Monday, November 30, 2009


Peter Sandman, a risk consultant, developed the following formula about how we perceive risk.


Risk = hazard + outrage


I would have thought that it would be written,


Risk = hazard


But then, I realize that most of us know the risks of obesity, debt accumulation, smoking, overworking and such but do little to change. Yet, we go bananas when the hazards are minimal but we are fearful. These later cases include child abductions (mostly happen within our group of acquaintances and not by strangers – no child has been shown to be abduct because he or she had a picture posted on the internet,) swine flu (way more drunk driving deaths,) guns at home (more children die in pool accidents,) and healthcare reform (oh, they want to kill off grandma.)


We are easily duped into believing something is risky based on how much we are fearful (outrage) rather than the actual potential the hazard may possess on its own.


1 John 4:18 says "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.…" Why is that? Because God and fear cannot exist in the same place. Elsewhere John says that "God is love."


When you think about it, fear drives us to do some of our most desperate, stupid and destructive acts.


What am I afraid of? Afraid that people will find out? Afraid will happen if I do or don't do something? What fear fuels my desperate attempts to control my environment?


God move on in. Drive out my fears with my attention to you and your ways.


In a Houston Chronicle article in the Business section on 11/21/09, Jennifer Latson quoted billionaire Warren Buffett, speaking to Rice's Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business, as offering this advice, "unconditional love is more valuable than any amount of wealth….success is getting what you want and happiness is wanting what you get."


I always envy those who are not successful but wildly happy. I also note how many who are very successful for whom happiness is always a day away. Could love make the difference that all the possessions, degrees, money and achievements can not? Seems so. I mean BOTH God and Warren (the Oracle of Omaha) agree!


Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)


Unconditional love is loving others for who they are – God-made wonders – and not for what they can do for us, or how they can make us feel or what they have. Most love comes with conditions, even within families. "I love you, but I do expect this in return." And to be loved unconditionally is one of the most wonderful states to be in. Unconditional love is loving and being loved in the "as is" state. "As is" in the retail world means a "demo" or "scratch and dent."  In the real world that pretty much describes us well.


Unconditional love is the path to happiness.


Who do you love unconditionally? Who might you love that way? See any "conditions" that you can drop?


Much is said about Fellowship in church. In most cases, fellowship means like-minded people doing together something fun or effortless. God has a different take. Certainly fun and effortless (Sabbath) should be on our radar screen. But Christian fellowship, a major part of Christian life, looks a little different.


Christians devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.    Acts 2:42-27 (NIV)


Christian fellowship involves, putting up with each other, disagreeing with each other, holding each other accountable, forging each other, correcting each other, sharing with each other, going out of our way for each other, regular meetings together, and doing things together for the benefit of others that are deemed impossible.


Look at your faith and the faith of your church. Do you have friends who hold you accountable and you don't get defensive? Do you have friends for whom you will sacrifice? Do you go out of your way to include new friends? Do you have a group with whom you meet and plot impossible things that will benefit others?


If so, give thanks to God and help others have what you have. If not, why not?


Lord, don't let me off with being a puny friend today.

 Help me be one of impact.


Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. – Psalm 100:4 (NIV)


When was the last time you bounded out of bed on a Sunday just itching to worship God?

As I talked with other clergy and the Clergy Conference in October, we all noted one thing in common with our varied churches: worship attendance had fallen off. Giving and people doing church work had not dropped off, just worship attendance. Has worship become just "one more thing" to do on "my day off?" I don't know but it may be true.


The Psalmist has a heart for God. Everything else not only came second. It also was taken care of if the #1 priority – God – was attended to. How do we know that? Unbounded thanks. Despite our recent Thanksgiving holiday, we tend to dwell on thanks only momentarily. The national sports of complaining (blaming is a variant) and entitlement take over all too quickly.


Two transforming stories of thanks come to mind for me. The first came while I was in seminary. An African friend challenged (I actually think he rebuked) me to uncover my blindness to all that was good around me, things he would never see once back home, that I take for granted. The second was a story related to me by a peer about thanking God in the midst of a horrific car accident for all the things that still worked and were not broken in her life. I would have been bitching up a storm, throwing a pity party and screaming, "why me." I felt small because I was small. I have a long way to go but go I will.


Lord, give me the courage to pause and thank you today and, maybe,

again this Sunday – your day.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Out of Business

I received an interesting letter yesterday. One I have never gotten before. It was a letter offering services for the disposal of church items when a church closes. Maybe it is a sign of the times. Annually, 3500 to 4000 churches close their doors each year. Were they wrong to start? Did they serve their purpose and now it was time to die?


If you study churches, there are a few things to look at. I do not think God opens any church in order for it to be an object lessons and close years later. I think churches close because they lost their mission. Churches begin with dreams of serving Christ, being Christ in a world in need. After a while, unless renewal takes place in the hearts of church members, a calcification begins as program and routine overtake mission. Mission comes from God. Mission is seasonal and changes just like a person changes over the years.


Personal spiritual lives can run the same. On fire at first. Then, over the years, a cooling off sets in as routines take the place of a passion for doing the work of God. We become Christian on the outside but not to the core. We visit church rather than celebrate God-with-us. People need renewal as well. People need to renew their mission on a regular basis. Christianity is not something to be mastered but is a way of life that must be followed day after day.


Advent is a time of renewal. Renewal for people and churches. Look at your routines. Do you know why you do them? Are they God-driven? Where has worshiping God fallen on your "To Do" list? How about prayer? Spending time in scripture? Giving up yourself for another in need?


Lord, may I be Christ today and may I be driven by his mission for me. I'm not ready to shut down for business.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. –Acts 20:24 (NLT)


I like to cook. I relax that way (sick, I know, to some of you.) I recently purchased a new product that, to my surprise, exceeded any expectations I had. It was so good that I found excuses to cook with it. I am sure my family was pleased with the food, the fruit of my new-found inspiration.


Scripture makes clear many things (I admit it is foggy, to me, on many things like roaches and humidity.) Three of these things are


  •        We each have a purpose
  •        We will not be satisfied until we "do" our purpose
  •        In "doing" our purpose, we will produce fruit that enlivens others


Our purpose is revealed through the experiences we have had, the talents we have from birth, the passions we develop, and the gifts we get upon becoming a follower of Christ. My experience is that few invest the time and effort to uncover these gifts and fewer still have the resolve to employ them. Employing them means change. Employing them means criticism from those who have an investment in us not changing. Too bad, many who would have been enlivened by God working through us will miss the power of the spirit we would unleash. We, too, miss out.


In a parable, Jesus teaches that those of us who keep safe what we have miss out on life and those who risk it all not only have the ride of their life, thy also have the ride of the next life as well.


Father, let me not be puny today. Send me on an adventure that suits me to a T

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


In the recent bestseller, Freakonomics, Levitt and Dubner state, "Morality represents the way we'd like the world to work, economics represents how it actually works." As a theologian (amateur, I do it for love,) I would state it this way


"Morality represents the way we'd like the world to work,

The Kingdom of God represents how it actually works."


We blah, blah, blah about morality all the time. We get depressed when things don't go the way we planned. We practice hypocrisy because morality is so hard to attain on our own will power.


But Jesus had a passion, not for morality, but for the Kingdom. He yearned for it. He preached it. He was it. The Kingdom is real reality. What we make up is bogus. And, trying to live in bogus-land is stressful.


In bogus-land, we want to be on top, but getting there is killing us. In bogus-land, we want revenge (or, at least judgment for others and mercy for ourselves,) but are left with a handful of emptiness at the end of the day. In bogus-land, we strive to control our environment and others, getting sick in the process.


In the Kingdom, the last are first and that's okay. In the Kingdom, mercy trumps judgment, and that's life-giving. In the Kingdom, unnoticed things and people, heck – even the impossible, triumph. In the Kingdom, everybody gets loved and no one keeps score. In the Kingdom, peace replaces TUMS. In the Kingdom, who you are and what you've got in talent are all God needs to usher in Paradise. In the Kingdom, time is full and an ally – never the crush of getting things done.


Lord, give me Kingdom vision, Kingdom passion, and Kingdom lifestyle. I want to be eternal.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sunday School

Barna Research (like Gallup poll) recently found that "When it comes to church engagement, those who attended Sunday school or other religious programs as children or as teens were much more likely than those without such experiences to attend church and to have an active faith as adults." In other words, statistics point to Sunday School as critically important to a child's (under 12 or so) entire life. To put it another way, without regular Sunday School participation, it is very difficult for a child, as she matures, to have the faith tools for adult life. Not impossible, but hard. What we do the first 12 years has lasting effects.


Over the years, I have noticed a trend (one Barna seems to have seen.) We, in the Episcopal Church – St. Andrew's, have seen parents opt out of Christian Education on Sunday for their children more and more. Where school, sports competition and leisure are critical pieces to a parent's (or grandparent, uncle, aunt, neighbor) care of a child, faith development may not seem important.


I want to set children up for success in later life. I have found that my grades have little bearing on my adult life, the school I went to has just as little bearing, and I never was a professional athlete or even a scholarship one. I paid off loans to go to school.


But my mother took me to Sunday School every week. And, I have been through marital difficulties, health issues, death, two bouts of being unemployed, betrayal of friends, financial woes (selling a house in the last recession,) addiction and crises in my children's (and grandchildren's) lives. Jesus DID matter and so did my years of training.


Encourage a parent (meaning, do everything you can do to help) or child to participate in Sunday School. It will matter later on.


Lord, help me, in this fast-paced, overloading-with-choices, world of substance mixed in with so much glitter, to see you in the education of a child. Then give me the resolve to do something about it.


The online 11/17 issue of Church Crunch discussed "memes." Memes are catchphrases or thoughts that spread fast around the internet through many uses by internet users. Things like "Brittany Spears," "2012," "Dancing with the Stars," "Going Rogue," etc. Some memes, catch on with no one really knowing why they have become so popular.


After a brief period of being wildly popular and continually used, the internet super stars of words, memes, go through a metamorphosis as follows,


  • Introduction
  • Overexposure
  • Parody and Remix
  • Equilibrium


"It's everywhere" to "Oh, not again!" to "This is a joke!" to becoming part of the internet "wallpaper." Once in a rare while, a meme lingers on and becomes part of our culture. "Unfriend," taking someone off of our internet social network, became the 2009 Word of the Year according to the New Oxford Dictionary.


What kind of meme is Jesus to you? Part of your daily culture? Foundational to your being and actions? Overexposed to you and ignored? Something you are ashamed of when company is over and you stay home from church?


We hear "Jesus" a lot in the American dialogue. What does "Jesus" mean to you?

Thursday, November 12, 2009


ABC covered a new webpage the other day. The page is called My Parents Were Awesome . Kids send in pictures of their parents from when the parents did not have kids and had a real (cool) life. It turns out that the worn out folks of today were actually awesome…once.


When we get close to someone, we begin to assume we know them, as if a person could be reduced to events or a stereotype. When we get close, we start asking less questions and start filling in blanks on our own. We can see this take place when a man and a woman spend every waking hour talking and getting to know one another only to get married and start the process of filling in the blanks instead of continuing to explore the mystery of the other person. Great marriages happen when the couple is bright enough to renew the questions.


You are still cool. God says so. And so are the other people we take for granted or who take us for granted. Today, look at someone close to you with fresh eyes and few assumptions. Then, look at someone in the news or a group of people (Liberals, Conservatives, black, white, Latino, gay, lesbian, old, young) you have pigeon-holed and ask God about what makes them "cool." In spite of some of the terribly ridiculous and hurtful things we do, we all are, at the heart, worth dying for. That's awesome

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


In the 11/09 issue of Wired magazine in an article entitled An Epidemic of Fear: One Man's Battle against the Anti-Vaccine Movement, Amy Wallace notes that anecdotal evidence rather than science fuels fears of people. People, she says, have a propensity to take two events and links them. For instance, I eat a hot dog, that night I get sick. The hot dog was bad. I visit Philadelphia. I get robbed. Philadelphia is a dangerous city. In her case, a child gets a vaccine. The child displays autism. The vaccine gave (triggered) the autism. It turns out that the science proves the last statement wrong.


Only science can produce the link, if there is one. Yet we persist, especially if our thoughts produce fear, in thinking things are linked that are not or may not be linked.  We believe strangers will abduct our kids while relatives do it more often. We worry about shark attacks while drunk drivers kill scores more.


More and more, people I meet link Christian commitment to stress and busyness. "I don't have time for church." "I don't have time for prayer." "I am afraid to help for fear I will over-commit." We fear commitment. While I am not sure of the science, my Lord disagrees.


For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.                                             Mark 8:35 (NIV)


Jesus teaches about the liberated (read one without fear) life comes from commitment to the Gospel. By "the Gospel," I mean what God created and equipped and called you for. Over-commitment comes when we do things God does not ask us to do or we do them poorly because we do not seek help in improving our gifts. Commitment to the Gospel is nothing more than commitment to love.


There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18 (NIV)


Love is not a feeling here but an attitude of sacrifice for others for God's sake. God is well aware that he made 24 hours in a day. His call for our commitment will fit into that day. We need to be well aware of what does not fit into that day. For that, we must seek God. Most of those "ill-fitting" things we do out of fear – fear of being disliked if we don't, fear of what others will think, fear we are not doing enough.


May you know God today and may he heal any busy areas and bring you peace through your true calling.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

No Fraud Zone

Don't worry that children never listen to you;

 worry that they are always watching you.

Robert Fulghum


I have worked with teenagers in ministry for over 30 years. While each new group of teens has new ideas and new fads, some things remain universal. One comment I have heard from teens throughout the decades is this. "Mom/dad tells me to do one thing but they don't do it themselves." While I am aware that the same could be said for the teen, I believe that there is something to learn here. Adults are to be the teachers and mentors for teens (not the other way around.)


The truth of the matter is that we adults have values we espouse but do not hold. We wish we had these values. We hope to have these values. We try hard to have these values. But we don't quite pull it off. We are easily exposed as frauds; hypocrites.


Jesus had a lot to say about hypocrites. Some of it tough to hear. Church people got the worst of it. But I do not think Jesus came to condemn these people. I believe he did and still does want people to turn from values that will get us no where to those that will lead us to and through eternity. He always promised to help with this value change, if we lean on him.


 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
       and lean not on your own understanding;

 in all your ways acknowledge him,
       and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)


One value seemed to stand out for Christ. It was doing the Father's will. If I values doing what God desired for me, I cannot go wrong. If I correctly read God, all sorts of good will come out of it. If I do not read correctly, I can seek God's forgiveness and it will be granted.


Today, God, I desire to let you lead. I will listen in prayer, open myself to you in scripture, and lead where prompted to act.


In the November 2009 edition of The Atlantic in an article entitled "Houses of the Future," Wayne Curtis discussed the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He and other architects were looking for inexpensive housing that would fit the leisure and funkiness of The Big Easy. His "ah-ha" moment came when he re-envisioned New Orleans.


Instead of a liability, he now saw an asset upon which he could design homes. At first, he saw New Orleans as an "ill-governed, ill-educated, crime ridden, dirty, poverty stricken" city. Then he realized that New Orleans should not be compared to American cities. It should be compared to Caribbean cities. He now viewed New Orleans as the Geneva (Switzerland) of the Caribbean!


Is there someone in your life who you need to see with fresh eyes? Maybe even yourself? Americans love it instantly label people and categorize them. And do we LOVE to compare. God made all of us unique and for a special purpose. When we see people thought God's eyes, we see a beauty that may not be apparent at first.


Look at yourself and someone else today, imagining what God sees, what God made precious in you and others.

Monday, November 9, 2009

RU Fake?

In the world of Facebook, everyone seems to have an avatar. Strictly speaking, an avatar is a cartoon alter ego people use when on line. I am using "avatar" in a broader sense. The avatar everyone seems to have is the persona we want to project to people. This persona may or may not be who we truly are.


I am insecure, so I will show myself as ditzy but lovable. I am angry, so I will present myself a principled and a champion of the truth. I am hurt, so I will be funny. I am failing, so I will be super positive. We all do this to some extent (even I in writing these devotions!) We put on our best projection, hoping to be loved, heard, respected, honored.


James (1:8) talks about being double-minded. God calls us to have integrity. That is, the outside and inside to match. Jesus points out that no amount of cover up will keep what truly is inside us from being exposed. Integrity makes life simpler and smoother. Sister to "integrity" is "transparency."


Saints were ones who were not only transparent but were unabashedly who God made them to be. And God both forgives and makes no junk. You are precious and are not burdened by God.


May you be free to be you today. May you insist on being taken seriously for who you are in your God-given identity and may those around you graciously grant your wish. There is a rush in being real.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 (NIV)


In my previous blog, I wrote on divisiveness in the community. Paul, writing in Galatians, points out what unifies a variety of people. Christ is the unifier. We are divisive (not unified) because we focus on something or someone other than Jesus. When we focus on Jesus, we focus on the one thing we have in common, the lordship of Christ in our life. We who follow Christ are not following a Lord who confounds people by sending each on a different path. Christ is The Way (note that this is not plural.)


When I am at my most contrary (my mom would call me this,) I am focusing on me. A room full of "me's!" is a room full of trouble. If I take care of Christ's work, Christ promises to take care of me. Do we trust him to do that?


Jesus, be the Lord of my activities and thoughts today.


Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. Titus 3:10 (NIV)


It is almost laughable that this passage is a part scripture we claim follow. It is such an American value today to be a highly opinionated, "my way or the highway," partisan, black and white person. I see it on TV, in politics, on the radio and even in Facebook. That is, divide people into two camps: good people (who agree with us) and foolish idiots deserving of mockery.


What makes us so willing to ignore our God? Maybe it stems from a desire to have something simple (black and white) in our very frenzied and complicated lives. Maybe it is the need to pump up our own flagging egos, sort of like identifying with the team that is #1. Maybe we have no outlet for the pressures in our life that is so demanding and we look for easy targets.


Whatever the reason is, God reminds us that divisive people are community wreckers and that God has placed us in communities because we are too fragile to go it alone – no matter how seductive that image is. When we tolerate divisiveness, in ourselves or others, we fracture the Creation God loves so much. When Jesus prays in John 17 that we all be "one," he echoes the seamlessness of God's Creation. Unity builds up, uniformity tears down. Divisiveness stems from the desire to have uniformity.


Lord, let me be a unifier and a bridge-builder today – not ignoring my convictions but valuing your passion for community.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

From You

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. – Ephesians 4:16 (NIV)


I like words. I have word/language books I read. Words jump out as I read this scriptural quotation. Whole. Joined. Grows. Builds. Each.


Am I part of a Whole or a rugged individual? Power and life slip away for those who go it alone. Alone, even in the midst of others.


Am I Joined to others? Others from whom I differ? Others who I don't even know or like? Others who have grown so familiar that I take them for granted?


Am I Growing? Just growing older? Or Wiser? Can I take the challenge and pain of growth?


Am I letting Christ Build what he wants in a Church and in me? Or have I become the advisor to the Builder? Do I even have a clue as to what he is building or wants?


Am I letting Each other person in my life know what she or he is good at and letting him or her do that? Will I let them off the hook if they are not gifted and called? Can I share - credit and blame?


Lord, let me and my community be from you and you only.


"He is 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.'"  Acts 4:11 (NIV)


Do you reject Jesus? Oh, I know, we all think we are very upright and Christian and all that. But, do you reject Jesus?


After my initial, "Of course I don't!," I take a survey. What would prove that I do or don't reject Jesus? The Gospels seem pretty clear, we are to believe in him, which means that we are to invest our whole life trusting and following him. So, rejection is based on the degree to which I follow. I like to free-lance, so my following skills may need some brushing up.


If I am following him, I would have to know where he is. That means that I must have a regular prayer life – one where I listen as much as give Jesus my "to do" list. I would have to read scripture regularly because he's got some ideas that seem a little weird to me and I need to be reminded true life is found in those weird places. You know, first are last, take up your cross, embrace the stranger, die to live. Lastly – oh, and this is the hard one – if I am not to reject him, I must apply what he tells me (follow his lead.) In other words, I have to quit doing thing my way, leading from my comfort zone, and do things his way, as a follower would.


So, now, have I rejected him? Well, maybe, how about you? Let's change that today.