The Summer of ’17: Jacob’s Ladder and Esau’s Tragedy

Every year, without fail, we sang the chorus Jacob’s Ladder at church camp. Sung by a hundred Long Island high schoolers, it was interminable. (It never sounded like this. Wow!) We certainly had no idea this was a Negro Spiritual with a history that stretched back 150 years or so.So we sang it. We sang the life out of it. We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,Soldiers of the cross. We sang the next verse. Every rung goes hi … [Read more...]

The Summer of ’17: a Summer of Trysts and Turns

The lectionary last week ...Wait! Did I start a blog post with the word lectionary?How boring is that?Actually, not at all.For this entire summer, the summer of '17, I'm working with Tommy Williams, the affable and able pastor at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Houston, to offer a series of podcasts that follow the lectionary texts from Genesis. For about 20 minutes each week, we chew over (with surprisingly few belches, given how undigestible some of this stuff is) stories … [Read more...]

What’s for Lent?

The Catholic kids on Long Island gave up chocolate for Lent—at least that’s what they said. I grew up in a church without Lent. Most of our band of believers had gotten fed up with being Lutherans or Catholics or Methodists, so they wanted nothing to do with high holy days, like Ash Wednesday, or church seasons, like Lent. I don’t blame them. Most of the Catholic guys on my baseball team—Ash Wednesday hit during the bracing late winter days of high school baseball, when we stood on the field froz … [Read more...]

Sanity About the Spirit: Not in 1 Corinthians!

Confusion. That's what we get in the contemporary church when it comes to the Holy Spirit. You've got the Pentecostals, of course, who make great hay of the Spirit. But they differ dramatically from one another. The Assembly of God, for instance, sees speaking in tongues as clear evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Not all Pentecostal churches are so strident, and some are even more strident. The Vineyard, a movement I deeply appreciate, is more lax about speaking in tongues because it sees … [Read more...]

Pope Francis on How to Prepare a Sermon

The pope and I agree. He's in very good company! (Okay, I'll admit, it goes the other way, too.)What do we agree about? How to prepare a sermon.Here's the backstory to how I know Pope Francis and I agree.I wrote this week to Susan Stabile, a law professor and Faculty Fellow of Spiritual Life at the University of St. Thomas. Susan had written an endorsement for Forty Days with the Holy Spirit followed by a fine blog post. I wrote to her about my first term at Perkins School of Th … [Read more...]

The Promise of Pentecost You May Not Know

In the days prior to that first Pentecost, Jesus’ followers were huddled together, gathered around a single command, a solitary promise. Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem for the “promise of the father” (Luke 24;49). So they did.What would that promise have looked like to them? What exactly were they waiting for? A clue to the answer lies in Peter’s sermon, which he delivers after the upper-room faithful are filled with the holy spirit and speak in other dialects, which scattered Jewis … [Read more...]