How to see a miracle when you’re exhausted

How to see a miracle when you’re exhausted

Looking for a daily miracle helps your brain stay active by anticipating something special. For people of faith, it’s a wonderful way to live. You have to slow your pace a bit to notice, rather than rushing from task to task (or Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting).

Praying like the hour is at hand

Praying like the hour is at hand

In John 17, Jesus claims that “the hour” is at hand when he would be glorified and his disciples given their chance to be in the fullness of what his gospel proclaimed. Even when the future we see looks cloudy, the prayer Jesus offers up for his believers is one of trust, hope, and love.

We are never left orphaned. We are never forgotten.

Christ’s prayer continues to bless us, now and forevermore.

Where is the love?

Where is the love?

Love through the lens of emotion has a foundation of reciprocity coated in preference. From this perspective, one must have an affinity towards another before love takes root. This type of love lacks the power to deal with race or any of the world’s challenges. Love that transforms is not some sentimental outpouring feeling. The love that has the power to transform is agape, which seeks nothing in return, but is “redemptive goodwill for all men.”

Hamilton and history – Who tells the story?

Hamilton and history – Who tells the story?

The musical Hamilton asks, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” But I would also ask “Whose story will we revere and embrace as patriotic? Countless people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community and others who have cut against the grain of the majority are speaking out. Too often their words and actions are regarded as traitorous. But in this pivotal historical moment, we have an opportunity to be better.

The Christian citizen: Gospel, conscience, and dissent

The Christian citizen: Gospel, conscience, and dissent

Christian citizenship requires, not that individuals seek to impose Christianity on the society, but that individual Christians operate within the framework of Jesus’ teaching as they respond to the way government treats all its citizens, especially those who are in the greatest need.

9/11 and COVID-19: Our Christian purpose and response

9/11 and COVID-19: Our Christian purpose and response

As Christians, we are duty bound to go and see what our Lord thought was so important. Can anything good come from terrorist attacks or viral pandemics? Come and see. Right now, you might feel stressed under the fig tree of your own anxiety, but a belief in the restorative power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus of Nazareth embodied can carry you beyond any crisis because that was God’s plan from the beginning—to make us whole again.

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

Every name lost to police brutality or COVID-19 was a baby at some point. Each one held and loved. Each had dreams and expectations and hopes attached to him or her. Let us not forget their names. Let us weep.

“Ring Them Bells”: The Church as the megaphone of hurt and hope

“Ring Them Bells”: The Church as the megaphone of hurt and hope

“Ring Them Bells,” originally written by Bob Dylan for his 1989 album “Oh Mercy,” is a richly poetic song with plenty of biblical references and allusions. Many observers have pointed to the apocalyptic hints in the song, and those are certainly there. But there’s something else I hear in the song that speaks to why I like it. It reminds me of the place of the church in turbulent times.

Goodness that wakes up the devil

Goodness that wakes up the devil

These are days we need to be daughters and sons of Walter Rauschenbusch who said goodness means following Jesus in purposeful suffering on the Via Dolorosa. These are days we need to be so good we wake up the devil and bear the marks of the Lord Jesus.

The Jesus who works

The Jesus who works

Let us proclaim that no labor is unskilled, and that all deserve a seat at the table of our economy this Labor Day. Let us advocate for the ending of exploitation of undocumented workers. Let us acknowledge that Jesus worked, and let that acknowledgment challenge and change our faith. Let us also be filled with a spirit that acknowledges that changing how our world thinks about work and workers’ place in our economy will be hard work – hard, but worth it.

Lamentations for our time

Lamentations for our time

Lamentations, arguably, offers an “explanation” which fits one of the dominant frames of the Bible—the Deuteronomic system of blessings and curses—and yet also offers a poetic counter to this theology.

Coronavirus and Christian courage

Coronavirus and Christian courage

Courage has a context. Bravery flows not from mindless risk-taking, but from compelling reasons to act on behalf of one another. We do not dare God to keep us safe no matter what foolish actions we may take.

Making history in an age of pandemic

Making history in an age of pandemic

When this present moment becomes history, how will people know how your faith community responded? Will they know that many congrega¬tions quickly developed the capacity for online worship services—or even be able to watch our worship from their future position? Will they know which communities continued to supply food banks and provide housing for the home-less? Will you leave records reflecting the shift from pastoral visits to pastoral telephone calls and emails? It all comes down to how well you document these days.

Saving the here and now: Archiving today’s challenges for future insight

Saving the here and now: Archiving today’s challenges for future insight

Getting churches to capture this moment in time will be helpful not only for future generations. It will be also a chance for congregants to recall the immediate past and start working out what these challenging times have shown them about their own lives, as well as the inevitable travails and the graceful moments where the resilience of a local church was revealed.

Looking back, looking ahead

Looking back, looking ahead

Significant anniversaries provide an opportunity to take stock of where one has been and where one is headed. This month, I celebrate 25 years of ministry with American Baptist Home Mission Societies. While my portfolio has changed during that time, one constant has been my involvement with The Christian Citizen.

Everything beautiful in its time: COVID-19, mental health, and resilience in the Karen Baptist Churches in the United States

Everything beautiful in its time: COVID-19, mental health, and resilience in the Karen Baptist Churches in the United States

Members of the Karen ethnic group in Myanmar (formerly Burma) are no strangers to conditions that threaten their physical existence or inhibit their ability to think or reason freely. Thousands of Karen people were forced to flee their homes to escape violence, persecution, and war in the 20th century. The freedom they sought in Thai refugee camps left much to be desired, as they experienced degradation, restrictions on working and moving about, and food rations that often left them hungry and malnourished. The opportunity for some to immigrate to America, earlier this century, rekindled hope and dreams of better days. I interviewed 25 pastors in the Karen Baptist Churches in the United States (KBCUSA) to gain a glimpse of the challenges they are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus and conservatism

Coronavirus and conservatism

Rather than defending a traditional concept of community and common welfare in which individuals understand the connection between rights and duties, many who claim the conservative mantle substitute a doctrinaire individualism that ultimately benefits neither the individual nor society.

What the eyes of the heart see

What the eyes of the heart see

Through belief in Christ, the one who was born and lived among the marginalized, whose death was at the hands of the “powers that be” of this world, and whose resurrection, ascension, and promised return we take hope in, we learn to tell, and live out, a different story. The response of the faithful is not to turn a blind eye toward the sufferings of the world, nor to be willing or silently complicit partners to these sufferings taking root in political, economic, or social policies.

The role of the local church during COVID-19

The role of the local church during COVID-19

Hebrews 10:24-25 is a command to fellowship and to not stop gathering together as others have done. It is a command to encourage one another. How do we fulfill this biblical command while also following the local authorities’ command to “shelter in place” during these times? What is the role of the church during this historic moment? As some churches are grieving and others are calling this an opportunity for a revival, the inherent complexities of these questions and the reality of how one event can affect individuals differently are on full display.

The things fathers pass on (if we let them)

The things fathers pass on (if we let them)

Father’s Day has arrived yet again, and no situation—no father—is perfect. Perhaps you have an imperfect relationship right now with an imperfect father. What’s your legacy? Visible or invisible, it’s likely there, but you might not have a full grasp of it until he’s gone. And that’s okay. Believe me, you’ll know it when it is upon you, and then it will be your legacy.

It’s complicated: Father’s Day and descriptions of God

It’s complicated: Father’s Day and descriptions of God

What Father’s Day should do for people of faith is open up space for us to consider the ways that earthly fatherhood does and does not map onto our experience of God. There will undoubtedly be points of slippage between our experiences of being fathered or being fathers and our experience of God’s love. For those for whom there is much distance between their personal experience and the term Father, I would invite them to find and use different terms for God.

Singing the Lord’s song in strange times

Singing the Lord’s song in strange times

Communal singing is an important way we as Christians connect with God and one another in worship. No matter our preferred style of singing or level of vocal skill, we use music as a source of spiritual nourishment. In times of troubles, favorite hymns or worship songs bring us consolation and comfort. In times of joy, we yearn to lift up our hearts in song. However, as we look forward to reopening our church buildings for worship, the future of communal singing is uncertain.

Learning from loneliness

Learning from loneliness

As you continue to walk through these days, reflect on what this has been like for you, and what it is like today. What do you notice about yourself? What have you learned about yourself from this time of isolation and loneliness? Or what have you learned about yourself from the enforced togetherness? What do you intend to do differently? What is God calling you to do now in this new environment?

Allegiance to the flag—a reflection on Flag Day

Allegiance to the flag—a reflection on Flag Day

Our nation has failed at offering liberty and justice for all, as have all nations. It is a high ideal, worthy of our every attempt. I am happy to place my hand over my heart to pledge for our Republic to continue to try its best to provide, protect, and promote liberty and justice for all, as long as all means no exceptions

Embracing the new normal—Church was made for times like these

Embracing the new normal—Church was made for times like these

The lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic should not be forgotten. Indeed, those lessons should fundamentally change how we do church, making us more creative. If we are assured of anything, it is that church can and should change so that it can meet the needs of others. After all, church was made for times like these, fostering connection when we so desperately need it.

America in crisis—holding on to hope

America in crisis—holding on to hope

As sustained protests have multiplied, so has their powerful and passionate message: racism and police brutality are no longer acceptable. It’s a clarion call coming from a diverse, multi-racial, multigenerational Unites States of America, and it’s being echoed by our global neighbors.

Chapter 11 for the church

Chapter 11 for the church

Like traditional retailers whose weaknesses were exploited by the pandemic, churches suffering from the impacts of decline have similarly been placed in precarious positions. So, if we might consider this time as an opportunity for reorganization, what would such changes look like? Here are a few thoughts.

Why Would Jesus Social Distance – WWJ(S)D

Why Would Jesus Social Distance – WWJ(S)D

When asked what the greatest command was, Jesus said that it was to love God and love your neighbor. Right now, our neighbors need us to stay inside and to social distance. The “essential business” of the gospel is to do this. Jesus calls us to social distance, but not to be distant from each other.

Living in two Americas, what did we see?

Living in two Americas, what did we see?

We live in two Americas. One in which police brutality against people of color continues unabated and unaddressed. And another in which there are no permissible grounds for protesting white supremacy, whether taking a knee during the anthem or chanting “Black Lives Matter” in front of the White House.

Seeking justice for George Floyd

Seeking justice for George Floyd

Public protest by concerned citizens is one of the most basic and fundamental rights of any American citizen. Video of Floyd’s death by asphyxiation captured on multiple cell phones was one of the darkest and yet most revealing moments in recent American history.

To Live in God: Daily Reflections with Walter Rauschenbusch (Book Review)

To Live in God: Daily Reflections with Walter Rauschenbusch (Book Review)

Walter Rauschenbusch did not write only for mass audiences or only for academics, he wrote for both of them at the same time. Rauschenbusch knew movements were not sustained through sermons and articles, but through prayers (he wrote a book of social justice prayers) hymns (he collected social hymns), letters, pamphlets, and meetings (all of which he did).

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

This Memorial Day, as we remember our war dead and our loved ones, we can also remember the institutional church that had been crusted over and in decline. But looking to the lessons of history and trends of technology, we can be hopeful for the emergence of a reincarnated church that is virtual and vibrant; focused and intentional.

Churches and federal financial aid during the coronavirus crisis

Churches and federal financial aid during the coronavirus crisis

As Baptists, we don’t and shouldn’t look first to the government for how to overcome most difficulties. Our commitment to the separation of church and state is rooted in our theology and our history, neither of which is changed by government efforts to provide relief in a time of crisis or shifting standards of constitutional law.

Ending a catastrophe—proclaiming and providing glimpses of what J.R.R. Tolkien called eucatastrophic joy

Ending a catastrophe—proclaiming and providing glimpses of what J.R.R. Tolkien called eucatastrophic joy

I know many are struggling and will struggle. I admit many were struggling mightily with socioeconomic injustice well before any sign of a global pandemic was on our national horizon. But I do hold out the hope and the trust that God is with us even now, providing a pathway toward the ending that benefits all creation.

And that end shall be good, whatever catastrophe bears down on us. We have a story that calls us to proclaim and provide glimpses of what J.R.R. Tolkien would call eucatastrophic joy.

Nurturing faith at home

Nurturing faith at home

With households becoming schools and parents and other primary caregivers managing unprecedented challenges, making family life the primary locus of Christian education can feel like just one more overwhelming task. But it doesn’t need to be.

Stones shouting out: New witness of the church in the pandemic

Stones shouting out: New witness of the church in the pandemic

While we collectively know that “normal” as we knew it may never return, we have signs that we will emerge from this crisis transformed. The Church is demonstrating resourcefulness and creativity in continuing to serve our communities with mission and purpose. We recognize that the good news of Jesus Christ is as important today as ever – and that the message will find a way to be heard.

As churches consider reopening buildings and resuming in-person worship, what can pastors expect?

As churches consider reopening buildings and resuming in-person worship, what can pastors expect?

During these last several weeks we have experienced many unexpected outcomes, and there will undoubtedly be more. None of us knows how to pastor during a pandemic; this is unlike other crises as we still have no idea how or when it will end. We are not going to do this perfectly. Each of us is carrying traumas of our own, and none of us is going to be at our best. Now, more than ever, we need to show ourselves – and our congregations – the grace that we proclaim.

What is this time doing to you?

What is this time doing to you?

Despite being forced to cut back on our experiences, expenses, and exposure, we collectively remain in a hurry. We were in a hurry before the virus forced us out of common spaces. We have been in a hurry seeking to adapt to sudden change. Currently, we seem to be in a hurry to get back. Back to what? Back to the office, back to school, back to profits, back to consumerism, back to sanctuaries, back to normal? Are we in such a hurry to get back that we are missing the chance to move forward into something new?

Binge-watching a hopeful future

Binge-watching a hopeful future

Science fiction can help us imagine a future or alternative reality. While living in the uncertainty of the here and now, and learning the opportunities and limits of conducting work and worship via digital tools, here are three science fiction shows available to stream.

Keep America beautiful

Keep America beautiful

I was a child when the “Keep America Beautiful” public service announcement first launched in 1971, and I remember being captivated by it. Nearly 50 years later, the impact of pollution is more dire, and each of us must do our part. As the “Keep America Beautiful” announcement reminds us, “People start pollution; people can stop it.”

For God so loved the cosmos

For God so loved the cosmos

Earth Day reminds me that in Greek, the word for world is cosmos. For God so loved the cosmos…beyond each person on the planet, God’s love encompasses all that God created.

Eco-theology: Earth Day should be an everyday thing

Eco-theology: Earth Day should be an everyday thing

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, people have rallied around the concepts of conservation, environmental protection, and ecological well-being. But why do we need an annual day to remind us of these all-important ideals? Shouldn’t we have made these goals a matter of daily practice by now?

Thou shall not be a bystander

Thou shall not be a bystander

The Yehuda Bauer quote, “thou shall not be a bystander,” is a reminder that by doing nothing, we do not remain blameless. As we reflect this month, on those lost in the Holocaust and the redemption offered on Easter, let us remember that love sets us free and that in love there is no place for nationalism.

Breaking the silence of mental illness

Breaking the silence of mental illness

Photo by Ahmed Hasan on Unsplash Breaking the silence of mental illness Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson April 16, 2020 The conversation about mental illness has an ebb and flow that leaves a lot to be desired concerning mental illness patients and family members. According to...
5 steps to create a mental health ministry

5 steps to create a mental health ministry

Talking about mental illness can be a taboo subject in the church, because people often shy away from what they don’t understand or deny that it even exists. However, it is imperative that the church becomes prepared to care for and love those in our community with mental health challenges.

Faith, mental health, and the rumor of grace

Faith, mental health, and the rumor of grace

One in five Americans annually experience mental health issues. Of this number, four in ten adults and just over half of children aged 8-15 receive appropriate care. Pastors can help address this disconnect between need and appropriate care by preaching and speaking about mental illness with directness and compassion from the pulpit.

New wine, repurposed vessels

New wine, repurposed vessels

The church finds new wineskins in every generation and every culture. The essence of our faith holds firm; the wrappings forever change. We sing new words to old songs and fresh prayers to our ancient God.

Reframing questions for congregational health

Reframing questions for congregational health

Is the end goal of the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) membership or discipleship? How might we think differently if we are inviting people to follow Jesus rather than focusing on adding members to the roles? We might look to the model of Jesus in creating disciples. Jesus met people in their everyday lives, doing their everyday things.

Make the Easter celebration last

Make the Easter celebration last

Easter is worth a lot more than one day a year, in my book. The church calendar allots seven Sundays, not just one, leading up to Pentecost. Liturgical churches talk about the “Great 50 Days,” a season of 50 days from Easter Eve to Pentecost.

Exploring Holy Week with young children

Exploring Holy Week with young children

Raising children in faith is one of the biggest responsibilities for faith educators — clergy, lay leaders, family members and others. Holy Week holds its own particular challenges with stories of Jesus’ life, ministry and crucifixion and themes of sin, betrayal, political machinations, death and resurrection. Such topics are difficult for adults to understand, let alone children.

Leaving Jesus alone—Observing Holy Week amid a pandemic

Leaving Jesus alone—Observing Holy Week amid a pandemic

This Holy Week, Christians find themselves scattered like the first disciples, each to their own homes. This is as it should be given the threat this pandemic poses. And yet, amid the fear and anxiety of whether we or our loved ones will become sick, amid difficult conversations with our children and others about worst case scenarios, amid the worry of our children over something so present yet so imperceptible as this dread virus—have we left Jesus alone?

By whose authority? Monday in Holy Week

By whose authority? Monday in Holy Week

Either Christ has dominion, or he does not. By what authority do any of us act? How do we pick our battles? Our choices, and how we elect to assert the reasons for them, say much about who we are and what we ultimately believe.

Coronavirus does not discriminate, a reminder we’re all in this together, but faith can help

Coronavirus does not discriminate, a reminder we’re all in this together, but faith can help

Who could have imagined that great nations like Italy, and possibly France and Spain, as well, would be on nationwide lockdown? From China to the United States to Europe and everywhere else on Earth, we are being reminded that, while we have great wealth and great wisdom, there are some moments when we are at the mercy of Nature and must yield to its awesome and sometimes terrifying power.

Celebrating Easter in a Good Friday world

Celebrating Easter in a Good Friday world

This Easter many Christians, perhaps most, will gather as the earliest Christians did—in homes. Unlike those early Christians, they will do so as individual families connected, if at all, through online platforms and streaming services. Like those who preceded them in the faith, they will break bread and praise God as the church has done through the ages—amid war, peace, famine, plenty, pandemic, plague, freedom, oppression.

“The Lord is the stronghold of my life”—a meditation on Psalm 27 amid the COVID-19 pandemic

“The Lord is the stronghold of my life”—a meditation on Psalm 27 amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Though far removed from us in time, a shepherd boy destined to be king, struggled with fears as terrible as our own while he hid from the peril of death at the hands of Saul’s soldiers. Perhaps it was in the darkness of a cave where he had fled, breathless with fear as armed men closed in upon him, that Psalm 27 began to form in his heart, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Living between trapezes—waiting out the coronavirus pandemic

Living between trapezes—waiting out the coronavirus pandemic

We are waiting. We are in uncharted territory, our entire planet trapped between ordinary life and sheltering in place because of the coronavirus. It feels like we are living between trapezes. Having let go the secure bar of the first trapeze, we hang in mid-air, awaiting the arrival of the next. The next bar is not in sight.

God is not sheltered-in-place

God is not sheltered-in-place

Every day, God bursts forth in our world. From sheltered-in-place residents singing to each other across balconies in Italy, to Canadians “caremongering” for those in need, to two young cellists who gave a concert on an elderly woman’s porch so that she could enjoy the music while homebound, evidence of God’s presence through human kindness is everywhere.

“None of us walks the path of life alone”—Sen. Robert Dole’s message to the disability community is what we all need right now

“None of us walks the path of life alone”—Sen. Robert Dole’s message to the disability community is what we all need right now

“We all face challenges in life – some have a tougher road than others,” Dole wrote in a letter for the occasion of receiving the American Association of People with Disabilities’ Lifetime Impact Award. “But what sets us apart is how each one of us chooses to handle those challenges. Our resilience. I’ve faced a few bumps in the road throughout my life, but I’ve always tried to maintain a sense of optimism – looking ahead at brighter days to come.”

African American women: The key to the future of America

African American women: The key to the future of America

African American women learned that education was the means for advancement. Through oppression, they recognized the inclusivity of all as a requirement. Embracing unity, they realized that the target of their efforts had to be the community. And girded by faith, African American women looked to God for perseverance.