Meaning missing

Easter is less than three weeks away.  Let the advertising onslaught begin!

risen ChristIt seems to me like way too many of these Easter ads emphasize the wrong image, and thus miss the meaning of Easter.

And if you think I’m referring to bunnies and eggs, think again.

I refer, friends, to the cross.

The cross is not the central image or focus of Easter.

Do an image search for Easter and you’ll get a bunch of bunnies and eggs in pastels, but you’ll also get a lot of crosses.

I am not anti-cross!  I am deeply appreciative the cross and all that it represents.

Valuable – no, essential – as the cross is to Easter, the cross isn’t the main point of Easter.

Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection!  Easter tells us that death – even death on a cross – is defeated by what God has done in and through Jesus.

So, enjoy your bunnies and eggs.  Ponder and reflect on the cross and all it says and means.

But please, this Easter, remember, and celebrate, the resurrection of Jesus!

Meaning missing

Do you really want what you want?

snowroofAfter a few fleeting moments of playing in the snow this morning, the kids were inside, warm, and dry. And ready to watch something.

Hello, Netflix!

Eliza wanted to watch Annie.

Liam wanted to watch Mater’s Tale Tales. Then Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

It turns out it was Liam’s turn to choose, so two things happened:

1) we started Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and
2) Eliza the a small fit.

It was a very small fit: actually fairly worthy of the moment, and quickly left behind.
Within minutes – no more than 10 – both of them were enjoying the movie.

This is how it often goes with our kids.  Loudly (and proudly?) claim your preference.  Get louder if someone else claims an alternative preference.

Stand your ground

Raise the stakes

Refuse to listen, negotiate, or compromise.

Throw a fit if you don’t get your way.

I realized yesterday that we don’t necessarily unlearn this pattern as we grow up.

We don’t always want what we want. Sometimes we just don’t want to let someone else have a say.

It’s hard to listen when you are shouting, “My way or the highway!”

While this is worth considering for anyone, I particularly hope my church, the United Methodist Church #UMC, will give it thought.

We’ve not been listening so well to each other lately.  On some things, we have dug in for decades and refused to actually listen.

We want what we want. Or do we?

Do you really want what you want?

US Christians Demand Religious Freedom…

for everyone!

I have long said that Christian are at our best when we are advocating for the rights, liberties, fair treatment of others.  I suppose I am willing to allege that this is true for everyone, not only for Christians.  But I especially want Christians to own it.

I think it represents Jesus far better than getting all whiney about our own rights, liberties, or fair treatment.

To be fair, people can advocate for their own rights, etc., without being whiney.  This is just my opinion: but US Christians seem to go whiney awfully quickly if we feel our rights, etc. threatened.

Just look at all the fuss we’ve been making over the persecution of Christians around the world lately.  I believe we would make a better case AGAINST persecution of Christians and FOR following Jesus if we opposed all religious persecution.

Speaking of which, I don’t know if you noticed, but a case of religious freedom was argued before the US Supreme Court yesterday. Samantha Elauf was 17 when she applied to work at an Abercrombie and Fitch store.  She was rated as a very good candidate.  Her rating dropped when management found out she wore a hajib – a traditional headcovering worn by some Muslims.  This dropped her rating enough that she wasn’t hired.

I don’t know how the case will come out.  The report I heard indicated that most of the Justices, in oral arguments, sounded like they leaned in her favor.

I have heard Christians lament about not being allowed to wear cross necklaces to work; shouldn’t we be just as concerned for the religious liberty of others?

US Christians Demand Religious Freedom…

The # 1 way we (Christians) have failed our children

A friend shared this on Facebook the other day:

“If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven?” I asked the children in my Sunday School class.
“NO!” the children all answered.
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven?”
Again, the answer was, “NO!”
Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my wife, would that get me into Heaven?” I asked them again.
Again, they all answered, “NO!”
“Well, I continued, “then how can I get into Heaven?”
A five-year-old boy shouted out, “YOU GOTTA BE DEAD!”

We have failed. In a world where even a 5 year old identifies heaven as something you “get” when you are dead, we have failed.

I recall at least once when Jesus said that “unless you become like a child” you won’t enter the Kingdom.

I don’t recall a single time that Jesus claimed you have to die to enter the Kingdom.

Jesus never taught heaven or eternal life as something we get when we die.


Jesus taught that eternal life was and is knowing God. (John 17:3)  He taught, variously, that the Kingdom of God is “already here,” “is among you,” will come before some of you here will taste death.

Jesus taught and lived a way of life that knows the presence, power, and love of God now – before death – so deeply that time isn’t wasted on wondering if one might have eternal life after death.

There is still time to teach our children well.

The # 1 way we (Christians) have failed our children


Listening to the radio this morning on my way to work, I heard the story of Kenny G’s brief foray into political endorsement. He tweeted a picture of himself with some of the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

I knew the political leaders of China wouldn’t like this.  I had no idea Kenny G. was so popular in mainland China.  Realizing he’d put a lucrative lifestyle in jeopardy, Mr. G. soon deleted his tweet.

Yesterday I wrote about 2 of the 3 reasons I’ve been blogging less.  Kenny G’s relationship with China reminded me of the third reason.

In June of 2012, I was appointed Senior Pastor of Euless First United Methodist Church. I blogged fairly freely while at the Methodist Children’s Home.  Few, very few of the people, staff or students, there, read my blog.  I was, therefore, free to write about whatever struck me, without having to filter.

Euless would not be so.  Not only was I likely to have more readers among my congregation, I wanted to write such that they would want to read.  I understood my congregation as part of the audience for the blog, where before I perceived them as two separate, mostly distinct audiences.

I speak differently to my congregation than I do in other settings.

You might say that, like Kenny G., I am aware of the source of my support.

Let me be clear:  I don’t change my opinions or positions on matter based on my perception of my congregation’s opinions or positions.

I still believe I am right.  Most of the time. I still believe that especially in terms of things theological, I want to influence people to agree with me, to come to see things as I see them.

Since I believe I am right, of course I believe people would, as a whole, be better agreeing than disagreeing with me.

At the same time, I have become more aware of the huge variety of ways influence can be exercised, leveraged, used.  Sometimes it is wasted.  It is always less effective at the heart level when influence is forced.

Most of the influence I seek to have I would like to make a difference at the heart level.

So, I self-censor.  I speak differently with some people than with others.

A church member told me of a conversation he had had with another church member a couple of months before I arrived.  The other person (who is no longer a member here), had found an internet reference calling me “progressive.”  I was told that he said in response to that revelation that I would be “starting with 1 strike against me.”

So I blog more carefully – more thoughtfully – than I used to.  I do so because I still think you are better off agreeing with me than disagreeing, but I realize some of you will likely quit reading what I write, or listening to what I have to say, if I write and speak less thoughtfully.

I self-censor.  I bet you do, too.



Book Review: The Mainliner’s Survival Guide

Hi.  My name is Steve, and I’m a Mainliner.

Through all my years as a Fundamentalist, then an Conservative Evangelical, then some variation of Emergent, I have been a member of The United Methodist Church, a mainline denomination.

I believe this is where God has called me.

Plenty have tried to convince me otherwise.  I’ve sat face to face with some of the leaders of the Emergent movement and heard them explain, with rather convincing rhetoric, why getting out (of the mainline) would be a good thing.

Yet here I stand.  I can do no other.Penwell book

Perhaps, then, you can imagine how appreciative I was to find Derek Penwell’s The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World.  Here was a book written from inside a mainline denomination, yet, ostensibly, with the recognition that the glory days of American Denominationalism are clearly gone and not returning.

Let me be clear:  I wasn’t hopefully expecting Penwell to make it sound ok.  The last thing I wanted was some platitudes encouraging me into hospice care as the denomination and its version of Christianity continue to linger.

Reading Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity for the Rest of Us brought me such great joy when I read it almost a decade ago that I bought a dozen or so copies and offered them free to any clergy friends who would agree to read the book.

I would consider doing the same with this book from Derek Penwell.

The book opens with what I find to be a stellar comparison of our times with post-Revolutionary War American.  I found this comparison helpful and Penwell’s historical work insightful to the point of making me wonder why I hadn’t read this elsewhere.

Penwell does an excellent job, I feel, of stirring up the conversations that must happen.  Mainline denominational folk know that something is wrong, but this book offers to help us identify and make corrections without simply trying to keep up with whatever the ecclesiology-of-the-month might be.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Book Review: The Mainliner’s Survival Guide

Does Distance Matter?


How far is too far?

Walking back from a visit to the Elementary School we have adopted,  a discarded plastic drink bottle lay in the sidewalk.  I should have picked it up.

I didn’t.

I almost did.  I usually do, but here’s the deal:  after seeing that and thinking I would pick it up, I scanned for other litter.  There were several other things nearby, say, within 5 yards of the sidewalk.

I didn’t feel like walking that far out of my way to pick up that trash.  I figured that if I did, I would somehow be obligating myself to police the entire area.

To avoid the obligation of picking up ALL TRASH, I picked up no trash.

Litter-wise this is a fail, but not an epic fail.  I could very well have picked up any or all of the trash, or some amount in between and have done better than deciding to walk by it all.

Life-analogy-wise, this was, I think, an epic-fail.

Feeling paralyzed by the thought of all the good that could, that should, be done around the world is not, I believe, an acceptable excuse for doing nothing for anyone.

I cannot reach the needs of everyone, but I cannot allow that to keep me from helping meet the needs of some.

Does distance matter?  It seems to: mission trips are all the rage, and some of this is energized by the desire to help those who are far away.

Ideally, travelling great distances to serve others ought to motivate, energize, and catalyze us to be more attentive and responsive to needs nearby.

The cynic in me wants to observe here that all these mission trips we’ve gone on have not done a great job of energizing us at home.

My unwillingness to pick up a single piece of trash reminds me not to lay my cynicism on others.

Does Distance Matter?