COVID-19 and Palm Sunday


Thank You

Happy Palm Sunday

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.

Pilate has also arrived, riding on a war horse.  

Two leaders. Two different ways of leading. 

Two animals. Two different images.

When writing about this event, Matthew reflects on Zechariah 9:9:

“Say to Daughter Zion (Jerusalem), 

‘See, your king comes to you,

Gentle and riding on a donkey,

Even upon a colt, a foal of a beast of burden.


“Riding on a donkey, even a foal of a beast of burden”?  (No, the Rolling Stones are not the originators of the phrase.)

What kind of King is this? 

Where’s the display of power? 
Where’s the “Hey, I’m a big deal!” attitude? 

It’s not there.  We won’t “see” that in Jesus. In Jesus, we “see” a different way to live and to lead.  Jesus is reframing power. Oh, yes, Jesus has power.  “All power (authority) has been given to me (Matthew 28:18),” Jesus tells his disciples.

But this Jesus kind of power is “seen” not in the person who is served but in the person who is serving (Matthew 20:25-28).  

Wanna see power today?  Look at  the 1000s of medical personnel serving us, “giving their lives as a sacrifice” in this war against COVID-19.  

That is power on display.  

On this Palm Sunday, the beginning of Passion Week, we thank them for their passionate and sacrificial service.


Labor Day and Social Justice

Denise and I spent this year’s Labor Day in Kansas City visiting with Denise’s cousin who is dying of cancer. He’s my cousin too, by marriage, and someone I’ve known since I was in junior high.

I think of him on Labor Day because he has spent his life advocating for justice, fairness, equal treatment of all people.  

And that is the essence of Labor Day.  

In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the average American worked worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks and still  barely made ends meet.  Children as young as 5 or 6 worked in mills, factories, and mines across the country.  The working conditions were deplorable. 

On September 5, 1882, New York City workers took to the street and marched from City Hall to Union Square, marking the first Labor Day parade in the United States.  

How are we doing since that first Labor Day March?   

We have a ways to go, don’t we?  There are issues of health care, a living wage, family leave, income equality.

Labor Day is so much more than the last day of summer, a day off, picnics and parties.  

Labor Day reflects the prophetic concern for justice.

“You are to pay his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and depends on them.  Otherwise he may cry out tot he LORd against you, and you will be guilty of sin” (Deuteronomy 24:15).

“Look, the wages you withheld from the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you.  The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts” (James 5:4).  

On Labor Day, we raise our glass to those whose efforts have led to justice for workers and care for the least of these.  We make a commitment to complete the arc of justice.  

Good Trouble

Good Trouble

“We need to get into good trouble.” John Lewis

“These men…greatly trouble our city” Acts 16:20 (speaking of Paul and Silas)

“These men who have upset the world have come here also.” Acts 17:6 (speaking of Christ-followers) – “upset” is a political word meaning “revolt”

“They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” Acts 17:7  

“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect.” Acts 24:5 (speaking of Paul)

“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” Luke 1:52 (Mary’s Annunciation Song about God)

Seutonius (69-140 CE), a Roman historian of the Imperial House under the Emperor Hadrian, wrote of Christ and Christians and the “disturbances” caused by them, namely not worshipping idols and, get this, “loving all, including their tormentors.”

Yes. Loving our enemies can cause disturbances. Weird, isn’t it?  

What do John Lewis, Paul, the early Christians, and God have in common?  Troublemakers.   All of them.

John Lewis was a preacher before he was a politician.  

His first congregation was a flock of chickens under his care as a child. Being a Baptist, he tried to baptize them. Ha! 

Since 1963 the country has been his congregation as he was introduced to the nation as one of the speakers at  the “March on Washington” on August 28, 1963.

Since 1987 the United States Congress has been his congregation as a U.S. Representative of Georgia’s 5th Congressional District. 

His sermons were stirring.
His teachings caused trouble to the status quo.    

Do you think it’s ok to be a troublemaker? We were taught and told, “Don’t make trouble.” But, as John Lewis, Paul, and Jesus show us, there can be good trouble.     

John Lewis’ journey along the path of trouble is instructive. Let’s start with the August 28, 1963 speech.  What he actually spoke is not what he originally wrote. His first draft of the speech was considered by the march’s organizers to be too radical. (Maybe I should have that group look at some of my sermons before I deliver them!)

For example, they asked him to remove a section  in which he pledged to “burn Jim Crow to the ground” and “fragment the South into a thousand pieces.”

 “Too much…A bit harsh,” they said. He altered it to: “We will march through the South…with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity we have shown here today.”    

Which version do you like? Which approach do you prefer?

The version we heard in his speech and watched in his life  showed “a spirit of love and dignity”.  

He exchanged the way of violence for the way of nonviolence. 

Lawmakers attending a memorial service for Rep Lewis, burst into a standing ovation on Monday after listening to a recorded commencement address by the “Conscious of the Congress.” You can read it here, or listen to it here

You might just want to stand and applaud as well, or sit there and cry.   

Here are the closing words from John Lewis’ speech:  

In the final analysis, we all must learn to live together as brothers and sisters. We all live in the same house. And it doesn’t matter whether we are  black or white, Latino, Asian American, or Native American. It doesn’t matter whether you’re straight or gay. We are one people. We are one family. We all live in the same house.

Be bold. Be courageous, stand up. Speak up. Speak out and find a way to create the beloved community, the beloved world, a world of peace, a world that will recognize the dignity of all humankind. Never become bitter. Never become hostile. Never hate. Live in peace. We’re one, one people and one love. Thank you very much.

Thank you, John Lewis, very much for following in the way of “good trouble.”  






now I see

George Floyd’s memorial service in Minneapolis Thursday opened with the singing of “Amazing Grace.”

Who doesn’t love “Amazing Grace”?  

While it is a favorite of all, “Amazing Grace” seems especially meaningful to black church-goers. Historically “Amazing Grace” has been an anthem for those longing for freedom from oppression from white supremacist ideology and policy. 

Which is so interesting! 

Because the writer of the hymn, John Newton, was a slave trader!

Yep.  His story is instructive for us today.  

  1. Fear motivates. 

I don’t like it and don’t use it.   Some preachers like it and use it.

Newton converted to Christianity in a storm that scared him to run to religion.

  1. The Christian experience is a process. 

Newton admitted later, “I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word.”  Maybe that goes along with a fear-based-conversion? 

  1. We hang on to unChristlike attitudes and actions for a long time after becoming a Christian.

It took 34 years after his conversion for Newton to renounce slavery.  He published a pamphlet called “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade” and confessed, “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in  a business at which my heart now shudders.”  

The pamphlet was sent to every member of Parliament and was instrumental in Great Britain outlawing slavery in 1807. 

Do we call ourselves Christ-followers but still hang on to a racist philosophy?  I’m not talking about the lynching type of racism but the type of racism that says, “We’re not racist! We had a black president for crying out loud!”  

 Read these lyrics from “Amazing Grace”:

“I once was lost, but now am found.

Was blind but now I see”

“Was blind but now I see.”  I wonder if Newton was talking about moving from blindness to sight concerning slavery.  Have we moved from blindness to sight:

*concerning our own racism?

*concerning systemic racism?

It took Newton 34 years to renounce his racist views.  

It’s been 57 years since Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech (August 28, 1963).   

It’s time.  



Just Listen.

Just Listen

Amid the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd, I’ve listened to the voices of the past and present.

Not to speak.

Not to react.

Not to defend.

Just to listen. 

As you read this post, I ask you to listen to the words of Coretta Scott King from her “Solidarity Day Address” delivered in Washington D.C. on June 19, 1968.

June 18, 1968, was the 15th anniversary of her marriage to Martin Luther King, Jr. Her husband had been assassinated two and a half months earlier (April 4, 1968), a victim of racial violence.

June 19, 1968, was two weeks after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy (June 6, 1968). Her speech included a message from Ethel Kennedy, the wife of Senator Kennedy

Violence was on the mind of Coretta Scott King. 

But not the violence we might assume. Here are her words.  Hear them.  Feel them.  

“In this society, violence against poor people and minority groups is routine.  I remind you that starving a child is violence.  Suppressing a culture is violence.  Neglecting school children is violence.  Punishing a mother and her child is violence.  Discrimintion against a working man is violence.  Ghetto housing is violence.  Ignoring medical needs is violence.  Contempt of poverty is violence.  Even the lack of  willpower to help humanity is a sick and sinister form of violence.”

(Coretta Scott King, June 19, 1968)


Teachers, Thank You!

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” 

That line from Joni Mitchell’s 1970  song “Big Yellow Taxi” referred to the environment: 

“They  paved paradise and put up a parking lot…They took all the trees and put ‘em in a museum..” 

But today, I’m singing it in regards to our teachers.  

Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day. 

With COVID-19 closing schools we’re missing our teachers and recognizing how important they are to our lives, our families, our communities, our country.  

Teachers.  Thank you!  We have taken you for granted.  We want you back.  

You have been:




We put athletes on Wheaties box.  Why?  Are athletes really our heroes?  We’ve got some upside down values in the USA.  Guys who dribble a ball down a court can make $20 million a year.  Teachers stand in a classroom and shape our children and, consequently, shape our future,  bring home an average of $50 grand. 

That’s just not right.  

Lee Iacocca, the guy who brought us the Ford Mustang and Ford Pinto (You can’t win them all), and revived a Chrysler Corporation that was ready to be buried, made this observation: ““In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less.”

People are saying that we will create, post-COVID-19, a new normal.  How about making paying and appreciating teachers, as the heroes they are, being part of that new normal?

Here are some heroes that shaped me:

Mrs. Summers, 3rd Grade Teacher at Kinyon Elementary School in Poplar Bluff, MO.  Thank you for enhancing my love of books when you took the last 15 minutes of each class to read to us, Mark Twain’s, “Tom Sawyer.”

Mrs. Langford, 5th Grade Teacher at Eastmoreland Elementary School in Joplin, MO.  Thank you for giving me a note at the end of the year in which you called me “a boy with promise.” 

Dr. Gerald Cowen, Greek and New Testament Professor at Southwest Baptist College in Bolivar, MO for opening my eyes to the cultural and historical context of Scripture.

Dr. William Tolar, Dean of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for not telling me what to think but teaching me how to think.  I’m still learning. 

Robert Frost wrote, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”  

I think a good teacher is an awakener.  

I’ve had good teachers. 

I’m still learning.  I’m still waking up.

COVID-19 and Earth Day

Covid and Earth Day

COVID-19 has stopped us in our tracks.

The Earth has noticed. 

In the middle of all of the bad linked to COVID-19, there is a good.  

We notice that good today, April 22 – Earth Day. 

The skies are cleaner.  The waters are clearer.  The animals are happier and healthier. 

Levels of nitrogen dioxide – a component of smog created mainly from burning fossil fuels – have dropped over major US cities since March “stay at home” orders were put in place.

In the air over New York City, Columbia University found a 50% drop in carbon monoxide emissions, a 5-10% drop in carbon dioxide emissions, likely a result of the drop in traffic. 

Now, a pandemic is a terrible way to improve the environment.  


COVID-19 has brought to us hurt and heartache.  

It has also brought us a “what if…?”  What if we learned life-long, life-changing lessons about how we treat the environment? 

We will return to our jobs, to our favorite restaurants, to our hair stylists, to our traveling plans, to our ballgames and concerts.  We want that. 

But, maybe we won’t return to “dominating” and “mistreating” our environment.

Maybe that will change. 

Maybe we’ll see the planet like the Hebrew story of creation pictures God seeing the universe, as something “good.”   

The Hebrew word for “good” is used in Exodus 2:2 which records the birth of Moses.  The writer says that his mom saw that he was a “beautiful” boy.  Are you singing John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” right now?  “Good” in Genesis is the same Hebrew word as “beautiful” in Exodus 2:2.  

The planet is beautiful.  The planet is good.  God loves it.  So should I.  

The day of my spiritual awakening

Was the day I saw and knew I saw

All things in God and God in all things.

Mechtild of Magdeburg (1212-1282)

Living in the World of COVID – 19

hand sanitizer

This is the week, on which we will all look back, when everything changed.  Every click on a newsfeed seems to bring with it another report of another change to our daily lives: 

 We’ve kissed handshakes goodbye.

The Stock Market keeps going down. My retirement is in jeopardy!  I guess I’ll work several more years!

Stores temporarily closing (Apple, Nike, Under Armour etc). 

Some restaurants, bars, movie theatres in certain states,  closed.

Chick-fil-A, Starbucks and others moving to “Drive-thru” only.

Even Golden Corral is moving to a “To Go” service only.   Can we go back for seconds and thirds?

Major Sports events cancelled. I just heard that MLB opening day is postponed indefinitely. 

Amusement Parks (Disney Parks, Universal Studios,  Silver Dollar City, etc) temporarily closing or moving back their opening date. 

Welcome to the world of COVID-19.  

Devin Wright,  my son and pastor of Mission Gathering in Issaquah, Washington, commented that March Madness may have been cancelled, but March Madness is still here, just without the basketball.  

Unfortunately, preachers and politicians are contributing to the madness.  

In all times, especially in changing times, we need leaders who can be trusted.  We need leaders who know the facts, who can interpret the facts, and lead us into a better future.  

When we, as leaders, fail to interpret the situation accurately, we lose our credibility.  

By late winter 1933, the nation had already suffered more than three years of economic depression.  More than 11,000 of 24,000 banks had failed. Millions of people were out of work and millions more were working at jobs that barely provided enough to live on.  On March 4, 1933, newly elected President, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his first inaugural address, in which he gave us this memorable line,  “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  

But, before he said that, he said this: 

“I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel.  This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in your country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.”  

Drum roll. Get ready for it, here it come – the line we remember:  “First of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

There it is.  The famous line.  But “no fear”came after “Just the facts, ma’am,” (thanks Sgt Joe Friday)

But, that line sounds different when heard with the lines that  go before.  

Part 1: “Speak the truth, frankly and boldly.”  Don’t “shrink from honestly facing conditions in your country today” 

Part 2:  “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  

Let’s be brutally honest about the situation we face.  And, let’s never lose faith that things will get better in the end.  

Last Sunday, we canceled our in-person Sunday service at the request of the Greene County Missouri Health Department, and chose instead to live-stream a service with only essential personnel present.

Not every church in our area followed the request of the Health Department.  I don’t understand why. Maybe they had legitimate reasons. Maybe not. I just know why we chose to do what we did. When public safety is at risk, which by every account it seems to be, it’s best to act on behalf of the public even when it costs us personally.  That just seemed like what love would do.  

In the words of Harry Smith, Perhaps think of it this way: that by staying home, you could save a life. And you know, that feels pretty good.”

Listen to our scientists – even more than to our preachers and politicians.                 Be loving in all we do. 
Fear can lead to discrimination and selfish decisions.  Replace our fear with faith, hope, and love, working to create a better world for all.  


What if the Bible Is Not Our Guide?

This Book Doesn't Have Any Answers

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth – the B.I.B.L.E.  Have you heard the Bible explained that way?  It’s clever.  But is it accurate?  

I said in my teaching Sunday that I used to think the clever acrostic is accurate.  But not anymore.  Let’s be honest.  The Bible isn’t really a very good instruction manual or guide book.  

I know.  That rubs us the wrong way.  But, as Billy Sunday said, and I paraphrase:  “If something rubs you the wrong way, maybe you need to turn around.” 

I needed to turn around.  Maybe you do too. 

Think with me:  The Bible tells us, for example, to “Be kind to one another,” “Love one another – even our enemies,” “Give generously to the poor.”  All good. 

But next to these good things are some bad things- really bad things:  

Rape (Deuteronomy 21:10-14; Numbers 31:15-18); 

Slavery (1 Peter 2:18; Titus 2:9) 

Genocide (Deuteronomy 7:1-2; Deuteronomy 20:15-17) 

…are all commanded – by God.  At least the writers pass the buck to God for these commands.  Are those instructions ones that we should follow?  I hope you’’ll answer “No”.

One more thing. It doesn’t make much sense to claim that the Bible is an “infallible” guide in what it says if we cannot agree on what it says.  “But we agree on the essentials,” I hear someone saying.  We really don’t.  Go to  and type in “four views” in the search bar and get ready to “turn around.”  We’re given page after page of books about various ways of interpreting key Christian doctrines:

Four Views on Hell

Four Views of Atonement

Four Views on Divine Providence

Four Views on Eternal Security

These are not peripheral issues.  These are some “big rocks” of Christianity.  In each book we find opposing views in which each proponent is absolutely certain that their particular interpretation of the Bible is the right one.  

If the Bible spoke clearly on these issues then why isn’t there a “The Only View” series.

So, if we remove the Bible as our guide, what do we put in its place?  Are we just free to do whatever we want – to do what is right in our own eyes (Judges 21:5)? 

I offered, Sunday morning, an option given to me by mother throughout my junior high and high school years.  Here is the question she told me to ask myself when considering the rightness or the wrongness of an action: “When you consider this action, ask yourself, ‘does the life of Jesus well up inside of you?’”  

That’s good.  

Denise and I went to Little Rock after Sunday’s service to see my dad.  Drinking a glass of wine and eating Girl Scout cookies, (what are the rules for pairing wine with Girl Scout Cookies) with dad, my sister and Denise, around dad’s kitchen table, I asked dad about mom’s counsel to me.  He told me mom read that in a book by Watchman Nee, an author that greatly influenced my parents.   

For 52 years I’ve been under the impression that mom came up with that on her own!

So, this morning, I did a quick Google search trying to find the exact quote.  I didn’t find mom’s version of it but I did find the following statements by Watchman Nee.   

Read them with an open mind.  Contemplatively. And get ready  to “turn around.”  

“Brothers and sisters, as we live before God, our actions must not be determined by good and evil, but by the life within.”

Hmm. “Actions determined…by the life within.”  Let’s go on…

“When we have the life within and feel life rising up, we are doing the proper thing.” That sounds a bit like Mom’s version. 

Then there’s this from Nee: “Many problems arise because we only have a standard of right and wrong.  Many mistakes are made because we do not have the standard of life.”

Then Nee, a mystical Christian,  offers this prayer,

“Grace me so that I live by the tree of life, not by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  I want to constantly pay attention to life…”

Mom was telling me, and I’m just now really hearing it: “Don’t live by an external rule book (the Bible), instead, live by an internal life – the life that is “graced” by  the Spirit of Christ.  

Have you been indoctrinated into seeing the Bible as your guide?  

Yes.  We need a guide.  No doubt about that! 

But have we settled for an external law when we have within us an internal life?  

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives and you will not obey your selfish desires (Paul to the Galatians, found in 5:16).

“And when that one comes, the Spirit will guide you into all truth” (Jesus, to his disciples, recorded by John, in 16:13).  

“Pay attention to life” the Christ-shaped life within (Watchman Nee to Mom; then Mom to me).  

I will live in the awareness of the presence of life in me and I will pay attention to it.

That will be my guide.

Kindness Week and President’s Day

kid President kindness

Kindness on President’s Day

February 17 is both President’s Day and the beginning of Random Acts of Kindness week.  Initially, that sounds like a weird combination, but maybe not.  

Think about food combinations.  What sounds awful may actually be delicious. 

*Ice cream and French Fries.  Dip your fries into a Wendy’s Frosty.  Salty and sweet.  Hot and cold.  What’s not to love?

*Strawberries and Balsamic. Now, I’m all over that. 

*Banana and Bacon.   Thank you Elvis for this one. 

Let’s add President’s Day and Kindness Week to the list of weird but totally doable combinations.  

Our favorite President, by almost every poll every year, is Abraham Lincoln.  I wonder if his kindness is one thing that pole vaults Lincoln over the others. In Lincoln, we see a combination of strong leadership with pervasive kindness. 

We respect that.  We like someone who “leads with kindness.”

“Kindness” includes, but goes way beyond, sweet little acts of kindness.   

 “Love is kind” is what Paul writes in the “Love” poem of 1 Corinthians 13.  But he frames “kindness” in the context of relating to the “problem people” in our lives. 1 Corinthians 13 was written to a community in conflict. They were angry with each other.  They were at each others’ throats.  They were divisive. They had fallen into the dualism of “us-vs-them”.

Sound familiar? 

To that group of fighting folks then and to the fighting folks today, Paul says “Love is kind.”  

In an environment of hate we are to love, and that love looks like kindness – kindness to all.  

We see such kindness in President Lincoln.  

Historian, Paul Boller Jr, writes about Lincoln that, “No president has been vilified the way Lincoln was during the Civil War.  He was attacked by all sides: by abolitionists, Negro-phobes, states’ righters, strict constructionists, radicals conservatives and by people who just did not like his looks or resented his storytelling…”

Yet, the direction of his life and response was kindness.  “Kindness was,” Donald T. Phillips writes “the very foundation of his personality.”

Here are two examples out of a life-time of examples:

Some weeks after the 1860 election, Springfield banker John W. Bunn met Senator Salmon P Chase coming out of Lincoln’s law office in Springfield.   

“You don’t want put that man in your cabinet,” he told Lincoln.
“Why do you say that?” Lincoln asked.
“Because,” said Bunn, “he thinks he is a great deal bigger than you are.”
“Well,” said Lincoln, “do you know of any other men who think they are bigger than I am?”
“I don’t know that I do,” said Bunn,  “but why do you ask?”
“Because,” said Lincoln, “I want to put them all in my cabinet.” 

Ok, that story is more about “humility” than “kindness,” but I like it.  Humility and kindness is a naturally combo – like peanut butter and jelly.

At the end of the Civil War, Lincoln refused to execute Confederate Generals for treason.  Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman once asks Lincoln explicitly whether he wanted Jefferson Davis captured or allowed to escape. Here’s Lincoln’s response.  It’s a good one:

“I’ll tell you, General, what I think of taking Jeff Davis.  Out in Illinois there was an old temperance lecturer who was very strict in the doctrine and practice of total abstinence.  One day, after a long ride in the hot sun, he stopped at the house of a friend, who proposed making him a lemonade.  When the friend asked if he wouldn’t like a drop of something stronger int he drink, he replied that he couldn’t think of it.  ‘I’m opposed to it on principle, ‘ he said. ‘But,’ he added with a longing glance at the bottle, ‘if you could manage to put in a drop unbeknownst to me, I guess it wouldn’t hurt me much.’  

Now General I am bound to oppose the escape of Jeff Davis; but if you could manage to let him slip out unbeknownst-like, I guess it wouldn’t hurt much.” 

Abraham Lincoln was not a vengeful person. And in his Second Inaugural Address he challenged the nation to move on “with malice toward none; with charity for all.”  

In February 1865, Lincoln told his friend Joshua Speed, “Speed, die when I may, I want it said of me by those who know me best to say that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower when I thought a flower would grow.”  

He died from an assassin’s bullet 2 months later, April 15, 1865.  

In honor of President Lincoln, let’s plant flowers of kindness, not just this week, but every week until we are united with Love.