It may be the darkest scripture in the whole Bible:  “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” My goal last Sunday was to preach it as is — without spoilers about what comes next.

But I couldn’t do it.

I wanted to let this part of the story stand on its own.  I didn’t want to soften the words, or cheapen Jesus’ suffering.  But I couldn’t let this darkest of moments remain pitch black.  I couldn’t just leave him hanging there.

There, at the end of my sermon, I had to throw in a little bit of Easter.  Without even a “spoiler alert” I revealed the big surprise:  Hope, Triumph, Resurrection.

I’m not alone in this. In my reading about this tough verse, not a single writer was willing to just sit with Jesus’ pain.  Nobody could resist spilling the beans about the happy ending that was to come.

Another example — My choir sings a cantata on Palm Sunday every year.  No matter how deep into Holy Week the music takes us, the last song — a long standing tradition — is “The King is Coming!” It’s a great song, but I have mixed feelings about it, because of all the spoilers!  Maundy Thursday and Good Friday have yet to come, and already we’re promising Easter.

I wonder if a new Christian would find themselves annoyed to have the big Easter Surprise revealed just at this agonizing climax?  I know I’d have been mad if someone spoiled the ending of the 6th Sense, or the Usual Suspects, Or The Empire Strikes Back.

Should we treat the story of the cross (and beyond) as a sacred mystery, only to be unveiled on Easter morning?  If we did, how would we handle passages such as this?

17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”  Matthew 20:17-19


Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer about how this story ends.  In fact, Jesus’ whole life is a spoiler alert.  If we pay careful attention to how Jesus lives, we’ll have all the clues we need to find out how he dies.  And lives again.

I’ve decided it’s not necessary to just sink into “Why have you forsaken me,” and stay there.  The whole point is that Jesus DIDN’T stay there.

He had more to reveal than Keyser Soze, Bruce Willis, and Darth Vader combined.

Have a good week,


20 of the Best Movie And TV Spoilers


The Devil Came For My Soul — And Couldn’t Find It.


The Devil came to me in a dream last night, dressed in his red suit and pitchfork and arrogant grin.  We were standing in a rocky, barren place.  He looked around and pointed to some rocks on the ground.

“Hungry?  Sure, you could fast and pray, I suppose.  But why not turn these stones into some bread?”

“Wait, I can do that?” I asked.  (I was kind of hungry)

“In this place,” he smirked, “you’ve got that kind of power.”

“Well, I’m not really a bread guy.”  I turned and yelled at the stones.  “Turn into Nachos!  And a Diet Coke!”  And sure enough, a great big plate of cheesy nachos appeared, along with a 44oz diet coke, light ice.

“That’s it?” the devil blinked at me.  “No hesitation at all.  Just diving in to a plate of nachos.”

I blinked back at him, my mouth full.

“Okay,” he said.  “On to the next”.  He snapped his finger and we were standing on the roof of my church.

“Now,” he continued.  “Throw yourself off this building, and God will keep you from hitting the ground.”

“God would do that?” I asked.

“Well, you believe that bad things only happen to bad people, right?  And you’re a good person.  Right?”  There was a gleam in his eye. “Surely God would save you.”

“Good point,” I said, and before his horrified look I stepped off the ledge.   The fall was not a little bit frightening.  As the sidewalk began to loom before me I thought, “any time now, God”.

But it wasn’t God that saved me, it was the Devil, and he was looking perturbed.

“Look, I couldn’t let you hit the ground.  You’d go splat and then you’d wake up from this dream, and I’m not finished with you yet.”

I looked around to see where God was…probably lurking there in the shadows ready to save a good guy like me at the very last instant.

The Devil grimaced and snapped his fingers. Suddenly, we were standing at the top of Mount Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas.  The Devil waved his arm across the plains around us.

“All you have to do is become my second in command, and all this –”  He frowned.  “Well, all this and lots more you can’t see from here, will be yours.”

“Second in command?” I asked.  “What does that entail?”

“Ah,” the Devil grinned again, “You simply have to agree that I am the absolute authority about what’s right and what’s wrong in this world.”

“Right and wrong?  Why would I think you’re the authority on that?”

“Because I believe exactly what you believe.  Every political opinion, every social issue, every theological, ethical, and moral concept, I believe exactly as you.”

“Well,” I thought a moment, “then in that case, I agree.  So, does my power extend out beyond Kansas?”

The Devil was no longer smiling.

“Do you not even care that you failed all three of my tests?  I mean, you conjured up junk food instead of fasting.  You hurled yourself off a building, naively thinking God would alter the laws of physics just to save you from your own stupidity.  And then you think so highly of your own view of the world that you’d bow down to it–to me–to yourself, instead of God?”

“Wait,” I said.  “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about TEMPTATION,” the Devil bellowed.  “But you give in so quickly.  Where’s the fun in that?”  He tossed his pitchfork over his shoulder and sighed.  “You wouldn’t even know your own sin if it bit you on the back of the leg.

“You know what?” he continued.  “You’re so compromised you don’t even need a Devil.”  He heaved a heavy sigh and turned to walk away.   “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you don’t need a Tempter.”  He called back over his shoulder.  “You need a Savior.”

With that, I jolted awake.  The clock said 11:45am.

I crawled out of bed, feeling hungry.  What was that crazy dream I was having?

It was all fading away now.

Something about Nachos.

Have a great week,






Scrubbing In


Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart… Psalm 24:3-4a

A few weeks back, Hulu made all 15 seasons of ER available for streaming.  I had never watched the show, so I thought I’d give it a try.  Wow. I feel like I should get credit for a year of med school for every season I complete.


They’re always washing their hands.  I’m talking deep, lathered scrubbing.  More than any “employees must wash their hands” sign ever dreamed of.  Working at the fingernails, all the way up the arms.   And then they hold their hands up to avoid contact with any germs.

You’d think they wouldn’t need to be that careful, with all the unclean people that come into the Emergency Room.  Drug addicts trying to scam some pills, Seniors suffering from confusion or neglect, folks with every kind of disease imaginable.  People covered in blood, or dirt, or something equally filthy.  It’s one of the messiest places you can find, and yet, there is this deliberate cleansing to avoid contamination.

Do I do that?  I mean, as a pastor.  As a Christian.  Do I need to scrub in before I try to help someone in need?  For some people, the church can be like an emergency room — a place to go when all hope is lost, when the suffering is too great, when confusion and neglect overwhelm.  When being unclean becomes unbearable.

If ER is any sort of correlation, I really shouldn’t engage in helping, or ministry, until I’m sure I’m not contaminated.  I need to be made clean.

The first of John Wesley’s General Rules was “Do no harm.”  Absolutely.  In the helping of somebody else’s spiritual germs, we can cause contamination if we haven’t monitored our own issues.  We can act selfishly, or impatiently.  We can avoid listening, or practice messy theology.

Can you imagine the cast of ER treating serious wounds while covered in dirt?  It would be dangerous.  The same is true for us, but for Christians in service, more is needed than soap and water.  We need to be in constant prayer, turning to the scriptures, connected in community. We need to remember our baptisms — that cleansing Grace of the Holy Spirit that is with us our whole lives.  We need to know the power of Jesus Christ to forgive sins.

This is how we scrub in.  Not just as pastors, or lay leaders.   Every Christian is called to do a rotation in the ER.  Every one of us is on call to be the hands and feet of Christ at a moment’s notice.

We may never be perfectly clean as we prepare for the mission field, but we must be ready to follow in the steps of the Great Physician.

(And I don’t mean Noah Wyle)

Have a good week,






I am giving up for Lent.


Chocolate. Smoking. Facebook.
Soda.  Pizza.  Swearing.
Smart Phone. Complaining. TV.

What are you giving up for Lent?

Alcohol. Procrastinating. Fast food.
Shopping.   Salt.  Red Meat.
Caffeine.  Gossip.  Selfishness.

There are so many things people give up for Lent.  You could choose any one of them to help you focus spiritually this season, or…

You could just give up.

As in, “I give up!”

As in, “My hands are raised in the air, God.  This is me giving up!”

As in, “I surrender”.

This is not an easy thing to do.  Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane?  He says, “My Father if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) , and then,  My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Matthew 26:42

That passage is not about Jesus wanting to give up drinking for Lent! It’s about Jesus putting his life in God’s hands.  He gives up his own human desire for self-preservation, and surrenders himself into God’s will.

This is what I want to do, this year.  I want to try.  I want to give up for Lent.  For me, giving up means consciously resisting the urges I have to resist God.  I want to avail myself of God’s will as much as I can.

That means trying, at least, to give up some of my worst habits.  My overwhelming desire for comfort. My fear of speaking and acting in faith.  The pain that has me looking at the world through jaded eyes.

I want to give all that up!  Release it into the cosmos.  Then I want to listen obediently.

I do not expect God will lead me to a cross.  But I expect God will lead me.  And giving up is my sign of willingness to follow.

Along the way I may eat a little chocolate.  I may complain a bit.  I may stumble and fall, for the journey to the cross is not always easy.

But I will rest in the knowledge of the One…

Who never gives up on me.

Have a great week,



Candy Dust to Dust


You’ll never believe what happened when Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday fell on the same day, back in 2018.

Here’s what happened:

I had left the house in a rush, grabbing my stuff and wishing my wife an “I love you!” as I ran for the door.  I had to make it to church in time for the come-and-go imposition of ashes. We decided not to have a service this year, opting instead for a couple hour-long spans when people could come to the church, receive ashes and a devotion booklet, and be invited to pray in silence.

There were already a couple people sitting in pews waiting when I got to the sanctuary.  I dropped my stuff in the front pew and reached in my satchel for my vial of ashes—and it wasn’t there!  Instead I found a bag of Valentines candy.  Little candy hearts I was going to pass out to my staff and family that evening.

I stood there, paralyzed, as another person came into the sanctuary.  The man walked down the aisle right to me, brushing away his hair so I could impose the ashes that I didn’t have.

Panicking, and not knowing what else to do, I ripped open the bag of hearts, grabbed one, and placed it in the man’s palm.  Looking down, we read together what it said:  “Be Mine”.

He looked at me, startled.  Straight-faced, I muttered, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” He slowly turned away, as if trying to decide if he was supposed to eat it or not.

There was a line now.  The woman behind him stepped forward, and tentatively held out her hand.  I pulled another one out.  It said, “Hot Stuff”.  Obviously that wouldn’t do, so I popped it in my mouth, said a silent prayer, and pulled out another.  “True Love.”  That was more like it.

“Repent and believe the Gospel,” I said, placing it in her hand.  She smiled.  That was a good sign. The line was all the way down the aisle, now.  Would I have enough appropriate hearts to pass out?  I said another silent prayer.

The next one surprised me: “Have Faith”.  The one after that said, “I Forgive.”  Amazed, I pulled another and gasped.  It said, “Died 4 U”.  People were leaving with tears in their eyes now.  I had to wipe a few away myself.  In later days people would tell me it was the most moving Ash Wednesday they could remember.  Believe me, I gave God all the credit.

As the last person left the sanctuary, I looked down in the bag.  One heart left.  Bracing, I pulled it out.  It said “Dust 2 Dust”.

Indeed.  Wiping the candy dust from my hands, I sank down into the pew and began my own Lenten journey.  I tried to quiet my mind, but the thought wouldn’t leave me…

If God could make Valentines Day into a meaningful observance of Ash Wednesday,

What might God do with April Fool’s Day and Easter?

Have a good week,



It’s Hip To Be Square


It’s not just some fad.  It’s not just a Huey Lewis song either.  But let me tell you…

Square is where it’s at.

Quadrilateral, actually.  A 4-sided box that contains a method for making sense of the world.  This is a United Methodist method, in fact, and one you can put to use immediately.

We call it the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”, although Dr. Albert Outler coined the term centuries after John Wesley’s time.  Outler studied Wesley extensively, and the Quadrilateral isn’t just what Wesley taught but what Wesley did.

It’s a method for strengthening your faith, based on four sources John Wesley drew upon time and again.  Here they are:

SOURCE #1:  Scripture.  This is the big one.  Scripture contains everything sufficient for us as believers, and so we look to it to inform our faith more than the others.  However, we Methodists want to confirm and enhance our understanding as we interpret the Word.  Which brings us to…

SOURCE #2.  Tradition.  For thousands of years now, people have written about God.  Speculated about Jesus.  Tried to interpret the work of the Holy Spirit.  Those writings form the basis of our tradition–and we use them to help us peel back the layers of scripture and yield new understanding.  Tradition can also refer to the activities of different faith groups — including our own — as they’ve passed down through the centuries.

SOURCE #3.  Reason.  Wesley was a strong proponent of logic, reason, and science.  God gave us these intricate minds — it’s only appropriate for us to use them as we try to wrestle with difficult subjects and complicated ideas.

SOURCE #4.  Experience.  This one’s kind of tricky, because experience can be so subjective from one person to the next.  It refers to the experience of the Holy Spirit within and around us–how it has warmed our hearts and confirmed our faith.

Maybe you knew all that and this was just a reminder.  Maybe you’ve never explored such ideas before.  Regardless, let me make it clear:  It’s hip to be square.

It’s incredibly cool to use these four sources to strengthen your faith!  People who embrace the Quadrilateral as part of their daily faith walk will find greater depth, greater balance, and greater meaning in their lives.

Now, you might have noticed — it’s actually possible for two people to use these sources and come out with entirely different notions!  One person could weigh out scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, and decide they are pro-life, and another could do the same thing and identify as pro-choice.   Your faith could point you against gay marriage, and your best friend could believe the opposite.  Faithful people can come to very different faith conclusions.

If we don’t all believe the same way, what good is the Quadrilateral in the first place?

Ah, but that’s the hippest part of the whole thing.   If we carefully, faithfully use these four sources — we may come to different conclusions, but we ARE believing the same way.  We’re holding fast to a process that produces Christians with integrity.

It doesn’t create complete agreement.  It creates creative people.  People who are willing to investigate and ask questions, to delve into the traditions of the church, to read scripture vigorously, and to seek the Holy Spirit’s blessing.

If we can commit to doing all of that, then there is hope for us to learn and grow together.  (Wesley called that Christian Conferencing, a really cool concept for another day).

Do you get it?  Those four sources form a STREngth that cannot be ignored.  The more people choose to be this deliberate and methodical, the stronger we become as God’s family, even when we don’t always agree.

So spread the word.  It’s hip to be square.  Let’s make this precious process popular…

Until everybody’s doing it.

Have a great week,









My Way

Frank Sinatra My way

“Alexa, play the Frank Sinatra station.”

Alexa’s my Amazon speaker-thingy.  You just tell it what you want to hear, and it provides the soundtrack for your life! This morning, I felt like some old standards.  This is what I got:

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

Listening, I thought to myself, “this is such a good song.  An old classic.  Well written, and ole Blue Eyes really knows how to belt it out.”

I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

The words to the song, I just looked them up, were written by Paul Anka.  But the philosophy of life clearly belongs to that of the Chairman of the Board.

But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way

The song is about a man, near the end of his life, looking back with pride. Every time life got tough, he made his own uncompromising decisions.  He did it “My Way”.

For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

It was at this point that I decided to write this devotion.  Did you notice that this song is seriously missing something? There’s no leaning on God.  No leaning on others.  There’s no collaboration, no love.  There’s only a man standing tall.

And you know what?  That’s not enough.

I know lots of people who have graduated from the Frank Sinatra school of hard knocks.  They learned to keep their own interests front and center.  They learned not to trust others or accept much help.  They learned to be strong and determined and single-minded.  They aim to be King of the Hill, A-Number One, and they aim to do it “My Way”. But they don’t learn to trust in God’s way, and that means missing out on the greatest experience of life.

It’s a tricky thing, putting your faith in God’s hands, especially when the world keeps telling you to go it alone.  Even long-term Christians can struggle with this.

I went hunting for “my way” quotes from scripture.  Here are 4 that I found from the Psalms:

It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.  –Psalm 18:32

I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. –Psalm 119:59

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. –Psalm 139:3

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way.   –Psalm 142:3

Apparently there’s room for both “My Way” and God’s Way.   That balance between God’s sovereignty and Human agency is a mysterious one — humans have been asking about that theological question since day one.  I’m apt to think that we can be strong people of integrity who are guided in our steps, hearts, and minds by a loving God.  We can have it both ways.

When I get to the point in my life when I say, “And now the end is near…” I hope I sing a very different song about my life.  One filled with lots of harmony and inspiration and love, one that reminds me that if I keep God in my life…

I’ll never walk alone.

Have a great week,