When “safe” no longer is…and possibly never was

Sunday, my family and I worshipped at an A.M.E. church in our new home city of Greenville, South Carolina. We’d been intrigued and slightly annoyed at the lack of diversity in all the congregations we’d been too. So we decided we wanted to try an A.M.E. church.

It wasn’t until I entered the sanctuary that I realized how much white privilege affects me.

Crossing the threshold to worship, I remembered that it was a white guy who shot A.M.E. members, after praying with them. In their own church. In the same state I was in.

And with all I’d thought about prior to attending a black church, I had not in the least considered that my presence may have set them on edge. I desperately wanted to reach out and let people know we weren’t like the white guy who’d traveled to Charleston. But bringing up the shooting seemed even dumber than not being aware that my presence might be scary for some.

I remembered the lessons my dad taught me about how to behave if pulled over by a policeman. So to help set people at ease, I intentionally tried to keep my empty hands visible during the service. Fortunately, that’s not hard to do an an A.M.E. church! But it was a conscious choice to keep my hands on the empty pew in front of me when I wasn’t clapping or taking notes during the sermon.

And I wondered how it must be for the pastor to see one white family in the sea of his congregation. Just three months after nine people he may well have known were shot in their own sanctuary. Nothing can be the same. There must be a new awareness. A new wariness.

And today, I pray for the teachers and professors around the nation that are approaching their classrooms. Rooms that were once unquestionably their sanctuary. Their domain. Where they taught students. But today are now potentially unsafe places full not of students but of possible threats.

Church on Sunday turned out to be a wonderful worship service with a gracious group of fellow believers. We received only hospitality, welcome, and hugs. It was great.

But I end this week realizing how random acts of violence affect all of us. And I mourn the increasing loss of “safe” spaces. That mourning almost seems silly when I realize the violence people around the world suffer on a daily basis and even those of differing races and backgrounds have suffered in my own country.

So I enter the prayers of those around the world and across millenia in saying:

Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison

Daily Bible Reading at the Speed of Life: Announcing 14 Minutes a Day

14 Minutes a Day - Bible reading at the pace of lifeI’m thrilled to announce the launch of 14MinutesaDay.com!

Ever since becoming a Christian at the age of 14, I’ve been committed to reading the Bible. My family would read it every morning at 5 a.m., often snoozing over genealogies! When I went to college to be a pastor, I studied Greek and Hebrew to help my Bible reading. I even lived in Israel so I could better understand the Bible.

Reading the Bible–not just ABOUT the Bible

I was fine with my level of Bible reading until one Saturday when a group of guys teaching at The Stony Brook School invited me to breakfast. As we waited for food, the guys went around the table saying a number. “3.” “6.” “1.” “4.”

One of the guys explained that it was the number of days in the past week each of us had read the Bible, not just read about the Bible.

That’s when it hit me — somewhere along the way, I gave up reading the Bible in favor of reading about the Bible.

It was the same for each of us. We read devotionals, Bible studies, posts, and articles about the Bible. But we’d moved away from actually reading the Bible itself.

My conscience was pricked. But honestly, I still found it hard to hit a regular rhythm of devotionally reading the Bible. Reading the Bible as a way of listening to God. When I pastored a church, I read the Bible mostly in order to teach it. But reading the Bible for sermon preparation was different than reading it to personally grow in my relationship with Jesus.

The 7×7 Experiment

Then in 2012, my friend Jon Swanson announced a Lenten discipline called “7×7: Listening to God for Lent.”

He started an experiment of sending emails to help people spend 7 minutes every day listening to God. Each email contained a link to a passage of Scripture that would take 5 minutes of Bible to read, leaving a couple minutes for prayer.

Boom! This totally worked for me! All of a sudden, I was reading the Bible and listening to God on a daily basis. At some point, he started adding longer 14 minute passages. That was even more my style. I like reading longer passages of Scripture to get the context and see themes.

Soon I was helping him with the 14 minute passages. We didn’t go through the Bible in order of the books or in order of chronology. We chose to keep a mix of Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament) and Christian Scripture (New Testament). Sometimes we’d do individual books. Sometimes we’d group books together like Deuteronomy, Malachi, Luke, Hebrews, and Romans because as Jon put it, it’s “the clearest statement of the law, the despair of ever filling it, Christ living and fulfilling the law, the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles.”

14 Minutes a Day

After we’d worked through the entire Bible, we stopped the emails. And before long, I fell out of the habit of daily Bible reading. So I’ve created 14MinutesaDay.com for my own personal devotional use. But I decided to open it up for others too. I call it: “Bible reading at the speed of life.”

If a free, no-frills, daily email with just a link to a passage of Scripture that will take roughly 14 minutes to read sounds like something you’d want, sign up at: 14MinutesaDay.com

What if this Easter celebration is real?

Easter sunrise service

Easter. The day that splits people.

Many appreciate Jesus. His life. His teaching.

And feel sorry that “the man” or “the machine” killed him.

But ressurection? For so many, that’s going too far.

If that’s you, this Easter try something different. Rather than scoff, mock, or feel sorry for those of us otherwise sensible people that believe in this raised-to-new-life thing. Rather than chuckling at this notion of Jesus not becoming zombified but actually becoming a new, more real creation.

What if?

Why not ask “What if it’s real?”

What if the pagan rituals of spring were just echoes, pantomimes, hints of a much deeper truth? Like the deeper magic Aslan releases?

Happy Easter!

However you choose to commemorate today, I wish you a happy Easter!

For crying out loud, He loves us!

Picture of a clip board with the reminder "P.S. He Loves You!"I’m so saddened by people saying God’s mad with them. And by churches telling people only about God’s anger.

I suppose churches do that because fear makes it easier to control people. But it’s not just the churches’ fault. When I pastored a church, I actually had people complain that I didn’t tell them how bad they were. They seriously complained.

God’s anger is a real part of the story. But for crying out loud, so is God’s love and mercy!

That’s what Easter is all about!

God is angry

I think of God’s anger at some level as being similar to the anger I feel as a parent when my kid’s disobey. I set rules for their own protection and well being. When they disobey, I need to punish them. But I don’t enjoy it.

So to with God…or so I imagine. God too set up rules. We broke them. In a big way. Our disobedience let in things like pain and sickness. Our disobedience let the works of the Enemy into this part of God’s creation. According to the story in the first chapters of Genesis, we even gave the Enemy some level of authority here.

God’s anger isn’t so much with us. It’s with the one who tricked us. Don’t hear me wrong. We are still culpable and our debt still needed to be paid. So in His love, He became one of us to pay the debt and free us for life again. Jesus said, “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

God’s not out to “get” us

If you needed any more proof that God isn’t out to “stick it to you,” check out John 21. If anyone let Jesus down, it was Peter. He denied Jesus three times, right at the hour of his deepest need.

In this chapter, Peter’s back at the fishing. I’d imagine he knew he’d blown it. He had every reason to believe that there was no way Jesus could use him after what he’d done.

But Jesus doesn’t blast him. Jesus restores him. Like drawing the venom out of a wound, Jesus draws Peter back to Himself.

Never beyond His reach

So enough with wallowing in self pity. Don’t let people put you down with threats of his anger. If you’re guilty of something, confess it. Let Jesus restore you. The Good News is He loves us. Extravagantly.

There’s a song by John Mark McMillan that says it so well. Here are some of the lyrics:

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me…

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss,
And the heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…

That He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves…

You can get the song for yourself on Amazon at: “How He Loves” [amazon affiliate link]. It’s an amazing reminder. A reminder of Truth.

Our favorite version of the Christmas story


Every Christmas morning, before open gifts, we pause to eat fresh scones and biscotti while listening to the Christmas story.

Our favorite is The Nativity by Julie Vivas. We got it years ago from one of my best friends from college and his wife. The text is the King James, poetic if a bit archaic. (My 9 year old son read it today. He kept saying, “Huh? They did what?” 🙂 )

But the images. What images! Angels with bulky boots and huge, colorful wings. The faces of sheer awe, wonder, and delight. Wow!

This book definitely reminds us of what Christmas is really about and who the real gift of Christmas is.

Lies aren’t truth

A woman at work got a “tract” in a copy of “Diabetes for Dummies” she bought last night. Four of them in fact. She was happy to give one to me. (Fortunately she was trying to be nice, thinking I’d like it.)

It was ghastly. It looked like a $100 bill. On it was written “This is counterfeit but Jesus is the real thing” and “Jesus loves you.”

I tried to explaining it to my son today. I wanted to be generous in my explanation but I think he understood what I thought of it as I was told him about “people being afraid of actually living like Jesus in front of people so they hide behind pieces of paper that try to trick people into thinking about Jesus.”

I guess I didn’t hide my feelings on this one. 🙂

His comment said it all, “Dad, lying isn’t a good way to share Jesus…”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

And I fervently hope this foolishness ceases. I have a hard time thinking of Jesus saying, “They shall know you’re my disciples by your…tricks.”

Sometimes we get in the way

I just saw this quote on a website promoting a new book, Jesus Brand Spirituality:

“I left the church because too many self described ‘Christians’ mainly wanted Jesus to do something for them. I thought that what Jesus had to say was more challenging than whether he was God, and if he was, he didn’t need me to tell him. So I left church to look for what Jesus was talking about. But this book makes me wonder whether, had Ken Wilson been my pastor, I might have stayed.”

—Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and Eye of the Albatross

It’s really resonating with me. I hope I can be that kind of pastor.

Thanks to Phil Brabbs for posting this to the Green Vineyard Facebook Group.