven Deadly Sins, Sin, Uncategorized) (Greed)
    while back I noticed a menu option on my retirement account’s website labeled “net worth.” When I clicked on it, the site invited me to upload information about my assets and liabilities. The result was a brightly colored graph which represented the sum total of all my worldly goods. I have looked at it many … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 08.06. - Stupid is as Stupid Does (0) (Forgiveness, Grace, Jesus, Remorse, Sin, Uncategorized) (regret, remorse, sin, stupid, stupidity)
    orest Gump’s momma said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Well, we all does stupid sometimes. I probably feel stupid more often than I deserve. But I deserve it often enough. Everybody has moments of stupid that haunt them, sometimes for the rest of their lives. A college friend once told me how he would lie … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 13.06. - The Seven Deadly Virtues-Leisure (0) (Seven Deadly Sins, Sin, Uncategorized) (acedia, capital sins, leisure, rest, seven deadly sins, sin, sins, sloth)
    y first job was short-term employment. I suppose you could say I was a day laborer. A neighbor hired me to weed her lawn. She provided me with a two-pronged weeding fork and promised to pay me five dollars when I was done. At the time it sounded like a fortune. I said yes eagerly, … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 17.06. - My Dad (2) (Uncategorized) (Dad, Father, Father's Day)
    y dad was a typical father of the 1950’s. When I was born, he sat in the waiting room and read magazines. There were no birthing rooms in hospitals in those days. He did not coach my mother or tell her to take short breaths to help with the pain. He participated in the blessed … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 20.06. - Secular Eating and Daily Bread (0) (Christian Life, Prayer) (anxiety, bread, daily bread, economy, prayer, Wendell Berry, work, worry)
    endell Berry has pointed out that most eaters these days are passive consumers. “They buy what they want–or what they have been persuaded to want–within the limits of what they can get” Berry explains. “They pay, mostly without protest, what they are charged.” It seems as though we can get almost anything but that does … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 22.06. - The Writing Life (0) (Uncategorized) (Annie Dillard, writing)
    y childhood vision of the writer’s life was shaped by black and white movies of the 1940’s. The writer is something of a rogue and adventurer. He doesn’t really work except when he writes. When he does write, it is in a burst of creative inspiration or is sparked by prophetic outrage. It is all … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 28.06. - The Seven Deadly Virtues-Justice (2) (Uncategorized)
    popular saying goes, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” These words are commonly attributed to St. Augustine but no one seems to know where or even whether he actually expressed such … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 11.07. - The Day After the Funeral (3) (death, Uncategorized) (death, eternal life, funeral, heaven)
    he day after the funeral dawns fresh, like the first day after creation. Black crows taunt one another and dart in and out in a game of tag. A breeze casts about, tumbling the bees and making the flowers turn their heads. In the distance, a mourning dove on a wire calls out to me, … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 16.07. - The Geography of Somewhere (2) (Culture, Uncategorized) (culture, home, MI, neighborhood, Roseville, suburbia)
    he landscape of my childhood was a subdivision in Roseville, Michigan. My parents moved there from their apartment in Detroit in the 1950’s. Roseville was the kind of suburban space that sociologists would later contemptuously describe as “the geography of nowhere.” For them, suburbia’s monotonous uniformity and non-descript architecture epitomize the cultural decline of the … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 19.07. - Saved by Science Fiction (0) (Culture, Uncategorized) (Heinlein, Junior High, Robert Heinlein, Science Fiction)
    started reading science fiction in Junior High School. It was a matter of survival. My Junior High School career began inauspiciously with a punch in the gut. I was standing outside the door to the gym and feeling awkward on the first day of class when a giant walked up and punched me in the … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 23.07. - The Unexamined Life (1) (Uncategorized) (denial, Plato, se, self, self-examination)
    friend once told me that whenever you look in the mirror, you automatically deduct ten pounds. I believe her. I think we add hair too. I watched a video of myself a couple of years ago and wondered why the camera lighting made me look so bald on the top of my head. When I … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 26.07. - Baptists Gone Wild (2) (Baptists, Culture, The Church) (baptists, Christian films, Christian movies, film, movies)
    he first Christian movie I ever saw was called A Stranger in My Forest. I don’t know when it was made but I watched it in the 1970’s. I was attending a Baptist church that wouldn’t let its members go to the movies. But films like this one, along with Moody Science Films, were considered … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 31.07. - Strive for Mediocrity (5) (Culture, pride, Uncategorized) (Avis, humility, mediocrity, pride)
    t the school where I teach I have a colleague who likes to tell us that we are the best at what we do. It gets on my nerves. I think we’re pretty good. Maybe we are the best. Yet I can’t help feeling that there is something unseemly about saying such a thing out … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 02.08. - The True Prosperity Gospel (1) (Prosperity Gospel, Uncategorized) (giving, gospel, prosperity, prosperity gospel, tithe)
    ccording to a recent survey by Lifeway Research, about a third of Protestant churchgoers believe that God will bless them if they put money in the offering plate. Two-thirds say that God wants them to prosper. One out of four believes that they have to do something for God in order to receive a material … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 06.08. - The Last Whole Earth Catalog (2) (Culture, Uncategorized) (church, Community, counter-culture, Whole Earth Catalog)
    ometime in the early 1970’s, I stumbled across the Whole Earth Catalog. It was expensive. It cost five dollars, a lot of money for someone in my income bracket in those days. The edition I purchased said that it was the Last Whole Earth Catalog, which made me wonder what had happened to the others … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 09.08. - Denial is not a River in Egypt (11) (The Church, Uncategorized) (denial, Willow Creek, Willow Creek Community Church)
    he lead pastors of Willow Creek Community Church have resigned. So have the church’s elders, after admitting that they made mistakes in their handling of allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against Bill Hybels, the megachurch’s former leader. But if there is anything unusual in this tragic saga, it is only the prominence of those involved and … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 14.08. - The Trouble with the 80/20 Rule (1) (Leadership, Ministry, The Church, Uncategorized) (congregational involvement, involvement, leadership, ministry, service)
    ou know the 80/20 rule. You probably heard about it from your pastor. The 80/20 rule is the statistic which says that in the average church 20% of the people do 80% of the ministry. There is a problem with the 80/20 rule and it’s not the uneven distribution of labor. Before I go any … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 17.08. - Leadership by Path or Road? (0) (Congregational Culture, Leadership, Uncategorized) (congregational culture, leadership, leadership style, Wendell Berry)
    n his essay entitled “A Native Hill,” Wendell Berry writes about the difference between a path and a road. “A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual familiarity” he explains. Paths are an adaption to the landscape. Instead of going through the … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 21.08. - Real Authentic (0) (Culture, Language, Uncategorized) (authentic, authenticity, genuine, genuineness, real, sincere, sincerity)
    hen I ask my students what matters most to them in worship, they don’t have to think long before they answer. “Authenticity,” they say immediately. “Worship must be authentic.” However, when I ask what they mean by authentic, it’s another story. Apparently, authenticity is one of those things that is hard to define but easy … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 23.08. - Same Story, Different Players (0) (Grace, Uncategorized) (Bible, Bible Narratives, failure, grace, mistakes, Narratives, Old Testament, salvation)
    hen it comes to the Bible, does it ever feel like you are reading the same story over and over again? In his book The Art of Biblical Narrative, author Robert Alter observes that one of the most common features of the narratives in the Old Testament is their use of repetition. He sees this … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 28.08. - Hope, Agony, & Prayer (0) (Prayer, Uncategorized) (answers to prayer, faith, hope, prayer, unanswered prayer)
    here is a homeless man I often see on my walk to the train. All knees and elbows as he sits on the curb, he looks as if his bony form has folded in on itself in total collapse. He holds a cup in his hand, which he lifts high above his head as I approach. … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 04.09. - Anti-Hero Worship (0) (Culture, Leadership, Uncategorized)
    verybody needs a hero. When I was a small boy, Superman was mine. I dashed around the house with a towel tied around my neck and my arms stretched out in a vain attempt to fly. When I realized that I couldn’t leave the ground, I asked my dad to teach me how. He told … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 11.09. - Shadow of a Doubt (0) (Doubt, Faith, Jesus, Uncategorized) (doubt, faith, Jesus)
    had a friend in college who said that Jesus appeared to her in her dreams. The two had long and meaningful conversations. I was terribly jealous. I wondered why Jesus didn’t appear to me too. Then one night I had a dream about Jesus. He sat at the end of my bed and spoke to … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 17.09. - The Personality of Jesus (6) (Jesus) (Christ, emotional life of Christ, humanity of Christ, Jesus, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, personality of Christ)
    former student of mine once complained about what he called “the language of unsustainable intimacy” that the church often uses when it speaks of our relationship with Christ. “I hear it most often from youth group leaders who tell students to ‘date’ Jesus for a year,” he said. At the time I had been reading … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 20.09. - Signs & Wonders (5) (Jesus Freaks, Jesus Movement, Music, Uncategorized) (Bob Dylan, Christian Music, Christian Rock, Father of Night, Fisherman's Net, Frank Majewski, Jesus Movement, Kelefa Sanneh, Larry Norman, New Morning)
    elefa Sanneh’s New Yorker article about Larry Norman and the rise and fall of Christian rock music reminded me how much music played a role in my early Christian experience. But it didn’t start with Christian rock and it didn’t really start with Christianity. It started with the radio. I was working the midnight shift … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 25.09. - What Not to Say on Your Next Job Interview (2) (Eternity, Future, Uncategorized) (Eternity, Future, interview tips, Interviews, Job Interviews, Vocation)
    while back I got a call from someone who was starting an alternative school. They thought I might be a good candidate for their faculty. I thought it couldn’t hurt to hear their pitch but it turned out that they were expecting the pitch to come from me. Details about the project were a little … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 04.10. - Added Value (2) (church, The Church, Uncategorized) (church, church membership, people, the body of Christ)
    he leaders of a church I know were discussing the membership roll. It is the sort of thing that congregations have to do every once in a while. People move away or they decide to attend somewhere else. If the constitution calls for a certain number to be in attendance in order to hold a business … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 09.10. - Empty is Enough (0) (Beatitudes, Gospel, Grace, Jesus, Uncategorized) (beatitudes, grace, poor in spirit)
    have reached the age where a large percentage of the articles that show up on my social media feed offer suggestions about retirement. They appeal to a combination of greed and fear. Apparently, your retirement savings need to be at least a million (if not more). Social security won’t be enough to cover your expenses. … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 12.10. - Performance Review (1) (Beatitudes, Sin, Uncategorized) (Blessed are those who Mourn, Repentance, Sermon on the Mount, sin)
    nybody who has a job is familiar with that yearly ritual known as the performance review. Performance reviews are a common occupational liturgy. Like worship, they usually begin with praise. Your boss tells you the things you do well. But we all know what comes next. The real point of the meeting is the short … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 15.10. - Godspeed, Eugene Peterson (6) (Eugene Peterson, Uncategorized) (Eugene Peterson, ministry, Under the Unpredictable Plant)
    oday I read that Eugene Peterson has entered hospice care. Peterson may be the most influential person in my life that I’ve never actually met. Not only have his ideas about the nature of pastoral ministry profoundly reoriented my thinking, his books have introduced me to some of my favorite writers and thinkers, people like … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 18.10. - The Man Christ Jesus (4) (Beatitudes, Christian Life, Uncategorized) (Blessed are the Meek, Jesus Christ, Meekness, Muscular Christianity, Promise Keepers)
    few years ago, it was popular to emphasize the masculinity of Jesus. This was not just an assertion of his humanity but something more. It was an attempt to attract men to the Christian faith by showing that Jesus was a man’s man. This vision portrayed a well-muscled Jesus who worked as a laborer, slept … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 23.10. - A Hunger for Justice (2) (Beatitudes, Justice, Righteousness, Uncategorized) (beatitudes, Daredevil, hunger and thirst for righteousness, Justice, Righteousness)
    have a confession. I have been binge-watching the first season of the Netflix series Daredevil. I know, I know. I am supposed to be doing something more constructive with my spare time. Perhaps reading great literature. Or maybe writing great literature. Instead, I am hunkered down in my chair in front of the television. Don’t judge … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 30.10. - The Quality of Mercy (3) (Beatitudes, Grace, Mercy, Uncategorized) (beatitudes, blessed are the merciful, grace, mercy)
    ot long after I started driving I had to go to court over an automobile accident. It wasn’t a big one, just a fender bender really. But it was my fault. I hit a patch of ice and slid into an oncoming vehicle. There were no injuries and the damage to both cars was repairable. … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 06.11. - Election Day (1) (Uncategorized) (contentment, election, elections, happiness, satisfaction)
    only ran for office once. It was during my junior year of High School. I ran for vice-president of the senior class. To be honest, I wasn’t as interested in the office nearly as much as I was in a girl who was running for one of the other posts on the ticket. So when … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 08.11. - Extraordinarily Ordinary (6) (Christian Life, Uncategorized, Will of God) (@wendellberry, @WendellDaily, Christian life, martyrdom, ordinary, ordinary life, Wendell Berry)
    hen my friend Ray was diagnosed with cancer, he started reading obituaries. He found comfort in the newspaper’s daily litany of the departed. Somehow it made him feel less alone. Like a pilgrim who is traveling in company, instead of someone who stumbles along a difficult path by himself. It was the ordinariness of the … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 13.11. - Clean (1) (Beatitudes, Gospel, Grace, Righteousness, Uncategorized) (blessed are the pure in heart, pure, pure in heart. beatitudes, purity)
    ccording to family legend, my great grandfather was the first one to drive the twenty-mule team out of Death Valley loaded with borax. I have no idea whether this is actually true or not. Like most family legends, I suspect that it is a work of fiction. But I liked to recount this story to … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 27.11. - Once Upon a Time (5) (Advent, Christmas, Uncategorized) (Advent, C. S. Lewis, Chrismtas, Myth, Nativity)
    Last Christmas Eve I attended church. It was the sort of church one often sees these days: chairs where there used to be pews, a worship band instead of a choir, skinny jeans rather than vestments, and exposed ductwork in the place of vaulted ceilings and stained glass. In other words, it was your garden-variety … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 29.11. - The Trajectory of Worship (3) (Uncategorized)
    The first time I can remember singing from a hymnal was in 1972. It was the year between high-school graduation and college, the year I got my first full-time job. That year my mother’s health began to fail, and my world shifted on its axis as I started to follow Jesus. That was the year … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 02.12. - Antiphony: The Song of Zechariah and Elizabeth (1) (Advent, Christmas, Uncategorized) (Advent, Angels, Christmas, John the Baptist)
    Zechariah was an old man when the angel appeared to him. His priestly career was mostly behind him as was the hope of fatherhood. In fact, Zechariah was long past hoping. He was trying to understand the reasons why. He and his wife Elizabeth had tried to have children for many years. They had prayed too.  … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 06.12. - Should We Observe Advent? (2) (Advent, Christmas, Uncategorized) (Advent, C. S. Lewis, Christmas)
    This is the first week of Advent, according to some Christian traditions. It is the season of beginnings as far as the church calendar goes. The church year starts here with its rolling cycle of readings, days, fasts and feasts. Most of us approach the church calendar the same way we do our cable service. … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 09.12. - Angels We Have Heard (0) (Advent, Christmas, Uncategorized) (Advent, Angels, Christmas, Mary, The Annunciation)
    When I was a boy I thought I heard angels sing. I was in my bedroom at the time and the sound seemed to come from a distance. I was perplexed by what I heard. When I opened the bedroom window the music grew louder. I thought I could see a heavenly glow beyond the … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 13.12. - My Dickensian Christmas (0) (Advent, Christmas, Uncategorized) (A Christmas Carol, Christmas, Dickens, The Ghost of Christmas Future, The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present)
    It’s that time of year again when we garnish unreasonable expectations with holly in the hope that they will become a reality. Christmas is that magical season when we expect lifelong circumstances to change overnight and all our ancient animosities to disappear. And why shouldn’t we? Why shouldn’t we believe that the uncle, who for the … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 16.12. - The Dogs of Heaven (6) (death, Doubt, Heaven, Uncategorized) (death, Do dogs go to heaven?, dogs, doubt, heaven)
    My little dog died last week. Her name was Gidget. The end was sudden. That is to say, it was unexpected by me. Looking back I can see that my pup’s health had been in decline for a few weeks, perhaps even for months, but I was unable to recognize the signs. We took her … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 19.12. - Joseph’s Dream (2) (Advent, Christmas, Jesus, Uncategorized) (Christmas, Joseph, Joseph and Mary, Mary, Nativity)
    Joseph was awake, just as he had been every night since Mary told him the news. He shook his head at the recollection, just as he had every time he thought about it. Mary was pregnant. He thought he knew her. He was sure he knew her. How could he have been so wrong? Joseph … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 24.12. - While Shepherds Watched their Flocks (2) (Advent, Christmas, Uncategorized) (Advent, Announcement to the Shepherds, Annunciation, Christmas, Christmas Shepherds, Christmas Story)
    Two shepherds were seated before a small fire. They alternated between making small talk and sitting in silence, like those who are long acquainted. There beyond the glowing rim of the firelight, the flock was huddled in congregation. The men too were huddled against the chill of night, wearing wool and leaning into the flames. … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 25.12. - The Birth of Jesus – Gospel of Luke Ch. 1-2 (0) (Uncategorized)
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2019 (29)

  • 04.01. - Keeping it Real (6) (Uncategorized) (New Year's Day, optimism, pessimism, Retirement)
    Of all the holidays, I have always found the celebration of the New Year to have the least appeal. Maybe this is because of its proximity to Christmas. The New Year’s holiday seems drab to me. It does not offer much. Oh, there is always a football game or two. There are chips and dip … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 11.01. - Writing and Rejection (7) (Uncategorized, Writing) (authors, rejection, writing)
    I was going through some things the other day and came across what we used to call a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). It’s something we writers used to include when we sent out our manuscripts in the days before email. First, you sent a query letter outlining your article (with a SASE enclosed). After a … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 24.01. - Self-Absorbed (4) (Sin, Uncategorized) (narcissism, narcissistic leadership, narcissists, self-centeredness, sin)
    I sometimes worry that blogging is narcissistic. After all, what could be more self-absorbed than expecting people to read your thoughts as you think about yourself? Well, perhaps video blogging, which expects people to watch you as you talk out loud about yourself. There are some people who engage in this sort of listening and … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 29.01. - Why Do Churches Put Up with Narcissistic Leaders? (6) (Leadership, Ministry, Pastoral Ministry, pride, Uncategorized) (dysfunctional leadership, leadership style, narcissistic leadership, narcissists, pride)
    Another high profile pastor has been accused of abusive leadership. The story is so familiar to us by now that it has become monotonous. We are sorry, but we are not surprised. What can you do if you believe your church has a culture of narcissistic leadership?
  • 03.02. - Do Dogs go to Heaven? (2) (death, Eternity, Heaven, Uncategorized)
    Each time I have watched a pet die, the experience has prompted me to ask questions about death, eternity, and God’s goodness. How can I love something so much and suddenly find that it no longer exists? My theological sophistication evaporates along with my detachment. I am shaken to the core. I ask the question … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 05.02. - Stuff Christians Hate (3) (Christian Life, Uncategorized) (Christian Liberty, Christians, culture, doctrine, theology)
    The other day I was thinking about the stuff Christians hate. In particular, I was thinking about the people Christians like to hate. Well, maybe hate is too strong. Let’s say, the people that Christians like to dislike. Or maybe, the people that Christians like to deplore. I was reviewing an article for a conservative publication which included a quote from a noted theologian whose views have sparked controversy in the past. I wondered if I should mention it to the editor. There was nothing wrong with the quote. But you know how these things go. Sometimes the mere mention of a name is enough to spark outrage among Christians. It’s not what is said that prompts the reaction. It’s the person who said it.
  • 14.02. - Praying to a Silent God (5) (Christian Life, Prayer, Uncategorized) (God's silence, prayer, silence)
    The house I grew up in had one phone. It hung on the kitchen wall and had a long cord that stretched to the end of the hall. It was barely long enough to reach my bedroom. If I really wanted to talk in private, I had to walk to the nearest payphone. This was … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 21.02. - Direction (0) (Christian Life, Uncategorized, Will of God) (advice, divine direction, finding God's will, God's will)
    The other day a woman stopped me on the street and asked for directions. Not wanting to be rude, I did my best to guide her and then went on my way. But after walking two blocks, I could tell I’d given her bad advice. I realized too late that she was trying to find the intersection of two streets that run parallel to each other. I’d pointed her in a direction that would never lead her to her desired destination. For some reason, it never occurred to me to check the map on my phone.
  • 25.02. - Ugly Duckling Theology (2) (church, Leadership, Pastoral Ministry, Uncategorized) (church size, Churches, Pastoral Leadership, pastoral ministry, pastors, small churches)
    I was looking at the results of a survey of pastors the other day and noticed a trend. Pastors of small churches are more likely to be less energized by their ministry than those who serve large churches. They are also more inclined to question their calling. The message seems to be twofold. First, large churches are more fun than small churches. Second, those who serve small congregations feel like they have missed the mark.
  • 03.03. - Life After Death by Meeting (4) (Leadership, Ministry, Uncategorized) (Committees, Meetings)
    I have spent a significant portion of my thirty-four years in ministry attending meetings. Sometimes I was in charge of the meeting. At other times, I was a reluctant participant, required to attend by the nature of my work. These experiences prompted me to try and understand the way groups and organizations work. Over the years I have come to few conclusions.
  • 11.03. - Get Out of Your Discomfort Zone (7) (Discipleship, Rest, Uncategorized) (comfort zone, cross, discipleship, get out of your comfort zone, rest, The Radical Pursuit of Rest)
    The other day a friend asked me, “What are you doing to challenge yourself?” “Nothing,” I replied. “I don’t believe in it.” He thought I was joking. If I was joking, it was only a little. I don’t believe in the theology which says that God’s chief aim for us is to move us out of our comfort zone. I think His purpose for us lies in the opposite direction.
  • 20.03. - Bread & Circuses (6) (Pastoral Ministry, Preaching, Uncategorized) (Harvest Bible Chapel, James MacDonald, pastoral ministry, pastors, shephderding)
    The recent implosion of James MacDonald’s ministry is a sobering reminder of how easily beguiled the church is by a pretty voice. Not only is the unfolding debacle painful to watch, it also ought to send a chill of fear down the spine of pastors and church leaders. MacDonald was no heretic. He was and is a biblical conservative. His failure, if the reports are true, was one of leadership character. I am not saying this as a mitigating factor. The pastoral epistles are clear that character and leadership style are as important in determining whether someone is fit to lead as doctrine.
  • 28.03. - Oh, Hell. (2) (Hell, Justice, Sin, Uncategorized) (Christ, cross, Hell, judgement, salvation)
    In the early days of my walk with Jesus, I did not believe in Hell. Or at least, I did not want to acknowledge the reality of Hell. I had heard about Hell and even prayed a prayer to Jesus to be saved from Hell as a child. But by the time I began to live seriously for Christ in my early 20’s, I had pushed that aspect of the gospel to the margins of my thinking. I was more interested in knowing whether God existed. I was attracted to Jesus because of the message of God’s love. I came to Him for the relationship.
  • 22.04. - Practicing the Present (1) (Uncategorized) (Christian life, Mindfulness, Practicing the Present, Spiritual Life)
    I am a sucker for books and movies about time travel. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, the DeLorean in Back to the Future, and any Star Trek episode in which the crew of the starship Enterprise travels back to the twentieth century—I love them all. But over the years, I’ve learned a few … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 02.05. - Practicing the Present: The Courage of the Ordinary (2) (Uncategorized) (ambition, Mindfulness, Practicing the Present)
    When my friend Ray was diagnosed with cancer, he started reading obituaries. He found comfort in the newspaper’s daily litany of the departed. Somehow it made him feel less alone. Like a pilgrim who is traveling in company, instead of someone who stumbles along a difficult path by himself. It was the ordinariness of the … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 09.05. - Practicing the Present: Race Among the Ruins (2) (Uncategorized) (Circumstances, Mindfulness, Practicing the Present, trials)
    When I was a pastor, I found that the hardest part of visiting church members at the hospital was leaving them in the same condition I found them in when I entered the room. It seemed to me that my visits should make a difference. If they did not, what good were they? On each occasion I read Scripture, spoke words of comfort, and prayed. Yet when I was done people seemed no better off. t’s one thing to talk about practicing the present when life is ordinary. But sometimes the circumstances that visit us arrive for the long term with no sign of leaving. They don’t come for a short stay. They move in and become part of the family.
  • 11.05. - Leaving Home (2) (Uncategorized) (home, location, place, rootlessness)
    We put our house up for sale a few weeks ago. It sold quickly, but it unnerved me to have strangers peering into our closets and judging us for even a few days. As anyone who has purchased a home can tell you, the experience is just as awkward for the buyers. Perhaps even more awkward. Buying a house is like getting engaged after a round of speed dating. You spend a few minutes with the object of your desire frantically trying to gauge what its bones really look like under all that makeup. Then with fingers crossed you commit your life and fortune to it.
  • 25.05. - Practicing the Present: The Art of Being Self-Conscious (2) (Uncategorized) (anxiety, Future, Mindfulness, Planning, Practicing the Presence of God, Practicing the Present)
    Practicing the present doesn’t mean that we live our lives with a kind of animal immediacy, thinking only of what we need or desire in the moment. It is not reactive living that responds to whatever stimulus I happen to be experiencing in the moment without reflection. Christian living in the present tense demands a kind of self-consciousness that is guided by the Holy Spirit and filtered by the truth of God’s Word. It is a reflection of our capacity to act as a volitional being created in the image of God.
  • 04.06. - Monotone Worship (7) (church, Uncategorized, Worship) (culture, music, worship, worship wars)
    The worship wars are over. In church after church that I visit, we all seem to be singing the same handful of songs. To me they seem more like chants and shouted slogans than than anything else. Melodically uninteresting and lyrically unimaginative, the music we are singing in the church these days isn’t composed, it is compiled. It feels more like the work of a committee than it does the creation of an artist. That’s because the songs we sing are often the result of a production process that might best be described as creation by committee. If you doubt this, count the number of names listed at the end when the song’s credit appears.
  • 13.06. - God’s Emotional Life (0) (Uncategorized) (Divine Attributes, Emotion, Emotions, God, Impassibility)
    That God does have feelings is the inevitable conclusion for anyone who takes divine self-revelation seriously. The Bible often speaks of God’s emotions. It does so in such human terms that we are sometimes disturbed by the thought. This is especially true of the three primary emotions which the Bible seems to mention in connection with God: love, anger, and jealousy. The problem is not that we can’t relate to such references but the opposite. We are all too familiar with these kinds of feelings and believe that God should rise above them.
  • 29.06. - Fame is a Fickle Food (4) (pride, Uncategorized, Writing) (blogging, Fame, humility, ordinary, ordinary life, writing)
    The other day I heard a guest on NPR describe blogging as old technology. Weblogs were what people used to do in the days before social media. He was a young, hip entrepreneur. His company sells T-shirts, or as he called it “gear,” so I suppose he would know. I was startled to find this … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 11.07. - God, Be Merciful to Me (0) (Grace, Sin, Uncategorized) (God be merciful to me, grace, Jesus prayer, mercy, sin)
    I am a sinner. I don’t deny it. But most of the time I don’t think much about it either. I don’t seem to obsess about sin the way the ancients used to, at least not about my own sins. I don’t punish myself or go to extreme measures to fight sin off. Most of the time, my sin feels more like a low-grade fever more than it does a raging fire. Its presence is an ongoing irritation that may hinder me from being my best, but it doesn’t keep me from functioning. Sin doesn’t bother me that much either. If anything, the fact that I am a sinner serves as a kind of escape clause when things go badly. “What did you think would happen?” I want to say. “I am a fallen person living in a fallen world. Of course, I went off the rails.”
  • 19.07. - Used Books, Annie Dillard, and the Vanity of Life (5) (Uncategorized, Writing) (Annie Dillard, books, Ecclesiastes, used books, vanity, writing)
    Each year at this time, our town holds a used book sale at the local library. Like Jesus’ sojourn in the grave, it usually lasts for three days. Hardcover books sell for two dollars, softcover books are a dollar, and paperbacks are fifty-cents. On the third day, the books aren’t resurrected. They are left on … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 19.08. - When Faith Fails (4) (Faith, Gospel, Uncategorized) (apostasy, doubt, faith, Joshua Harris)
    Dale and Nancy had just started dating when someone who claimed to be speaking on God’s behalf told them that their relationship would “flow like a river.” They took it as a sign and got married. It didn’t take long for things to unravel. Dale was controlling and abusive. He went back to some of the habits of his pre-Christian days. Drugs, pornography, and threats of violence turned the beautiful promise they had heard into a nightmare. If you had asked Dale and Nancy why they married so quickly, I’m pretty sure they would have said that it was a simple act of faith. They believed they were supposed to be together.
  • 03.09. - Help My Unbelief (3) (Christian Life, Doubt, Faith, Prayer, Uncategorized) (answers to prayer, belief, doubt, faith, prayer)
    The first believers I knew talked a lot about faith. As far as I could tell from what they said, faith was a variable commodity. Some had more and others less. The difference mattered since the results one might expect from God depended upon the amount of faith one was able to muster. Perhaps that’s why we spent so much of our time declaring our faith. When it came to prayer, it seemed that quantity was associated with volume. The more faith we wanted to prove that we had, the louder we prayed. I am not sure who we were trying to reassure more. Was it for God’s benefit or ours? It did not seem to make a difference either way. I felt no more certain no matter what the volume, while God did not seem to give my loud prayers any more attention than my soft.
  • 25.09. - Faith, Anxiety, and Sloth (0) (Anxiety, Doubt, Faith, Fear, Sloth, Uncategorized)
    A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a form of cancer and was treated. The treatment was successful, but I found it hard to enjoy that success because I was afraid my cancer would return. Once a year I am required to take a blood test to make sure that my condition hasn’t changed. … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 29.10. - The Christian Art of Incivil Discourse (2) (church, Culture, Doctrine, Uncategorized) (Beth Moore, differences in doctrine, doctrinal disputes, doctrine, Go Home, John MacArthur)
    For those who already agree with his views, MacArthur’s remark was simply a tersely stated biblical correction. For those who disagreed, it was a case of mean spirited bullying and prejudice. What was really at issue for them was not whether he should have used a different tone, but whether he had the right to hold his convictions at all.
  • 17.11. - The Things We Take for Granted (6) (Gratefulness, Gratitude, Thankfulness, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized) (Gilbert Meilaender, Gratefulness, Gratitude, Thankfulness, Thanksgiving)
    What are we to make of the losses that suddenly and painfully make us aware of the things we take for granted? Are they a kind of punishment? This is how we often view them. We worry that God has taken these things from us out of spite. Maybe if we had been more aware, if we hadn’t taken them for granted, they would still be with us. We should know better, of course. God is not spiteful. But I do think that God sometimes uses loss to bring past goodness into sharp relief and to provoke us to gratefulness.
  • 17.12. - The Ghosts of Christmas Past (2) (Advent, Christmas, Uncategorized) (A Christmas Carol, Birth of Jesus, Christmas, Dickens, Nativity, The Ghost of Christmas Past)
    Many of us are haunted, especially at this time of year. Not by literal ghosts but by memories. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, who was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, we are visited by the flickering memories of Christmases that are now gone.

2020 (26)

  • 01.01. - Practicing the Present in the New Year (2) (New Year, Practicing the Present, Uncategorized) (New Year's Day, Practicing the Presence of God, Practicing the Present)
    Of all the holidays in the year, I must confess that New Year’s Day has always had the least appeal for me. It is not a bad holiday. New Year’s Day just suffers from comparison with its more glamorous sibling Christmas, which comes robed in red velvet and laden with gifts. When the New Year arrives, for a few moments, at least, we feel as if time has granted us a “do-over.” Like the new calendar, all the days seem to lie before us with nothing written on them. As the clock strikes midnight, it is easy to convince ourselves that our life is a blank page upon which we might write anything we please. But when daylight comes, we will quickly discover that this isn’t exactly the case. The old year follows us into the new whether we like it or not.
  • 14.01. - Stop Shouting: A Few Quiet Thoughts About Writing & Publishing (8) (Uncategorized, Writing) (art, josef Pieper, publishing, writing)
    Publishing has never been easier. Just pay a few dollars and press a few keys, and before you know it, you have a website. With a click of the mouse, you can push your most reluctant thoughts out onto the stage for all to see. Eventually, you realize how crowded that stage actually is. You thought it would be enough just to put your thoughts out there. Now you find that you also have to get someone’s attention. You must say or do something to stand out from the rest.
  • 25.01. - Clay Feet (3) (Disappointment, Forgiveness, Heroes, Uncategorized) (disappointment, forgiveness, heroes, leadership, Mark Twain, Wendell Berry)
    When I was a student in college, a Christian writer and speaker that I admired visited our campus on a lecture tour. A young believer at the time, I had been greatly influenced by one of her books. She was the kind of person I aspired to be. A writer, speaker, and a serious Christian. … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 11.02. - Ill at Ease in Zion: Why You Don’t Fit in at Church (6) (Christian Life, church, Congregational Culture, Culture, Jesus Freaks, Jesus Movement, Uncategorized) (belonging, Christian identity, church, church life, church membership)
    The first major challenge I faced after I became a serious follower of Jesus in the 1970s was that of telling my friends and family that I had “decided to become a Jesus freak.” The second was the decision to start attending church. That was almost 50 years ago. I am still going to church, but there are times when I am still ill at ease. I don’t always feel like I fit in. When I feel out of place in the church, I’ve noticed that it is usually the result of one of three factors: treatment, style, or identity.
  • 28.02. - Prayer and the Character of God (0) (Prayer, Uncategorized) (answers to prayer, difficulties with prayer, Divine Attributes, divine immutability, divine impassibility, prayer)
    There are some people who are skilled at prayer. I am not one of them. R. C. Trench, the 19th-century Anglican bishop, once described prayer as “the simplest act in all religion.” I am inclined to agree with him. Until I start to pray. Then, a kind of uncertainty overtakes me. I do not feel confident. It’s not that I doubt whether God can grant my requests. I question whether He will. I often feel as if I must somehow win God over to my side of things. When I first learned to pray, I thought the goal was to persuade God. But how does one do that? I believed it had to do with the manner of my approach. I thought that before God would answer my prayer, I had to show Him that I was sincere enough or convince Him of the merits of my case. When that didn’t seem to work, I wondered if prayer was more like a contractual dispute, and I had failed to grasp the terms. Prayer became a negotiation. I made requests, sometimes even demands, and then offered promises to God in return for the thing I wanted. That didn’t seem to work either. Then someone told me that prayer was simply a conversation with God. This view was more appealing to me. But I quickly discovered that I am not much of a conversationalist, and neither is God. It was hard enough for me to make small talk with ordinary people, let alone with the Creator of the Universe. I was awkward and easily distracted. I mumbled through my requests, like someone reading a grocery list. If I bored myself, how must God feel? And as for God, His response to my holy chatter, at least as far as I could tell, was mostly silence. Prayer may indeed be simple, but that does not make it is easy.
  • 28.03. - Love and Fear in the Year of the Plague (7) (Crisis, death, Fear, Uncategorized) (Coronavirus, COVID-19, fear, fear of death, illness, plague, sickness)
    A popular meme I see on Facebook asserts that times of crisis reveal one's true character. Posts like this are supposed to appeal to the better angels of our nature. Unfortunately, they have the opposite effect on me. It is not my better self that answers but the irritated version. But the problem The problem really isn’t with the people who post such things. It is just that I am nervous and sad. A few reflections on our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and why it is not a cliche to say that those who go through such things must look to Jesus.
  • 08.04. - Holy Week’s Trajectory of Hope (0) (Easter, Easter, Hope, Uncategorized) (Coronavirus, COVID-19, Easter, fear, Holy Week, hope)
    In the Scriptures, the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday is a day of silence. The Bible does not really say where the disciples were or what they were doing on that day. When Jesus appeared to them on Sunday evening, He found them behind locked doors and afraid (John 20:19). This description resonates, especially now that the spread of COVID-19 has disrupted the church’s normal rhythm of Holy Week observances. We too are huddled together in our homes. For many fear ear grows along with the body count.
  • 18.04. - Preaching in a Crisis (6) (Gospel, Preaching, Uncategorized) (church, COVID-19, gospel, Preaching)
    A former student of mine recently asked me how I thought the coronavirus was affecting pastoral ministry and preaching in particular. How do you preach in an environment like this? The simple answer is that you do the best you can, given the circumstances. Preaching is challenging enough under ordinary conditions. The nature of the current crisis has completely upended our normal patterns of meeting and communicating. Preachers are speaking to empty seats and recording their messages for broadcast over social media. As one popular meme observes, we are televangelists now.
  • 30.04. - Nativity Poem (10) (Advent, Christmas, Uncategorized) (Birth of Jesus, Nativity)
    Do not be afraid the angel said in such commanding tone that we almost believed he could put to flight our fears with a Word. And all we like sheep each one scattering in his own direction with the sheep themselves skipping and bleating like waves dancing on the water. We were sore afraid but … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 04.06. - The Trouble With Normal (5) (Culture, Sin, Uncategorized) (C. S. Lewis, Cornelius Plantinga Jr., George Floyd, Guilt, Racism, sin)
    Ever since it happened, I have been trying to decide whether I should say anything about the tragic death of George Floyd. In part, this is because I don’t know what to say. Little of what I read on social media regarding the subject seems helpful to me. It is mostly a mixture of anger and guilt, with a few conspiracy theories mixed in. I have been reluctant to speak because so many others have said that silence is complicity. This rubric seems overly simplistic. It does little to help people process what has happened. Such a sentiment is merely an attempt to predispose people to a particular response. If the precipitating event weren’t so grievous and the subject less incendiary, we might even call it a thinly disguised attempt to bully others into a preferred opinion. Silence in times such as these can mean many things. Silence can be an expression of grief or dismay. It can signify disapproval. Silence may simply be the response of those who don’t know what to say. And, sometimes, silence is the disposition of the wise (Prov. 17:28).
  • 11.06. - The Hand that Moves the World (2) (Prayer, Uncategorized) (answers to prayer, B. B. Warfield, disappointment, disappointment with God, prayer, the importunate widow)
    Not long after I started following Christ, my mother became so sick that my father had to carry her to the car to drive her to the doctor. Unable to diagnose her condition, the doctor admitted her to the hospital, where she grew worse. All the Christians I knew at the time believed that miraculous healing was an everyday occurrence. I decided that it was God’s plan to heal her. Like the blind man in John 9:3, I thought God had allowed her sickness “so that the works of God might be displayed” in her. What better way to show my parents to the truth of the gospel? Someone has said that prayer moves the hand that moves the world. But if that means we can force God’s hand by praying, I have found it to be otherwise.
  • 17.06. - Fathers & Sons: The Hero’s Journey (6) (Uncategorized) (fathers, forgiveness, sons)
    k about my father every day. I can’t help it. Every morning when I stare into the mirror, there he is staring back. As long as I can recall, people who knew my father have said that we look alike. The comparison was a point of pride when I was a child and an aggravation when I became an adolescent. That irritation grew into something stronger in my teens and 20’s. Not hatred, exactly, but certainly anger mixed with aversion.
  • 25.06. - Dangerous Virtues: The Way of the Living (1) (Sin, Uncategorized, Virtue) (#Dangerous Virtues, Righteousness, seven deadly sins, sin, virtue)
    Sin and virtue sounds too abstract and detached for ordinary people like us. It’s one thing for theologians and philosophers to debate about sin and virtue. Why should we concern ourselves with such matters? We have jobs to go to and bills to pay. We mow the lawn and drive the kids to school. What does any of this have to do with the real world in which we live? The answer is that sin and virtue lie at the heart of everything we do. Our ideas of sin and virtue shape the way we work at our job, live in our neighborhood, and treat the members of our family.
  • 02.07. - Dangerous Virtues: Love-The Seduction of Desire (0) (Uncategorized) (Dangerous Virtues, Deadly Sins, Desire, love, lust, seven deadly sins, sin)
    I first learned about sex from my father. The lesson came in the form of a brief hallway conversation. I don’t think my age was even in double digits at the time. I don’t recall who initiated the conversation, though I suspect it was in response to a question I had asked. I didn’t understand much of what he said. The whole thing sounded pretty unappealing to me at the time. I was sure I would never want to have sex with anyone. I was wrong, of course. The sexual revolution changed not only the shape of sexual morals for a large part of the culture, but also our view of the place of sexual desire in human experience. What we call love, the ancients labeled lust. But our struggle with lust is much larger than the desire for sex.
  • 13.07. - Dangerous Virtues: Satisfaction-Coping With the Hunger that Cannot be Satisfied (0) (Christian Life, Seven Deadly Sins, Sin, Uncategorized) (#Dangerous Virtues, capital sins, Dangerous Virtues, glutton, gluttony, satisfaction, seven deadly sins, sin)
    I have been bothered by my weight most of my life. As a child, I was heavy, a condition which my mother euphemistically described as being “big-boned.” I was so obsessed with the fear of being fat that even when I thinned out in my adolescence, I did not think of myself as thin. I … Continue reading Blog Archive
  • 03.08. - Myth, Memory, & Reality (0) (Heroes, Myth, Uncategorized) (C. S. Lewis, Helmut Thielicke, heroes, Myth, Satan)
    Atheists have long accused Christians of casting God in their own image. Their complaint has some warrant. Sin has left us with a penchant for seeing ourselves in God. We want to believe that God is like us. We can easily persuade ourselves that He thinks like us and mirrors our values.
  • 13.08. - Dangerous Virtues: Prosperity (1) (Sin, Uncategorized) (Dangerous Virtues)
    A while back, I noticed a menu option on my retirement account’s website labeled “net worth.” When I clicked on it, the site asked me to type in information about my assets and liabilities. The result was a brightly colored graph that represented the total of all my worldly goods. I have looked at it many times since then, and its effect is always the same. Instead of making me feel secure about my future, it leaves me anxious. No matter how much I have, it seems that I would like to have just a little more.
  • 01.09. - Looking for Something to Do Next With Your Small Group? (0) (Uncategorized) (Dangerous Virtues, Righteousness, sin, virtue)
    Looking for something new to study with your small group? Check out the free small group resources for John Koessler's new book Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good. A practical study, Dangerous Virtues looks at those attitudes and actions that the church has traditionally called the seven deadly sins to show how today's culture has disguised sin as virtue.
  • 10.09. - Dangerous Virtues: Leisure (0) (Anxiety, Rest, Sloth, Uncategorized) (Dangerous Virtues, Laziness, Lazy, rest, sloth, The Radical Pursuit of Rest)
    Os Guinness has said, “Sloth is so much the climate of the modern age that it is hard to recognize as a deadly sin.” Guinness calls sloth “the underlying condition of a secular era.” In fact, in our leisure-oriented age, we kind of admire sloth. We smile at the person who has learned to game the system and can get others to do their work for them. It seems humorous, until we are being waited upon by a slothful person, or must depend upon that person for an important task. When we work with a slothful person and find that we must do their job as well as our own, it suddenly doesn’t seem so cool.
  • 22.09. - Dangerous Virtues: Justice-Life in an Age of Outrage (0) (Justice, Love, Mercy, Seven Deadly Sins, Sin, Uncategorized) (#Dangerous Virtues, #No Mercy No Justice, Anger, Justice, mercy, Micah 6:8, Outrage)
    A saying attributed to St. Augustine goes, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” No one seems to know where or even whether Augustine actually expressed such a thought. To be honest, it sounds more like something a modern would say. The view of the ancients was much less approving of anger than in our day. The ancient attitude was more like the one expressed by the fourth-century monk who warned: “If when you want to reprove someone you are stirred to anger, you are pandering to your own passion. Lose not yourself to save another.”
  • 02.10. - Uncivil Discourse: Why Our Speech Matters (0) (Culture, Language, Uncategorized, Words) (language, presidential debate 2020, sin, speech, words)
    Ken Myers has observed, “The Christian tradition has long placed great value on care about speech.” He notes that the sacred importance of language is signaled by the fact that two of the Ten Commandments are concerned with speech. One of them has to do with the way we speak about God. The other, not surprisingly, deals with the way we speak about others. It seems that the tongue is the primary instrument we use to fulfill the two Great Commandments, to love God with heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:36-38). Our most corrupt speech is often the most commonplace, expressing those sins that we have learned to tolerate in ourselves.
  • 16.10. - A Few Serious Thoughts About God & Laughter (2) (Humor, Jesus, Uncategorized) (Christ, Humor, Laughter)
    umor is not the first thing we think of when we think about God. His thundering holiness is more likely to come to mind. The handful of statements which make explicit reference to divine laughter reinforce this impression. When the nations conspire against the Lord's anointed, the One enthroned in heaven laughs at them in contempt (Ps. 2:4). The human face that Jesus puts on God in the Gospels is, for the most part, not a smiling face. As Isaiah predicted, He shows Himself to be "a man of sorrows" (Isaiah 53:3). Yet the God revealed in Scripture is not only a God who speaks but one who laughs. He is not the jolly god of pagan religion, but a being of infinite and inexpressible joy. Divine humor is a reflection of this joy.
  • 04.11. - Us Miserable Offenders (2) (Forgiveness, Grace, Mercy, Remorse, Sin, Uncategorized) (Book of Common Prayer, forgiveness, Miserable Sinners, Repentance)
    Despite the language of the prayer book, us miserable sinners aren’t always unhappy in our sin. We do not pine away about it the way the monastic fathers and the Puritans did. We have come to terms with our condition, which is just another way of saying that we tend to live our lives in a state of denial. But the fact that we do not always feel miserable does not make us any less miserable, at least not in the original sense of the word. The Latin root from which the word miserable comes is one that meant “pitiable.” In his essay entitled “Miserable Offenders: An Interpretation of Prayer Book Language,” C. S. Lewis observes, “I do not think whether we are feeling miserable or not matters. I think it is using the word miserable in the old sense–meaning an object of pity.” When the Book of Common Prayer calls us miserable sinners, it is both a recognition of what we are and a reminder of God’s response. Specifically, it tells us that we are those whose moral condition is so deplorable that the only remedy is the goodness and mercy of God, no matter how we may feel.
  • 25.11. - When God Says No (1) (Disappointment, Doubt, Prayer, Uncategorized)
    In the early days of my walk with Christ, I was taught to believe that miracles were an everyday occurrence. The Christians I knew were generous in their definition of what constituted a miracle, as likely to call a good parking spot an act of God as someone’s sudden recovery from cancer. Every situation was treated as an occasion for divine intervention. I confess that this was part of what attracted me to the Christian faith. I was not interested in a God who was merely an abstraction; I wanted to know that God was real. I was looking for a God who paid attention to me when I spoke to Him. It did not occur to me that I was the one who was supposed to do the listening. I often prayed for God to intervene in my life. But I did not always get what I wanted. I asked Him to heal my mother when she was unexpectedly hospitalized for an illness that the doctors did not seem to be able to diagnose. She died. I asked God to deliver my father from alcoholism. He did not. I prayed to win the lottery (only once). You can guess how that turned out. I am not saying that God has never answered my prayers. Only that God refused my request often enough to know that an affirmative answer is not always a given.
  • 10.12. - Awkward Conversations with God (0) (Prayer, Uncategorized) (#prayer, difficulties with prayer, God's silence, listening prayer)
    I have found that God is not much of a conversationalist. He is mostly silent when I talk to Him. Not that I am such a good conversationalist either. My prayers tend to be repetitive, made up of the same requests every time. My attention span is short. I suppose that if I were the one on the other side of the conversation, I would probably be too bored to respond too. But at least I say something. God, as far as I can tell, doesn’t say anything. I pray and all I get in return is an awkward silence.
  • 20.12. - Christmas Traveler: Why the Nativity is About the Cross (0) (Advent, Christmas, Incarnation, Jesus, Uncategorized) (Advent, Birth of Jesus, Christmas, cross of Christ, Incarnation, Jesus)
    In this year of COVID-19, the governor of my state has asked everyone to stay home for Christmas. To be honest, it feels strange. For many, Christmas is a time for traveling. The same was true of the first Christmas. The Gospel narratives of Christ’s birth are crowded with travelers. Zechariah, the priest, travels to … Continue reading Blog Archive

2021 (18)

  • 02.01. - The Recent History of God (1) (Faith, Fundamentals of the Faith, God, Uncategorized) (Bible, Christian Beliefs, Fundamentals of the Faith, God, Revelation, Scripture, theology)
    Where does one begin when speaking of God? A biography usually starts at the beginning with its subject's birth and ancestry. But the God of Scripture, unlike the gods of myth, is uncreated and eternal. He has no beginning or point of origin. He has no ancestors. For this reason, God's account of Himself in Scripture begins not with His creation but with ours. If the Bible is the history of God, it is only a record of recent history.
  • 23.01. - What is God Like? (1) (Divine Attributes, Doctrine, Fundamentals of the Faith, God, Uncategorized) (Attributes of God, Basic Doctrines, Fundamentals of the Faith, God, Holiness, Omnipotence, Omnipresence, Omniscience)
    What is God like? The Bible teaches that God has revealed Himself to us through creation and by His word. But what does that revelation tell us about the nature of God? Theologians have traditionally divided God's attributes into two main categories. Some are attributes that have no analogy in human experience. These attributes, often called God's incommunicable attributes, display the uniqueness of the divine nature. Others, called communicable attributes, are characteristics that have some analogy in human experience. God's incommunicable attributes show how the divine nature is unlike our own. They display God's transcendence and reveal the great gulf that exists between the Creator and His creatures. God's communicable attributes remind us that we have been created in the image of God and, in some small measure, were designed to be like Him. Second in a series that deals with foundational teachings of the Christian faith. The video version of this post can be viewed on John's web page and his YouTube channel.
  • 09.02. - A Piece of Work: Understanding the Human Condition (2) (Christian Life, Fundamentals of the Faith, Human Nature, Sin, Uncategorized) (doctrine, doctrine of man, human nature, humanity, sin, sinful nature, works of the flesh)
    These days it is common to treat human beings as if they were only high functioning animals. Humans are indeed creatures. But the Bible teaches that we are much more. This is third in a series on foundational doctrines of the Christian faith.
  • 30.03. - Keeping the Cross in View (4) (Christian Life, Christmas, Easter, Easter, Gospel, The Cross, Uncategorized) (atonement, Easter, gospel, sanctification, sin, The Cross)
    When Christmas comes around, we remind ourselves of the need to observe it all year. For some reason, we never talk this way about Easter. We celebrate the Christmas spirit, but we seem to know nothing about the Spirit of Easter. We approach Christmas with excitement that builds for months. Its approach is announced with colored lights, a mountain of gifts, and endless parties. We are sad to see it go. Contrast this with Easter, who arrives sheepishly, bearing only a ham and a few jellied candies. The Bible's view is radically different. The cross has a unique place in the proclamation of the gospel and the believer's life.
  • 23.04. - Why We Need the Church (3) (Christian Life, church, Doctrine, Uncategorized) (Basic Doctrines, Christian life, church, ecclesiology, worship)
    In the early days of my walk with Jesus, it didn’t dawn on me that church was also part of the package. Our family didn’t attend church and now that I thought of myself as a Christian, it seemed unnecessary to me. I had Jesus and the Bible. I had made friends with others who shared my faith. Why ruin it all by adding church into the mix? I had visited a few churches in the past. With its unfamiliar people and odd music, the experience was more uncomfortable than anything else. We stood and sat. Stood and sat. And then a man got up and lectured us about things I didn’t really understand. But after I became a follower of Jesus, I started regularly attending because someone told me that it was what Christians do. The music was still strange to me, but the lectures made more sense now that I was reading the Bible. I have been going to church ever since, though not always with enthusiasm. The music and the people still seem odd to me at times. But I have come to see the church as an essential part of my Christian life.
  • 07.05. - Aging as Letting Go (7) (Aging, Eugene Peterson, Uncategorized) (aging, change, elderly, Eugene Peterson, Retirement)
    Since I retired, I find myself saying no to things that I once would have been eager to take on. I am not doing the things I thought I would do. Some of those things are no longer of interest to me. Others have grown more difficult, and I am either unwilling or unable to expend the energy. It is unnerving. I find that I am disappointed with myself for the things I no longer want to do and disappointed with God for the things He has not permitted me to do. Change is disorienting. Those stages associated with aging are also disquieting because they usually involve the laying aside of tasks and identities that we have carried with us for decades, perhaps for most of our lives. How are we to think about ourselves now that we are no longer what we once were?
  • 02.06. - Faith & Stupid (5) (Christian Life, Faith, Guidance, Uncategorized) (divine guidance, faith, Folly, guidance, providence, sovereignty of God, stupidity, will of God)
    The difference between faith, stubborn, and stupid is not as obvious as you might think. To the unbeliever, faith looks like stupid, and to the believer, stupid sometimes looks like faith.
    This is the sign you've been looking for neon signage
  • 25.06. - Jesus and the Cult of Nice (1) (Culture, Gospel, Jesus, Love, The Cross, Uncategorized) (cross, gospel, grace, love, Mean, Nice, salvation)
    Every generation seems to have its own idol. Each one represents the spirit of the age, a false god who shapes the ethic of the culture at large. All too often, these idols find their way into the church. These days the idol of the age is best represented by what I would call “the cult of nice.” The cult of nice is a code that shapes ethics and whose appeal springs from its disarming simplicity. The basic rule of the cult of nice can be summarized in this sentence: “Whatever does not spring from niceness is not of God.”
  • 07.07. - Growing into Salvation (1) (Christian Life, church, Grace, Spiritual Growth, Uncategorized) (church, growth, pastor, Religion and Spirituality, spiritual development, spiritual growth)
    Some aspects of our development are programmed by heredity and DNA. But not everything. There are things we can do to nurture growth, or we can hamper it.  The same is true in the spiritual realm. What is the secret to spiritual growth?
  • 02.08. - Is God Hard of Hearing? (8) (Disappointment, Eugene Peterson, God, Prayer, Uncategorized) (disappointment with God, God, Jesus Christ, prayer, Unity)
    Books about prayer never seem to fit my situation. They either assume that I don’t want to pray or that I don’t know how. Neither is really the case. My problem lies elsewhere. They are relational. I don’t like the way God seems to treat me when I pray.
  • 04.09. - Heaven Can Wait (3) (Doubt, Faith, Heaven, Hope, Jesus, Prayer, Uncategorized) (#answers to prayer, #prayer, #speed, God, prayer, praying)
    Have you ever wondered how fast God is? It sounds like the kind of question a child might ask. But for many of us, the honest answer would probably be, "Not as fast as we would like Him to be." Although 2 Peter 3:9 says that God is not slow, waiting is so much a feature of the redemption story that Revelation 6:11 tells us that even the souls in heaven must wait (Rev. 6:11).  What is the speed of God?
  • 02.10. - Church Hunting: What People Want from Church (4) (church, Preaching, Uncategorized, Worship) (Christianity, church, pastor, pastoral ministry, Religion and Spirituality)
    When I was a pastor, it felt like the people who visited our church were looking for the congregational equivalent of a supermodel. We were a good little church but never quite good enough for them. The congregation was too small, and we didn’t have enough programs. It irritated me at the time. But when I became a civilian and started looking for a church myself, I saw things differently. In fact, according to a poll done by the Pew Research Center, what most people look for in a church is pretty basic.
  • 22.10. - Bright Lights in an Age of Complaint (0) (Christian Life, church, Grace, Uncategorized) (church, Community, criticism, disappointment with the church, grumbling)
    Tertullian, the second-century church father from Carthage, wrote that observers of the early Christians marveled at what they saw. "See how they love one another," they said. Those early pagans made their observations from the outside. They saw the behavior of Christians after grace and the gospel had done their work. Beyond their vision was the underworking of the flesh that created the occasion for those remarkable acts of love. If they had looked at the same deeds from that perspective, they might just as truthfully have declared, “See how they irritate one another.”
  • 20.11. - The Prickly Side of Grace (2) (church, church discipline, confrontation, Sin, Uncategorized) (Christianity, church, pastoral ministry, sin)
    Christ's command to point out a brother's fault in Matthew 18:15 is a hard pill to swallow in an age that regards amiability to be the chief of all Christian virtues. It doesn’t fit the image many of us have of Jesus. The contemporary church favors an uncritical and accepting Jesus. This popular Jesus doesn’t point fingers but stands with arms wide, ready to welcome everyone as they are without expecting either remorse or change. Rather than urging us to point out our brother’s fault, we would expect Him to say that we should let it slide. Christ's command is a stark reminder that grace has a prickly side.
  • 29.11. - It’s Cyber Monday! (0) (Uncategorized)
    Today is Cyber Monday at Moody Publishers! That means you can get my Moody titles (as well as books by other Moody authors) for 50% off today only. You can find my Moody titles at this link: https://bit.ly/3CLocfL Like this:Like Loading...
  • 11.12. - Christmas Traveler-free ebook by John Koessler (3) (Christmas, Uncategorized) (Advent, Christianity, Christmas, Christmas Devotional, Free book, Religion and Spirituality)
    Download Christmas Traveler, a free ebook by John Koessler. You can download it from the link on John's homepage.
  • 16.12. - What Mary Knew (0) (Advent, Christmas, Jesus, Uncategorized) (Advent, Christmas, Mary, Virgin Mary)
    These days Christmas music seems to like to portray Mary as fragile and uncertain. Mary was probably young, but I do not think she was fragile.
  • 24.12. - REMYTHOLOGIZING CHRISTMAS: Why it’s Better to Wonder as We Wander (0) (Advent, Christmas, Myth, Uncategorized) (C. S. Lewis, Christmas, Demythologizing, G. K. Chesterton, Gospels, Nativity, Scripture)
    It’s that time of year when we tell the story of Christ’s Nativity. Then someone writes an article, publishes a book, or posts an exposé on social media telling us that everything we thought we knew about the old, old story is wrong. Yesterday, I saw one in my newsfeed shouting that Jesus’ family wasn’t … Continue reading Blog Archive

2022 (7)

  • 03.01. - Journey of the Magi (2) (Christian Life, Christmas, Discipleship, New Year, Uncategorized) (Christian life, Christmas, Feast of the Epiphany, Feast of the Three Kings, Magi, New Year)
    Redemption is a drama unfolding along two storylines. The story of the Magi is a reminder that the journey of redemption includes evil as well as good. God is not responsible for the evil, but He is not a hostage to it either.
  • 02.02. - A Short Conversation (0) (Uncategorized) (Philippians, Today in the Word)
    Jamie Janosz, managing editor for Today in the Word interviewed me about this month's devotions from the book of Philippians.
  • 12.02. - The Savior With 10,000 Faces (0) (Uncategorized) (Christ, Christianity, church, Face of Christ, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Religion and Spirituality)
    Every age seems to have its preferred image of Jesus. The Scriptures do not portray Jesus as a symbol or even an archetype but as a living person. Yet there is some variation in the portrait they offer. We might think of the Gospels as a hall of portraits, with each episode intended to highlight some facet of the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are not interested in knowing Christ merely as a concept or an ideal. We want to know Him as a person. Furthermore, we want to know the true Jesus, not one whose image has been managed by anyone's personal or theological agenda. Because of its unique character and through the action of the Holy Spirit, Scripture is all we really need to know Jesus Christ on a personal level. But it is not all we have. Like the first disciples, we can also know Him by experience. Perhaps the best way to try and explain how this works is through the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who observed: "Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in eyes not his."
  • 10.03. - The Holy One of God (4) (Uncategorized) (Christianity, God, Holiness, Holy One of God, Jesus, Personality of Jesus, Religion and Spirituality)
    In the Gospels, Jesus is called the Holy One of God on two occasions. The first time was by a demon (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34). The second was by Peter when many of the disciples were grumbling about the difficulty of Jesus' teaching. It is a reflection of the seriousness of our problem with holiness that the demons recognized who Jesus was before His own disciples did. It would be wrong to conclude from this that Jesus' approach to holiness was reductionist. Jesus did not simplify the idea of holiness. He was not lowering the bar or trying to make holiness more manageable. If anything, the opposite was the case. Unless it comes to us as a gift, holiness, as Jesus defines it is an impossibility.
  • 28.03. - The Trouble with Meme Activism: Sometimes to Speak is Not to Speak (2) (Culture, Internet, Uncategorized) (Abuse of Language, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jeremy Begbie, josef Pieper, language, Memes, Preaching, Propaganda, Sentimentality, Social Media, Wendell Berry, words)
    I have noticed that periods of social unrest are often accompanied by a corresponding outbreak of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I am referring, of course, to the accompanying blizzard of memes on Facebook and Twitter that display a quote famously (and probably incorrectly) attributed to Bonhoeffer: "Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." In most cases where it appears, the quote stands as a comprehensive indictment of anyone who has not yet expressed public outrage over some event that has captured the attention of the current news cycle. The meme is a cultural syllogism: A terrible thing has occurred. You have not said that it was terrible on Facebook or Twitter. You are a terrible person. The reasoning seems to be that if you have not publicly condemned it on social media, you are complicit in its terribleness.
  • 14.04. - Cold Easter (0) (Christmas, Crucifixion, Easter, Gospel, Jesus, Suffering of Christ, Uncategorized) (Crucifixion, Easter, Easter and Christmas, Jesus, Religion and Spirituality, Suffering of Jesus)
    It's getting to look a lot like Easter. Which, frankly, isn't saying that much. Between Christmas and Easter, it's plain to see which holiday is the favored child of the church calendar. If Christmas is warm, Easter is cold. As it approaches, we don't seem to know whether to be happy or sad.
  • 10.08. - Imagine There’s a Heaven (1) (Eternity, Heaven, Hope) (Annie Dillard, C. S. Lewis, Glory of God, heaven and earth, Heaven heavenly minded, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)
    Heaven has fallen on hard times. In Christian thinking, looking forward to heaven is no longer fashionable. Jeffrey Burton Russell observes in his book Paradise Mislaid, “Heaven has been shut away in a closet by the dominant intellectual trends of the past few centuries.”[1] There are a number of reasons for this. To some, the … Continue reading Blog Archive
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