In-Sight: We Are The Older Brother

We cannot read the story of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32) without realizing there are actually two lost sons.  But because we have put so much emphasis on the younger son, we fail to discover what Jesus wanted us to learn through the experience of the older son.

The younger son is the story of self-interest turned into self-expression. The older son is the story of self-interest turned into self-righteousness.  Both are lost.  Both are portrayed as outside the father’s house–the younger in a faraway place, the older in a nearby field.  The younger son is Jesus’ story of rebellion, the older son is the story of religiosity.  Clearly, the religious leaders heard it that way (Luke 15:2, 16:14-15) as they listened to Jesus’ parables in this section of Luke’s gospel.

If we presume to follow Jesus, if we call ourselves Christian, it does not mean the younger son has nothing to tell us, but it does mean that the older son is the character we should study carefully.  We are the older brother. His downward spiral can be ours.

It began as anger because the older son felt the father was “soft on sin” and offering cheap grace.  It deteriorated into a denial of kinship: “this son of yours” (Luke 15:30), even though the father tried to keep the record straight: “this brother of yours” (Luke 15:32).  It climaxed as the older son refused to enter the house and be part of a family that not only included “someone like that,” but put a ring, shoes, and robe on him.

And that’s where the parable concludes.  Curtain down.  Full stop.  No happy ending.  Self-righteousness on the outside–not because the father refused to invite the older son inside, but rather because the older son rejected the invitation. To accept it would mean having to admit his own version of lostness and it would mean having to be reconciled to someone he no longer wanted to be around.

Tragically, when the story ends, there is still one lost son.

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Journey: To Life!

Read:  Introduction

Our desire for life is met by Jesus’ offer of it (John 10:10). But we must notice that his offer is “zoe,” not merely “bios.”  Brian McLaren gets it in his introduction by naming this life as well-being, shalom, blessedness, wholeness, harmony, life to the full, and aliveness.

It was a transforming moment for me when, years ago, I learned that salvation means wholeness for life now, not just going to heaven when we die.  McClaren’s grasp of this makes his Introduction worth our careful attention.

Against the backdrop of God’s desire for us to live zoe-fully, we see the many ways the fallen world drains life away–including many forms of religion.  We find ourselves in an age where more and more people view Christians as life-deprived and life-depriving–mean people who say and do mean things.  Our children, colleagues, and friends want to have less and less to do with the church.  And if we are honest, we have days when we feel pretty much the same, even though we hang on by the skin of our teeth.

McLaren speaks for many when he writes, “So, our world truly needs a global spiritual movement dedicated to aliveness.”  This is exactly what I was wanting to say when I wrote ‘Fresh Wind Blowing.’  And like him, I believe we are seeing it emerging.

This is not the first time.  In fact, God has chosen in the past to use movements rather than institutions in bringing new life to the church and the world.  McClaren identifies some of them, and invites us to be part of a Christianity that has thrown off weights and sins, and is running the race set before it with counter-cultural faithfulness to Jesus.

A key in this is a recovery of catechesis–a sustained formational process in which we let go of obstacles and take hold of opportunities, made possible through the teaching of sound doctrine drawn directly from Scripture.

But this is no passive thing; it is an all-out engagement of our lives–it is what McClaren describes when he says, “We make the road by walking.”  This is going to be a good book–and more, this is going to be a transforming journey!

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For the Bride: Termites in the Temple

One of the distortions of my book is that it is about homosexuality.  The truth is, it is about avoiding schism.  The inclusion of the human sexuality issue was illustrative of how the three foundational elements can be used to address the flash-fire topic threatening to divide the Church.

So, I want to use the opening posts in this series to restore the original intent of the book; that is, using the principle of love, the practice of non-judgment, and the practice of holy conversation to maintain unity in the Body of Christ.

In doing this, I want to be clear that I am not walking away from the human sexuality issue.  I will return to that when the time is right. But I believe there are underlying factors which make our conversations about human sexuality so caustic–factors which go beyond any one topic and threaten the overall genuineness and wellbeing of the Church.  If we hope to see the principle of love, the practice of non-judgment, and the process of holy conferencing have influence, these “termites in the temple” must be faced.

In the initial postings in this series, I will examine some of the things I believe are eating away at the infrastructure of the Church in our time.  After that, I will return to the three pillars in the book and use them to share new thoughts about how they might be used of God to maintain the spirit of unity in the Bride of Christ.

Posted in For the Bride

In-Sight: You Can Read the Bible

One of the biggest mistakes we have made with the Bible is leaving the impression that only scholars can correctly interpret it.  Everything is made so layered, nuanced, and complex that many folks instantly feel they lack the “training” and “horsepower” to make it through all the mazes. 

So, they either stop trying or they become passive and wait for the “experts” to tell them what’s “right.”  But the fact is, the Bible is intended to be understandable!  The original languages do contain levels of insight, but their essential meanings are accessible to us all.

Here is a way to make it so in your personal reading and in your conversations with others.  Take a passage, read it, and ask:  (1) What is the big idea?  (2) Why is it important?  (3) Where does it presently connect with my life–or–why is it not a part of me?  (4) Should it be part of me? If so, how can I continue (or begin) to put it into practice?

Most Bible passages will “bear fruit” when these questions are applied to them, either in private or in a group.  And when you add to your own inductive study the additional resources of concordances, dictionaries, maps, and commentaries, you will find the messages of scripture influencing your life day after day.

Posted in In-Sight

Journey: Under Construction

Read:  The Preface

When E. Stanley Jones was asked if he was a Christian, he would almost always reply, “I am a Christian under construction.”  It was his way of combining affirmation and anticipation.  It is the way Christ wants each of us to follow him.

Brian McLaren begins his book at just the right place, the place where we say, “God is not finished with me yet.”  If we do not believe this, we will give up before we take the first step.  And doing so, we will miss most of what God wills for us.

The power to choose is the way we begin the journey.  McLaren invites us to choose to walk the path of Scripture with our eyes wide open to the witness and wonder of God’s revelation.

McLaren’s invitation to make the road by walking is set in a larger context–his belief that God is doing a new thing in our midst–a conviction I (and others) share with him, and one I have written about in my book, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing.’ If we are to perceive this new work and participate in it, we need the kind of formative experience McLaren offers us in this book.

Next week, we look at the Introduction to the book.  This is not a slow start, it is a necessary orientation for our year-long trek.  Good hikers always take time to prepare .  McLaren does the same in the Preface and Introduction.

A good phrase for us to pray/sing is, “Open my eyes that I may see, glimpses of truth Thou hast  for me.”

Posted in Journey

For the Bride: Introduction

Welcome to a new weekly theme that will appear each Friday. It’s a series of reflections related to my book, ‘For the Sake of the Bride: Restoring the Church to Her Intended Beauty’ (Abingdon Press, 2014).  In order to best understand the context for this series, I urge you to read the book. Here is the link to get the book:

For the Sake of the Bride’ is the outcome of a deeply moving experience I had during Lent 2014–a feeling that the Church is being shamed by sibling rivalry.  Her bridal gown is being shredded, leaving her life weakened and her witness diminished.  The Spirit said, “Enough is enough,” and I felt a call to write about what I was experiencing.

As an Elder in The United Methodist Church, I have a particular concern for our denomination’s methods of debate and the contentiousness that often accompanies it, and especially how that gets expressed in social media and reported by the news media. From my vantage point (others have different ones), I wrote the book as one motivated to preserve the unity of the United Methodist Church and avoid schism.

For this to happen, I believe we must combine three elements…

(1) the way of love as revealed in Scripture–a radical commitment to the two great commandments and the fruit of the Spirit.  I work with the Trinity and Paul to show this.

(2) the practice of non-judgment–a radical refusal by one individual to pass judgment on another.  I show how the early church enacted this.

(3) the process of the ’round table’–a radical use of holy conferencing used by the Church and illustrated in the Round Table process that E. Stanley Jones used to move beyond controversy.

Until these three pillars are in place, we have little hope of avoiding schism.  But with them, we can have hope that God can still do a work among us.

After some posts describing selected debilitating factors that threaten the Church’s unity, I will turn to the three pillars and expand on them beyond what I only began in the book.  I noted in the book that I view it as a work in progress.  This series of posts will illustrate the ongoing nature of my journey, most especially in my hope to be a voice for preserving unity in the Church.

If the unity of the Church is of particular concern to you, you may want to study my book in your congregation, using the book’s content and these weekly posts to help inform, inspire, and direct your interaction.

Because caustic comments can so quickly attach to writing on social media, I am not allowing comments for this series.  I am writing to encourage a  consideration of ideas, not to generate an agreement/disagreement atmosphere.

Underneath everything is my assumption that, despite our differences, we all love the Church and seek the best for her.  On the basis of that assumption, I believe God is using all our vantage points and perspectives to restore the Bride to her intended beauty.  I pray my writing will contribute to that for you personally, and for any in your congregation who may follow along with you.

Posted in For the Bride

Connections: Two Ministry Sites

I always feel way behind the curve when I refer folks to social media, but I would rather be repetitive than silent.  Here are two online ministries I find very helpful.  Both have a Facebook page and a website…

(1) United Methodist Reporter:  When this ministry shut down a year or so ago, I mistakenly thought it disappeared.  But I was wrong.  In a more limited, but still valuable way, it continues to post news items and articles of interest to United Methodists (

(2) Crux:  a brand-new online resource from The Boston Globe, reporting the news of “all things Catholic.”  My early reading tells me that, in addition to providing coverage of Roman information, Crux’s material will have valuable transferrable concepts for all Christians, and that it comes through the writing of well-known journalists (


Posted in Connections