Who’s in Charge?

For anyone who spends any amount of time listening to our national conversation (if we can call it that), whether tuning into more traditional forms of media or wading into the facebook/twittersphere –where there is nothing hidden that won’t be revealed–it should be painfully obvious that we, as a people, have a hard time with authority. Not just with obeying authority, an issue that we have always wrestled with. We also have a very difficult time discerning authority, knowing how to recognize authority, and ascribing authority to all the wrong things and people. Thus, we allow our actions and words, the practices we embrace and the stories we tell, to be shaped by this confusion. Recent debates over flags and anthems, standing and kneeling, free speech and censorship, demonstrate that we don’t even have a common language for discussing these matters, let alone common convictions about what God’s people should do when confronted by competing, and sometimes mutually exclusive, claims to authority. We argue endlessly over who is in charge, when deep down inside we all want to be in charge. Read more

The Walking Dead

Genesis 22:1-14
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

While they have long been a part of traditions and folkways in various cultures, in recent decades the concept of zombies has become enormously popular in comic books, films, and TV shows. From the late-night B-movies that thrilled audiences in the middle part of the twentieth century to more recent treatments like 28 Days Later, World War Z, and of course, the television series The Walking Dead, these productions, however predictable and familiar they might be, still intrigue viewers with their depictions of the slow-moving, dim-witted, yet always terrifying “undead”. Read more

A Fickle Popularity


Palm/Passion Sunday

Psalm 118
Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66

Among the more difficult aspects of adolescence is that so much hinges on that most elusive and most fickle of realities—the esteem of their peers. While obtaining that coveted commodity – admiration from one’s classmates – is difficult, holding on to it seems nearly impossible.

As I think back on my own time in high school, I can remember hearing—and sometimes voicing—the common complaint that the teenage experience felt like a cutthroat popularity contest. Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising or disappointing to wake up and find, decades later, that our society, populated by alleged grown-ups, still resembles nothing so much as a popularity contest.

While we would like to buy into the myth of self-assurance and pretend that we are the kind of confident people who don’t care what anyone else thinks, we live in a world that runs on social media “likes,” positive Yelp reviews, blog post clicks, and television ratings. It’s tough not to get swept up in such things, whether you’re a minister scanning attendance records, a professor flipping through class evaluations, or a Facebook user wondering why there aren’t more thumbs-up icons next to your latest witty and/or profound reflection on theology, politics, or televised sports. It’s important, from time to time, that we turn down all of this noise and allow ourselves a reminder of what this anxious striving after popularity and acclaim actually accomplishes, and just how capricious such pursuits can be. Read more

A Larger Story

The Baptism of the Lord

Isaiah 42:1-9
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

One of the blessings of pastoral ministry is the chance to be a part of some of the most memorable moments in people’s lives. To stand with a couple on their wedding day or to gather with a family as they say goodbye to a loved one, to speak words of scripture and offer up prayers during these times—these can be powerful and significant opportunities to share in the lives of those we serve.

As many pastors would likely attest, these moments are special not just because of the ceremonies themselves, but because of the way they connect to something bigger. They allow us to look beyond the moment and see how that moment fits into a larger view of God’s work.

Of all these powerful and holy moments that we as ministers and as members of a Christian community get to share, perhaps none is as significant or as important as a baptism. To stand at a font or in a baptistery with a person who is just beginning his or her first steps in the life of faith, to speak words of encouragement and exhortation, to pray as a community for the continued growth and sustained faithfulness of the candidate for baptism – this is such a heavy and joyful and emotionally charged event that words can hardly do it justice.

We come to such moments, and we walk away from them, convinced that God has been at work in some mysterious way to bring new life, and that we have been blessed to participate in the fulfillment of God’s promises, with the knowledge that what has just happened connects us to something bigger than ourselves, a story of salvation that God has been telling for generations. Read more

The Beautiful Reality of Repentance

Almost thirty years ago, I saw a movie that has stayed with me ever since. The Mission, directed in 1986 by Roland Joffe, isn’t exactly the kind of film that an eleven year-old would normally be drawn to, and I’m sure there was much in this narrative about Jesuits in 18th-century South America that I didn’t fully grasp when I first watched it. But because film can be such a powerful visual medium, there were scenes that left an indelible impression on me, so that I find myself going back to them even now, decades later. Read more