Several years ago I was asked to give the Thanksgiving talk to my Rotary club. That club has a diverse membership - Christian, Jew, agnostic, etc - and I wondered how to remain true to my own convictions without preaching a Christian sermon. Here's the gist of what I said that day, and I hope it encourages some thought for you this weekend:

Thanksgiving is not a Christian holiday! Nor is it a Jewish holiday, nor a Muslim or Buddhist holiday. It is an American holiday. While special days of thanksgiving had been observed for some time in colonial America, it was George Washington who called the first national day of Thanksgiving, and nearly 100 years later Abraham Lincoln declared it a perpetual national holiday. It is an American holiday. And so rather than turning to my own Scriptures as a Christian, we turn to that most American of documents, The Declaration of Independence.



"How's that working out for you?" That's my friend Dave Wenger's favorite question, it seems. When people come to see him for help or counsel, they also usually come with an explanation of their life strategies so far, and why those strategies are really really good. Which begs the question of why they've come to see him. So he just asks the question.

Here's another Wengerism, "What people think of you is none of your business!" Gotta love this guy, and I do.

I'm not able to embed a little video that he's produced, "The River", from Dave's website. You'll really like it. Or not. Depending on the amount of  "peace and desperation" in your life. You'll see what I mean. Hit the link, give it a watch. You can thank me later.

Politics 6 Obama Won the Debate!!

Just kidding . . . Here's the true confession . . . I've never been able to sit through an entire Presidential debate. I can actually only take a few minutes at a time. Last night I was able to stand about four short snippets. Turn it on . . . turn it off . . . on . . . off . ..  For some reason they are painful for me to watch and I'm not entirely sure why.

Maybe it's for the same reason I can't watch most "romantic comedy" movies. Not because they're "chick flicks". But because almost all romantic comedies have a plot that turns on a lie. Might be a big lie, or a little white lie told to impress a girl/boy, but then the lie grows and all kinds of funny complications ensue. The whole movie is about unraveling the consequences of the lie or deception, usually with a happy ending when the truth is finally revealed, and everybody loves everybody anyway.

I've started movies like that many times. I literally have to either get up and leave or turn it off. I have an overwhelming emotional reaction of tension and anxiety, and my only thought is "why doesn't somebody just tell the truth?" I realize that would ruin the movie. But it would greatly improve real life . . .

So Romney won the debate. On substance? Maybe. On appearance? Absolutely. I was at a restaurant when the debate came on, no sound, and my first thought on seeing the two men walk out was "Obama is in trouble". Tight, tired, looked like he really didn't want to be there. Romney looked confident. Then I got home, turned on the sound, heard them both talking, and immediately felt like I was watching a Romantic Comedy.


Politics 5 Paul Ryan's Problem with Evil

"In the days ahead, and in the years ahead, American foreign policy needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose. Only by the confident exercise of American influence are evil and violence overcome."

So says Paul Ryan, Republican V.P. nominee. He said this to a room full of "values voters" at the 2012 Values Voters Summit in D.C. just this week. In the same speech he also said,

"I am a Catholic, not because anyone has ordered me to accept a creed, but because of the grace and truth revealed in my faith – and that’s how we all feel about the faiths we hold."

I just last week heard that I must be pro-Obama because of a sermon I gave a few weeks ago. Someone else told me recently I was getting better at not sounding so anti-conservative. I suppose sometimes I do sound pro-Obama or anti-conservative. Partly I suppose because in Christian-land I'm surrounded by people who keep repeating Republican mottos like trained parrots. And it deeply concerns me. We need to put on Gospel ears and listen to both sides of the aisle, the donkelephantys.

So with Gospel ears on, does anyone else dare risk a correction of the first statement above by Mr. Ryan? Does anyone else think that his Christian faith - and I'm grateful he owns it -  proclaimed in the second quote might have a different take on how evil and violence are "overcome"? Does anyone else find it at least mildly disturbing that a room full of Christians amened and applauded their way thru this speech - and some of it was very good - including the first quote? Just wondering . . .



I went to seminary in the Clinton years, and it didn't take long in any conversation with Evangelicals for him to come up. Especially when someone knew or found out that we were from Arkansas. One thing that shocked me was the hysteria. People on seminary campus were talking about moving to Canada if Clinton was re-elected. "America is finished if he gets in again" type stuff. I was amazed at the fear. And surprised at how fragile some of my fellow Christians seem to think America is.

Hey, I'm from Arkansas - we're used to racists and incompetents being our governor. And after some real jokers - we're still here. And still poor and under-educated, but that was true both before and after our latest savior got elected.

CALM DOWN PEOPLE! Clinton was re-elected. There was not a mass exodus to Canada. Turns out he was not the AntiChrist. America survived - and you could make the case, prospered.

Sure, this election is important. Sure, there are some real philosophical and value differences. Yes, direction and vision are crucial. But hey, Christians! Are you voting from fear or faith? "And whatever is not of faith, is sin" - Apostle Paul.


Politics 3 A Revised Creed

In an act of arrogance and pride, I recently rewrote the Apostle's Creed. Tried to put it into marketplace language, and then preached it as a guide to thinking politically as a Christian. I think it has enormous implications for our participation in American politics, both in how we participate and how we evaluate political claims from all the voices out there. But rather that re-preach that here, I'll just post the revised creed, and I wonder what implications you see? Or what questions and issues does it raise?



Today's the big day. Here in our little town there's a traffic jam around ChikFilA. Some of us - mostly from the Right and the Righteous are buying chicken. Others - mostly from the Left and the Lost - are staging kiss-ins. At one level it's all great, Americans doing what Americans should do. Speaking up, voting with time and money as well as ballot. Letting values influence the public debate - as if in some magical world they do not! Recognizing that Religion and Politics are kissing cousins and not pretending otherwise.

Just this word to my fellow Christians. Watch our tone. Some of us - I repeat, SOME - sound like we born-again-Spirit-led-evangelical-Bible-believing-conservative Christians are some kind of OFFENDED MAJORITY. While we may be offended, we are absolutely not a majority. And last time I checked, Jesus followers should not expect to be treated with deference and kid gloves by the majority.



Trying to get back in the saddle on this blog! Gonna take a break from religion and talk about politics . . . which is really the same thing . . . Religion and Politics are twin sisters, two sides of the same coin, two facets of the same diamond - you get the idea. Some are fond of saying that Jesus was not the political messiah that Israel expected. This is a naive mistake. There's never been a more political human being than Jesus of Nazareth.



When I was a boy, I loved the games we played. We played "army" and "ambush" til it was too dark to see. Backyard baseball and football constantly. "Safaris" on the creek for snakes and crawdads. And - even for boys - there was "pretending". Later, when I was the father of young girls, I realized what real "pretending" is and how amateurish we were as boys! Still, there were the "forts" we built, and being Daniel Boone, or Frankenstein or the Mummy. Games and pretending are how we seem to grow up, try on things, work out who we are, learn to live with others, etc. And then we mostly put away childish things, and that's appropriate. And as adults, we still need to occasionally play and pretend, it refreshes us.

But what do we make of a society that rewards with fabulous riches adults who PRETEND for a living and who PLAY games with balls for a living? Actors and Athletes. Movie stars and Sports stars. What do you make of a society that will pay millions and millions of dollars to an adult who's good at make-believe, or a grown man who plays with a ball better than the other boy? While paying someone to teach and train our children a few thousand dollars? A society that values those "skills" far above adult skills of responsibility, teaching, leading, farming, building, etc?



Thanks for the response to the sermon last Sunday, and if you want to hear it the link is below. I just watched it - it's painful to watch yourself preach! Nevertheless, the message is crucial, and if you've got a half hour I'd appreciate your thoughts and comments.



When couples come to ministers to talk about their marriage ceremonies, ministers think it's interesting to ask if they love one another. What a stupid question! How would they know? A Christian marriage isn't about whether you're in love. Christian marriage is giving you the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which you can look back upon the marriage and call it love. . .The difficulty, therefore, is that Christians, when they approach this issue, no longer know what marriage is. . . because Christians no longer practice Christian marriage.  – Stanley Hauerwas

Genesis 2: 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.  ‎23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”  ‎24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  ‎25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Matthew 19: 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  ‎9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”  ‎10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”  ‎11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.

Modernity has not only turned us into shameful animals copulating with strangers, but Christians, who should be the best lovers, the most sexual, are quite stiff and on feverish guard lest anyone actually “commit” a holy kiss. This is a sign of our spiritual immaturity . . . lovemaking is a celebration of a couple’s history of good times, of positive personal knowledge shared by no others, of refuge from a crazy world. Adulterers despise this sort of history, as do slaves of one night stands and bitter Christian marriages.  – Douglas Jones

Song of Songs 8: 6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.  ‎7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.

1 Corinthians 7:  ‎3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.  ‎4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.  ‎5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

The Christian case for fidelity and chastity will seem partial and hypocritical if it trains most of its attention on the minority of cases – on homosexual wedlock . . . It is the heterosexual divorce rate, the heterosexual retreat from marriage and the heterosexual out-of-wedlock birthrate that should command the most attention . . . The Christian perspective on gay sex only makes sense in light of the Christian perspective on straight sex, and in a culture that has made heterosexual desire the measure of all things, asking gays alone to conform their lives to a hard teaching will inevitably seem like a form of bigotry. – Ross Douthat

Deuteronomy 22 & 23 “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel . . . “When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken.

 Ephesians 5 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  ‎32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  ‎33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Matthew 5 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  ‎28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  ‎29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  ‎30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

  1. What do you desire from your most intimate relationship?

  1. Who shaped those desires? Your parents? Movies? TV? Jesus? When you imagine your love life, does it look more like Hollywood or Christianity?

  1. How are you currently trying to fulfill those desires? Are those attempts in line with the loving wisdom of Christ and His apostles?

  1. Who or what shaped your current convictions about sex and marriage? Are you willing to be out of step with America?




I have been in a learning community for some years now, studying the Scriptures almost every week together. It’s been a very serious, ordered experience. And for the most part we’ve used guides published by BILD. The process has been great for leadership development, and some of us are pursuing accredited degrees now. One of the primary truths we have learned from our study concerns the Biblical teaching of “establishing”. The Greek New Testament word is ‘steridzo’, often translated “strengthening”.  It’s used in the New Testament in the context of “establishing the church” or “strengthening the believers”.

It’s a core concept because it begins to define the goal of all of our mission effort, church programs and efforts, relief & development efforts, training programs, etc. And once you clearly the define the goal, you begin to see the implications for the “how to’s” of doing your missions, programming, relief work. Paying attention to Establishing is not a quick path to “best practices” that will numerically grow your church or ministry. It’s not a “plug and play” program or curriculum. It’s more like the binary code or operating system that works behind any number of apps. Getting a hold of the idea and implementing it has changed our lives and is bearing much fruit among us. What follows is a little summary of the concept and some of its implications.



Hard to have a helpful conversation on this topic! See my recent Facebook comments! Lots of heat but not much light.  I was just sent a link to some comments by Stanley Hauerwas, ethics prof at Duke, and a Methodist, on this topic. So I'll let him take the heat today:

On the church, marriage, and sexuality
[Another member of the audience asks:] Talking about the unity of the church, how might that apply to the current debates concerning homosexuality in the United Methodist Church, in the Presbyterian USA church, and the Reconciling Congregations movement within the United Methodist Church?
The problem with debates about homosexuality is they have been devoid of any linguistic discipline that might give you some indication what is at stake. Methodism, for example, is more concerned with being inclusive than being the church. We do not have the slightest idea what we mean by being inclusive other than some vague idea that inclusivity has something to do with being accepting and loving. Inclusivity is, of course, a necessary strategy for survival in what is religiously a buyers' market. Even worse, the inclusive church is captured by romantic notions of marriage. Combine inclusivity and romanticism and you have no reason to deny marriage between gay people.
When couples come to ministers to talk about their marriage ceremonies, ministers think it's interesting to ask if they love one another. What a stupid question! How would they know? A Christian marriage isn't about whether you're in love. Christian marriage is giving you the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which you can look back upon the marriage and call it love. It is a hard discipline over many years.
The difficulty, therefore, is that Christians, when they approach this issue, no longer know what marriage is. For centuries, Christians married people who didn't know one another until the marriage ceremony, and we knew they were going to have sex that night. They didn't know one another. Where does all this love stuff come from? They could have sex because they were married.
Now, when marriage becomes a mutually enhancing arrangement until something goes wrong, then it makes no sense at all to oppose homosexual marriages. If marriage is a calling that makes promises of lifelong monogamous fidelity in which children are welcomed, then we've got a problem. But we can't even get to a discussion there, because Christians no longer practice Christian marriage.
What has made it particularly hard is that the divorce culture has made it impossible for us to talk about these matters--and many of you know, I'm divorced and remarried. It has made it impossible for us to talk about these matters with an honesty and candor that is required if you are not to indulge in self-deceptive, sentimental lies.
For gay Christians who I know and love, I wish we as Christians could come up with some way to help them, like we need to help one another, to avoid the sexual wilderness in which we live. That's a worthy task. I probably sound like a conservative on these matters, not because I've got some deep animosity toward gay people, but because I don't know how to go forward given the current marriage practices of our culture.



"Gay marriage" is technically an oxymoron. The words are self-contradictory. But that's really not what the issue is about, is it?

For those on the Left, it is simply dishonest and destructive to attempt to blackmail the rest of us into accepting your perverse redefinition of marriage. "Marriage", as a word and as a concept, has meant heterosexual union for millenia, not just since the 1950's in America. It is the height of arrogance and social brutality to impose your redefinition.

For those on the Right, it's none of the State's damn business anyway.

For those of us who follow Jesus, a few thoughts for discussion:

  • where in the Bible is a government sanctioned ceremony required for Christian marriage?
  • Gay marriage is not a "civil right". That's part of the reason . . . 
  • I'd like to see our government get completely out of the business of giving tax breaks to married couples, or couples in civil unions, or common law marriages, etc. 
  • It is a foolish society that undermines the heterosexual family. We are spitting in the face of thousands of years of human wisdom when we do so. Leaving aside Christian teaching for the moment.
  • It's not necessary - and in fact it's stupid - to tear down marriage and family in order to make room for the just treatment of homosexuals.
  • Gay people are sinners. . . . . .  just like you are.
  • Gay people are loved by God . . . just like you are.



I'm anticipating preaching in Haiti next Sunday. I almost always get asked to preach. You know, the white guy shows up so let's ask him to bring the message. I'd usually rather listen and participate and try to learn something from Christians in a different culture. But this time I've got a passage on my mind I can't shake - Jesus feeding the 5000. You know the story. There are 5 moves in the story that are speaking to me, I think will speak to Haitians, and I hope will speak to us here in the U.S. Here's the sermon "outline" I'll have in my head:



Eye Rolling. That was - and has been - the usual reaction of my peers to Martin Luther King Day. It's the attitude I had. Not some kind of outright hatred. No vicious remarks. Just a good Southern white evangelical Eye Roll. Too politically correct. Too mandated from on high. Too black. Too imposed. Seemed both artificial and pretentious.

I changed my mind somewhere along the way. I realize I'm late to the party - and I'm really not all that interested in the party. BUT. He's been on my mind lately. Just recently read a comment where he was warning about the three giants, or "triplets", of racism, militarism, and materialism. He was prophetic. And I'm struck at how blind so many of us comfortably well off Christians are to those three giants. More than blind, I'm struck at how often followers of Jesus - who should know better - actually defend those three giants if not in word then in deed.

So I'm honoring Dr. King today. Yeah, the black, liberal, socialist . . . Christian man.  By listening again to his words and ideas. You?