05.18.2022 – Appreciating What We Have

For the past several months, Becky and I have been working with an Afghan refugee family as they settle into life in the United States.  We count all the work as joy.

Last night our friend Azizullah, husband and father in the family, sent a WhatsApp message with the photo you see above – a photo of a school in Taliban-dominated Afghanistan.  Far from home, with a heart that breaks for what is happening in Afghanistan, and adjusting to life in our strange new world, he wrote, “We must appreciate what we have.”

Yes.

This morning Becky and I leave for Missouri where we will spend a week and a few days with our family there.  Grandparent time!  We can hardly wait.  Along the way, we will undoubtedly grumble about the mid-four-dollar-a-gallon (or more) cost of gasoline. But we get to see family!  Azizullah’s words, “we must appreciate what we have,” should still our grumbling.

All for now. More Observations when we return home.

05.13.2022 – Metaphorical Grace, How Sweet the Sound

I will be preaching at a church in our presbytery this week and I am looking forward to it. The text I am preaching from 1 Peter 2 has me making a point about the Christian life and how, while we come to Christ at our conversion, our discipleship is not locked into a point or period in time.  I was thinking of saying something about becoming a Christian is not just about getting your ticket punched; you know, my way to heaven secured.  But then I wondered, “do you still get your ticket punched?”

We used to ride the train from Trenton, New Jersey, to Penn Station in Manhattan, and the conductor always punched our tickets.  It turns out, though, the very month we left Langhorne, New Jersey Transit quit punching tickets. Now the conductor scans the QR code on your ticket, or better yet, the app on your phone.

Another metaphor bites the dust.  We may talk about tuning in and hanging up, about cabooses and different tacks, but the realities on which the images are based have mostly disappeared. Continue reading

05.06.2022 – You Can’t Master Divnity


Becky and I will be at a graduation ceremony tomorrow and are glad to be able to celebrate with the graduate and his family.

The degree to be granted is a Master of Divinity, an MDiv, the professional degree required for ordination in our denomination and many others.  An MDiv is no slouch of a degree. It typically takes three or four years to earn and requires learning and using Biblical Greek and Hebrew.  Along with biblical exegesis and systematic theology, students must take courses in preaching and counseling and church leadership.  I may be biased, but I think those who earn an MDiv have done some impressive work.

Our friend, no surprise, has proven to be an exceedingly able student and we will celebrate his success.  And more than most graduations I have attended, this one really does feel like a commencement, a beginning.  Our friend has been doing full-time ministry and still must pass a series of ordination exams, but this event seems to be a particularly significant – even ominous – marker.  If there was any doubt about God’s call to ministry and his claim on our friend’s life, this event seems to dispel it.

I happen to think our friend is not only now well-equipped academically for ministry, but he is also spiritually gifted and emotionally and relationally exceedingly able for what lies ahead.

Congratulations, good friend. Continue reading

04.29.2022 – Give ’em That Old Time Religion

Youth Group, First Presbyterian Church, Santa Cruz, California – circa 1980

The headline caught my attention.  A recent Atlantic magazine article appeared under words, “Why American Teens are so Sad.”  The piece is worth reading if you can get past the paywall.  But whether you read it or not, let me highlight a bit of how the writer explains teen sadness, and then add an observation of my own.

Journalist Derek Thompson begins with this disturbing statement:

The United States is experiencing an extreme teenage mental-health crisis. From 2009 to 2021, the share of American high-school students who say they feel “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26 percent to 44 percent, according to a new CDC study. This is the highest level of teenage sadness ever recorded.

Thompson goes on to say that this crisis is neither too old nor too new.  He dispels three fallacies we might use to dismiss our concern. Continue reading

04.22.2022 – In Praise of the Old Way

Langhorne Presbyterian Church, Langhorne, Pennsylvania

A new church has opened in our area.  Or maybe it is just a rebranded church. In any event, they held their launch event on Easter, and I wish them well.  I wish them well, but their promotional material causes concern.  They say they have found a new way to do ministry.  They may be a little late to the game.  They sound very “emergent.”  The emergent church was a phenomenon of the early 2000s and seems mostly to have spent its moment. The emergent church was high on immediate experience and low on the things that last. Here is a not too friendly but I think mostly accurate account of the emergent church.

In any event, our friends at the new church up the road think the new way to be a church is by not being very church-like.  Oh, they are going to have a Sunday worship service, but attendance at worship is not very important.  Watching the service on Facebook Live is just as good, and the really important thing is to join a small group, several of which meet at homes around the community.  They tell us to become a part of a small group before we ever come to worship.

I should be clear about something: I like small groups.  Becky and I are a part of a small group connected to our church and it has been one of the best things about being in Auburn.  Thank God for small groups! Continue reading