It is Time



So much has been said…so much has been posted…and yet here we are. Fear, anger, frustration, hate, intolerance, all seem to be increasing and encroaching. Just in the past week a group of people threatened a College President, his children, and students in Lindsborg, Kansas.

As of late the alerts on my phone seem like a never ending barrage of police shootings, protests, and racially motivated incidents. I am heartbroken by what is unfolding around us. I am heartbroken by the ways we so quickly get into our camps, put up our flags, and damn the other side. I am heartbroken by the manner in which we are so quick to become angry, it is as though Jesus’ brother James never wrote these words, “…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (1:19b,20).”

I am blessed to serve our local police department as their chaplain. It wasn’t until I started spending time with these officers that something struck me. What would it be like to have to wear a Kevlar vest to work in our community? What would it be like to be a wife or husband and watch your spouse put that vest on each day. What would it be like to be a child and see Mom or Dad put that vest on each day? The very act of wearing it says, “There is a chance I’m not going to come home after work, but I’m going to do all that I can to come back to you when my shift is over.” Pause for a moment and consider that life.

What I write next I hesitate to even attempt, for I do not know what it is like. In fear and trembling here we go…Now consider the African American household, or the Latino household, or the Asian household, or Middle Eastern household; not only in urban settings but suburban as well, or even rural like Lindsborg, KS. What must it be like to to wake up each day not knowing how your actions will be interpreted by a fearful or nervous police officer? What must it be like to hear time and time again that your skin color alone makes you suspect of criminal activity or a lower-class resident on the fringes of acceptable society? Pause for a moment and consider that life.

This white middle-class preacher in a rural setting cannot even begin to wrap my head around those types of daily struggles.

We are better than all of this aren’t we? We are better than building fences and bunkers and damning the other side…aren’t we? We are better than being people that allow anger to dictate the ways that we live…aren’t we?

I hope so.

It is time, now, before it gets any worse, to meet our neighbors, to love them, and to walk together with them. When Jesus was asked by a lawyer, “Who is my neighbor.” Jesus told a story about a Jewish man beaten within an inch of his life, left to die on the side of the road. The one who saved him? A Samaritan. To the Jewish lawyer this was the worst possible answer, when Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three…proved to be a neighbor…?” The man cannot even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan” he meekly responds, “The one who showed him mercy.” Luke 10:25-37

It is time for mercy to reign over wrath, it is time for peace to reign over fear, it is time for hope to reign over distrust.

We are better than this.

We are better than this.

We are better than this.

It is time to treat each other as more than a profession or a race or a label or a cause. It is time to treat each other as we are, people created in the image of God, not one person deserving to be thrown away or discarded.

It is time for the body of Christ, the church, to be reaching out to our neighbors, walking with them, serving them, loving them. It is time.

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First Visit

11 years ago today Dani, Sadie (who was 3 months old), and I traveled from Monrovia, California to visit a church in Kansas, in a town named Marion. 

I had been in conversation for a couple months with the search committee members; Donna, Bill, Rosse, Pam, Deanna, Mike, and Helen. It was time to see if God was calling us to serve Him together.

We flew from Los Angeles where we had spent the previous three years and landed in Wichita, KS. Other than the incredibly short walk from the gate to baggage claim the item that still stands out the most in my mind is the sign we saw at baggage claim, “HUNTERS PLEASE RETRIEVE YOUR GUNS”, I believe there was an arrow pointing in the correct direction. The irony was that we couldn’t say, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” because that is exactly where we were! We got our bags and our rental car and headed for Marion, KS. I remember it was “rush hour”, I think we slowed down to 50 on the interstate!

We stopped one time to change a diaper and then came into Marion from the North. We had been given directions to avoid construction on Highway 50, a gift for which I will always be grateful!

We drove past the football stadium where Marion was preparing to play that night and turned right on Denver street arriving at Bill and Debbi’s house. They were so welcoming and hospitable! We loved getting to know them.

Bill led us out to the bed and breakfast at the lake. We got set up there and then met the search committee for dinner at Helen and Dwight’s house. It was a great time to meet one another in person and become better acquainted. The meal was delicious! After the meal we visited a while and made plans for the next day.

We met at the church and were given a tour of the building. It was beautiful! And we could tell that each search committee member was proud of this place where God had been worshipped since 1871!

Following the tour we went to Art In the Park, an annual craft fair in Marion the third Saturday in September. If you are ever in the area it is worth coming to experience. Dani carried Sadie in a sling and different committee members guided us around. They introduced us to bierocks, delicious! By the way others interacted with committee members it was evident that this was a wonderful community!

That night we had a wonderful dinner at the Grand Central Hotel in Cottonwood Falls. The food and fellowship was great!

Sunday morning we all went to Halstead Presbyterian Church so that the search committee could hear me preach at a neutral pulpit. The service went well and I was terribly nervous! The committee members were complimentary after the service and we headed for lunch in Wichita. 

During the lunch we all felt like this was a great fit. Mike told me if we decided to come he wanted me to commit to being here 5 years. I told him I wouldn’t be able to do that, but I could commit to being in Marion for as long as God called me there.

Here we are 11 years later and God’s call remains strong. We love this congregation and this community and we are so glad for that first weekend in Marion 11 years ago!

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What You will

Reading in Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer I came across these lines this morning:

“Do what You will with me, O God; make of me as You will, and change me as You will, and use me as You will, both now and in the larger life beyond; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”

I find myself more than happy to worship Jesus as Savior, but am I really trusting Jesus as Lord? This prayer hit me square in the chest this morning. Trusting Jesus as Lord means trusting him to do with me, make of me, change me, and use me as He desires, not as I prefer.

It is so easy to get entrenched in our lives. We use words like “busy”, “habit”, “routine”, and “not my responsibility” to explain why we don’t do whatever it is that God is calling us to do. And when it is all said and done we are the ones that miss out on being part of God’s work.

God does not need us to make His plan happen. Rather, God wants to partner with us so that we experience abundant life and have complete joy. When we are willing to allow God to lead our lives we must surrender control, we must surrender agendas, and we must surrender our comfort trusting that God’s ways are better than our ways.

The life of faith is based on having faith in Holy God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In a world that puts emphasis on “what makes you feel good” the followers of Jesus are called to put their faith in God, who is actually good.

May we humbly trust God’s direction and leading in our lives.

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Moon Shadow

One of my favorite places to run is in the country. Running south I can be off paved asphalt roads in less than a half mile. One of my favorite times to run is in between 5 and 6am. In the summer this means sunrises and wildlife. In the winters this means darkness, shooting stars, and seeing the different phases of the moon.

I’m sure this is the case in other places throughout the world, but I never noticed it until I began running in Kansas. When there is a full moon, the light being reflected off the surface of the moon is so bright you can see your shadow on the ground next to you as though it is the middle of the day. It is a very cool phenomenon that makes for some incredible winter morning runs.

Today was not a full moon. It was a waning crescent, meaning that the moon is mostly shadow with just a thumbnail’s amount of light being reflected to the earth. When I saw it this morning I knew it would be a dark run, but that I would be able to see the stars well. And if there were any shooting stars I would see those also.

I ran south out of town for 1.5 miles and occasionally saw the moon hanging there in the southern sky. It wasn’t bright, just a thin Cheshire Cat grin leaning sideways in the pre-dawn sky.

At 1.5 miles I turned around to head back to town. That’s when I saw it, my shadow was right there in front of me. I looked around to make sure there wasn’t any nearby light causing this to happen and the only lights I could see were a half mile away in either direction. This shadow was clearly being caused by that sliver of a moon.

As a pastor I am encouraged to see the Good News of Jesus around me. There is a Paul Coleman Trio song The Sun, the Stars, and the Moon. The idea of the song being that, like the moon, we should reflect the light of the Sun. In non-metaphorical terms, we should be reflecting the light of Jesus. I’ve always thought of that in terms of a full moon, fully reflecting the sun. But then this morning when I saw my shadow there on the ground in front of me I was reminded of another truth. I don’t always fill spiritually full. I don’t always feel like I’m able to give everything I have to reflecting the light of Jesus.

Sometimes this following Jesus life is not easy. Sometimes shadows dominate the things we do and we have no capacity to reflect more light than we are able to. Even that thin sliver of light was bright enough to remind me that millions of miles away, despite the darkness, the sun was burning bright and the moon, despite being mostly covered in shadows was able to reflect enough light to point to something bigger than itself.

That is what following Jesus is like. We are not perfect super moons. We are covered in shadows and craters and dust. Yet despite all that, there is a part of us that points to Jesus and says, “Yes, You are Lord and Savior, and You are good.” And others are able to know that despite the darkness the God of the universe is shining bright.

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Hutchmoot 2015


I just returned from Hutchmoot.

This was my third time, and yet I struggle to describe this weekend in Nashville to those who have not experienced it yet. There are some elements that are the same each year; good music, excellent writing, inspired art, fantastic food, and incredibly kind people. The schedule does not vary much, the location does not change at all. The participants vary from year to year.

More than once I was asked, “Why are you here?” (not in a “you don’t belong here manner, rather, true curiosity as to what drew me there.) My honest response? Because it fills me.

I arrived in Nashville tired, worn out, frustrated, and down. I needed to “see something cool.”

I did. And then some!

On Thursday night when Allen Levi broke into his song The Land Where the People Walked Backwards my arms were immediately covered in goose bumps, something special was happening, something beautiful, something cool. On Friday I learned that Jonathan Roger’s hometown was #3 on the Soviet Union’s list of annihilation! And Chris Yokel finds poetry in walks in the woods. Helena Sorensen reminded us of our one foot firmly planted in the temporal while our other foot is stepping into the eternal. Sam Smith encouraged us with the ability story has to show us hope. On Friday afternoon my wife, Dani, and I walked Radnor Lake where we came across two does, a fawn, and two young bucks, along with five turkeys. Friday night was only my second Andrew Peterson concert in my life, it was a fun evening filled with grace and hope. Saturday I enjoyed hearing Russ Ramsey talk about Van Gogh and hiking, and David Bruno talk about sehnsucht. Dani and I toured Cheekwood gardens and had a wonderful meal capped off with the stories of Walt Wangerin Jr. Sunday morning, shhh, I skipped church. I know, but it was so good to sleep in and not rush out the door on a Sunday morning. Breakfast at the pancake pantry left me wondering if I had ever had pancakes before my plate of Banana Bread pancakes. And then the Liturgy of the Lost Rhyme was beautiful and sacred. And of course almost all of it was surrounded by wonderful, amazing, talented people.

Those experiences are exactly what keep me coming back to Hutchmoot, what inspired me to say to my wife after my first one, “You’ve gotta see this!” It is the Church expressing the grace and love of God in tangible ways, in ways I could hear, see, touch, smell, and taste (Thank you Lewis Graham and the kitchen crew!). Christ was exalted and the Holy Spirit was present!

I am filled up, encouraged, and blessed. The experiences of Hutchmmot 2015 will resonate with me throughout the year as I listen to music, read books, or write poetry.

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I Am Here


Yesterday as I read about the rescue of the women from Boko Haram these words came to me:

If you see the world’s pain and do not weep or even groan in agony…
then you do not see.
If you hear the world’s suffering and do not feel your heart sink within your chest…
then you do not hear.
If you see only beauty, joy, and peace, you are not a “glass-half-full” optimist…
you have blinders on your eyes.
If all you hear are reports of “success”, “progress”, and “acceptance”…
you have become deaf to reality

As Christ wept with Martha and Mary when He encountered their pain and suffering
So we, followers of Jesus, must be broken by the things that break the heart of Jesus.

We shout, “Death has no victory!” We boast, “Death has no sting!”
Yet suffering causes anguish.
Pain brings forth the fears.
My heart sinks and my soul groans, “Come Lord Jesus.”
And in the thin space that comes with such groaning…
the soft whisper of the Holy Spirit says, “I Am here. I Am here. I Am here.”

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Good Friday

Friday 3rd

Fridays are the beginning of freedom
from meetings and deadlines
from frustrating coworkers
from piles of paperwork
from full email inboxes
from the daily grind of trying…
to scratch out a living

Good Friday is the beginning of freedom
from slavery to sin
from separation from God
from trying to be righteous
from striving to earn grace
from dying…
to living

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His Hands

After the transition from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time I was blessed to have a couple mornings where I hung out with my son before the sun came up. On one of those mornings his hand was in mine. I knew it was a fleeting moment, in seconds it would be trying to tickle me, climb me, or it would be picking his nose (just being honest). But in that one fleeting moment a thought raced through my mind, “What will his hands do over the course of his life?” I reached for my phone and grabbed this picture before the moment was gone.hands

Right now his hands are learning how to hold a pencil, how to manipulate scissors, how to color in the lines, how to build with Keva Planks, how to climb from one side of the monkey bars to the other without falling, and a whole host of other activities in which five-year-olds participate. But what will they do over the course of his lifetime? They will write papers and throw footballs and hold books. They will catch him when he falls and they will be used to pull him back up. They will fight and protect. One day they will demonstrate his affection for a young woman. They will change the oil on his first car. They will hang drywall and paint furniture. These hands of his have a lifetime of use ahead of them. He will use them for many things I can fathom and for even more that I can’t, or don’t want to (still being honest).

As his father I will hold his hands when he lets me or when I have to. I will put Lightning McQueen Band-Aids on them when he gets a cut. I will give him high fives when our teams are winning. I will feel them wrapped around me in an embrace when he is tired, or afraid, or successful. His two hands are amazing already and I am excited for what I will witness him doing with them over the course of my lifetime.

In the same manner I wonder, if this is how I feel about my son, what were God’s feelings the first moment he laid eyes on the hands of Jesus? Knowing what those hands would do; from cutting and sanding wood, to unrolling the scroll, to healing and serving, to breaking bread and lifting the cup, to being pierced and pinned to a cross beam, God the Father knew what He was calling His Son to do for all people. It was the highest of high callings and it was the calling of Jesus.

Even today we share in that calling, we are Kingdom builders and it is as the hands of Christ that we will build His Kingdom even here, among us, in our time, for all people to witness the God who loves us with a depth that we cannot begin to comprehend, yet we know it to be true.

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It wasn’t until about seven years ago that I first celebrated All Saints Day. It tends to be a forgotten day among the faithful as the festivities around Halloween continue to grow in importance and celebration. However since first celebrating this day those seven years ago I have come to have a growing appreciation of its significance.

For some it is a day to remember those brothers and sisters in the faith who have already passed on to glory. I understand that reason for remembering, but in this day in age when we are so mobile and spread out it is equally important to remember those who are still living who have played an important role in our spiritual development. Both groups of people have had a hand in molding and forming me into the man of God that I am today.

All day today names have gone through my mind as I lifted them up in prayer. They are my parents, grandparents, Sunday school teachers, pastors, youth pastors, friends, parishioners, professors, my wife, my children, students, authors, and musicians. My life is richer for knowing them, and for experiencing God through them. I cannot write properly about them so instead I have drafted this poem entitled Saints:

Showed me the grace of the Father
Allowed me to recognize my need for Christ’s sacrifice
Instructed me in the faith
Nudged me when I strayed
Told me the old, old stories
Showed me the power of the Holy Spirit

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Are we messengers of life?


I took this picture a few weeks ago as I was walking to the church on a Sunday morning. The picture is of a large number of turkey vultures roosting on the water tower behind our middle school/high school. What caught my eye was not just the large number of turkey vultures though.  Beyond that what caught my eye was for how many churches this could be a symbol.

Let me back up. I am a minister in the PC(USA).  As a denomination we are hemorrhaging members each year. I am blessed to serve a congregation that continues to grow and reach out to the community that lives around it. However this is not the case for many congregations within our denomination or some other denominations with which I am familiar. Instead what is happening is congregations get gradually smaller and smaller until eventually there is a small group of individuals to turn off the lights and lock the doors.

And that is why the vultures caught my eye. Secularly, Walt Disney quite often used the vultures in his art to depict impending doom or death. The Bible though, quite often uses water as a source of life and nourishment. Here are these vultures perched on a water tower. Within the water tower is life, yet all around the water tower are these birds that are associated with death and decay, leaving their filth all around the structure.

The birds use the water tower as a place to roost and then in the morning as a place to warm up their wings before they begin their day in search of food. As followers of Christ, we have a calling to take the message of where life is found, out to the world. We cannot be the ones who perch in the pews and go out into the world seeking to be fed by that which is decaying and dead. We have, in Christ, the source of life. Let us embrace our new life in Christ and let us show that life to those who have yet to experience it.

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