Palm Sunday vs. Passion Sunday


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The debate that church pastors have this time of the year is this – Do we focus on Palm Sunday and the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, or do we focus on the Passion of Jesus? This is an important debate – and one that doesn’t have a clear and easy right answer.  There are good answers for going either way.

The case for the focus on the full Passion (the trial, suffering, and crucifixion of Jesus) is that many people won’t attend worship services throughout Holy Week, so it is better to focus on the full passion, rather than only give part of the story and have people confused when they show up for Easter.  There are more subtle arguments, but this is the essence of this argument.

The case for the focus to only be on the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is that it’s up to each person to decide how important it is to come to worship during Holy Week to get the full experience of the significance of Holy Week.  Again, there are more subtle arguments, but this is the essence of this argument.

If you wanted to really sum this up, the question would be – who is responsible for getting the story of Jesus’ final week to people?  The pastor/church or the worshipers?  I fall firmly on the side of focusing on the triumphant entry of Jesus for Palm Sunday and making the other worship services available for people – if they show up, that’s up to them.  The story will be told over the course of the week.  I know that schedules can be difficult for people, but if it’s important, time can be made for the thing that is important.   My kid’s soccer coach changed practice time and added an extra 45 minutes onto practice and didn’t apologize for changing it.  Guess what – people changed their schedules.  It must have been important enough.

What is important in life?  Many are willing to change their schedules for sports and work – based on what the coach or the boss demand.

What is important in your faith and for your faith?  Are you willing to change your schedule for what God wants?  And that goes beyond church services.  What if God called on you to change careers?  What if God called on you to do something uncomfortable?  What if God called on you to be inconvenienced?  Being a follower of Jesus has a tendency to be uncomfortable and inconvenient.  It reminds us that we are not in control.


Where ministry happens


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Ministry happens in the weirdest of places and often at inconvenient times.

In the last week I experienced ministry in a variety of settings – many that were unexpected.  Often ministry happens when I least expect it.  Sometimes it’s a phone call.  Sometimes it is in a parking lot.  Other times it happens in a store.  And still others, while I’m driving.  Ministry happens in meetings too.

That’s because God shows up in the most unexpected places.  Or at least they are typically unexpected to us.  I’m becoming more convinced that where God shows us shouldn’t surprise us.

God shows up in the midst of good things going on.  But that’s easy to see God in those things.  It’s easy to see God in a sunset, or in someone helping someone else.  It’s easy to hear God showing up in the midst of beautiful music, or in worship.  It’s easy to hear God showing up when you are holding a newborn baby.

But God doesn’t just show up when everything is nice and neat and going well.  Often God shows up in the crap of life.  God is right there in the midst of the mess and darkness of life.  God shows up and is the light.  God shows up in the hospital rooms of people who are dying and learning they have stage four cancer.  God shows up when people learn that their bodies are deteriorating and they are not able to do what they could before.  God shows up at the funeral where families are fighting.  God shows up when relationships are breaking or broken.  God shows up where people are struggling with addictions.  God shows up at a meal where homeless men and women gather to receive food.  God shows up in our parking lots and on our roads.  God shows up.

God shows up where we are struggling.  It is in those times of struggle that God shows up because if those situations relied on only us, we would give up.  We’d let go of hope.  Instead God shows up and gives us the gift of faith.  It’s the thing that gets us through.  It’s the thing that propels us forward.  It’s this faith that inconveniences us and makes us so uncomfortable that we have no choice but to respond to this faith that is given to us.

God shows up because we are too weak to handle it on our own.  Without God showing up, we would crash and burn.  Without God showing up, there would be no hope.

People want to tell us simple lines to make bad stuff go away.  It is a natural human thing to do.  People don’t like the crap that others go through and so some will say – “God needed another angel,” or “Be grateful for the time you had.”  Others will tell us that “God must be punishing you if bad things are happening to you,” or “there is a reason for everything.”  We want to rationalize away things and know that everything is within our control.  But it isn’t.  Sometimes bad things happen to good people for no reason whatsoever.  We can’t change that.

But we can know this – that God loves you.  God loves each one of God’s creation.  God will not abandon you.  God walks with you in your journey.  And God acknowledges that crappy stuff happens and it is terrible.  God walks with us because of the crappy things that happen.  We aren’t going to solve the problem of evil in the world.  Instead, we are called to walk with people who suffer from evil in the world – the outcast, those who are suffering, those who mourn, those who are alone, homeless, and hungry, the imprisoned, the widow, the sick.  We are called to reach those that the world cares very little about.  We are called to remind people of their humanity.  We are called to be Christ’s light in their darkness.  We are called because no one else is going to do it.  God calls on us to do it.

God shows up.  God shows up in our life.  God shows up so that we can go out – to serve and to be served.




What’s the deal with the emphasis on war?

We seem to have this weird fascination with war.  Politicians are always looking for wars, or at least talking about them.  We attach a great of glory to war – go to a battleground and you can feel the hallowed-ness of the ground.  The shedding of blood makes that ground a bit more sacred apparently.  But why was blood shed?

We glorify war in our entertainment.  There have been books written on this, so I won’t.

We even make sports a safer version of war.  We get statements like – warriors, gridiron battles, the offense slaughtered and routed the other team, etc.

Last week the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave talked about the future possibility of war in space and how we need a space force.

We’ve had other presidents who talked about war – from both parties.  We’ve had an ongoing war on poverty, war on drugs, war on terrorism.  Yet, these never-ending wars just go on.  They never end, they just continue to suck up resources.  We seem to be in a constant state of war – one that out lives the men who launch these wars.

The Romans worshiped Mars – the god of war.  War was good for Rome, until it wasn’t.  In war there was the opportunity to have an enemy and a scapegoat.  In war there was an opportunity to generate wealth and work.  In war there was the push for unwavering patriotism and unquestioning allegiance – wouldn’t want to be unpatriotic would you?  You might end up being seen as an enemy.

Instead of all the wars, maybe we should recognize that the only thing we get in war is death and destruction.  No one really wins.  Maybe we should try a different approach to tackling these things.

How about we try recognizing the humanity of people?  I know this method is risky.  It’s risky because it is rarely ever tried, and never fully tried.  But maybe we should give it a chance.  I know that we’ve only been trying war as a way to solve our problems for a short time – only a few millennia.  But maybe we could just pause our wars for a bit, and try a different way to solve problems.  What do you think?  Can we try it?

What is greatness?


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What is greatness?  I imagine it’s one of those things that you know it when you see it.  But what is it really?  Part of it will depend on the characteristics of greatness.  Many different people lay claim to the word, but have very different definitions and characteristics of what greatness is.

There is a certain political leader who adopted the word great right into his campaign slogan.  Based on what I hear from him, he defines greatness = power.

Others define greatness in terms of wealth.  Sports people will define greatness in terms of records broken.

How do you define greatness?

How would you define it in terms of politics, social policy, governance, finances, sports, work?  Is it great to deport people and tear families apart?  Or would you rather say that it is great when we enforce the immigration laws that exist?

Is it great to build a wall to keep foreigners out?  Or is it great to build a wall to keep people in?

Is it great to govern from a mentality that only the strong deserve to survive?  Is it great to ignore the cries of the poor and homeless?

Is greatness defined by how many enemies we can kill?  Is greatness defined by how much material wealth we can accumulate in our lifetime?  Is it great then to have to turn it over to someone else when we die?

Is it great to shout over your opponents, be disrespectful, and label and dehumanize your opponents?

Is greatness the ability to constantly draw attention to yourself?

Is greatness defined by military might?

Is greatness defined by how many people become reliant on you?

Is greatness defined by license to do whatever you want, with who ever you want, when you want?

If you look through human history, you would see that the “great” empires of the past could all lay claim to many of these definitions of greatness – Babylon, Egypt, Rome, Greece under Alexander, and more.  They might differ on some of these, but they share one thing in common – they all fell eventually and left a big mess for others to clean up.  And they brought ruin to those they conquered and eventually ruin on their own people.

That is because greatness can never ultimately be found at the end of a rifle or in mandatory compliance and unwavering allegiance.  Greatness isn’t found in blindness to the needs of others.  Greatness isn’t found in being able to beat other into submission.

Greatness comes in a different way.

Jesus had a definition of greatness.  In Mark 10:43, Jesus states, “Whoever wants to be great must become a servant.”

Greatness comes in being a servant and in participating in the unfolding of the kingdom of God.  It goes far beyond human made national boundaries and weapons.  It goes beyond wealth, records, and political parties and slogans.

Greatness comes in living out our faith, not in subjugating faith to ideology.  When ideology is our foundation in life, we have built a life and a nation on a weak foundation that will crumble and eventually fall.

God has a different standard for what is great.  And it is a great standard that Jesus modeled and calls on us to follow.  Be great.

New Podcast!



Friends, my good friend Moses Robson Kavishe from St. Paul Lutheran in Carlisle, PA and I created a new podcast that we’re going to do on a regular basis. It’s called “Everything’s on the table.” And since everything is on the table, we decided to start right in with a controversial issue – gun violence. We attempt to take a different look at it. You can find the first episode at a new website – If you have an idea for a topic, you can leave it in the comment section of the website or e-mail

You can find this specific episode at the following address: 

Thanks and blessings to you all.




What is leadership?  More specifically, what is leadership within the church?

Leadership is driving an organization, a movement, a group of people towards something – ideally a vision or mission, maybe even a calling.

What is leadership in the church?  It’s leadership in conjunction with creating an environment where the others are empowered and equipped to carry out the Spirit’s calling in their lives and congregations.

Leadership often means making difficult decisions – very difficult decisions.  And often those decisions aren’t easy and have no easy solutions.  Leaders end up doubting their decisions.  Leaders have to weigh the needs of an individual vs. the needs of the whole group or institution.

Poor leadership is avoiding difficult decisions or sweeping difficult topics under the rug for someone else to deal with.  But all that does is enable bad behavior to continue – all because the leader is too stressed to make a decision.

The church is in desperate need for leaders who are willing to make difficult decisions.


For Christians, the ends never justify the means


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For Christians, the ends do not justify the means.  The means are important.  And so are the ends.  When we look at the example of Jesus, we see that means are important.  The Sermon on the Mount is one verse after another about how the means are as important as the ends.  Blessed are the peacemakers – not blessed is peace.  Peacemakers are in the process of making peace happen.  It’s the means.

Bless are those who thirst for justice – not those who have arrived at justice.  It’s in the process.

The means are important.  Because if the ends justify the means, then it makes sense to bully your way to the ends to get what you want.  But Jesus never condoned this activity.  Christianity can be described as many things – a way of life is one of them.  A way of life means that there is more to life than just the end result – there is the living of your life that matters.

But unfortunately, there is a theology out there that says that only the end matters – where you end up when you die.  There is a theology out there that promotes Rapture – an escape from this world.  If we are going to escape, then what happens here doesn’t matter.  There is a theology out there that promotes a wrathful God who relishes destroying anyone who even questions God.  If there is no room for questions and doubt, then we are just robots and life doesn’t matter.

There is a theology out there that mixes its political and partisan loyalty with theological belief (or rather disbelief).  It confuses political identity for baptismal identity.  It puts faith in leaders who will do anything and destroy anything or anyone in the way in order to get the desired result.

When you can willingly be cruel, oppressive, dehumanize, mock, ridicule, divide, foster fear and anger – or support someone who does this on your behalf – then you have a faulty belief system.  That’s not a belief system of Good News.  It’s a belief system on an earthly empire concerned with obtaining and wielding power and crushing enemies.  That’s not God’s kingdom and it’s not Good News.  It’s not a belief system that saves anyone.  It’s not a system of belief that builds off of trust.  It’s a belief system based on slavery, demands compliance, unquestioning allegiance, and lacks any freedom.

It’s a belief system that sells one’s soul to the empire to receive a short-term gain, at the expense of the Kingdom of God.  Rather, we are to deny ourselves and our quest for power and pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

Proclaiming the Gospel in the midst of other gospels


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Lately I’ve noticed many articles, interviews, programs, and media that focus on death, division, destruction, scoring political points at the expense of opponents, keeping people out, conflict, stress, anxiety, theft, cheating, infidelity, and more.

That’s a heavy load to carry.  This is the gospel message of the world and our culture.  A message of sin and death.  A message that says there is no escape from these things – that you are going to drown in a message that will bring you down and destroy you – unless you are strong enough to swim.  The bad news is that you aren’t.  That’s why we are also bombarded by messages that tell us that we aren’t good enough, but no worries – have we got just the right product, service, politicians, treatment, pill, move, job, significant other, car, house, etc for you!

And it’s a lie.

Being exposed to these messages is sad.  It is even more sad when Christians spread these same messages through social media posts, articles, conversations, and more.

What gospel are we proclaiming?  Do we willingly proclaim a gospel of hopelessness and death by what we post and share, by insisting that we are right about everything, by pointing or giving the finger to those who we identify as enemies or worse?  Where is the Gospel in this?

What Gospel are we proclaiming in our daily lives, in our social media posts, in our conversations, in the ways we live our lives, in how we see other and refer to them and label them, in who we pray for and what we pray about?  What Gospel are we proclaiming in the leaders we choose to represent us in religious and secular matters?  What Gospel are we proclaiming when we proclaim that the nation’s salvation can only come through this political party or that one and only with this leader or that one?  What Gospel are we proclaiming when we set our standards so low that even a serpent couldn’t get under the bar that is set so low.

I wonder what gospel we Christians proclaim – is it a Gospel that talks about the reality of the world, but also proclaims the promise of resurrected and transformed life?  Or is it a gospel that proclaims hopelessness, dystopia, and where death has the final say and the ultimate victory?

What would happen if we asked ourselves what Gospel we are proclaiming before we post, before we speak, before we act, before we judge, before we forgive, before we do or say anything.  I wonder what the world would look like?  Maybe it would look like the unfolding of the Gospel in our midst.

The Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday talks about the necessity of a grain of wheat to die in order for new life to blossom.  What needs to die in our life?  What needs to die in our congregations?  What needs to die in our work? What needs to die in our social media?  And what about us needs to die, so that resurrection and new life can take hold?

Alternative gospels that declare hopelessness, death, destruction, and power need to die – that’s what.

Are we willing to take these things off of the life support that we are maintaining?  Or are we afraid of this death?  Or are we afraid of what resurrection will be and how it will be different and out of our control?

The Gospel is waiting for us – seeking us out in our daily lives.  God will continue to hound us and hunt us down, pushing forward no matter how many times we bat it and God away from us.  God is relentless like that.  And that’s a good thing.  It’s what guarantees that the Gospel that is proclaimed and lived out is the Gospel of hope, peace, resurrection.  A Gospel of unbelievable love.  A Gospel that many find hard to believe.  But a Gospel that gives life.

Church for the unchurched


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Recently I led a funeral service where many of the attendees were not regular worshipers.  In fact, it might be safe to say they never attended, nor had a belief system about God, nor could possibly think about encounters with God.  I could certainly be wrong about that.  Regardless though, this raised a few questions in my mind.

Before the funeral began, a thought went through my head – that I was going to have to explain everything to the people.  There would need to be an explanation about communion – not just what we did, but why we did it.  There would need to be an explanation about the hymns, where to find them, and more.  There would need to be an explanation about the passing of the peace.  The entire service would be foreign for many people.  And here was an opportunity to explain it to people.

I’ve never had to explain everything we did in worship before – all at once.  I’m not sure how I did with explaining everything, but that’s ok, it was a good exercise anyway.

This has got me thinking about when people come to worship – visitors.  We can’t assume people know what’s going on.

There is an opportunity to explain.  And an opportunity to bring someone into relationship with others, with God, and with facing the realities that exist around them.

How would you go about explaining parts of the service to someone who has no experience with church?  How would you explain communion to someone who has never heard of Jesus?




Addictions are interesting things.  It’s hard to even describe what they are really.  Are they things?  Habits? attitudes?  Ways of doing things?

Addictions follow similar patterns.  They usually get worse.  And the addict typically looks for ways to rationalize away what is happening.   I’m not a professional addictions person – but I have seen enough addicts in my life to recognize the pattern that forms.

The addict scores a hit that gives them a boost – a shot of energy.  They feel alive.  Then they get caught because they mess something up.  And they apologize and promise it won’t happen again.  And they look for people to help them rationalize the situation – people who aren’t going to cause a confrontation.  There is pain and a great amount of energy and time spent on the addict.  And there is a backing off too.  And then it happens again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  Unless someone or someones put a stop to it.

That’s one pattern of many that forms for addicts.

And addiction can come in many forms – drugs and alcohol are obvious addictions.  There are sexual additions and food addictions.  There are porn addictions, social media addictions, entertainment addictions, and more.  There are work addictions and exercise addictions.  The reality is that almost anything can be an addiction, but not everything is.   Something becomes an addiction when we don’t have control over it, just rather, it controls us.  It’s an addiction if it is destructive to yourself or others.  It’s an addiction if you find yourself saying – “It’s just one…” or “I can stop anytime I want…” knowing full well that you are lying to yourself.  And lying is a main component of addictions – Lying to yourself and to others.  All to protect yourself from the reality that you are not in control and that you need help.

Addictions can lead to death – your own or other.  It can also lead to the death of relationships, abilities, jobs, and more.

If you think you have an addiction, talk with someone who can be honest with you – brutally honest.  Someone who will tell you that you are full of it when you try to rationalize something.  Someone who will ask you difficult questions and demand an answer – and won’t enable you.  That’s a true friend – someone who actually cares enough about you to hurt your feelings for your own benefit.

That’s how dealing with addictions starts.  It starts with recognizing you have a problem and seeking help.  Where it goes is a long journey.  One that will take many people to journey with you along the way – to strengthen you when needed, to hold you accountable, to prop you up when you are weak.

Above all, addictions don’t have to run our lives.