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Journal, October 27: By Grace Alone

Scripture: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.  (Titus 2.11-14)

Observation: In this passage, the author (traditionally St. Paul) is reminding Titus of the effects of divine grace on and in the life of the believer.  It's said that grace "bring[s] salvation," which is widely affirmed in most Christian traditions––but also held up as some future state we're awaiting.  Salvation, however, has a much broader meaning, as the root of the word––which means "healing"––indicates.  What these verses point to, then, isn't just a concern for how …
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Journal, October 20: Be An Example

Scripture: Tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly.  Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.  And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. (1 Pet 5.2-4)

Observation: Here Peter offers instruction to the "elders" (Greek presbyteros) regarding how they're to tend to those in their care: those for whose spiritual well-being they're responsible.  The term can mean someone of a certain age, but often refers to someone of a particular office––especially someone who presides over a body of believers.  The apostle's word indicates that persons in this position should be mindful not only of how but also of why they "tend the flock of God": not "for sordid gain," but out of willing love––and after the pattern of the "chief shepherd," Jesus,…

The Touching of Heaven and Earth

It's been a few years since I first encountered the phrase "thin places."  I wish I could recall precisely where I read or heard it––my best guess is that it was during my seminary studies––but I'll never forget the chord it struck with me, because of what it conveys.

The notion of thin places is especially popular in Celtic spirituality, and has to do with the idea that there are some places––not necessarily physical locations––where the presence of the divine is most tangible, most real.  I can myself point to a number of experiences wherein God's closeness was so overwhelming that even if for a moment I felt we could be no closer.  My baptism.  Most every time I've baptized another.  The sharing of the Eucharist in nursing facilities.  Conversing with persons who are incarcerated.  Worshiping with congregations of other racial and ethnic identities.  These are the sorts of places that, for me, are so "thin" that it feels as if heaven and earth to…

Thoughts on Ritual

One of the issues I’ve most frequently bumped up against in my relatively young ministry is that of the use of ritual in worship.  To clarify, the arguments against ritual have normatively been aimed at use of specific liturgical elements—responsive readings, recited creeds, written prayers, et cetera (rarely, if ever, has anyone groaned about lighting candles, processing the Bible, or offering a benediction at the conclusion of worship—though these are ritual too).  All the same I’m sympathetic to those who are hesitant to embrace ritual, because I’ve been there.  I’m well aware that it can feel cold, rigid, or uninspired.  I realize that, at times, it seems like dropping formalities in favor of extemporaneity can facilitate a feeling of “Spirit-led” worship.
Yet the problems so many Christians have with ritual stem, in my opinion, from a lack of understanding about what it is.  Ritual is, in reality, just a particular way of doing something.  It’s a customary practice.  But we hear…

See All the People

I’d guess I’m not alone in this, but I don’t do very well in large crowds. Of course large is a relative term, because even a small number of folks can seem bigger depending on the space in which they’re collected. But generally speaking, crowds aren’t my thing––especially when trying to navigate through one. I get nervous. I become frustrated. And I start to feel as if I need to escape.

Which was part of my predicament in January of last year when I was selected to be one of two pastors from the Memphis Conference to attend a denomination-wide Young Clergy Forum in Washington, DC. Overarchingly, it was an amazing opportunity. But it was a tad stressful too. If you’ve never been to our nation’s capitol, Reagan National Airport is ridiculously busy on a normal day. But the afternoon that I landed was the first the airport had been open since a major snowstorm had shut it down for more than three days.

To say that traffic was backed up is a ridiculous understatement. Thousan…

For the Sake of Love

It’s Easter month, which means we’ll soon be rightly trumpeting that around which our faith revolves: the glory of resurrection.  The triumph of light over darkness.  The triumph of life—of God’s life—over death.
But before we get there, we’ll encounter images and hear again stories that remind us of the profound humility and servant’s heart of the one we call the Christ.  We’ll watch as he enters Jerusalem not on a mighty steed but on a donkey.  We’ll listen as he shares a valediction, forbidding mourning, with his friends.  We’ll lament as one of his disciples betrays him, for the price of a slave, into the hands of those who’d have him killed.  We’ll recoil as he’s beaten and bloodied and hung on a cross.  And we’ll weep next to his mother and the Magdalene, and the few others who stayed to the end.
Still there’s another image we’d do well not to miss—a scene that takes place in St. John’s gospel during Jesus’ final meal with his followers: one wherein he rises from the table, drapes…

Free in All, Free for All

One thing I’m frequently asked is what I enjoy most about serving as a pastor. Frankly, it’s difficult to pick a “favorite” aspect of the role. There are certainly some things I look forward to more than others, but one truth I’ve discovered during my almost ten years in ministry thus far is that the blessings far outweigh the hardships—and that the miraculous tends to shine even in the mundane, if I keep my heart tuned to God’s.
An example of this took place not long ago as we gathered for our Singing & Communion at McKenzie Healthcare. Actually that ministry’s a high point of my month, and consistently speaks to me in some manner—often in one I wasn’t aware I needed. But that isn’t to say it’s easy. It’s quite challenging at times to be in environments where so many are struggling or hurting in some way—especially when you’ve had family members who have resided in similar facilities. It doesn’t take much for the floodgate of memories—many of which are less-than-pleasant—t…