Life in Death, What Do You Say When . . .

Last week, I was privileged to be the celebrant at a wedding. The groom was in his 80’s and the bride in her 70’s. Both widowed after long and happy marriages, they had found each other and  clicked immediately. I met them and listen to their love stories and to their faith stories. Two honorable people, loving God, loving each other, having experienced death, now offer life to one another in the promises of the marriage covenant. At the ceremony, the power of their love radiated from them both. Holding back my own happy tears, I led the two of them as…

Do Pets Go to Heaven?

This last week on “Stump the Pastor” Sunday, I received simply spectacular questions, many from our deep thinking youth group. A number of the questions revolved around the themes of heaven and hell. What are the characteristics of such places or destinies? Much literature drags us into hell with a red devil and pitchfork, riddled with physical torture and everyone sweating from the eternal fires. Contrastingly, heaven floats on fluffy clouds with people placidly (and with boredom?) sitting around playing harps. Why harps?  Never have known. Personally, I think hell will look like this: Every single person will focus on one thing…

Unrelenting Suffering: Reflections on Oklahoma City Storms

Last Friday night I was eyeing my swollen and throbbing finger in some frustration.  A painful wasp sting had just put a crimp in the plans for the evening. Idly, I checked the news and heard to my horror that Oklahoma City was just at that moment being besieged again with tornadoes and driving rains so heavy that the reporters say it was more like a hurricane than a tornado. Definitely interrupted evening plans for them. I logged into Facebook and mentioned that I was watching the situation. Several people contacted me privately, admitting their fears about relatives there. They asked for…

Special Protection? Really?

In response to last week’s post about setting aside the phrase, “God protected me” when surviving a natural or human-made disaster, a reader wrote: “Do you have any ideas about what I could say when someone tells me a miracle story like, ‘God saved me but all my neighbors were blown away?’” This reader hit the core of my plea: let us stop suggesting that God has shown special favor to those who survived while ignoring the frantic prayers of those who perished or suffered life-changing injuries. Certainly it looks miraculous when people emerge alive from a tornado or fire or plane…

The Epic Battle: Message Series Starting This Sunday

“Just think how much good you could do!”  Those enticing words also may be some of the most dangerous words around–they can open the door to extraordinary evil, perfectly disguised and cloaked with something that just looks so right. Starting this Sunday, May 26, I will begin a five week message series on the necessity of learning as early as possible to discern that which is good from that which is not good. Because even the youngest need to learn to develop that facility if they are to make wise decisions, I want to make this series as accessible as possible for…

More on The Nature of Evil

Several weeks ago, in the aftermath of the bombing at the Boston Marathon, I wrote: “evil defies reason.” With the exposure now of kidnappings and years-long torture of three women in Cleveland, the time has come to further explore the nature of evil. Again, evil defies reason. Reasonable people do not plant bombs that kill, maim and destroy. Reasonable people do not kidnap others and hold them and torture them for years on end. Reasonable people do not insist on sucking everyone around them into their own vortex of impenetrable darkness. Reasonable people may make lots of foolish mistakes, even indeed bringing harm to others, but they do not…

Portrait of a Pastor

I received a gift this morning.  A gift so full of love and hope that I am still nearly breathless. Several years ago, Vicki Attaway made her way to the church I serve, having heard that there was a female pastor there and that she might find it welcoming and comfortable.  Within a short period of time, I discovered that Vicki, as am I, is a graduate of Rice University. An immediate and unbreakable bond formed. There are few of us and even fewer women of our generation who can say that. In time, Vicki’s love for God and willingness to serve…

The Two Way Betrayal

It is Holy or Black Saturday and I’m deep in a place of emotional and spiritual pain. Last night, at Tenebrae, as I was leading the service, I saw again the shock of the disciples. I saw their need to flee, their betrayal, and the aloneness of Jesus when he faced his accusers.  My tears began to flow. That time of utter desolation for Jesus stands as final proof of undeserved love. But I bet Jesus’s closest followers did not see love. Instead they, too, felt totally betrayed by the one they had loved. Why? Because there was no king, no kingdom,…

Easter Conversation with God from a Troubled Pastor

Me:  “OK, God, can’t you see that I’m in the midst of doing all this for You?  Look at all the services we’ve planned!  See how creative they are!  We’re doing such a great job telling that Passion Week and Easter story. So, that being the case, how about you take all this other stuff away?  You know, as in, ‘Let this cup pass from me.’” God, “I think you may be missing something.” Above was the conversation taking place in my mind a few minutes ago.  With a worship service looming this evening, I heard about the father of one of…

From Barren to Baby, Hope After Tragedy

As did many clergy, I faced a dilemma with this Sunday’s message after the events of Friday’s massacre of children. For Advent this year, I had decided to do a series I called “From Barren to Baby” and speak of some of Jesus’ ancestors, particularly those whose stories started with the barren woman scenario.  I learned long ago that when a passage in the Bible begins to speak of a woman unable to have children, it is code for, “Pay attention!!!  Something important is about to happen!” So, we’ve looked at the Abraham-Sarah-Hagar saga and then at the very strange story of…