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We live in a time of voice-controlled technology, which, most likely, will only get more so.  Imagine getting into your car and telling it to take you to an address and it asking if you want 158 on south Maple or north Maple.  It’s coming.

We sometimes forget the true power of the voice.  There are numerous ways to follow that thought but I’m heading toward faithfulness.  God, we are told, created through speaking.  “Let there be light.” LIGHT! And we can sometimes misplace the truth that our voices lean in that direction.  What we tell ourselves, about ourselves, what we say to others, about themselves, has power.  It creates.

This is the significance of the blessing in the Bible and explains why, once it is given, it’s done.  When Esau learns that Jacob received the pronounced blessing of Isaac, the words spoken over him even though he was disguised, he asks, “Is there nothing left for me?”  And there isn’t.  Isaac explains that he said it all.  When people used to say, “I give you my word”, it meant something.  One’s word was a created thing, more than a promise.  The blessing said over Jacob became literal, handing him the full inheritance.

In Romans 12, where we’re told to “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse”, we’re being told to create the world through our words.  We’re being told to join the work of God in the lost regions of another’s soul.  People who seek to do damage to others are, for the most part, damaging their own souls.  They are deadening a part that should be functioning, that should be telling them that what they’re doing should never be done to any human being.  The restoration and healing that needs to take place there must start with blessing, with the creative saying that brings life into existence.

So, we need to not only bless those who persecute us but also bless those who love us.  We need to pronounce blessing to our children and to others’ children.  We need to bless friends and neighbors.  We need to say more than truth, but to speak life, the life that should be, into the souls of those we cherish.

The deepest blessing we can bring to another comes from the place of our own healing.  Out of the damage that sought to deaden our souls, to separate us from life, God, other people, out of the healing and hope we have received comes words that carry new life.  When we bless from our own healing, we restore and heal because the ones who need that most are living in the damage and darkness of their own deadening.  This is why the word of the Lord is living and active and effective and more than just the Bible.  It is the life that comes through the Bible, from the creating word of the one who restores and heals, truly.



After we are restored, reintroduced to our place in the family, we need to get healed.  All sorts of images are conjured up here of cancer disappearing, to visible disorders like leprosy, to being able to walk or talk or see again.  But the essence of healing that we find in the Bible is offered to all people and it is, quite simply, freedom.  It is the ability to move and act freely.  This may include physical healing, where the trap of restriction and even captivity of illness prevails, or it may be being set free from the constraints of the demands of life, family and society.

Healing is brought to people who are healthy and well, physically, but are mentally restrained.  Healing is brought to people who are spiritually oppressed.  Healing is brought to people who are trapped financially.  Usually, when healing takes place, the person is brought to a new understanding, similar to being restored, but with practical consequences.

They can finally move… either again or for the first time.

It is an amazing experience to find someone who is healed physically.  I have been a part of a handful of these moments.  Just last week a man came to church to tell me that it was after my prayer over him in the hospital that he began to feel well again, pulled back from the expectation that he had only a short time of life.  Another man, some time back told me that as I laid my hand on his shoulder and prayed, that a “warmth moved from (his) shoulder down to his hip” where a disease was requiring an operation.  He told me that as he came away from the prayer time he knew he was healed.  An examination, just prior to the planned surgery, revealed that this was true.

I experienced nothing within these profound moments.  I didn’t feel anything different than when I’ve prayed at any other time.  And that makes me reconsider Jesus’ words to the people who found healing with him, “Your faith has made you well.”

Faith isn’t a measure, an amount, of faith (which Jesus makes clear with his “mustard seed” parable (Matthew 17).  It’s a relationship… which tells us that it is interwoven with restoration.  When someone comes into the relationship that God always intended and, then, discovers the way life actually moves in living ways they find healing, freedom, the ability to move.  They choose to help when others shy or back off.  They walk into new understanding and their minds clear up with direction and purpose.  They find hope and relax and rest from anxiety.  Healing takes place in all sorts of arenas of our lives and the peace that comes upon us moves us to take hold of things we could never imagine were possible.

When we talk about healing we sometimes forget that this takes place in relationships, within our minds, in our spirits and can also be in our bodies.  But, once healing takes place, we find freedom and freedom is the reason Jesus came.  We sometimes forget that as well.  Salvation isn’t seen in becoming good.  It’s seen in freedom.  Once we are free in Jesus, we are free indeed.



Before anything else can happen, we need to be restored.  Restoration is different than fixing something.  Anyone who spends the time restoring something, who brings the talent, creativity, love and deep strength that is required, knows that the work must be exact.  We can fix with duct tape… what can’t be fixed with duct tape… well, except ducts duct tape 2where it flaps off after the glue warms as hot air moves through the ducts. (What is up with that?) We may even be able to create with duct tape, but we can’t restore with duct tape.  Restoration requires master craftsmanship.  It requires steadiness to a vision of both what was and what will be.

And this is a curiosity about restoration.  The thing restored is both becoming what it was and also becoming something new.  When restoration is finished the old is actually lost because the new becomes a living experience.  That is the reason we restore.  We don’t restore so that something can now be put in the attic.  We restore so that there will be new participation in life.

That’s the work of God in humanity.

God’s work is restoration.  God doesn’t come to fix.  God comes to restore.  And by restoring God leads us into newness, new participation in living.

God didn’t come to make us good or better, but to restore us.

This is revealed in two particular stories (sort of three) in the stories of Jesus.  It is the story of the paralytic who is brought for healing.  This story is found in the Gospels of Mark and Luke and they are gently different.  In Mark’s version, Jesus, when looking at the friends who brought the paralytic and dug a hole in the roof to get him to Jesus, turns to the man and says, “My son…”  In Luke’s version, Jesus says, “Friend…”  The other story is the one of the woman with the bleeding disease who is healed when she touched Jesus’ clothes.  In that, when Jesus speaks to the woman he says, “Daughter…”

Friend, son, daughter… words of restoration.  Jesus restores these people into relationship.

When Christians step out into the world, we sometimes feel like we need to fix it.  So we approach it with our holy duct tape.  We use the language we’ve created that should fix whatever’s wrong.  “Sinner,” “need to be redeemed,” “accept Jesus,” “savior,” “lord”… And, for some reason this doesn’t work with most people.  Maybe that’s because we’re talking about relationships and the only thing our holy duct tape doesn’t work on is relationships.

Reconciliation… the ministry the Bible says we were called by God to do… means restoring an old friendship.  Restoration requires talent, creativity, deep strength that comes from character and love… and the work must be exact, so that it moves into new participation in life.

At First Pres this Sunday, June 11, downtown Lancaster, we’re going to have healing prayer as we call ourselves into being Authentic Church.  We’ve been doing this for 275 years this year.  We’re not doing something we haven’t done or been before.  We’re just reminding ourselves that the work of restoration is something to celebrate and through it we live into new participation in our future.


How to Start

First morning of the week of the first day of the new year and I couldn’t locate a matching pair of socks.  Then, for the first time in my life I cut my upper lip, right along the line of the lip, like half-inch wide, while shaving.  And my cold, which had climbed into existence over Friday, had moved from severe congestion on Saturday to cough and some congestion by daylight.  By the time I left for church, I was thinking… This is not the way to start a new year.  But I didn’t have a choice.
This was the beginning… sneezing, coughing, bleeding (ridiculously), frustrated and tired.
So, as I made my way to church I claimed my position completely.  I said to God, “I’m not adequate for the day.”  That’s my prayer that means, “You know what’s going on.  I got nothing.  If any good comes from this it’s up to you.”
And so I went to church trusting.
Am I protected?
Should things not start off this way for me?  I’m a child of God!  Aren’t I supposed to be… ah… what?  Invulnerable?  Safe?


We all know that right?  In our reality we are prone to lose things, make wrong choices, hurt others, hurt ourselves, grow conceited, become bigoted, or even hang on to money to the detriment of life.  I am not safe.  I’m loved.  And I can also face the future because the future is made up of relationships and not stuff… at least it should be.
So, as I start out this new year in this abominable manner, I go recognizing first that I’m not adequate for the day (and that I need to remind myself of that)… let alone the year… or my life for that matter.  I’m not adequate.
And the only thing that will make me handle it well is my relationship with others.  If I showed up in church and everyone noticed my messed up lip but no one spoke to me about it, I would be only a face to them.  I would be a figurehead, leading the church like a wooden, carved image that might speak, but mostly just hangs out.  But that wasn’t the case, person after person asked, “Oh, did you bust up your lip.”  And I got to tell them the list of woes that started my day to which they all laughed… laughed, chuckled gently, smiled, whatever… met it with enjoyment and then reached out and rested a hand on my arm, my shoulder, my back or took my hand fully and shook it, each saying with confidence, “It will get better.”
Some said, “You’ll be better” or “You’ll be okay” or “It can only go up from here,” but they each confidently assured me toward hope.  I would not be adequate without the love of those around me, gifts of God for the people of God.
And so I face the year… bloodied, sniffling, hacking but unbowed.
I don’t need no stinking resolutions.  I just have to wake up tomorrow and start again.  That will be plenty.  I’ve got relationships and One who loves me more than I can ever figure out.


All the Jesus Stuff

“At this festive season of the year,… it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.”


I called this blog “crediting marvels” because I want to take note of things that capture my attention and make me lean into wonder.  This is probably the biggest one to me.  Jesus.  Jesus… made this severe difference in the world.

The essential idea is that a construction worker from some Podunk corner of an occupied country said that every individual is significant.  He said the only way to convince them of that is to love them… each of them… one at a time.  The task he laid out for his apprentices was to deliver this message to the people they met.  The earliest way of referring to this news was that it was a “well-message.”  We turned that into “good news” and “God’s spell” and “Gospel,” but the main concept within the word was that this brought wellness to people who didn’t have it or expect it.

Everything about the well-message fit.  It was first given by a baby whose family was impoverished, day laborers.  They lived, at least for a while, as refugees and almost always as social outcasts.  There was nothing about this one that would have attracted people.  Referred to throughout his life as a bastard, he had no standing in the community.  The only thing he had was a truth people couldn’t deny.  And he brought it as just that, a plain truth to everyone who paid attention.  It came down to “this other one has the same worth as me and so I should treat them the way I’d like to be treated.”  It was just truth that was newly said as an active expression.

The best description his closest friends had for him was “God.”  The way he lived was so core to life that they couldn’t imagine anyone being able to speak wellness better than one who spoke creation into being.  It brought life.  So they began repeating the words and actions and discovered that it continued to bring

Slaves, women, children… all those who were daily and individually taught they had the same value as dirt, were told the “well-message.”  And some who had power but had also discovered that its self-focused use demeaned something deep within them were drawn to it.  They ached to do what they knew they always should do with power.  This message made them well also.  Life became life.

So, all these people began to wonder and to make different choices.  They freed slaves.  They took care of special needs children or female children or sick children.  They stopped killing children.  They began to take care of others… any others.  They lived into a different expression of marriage.  They brought education and even the latest technology to those who would never otherwise receive it.  They brought rights to those who never knew them.  It wasn’t done as law first.  At first, it was simply how they chose to live and to speak.

They made this slight provision for the poor… who suffer greatly.

All the other pieces, the miracles, the resurrection, the promise of returning and the culmination of the age… all of it became proof of the well-message, but from the beginning they weren’t the point (Mark 1:38).  They just proved this truth as more deeply true than anything else.  This is why it is the biggest marvel to me.  It altered me.  So, I believe it all… all the Jesus stuff.



Somewhere Out there

Somewhere out there is a person who knows this story is true.  Truth is a big deal to me because I grew up as an exquisite liar.  When I came to faith I found that truth shifted big into my priorities.  It’s been more helpful than not.  This is a true story.

I was told this story over a couple of beers in a little bar in PA by another pastor.  The story didn’t actually take a couple of beers, but it was told and we were sitting there… yeah, you get it.

So, my fellow pastor decides he needs a new suit.  That’s a big deal for a pastor.  New clothes are immediately noticed by parishioners (you know who you are).  Comments to many pastors, even complimentary comments, are received as judgments.  There are pastors who wonder what everything said to them means.  If you notice his or her new suit… perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, I guess we’re paying her pretty well.”  Or, “Hmmm… wonder if he bought that before or after the last fundraising campaign.”  Many if not most pastors are thin skinned in receiving comments.

I realize I’m not like that, but, I will admit that my son is 35 and I have a picture of him as a nine-year-old and I’m wearing the same jacket that I still wear today.  So, maybe I’m just avoiding the comments by wearing clothes until they just fall apart.

I had a man in one church offer me $250 to go out and buy a suit.  I had 3 suits that I just didn’t wear that often, but I was advised to accept the money.  Then I went to a 2 for 1 sale at a nearby men’s shop and did just that.  I have a friend who is an interior decorator, like a “let us fly you to Japan so you can do the interior of our yacht” kind of interior decorator.  When I told him about the initial offer he said, “Did you tell him ‘add $750 and then we’ll talk!’?”  I didn’t mention the sale to him.

So, anyhow, my fellow pastor gets a new suit that has to be fitted, etcetera, and so he goes to pick it up.  Since he has a meeting just after the purchase he wears the new suit out.  He arrives at a office building, parks and makes his way through the lot.  As he does he realizes there is something cutting at that soft skin in the back of his knee.  It begins to plague him as he walks and, of course, he shifts as he is walking, pinches at the material, thinks if may be a pin and stops to examine it all, walks and shifts and shifts and shifts.  All the time it is getting worse.  He can’t find anything.  There’s no lump, no pin, just the little jabbing, gently slicing feeling that gets more and more irritating.

Finally, he’s through the lobby of the building and into an elevator and heading up to the meeting.  Now, you should follow his emotional experience of this moment.  After all this frustrating irritation, he’s feeling like he’s suddenly in an enclosed space, all alone and with a few minutes to himself when he can probably take care of this issue.  He unzips his pants, hunches just a bit and jams his hand down his pant leg to right behind his knee.  As soon as his fingers touch it, he knows what it is.  It’s one of those “inspected by #3” stickers.inspected

But just as he is able to get it between two fingers, the elevator stops and the doors open.  Two women are right there, who suddenly stop their conversation and step back, staring wide-eyed at the hunched man with his hand jammed through his zipper hole.  And, of course, my friend says the worst thing he could possibly say at that moment, as the doors close, “Wait!  It’s okay!  I’m a pastor!”

Pastors will think about what other people think… forever.


P.S. See… didn’t think about the election the whole time you read that, did you?

The New Purity

The Cult of Purity developed by the Christian church over the centuries is showing its fractures from the devastating blows of our present Election season.  It is time for Christians to renounce purity as an objective of faith, to remove it from any form of expectation in spiritual growth and to denounce it as having anything to do with devotion to God in Jesus.

We are in the throes of an effort to retain the most exquisite practice of created purity and seeing it as our means of acceptance by God.  It’s a lie of our own making and we’re teaching it to our children.

Because we have worshipped our own efforts and rejected God’s free gift of righteousness, we have created everything from music to jewelry to trinkets as representative proof of why God should love us.  We claim it makes us pure when it really only separates us from others.  It isolates us from other human beings.  And, because of this, we have come to the place of shouting at each other over a fence about who’s right and who’s wrong.  This “fence” if examined objectively should be comparable to the plastic part of a child’s farming toy set.  There’s nothing actually there that couldn’t be stepped past or knocked over with the merest effort.  But we’re acting as if it is real, as if there is a real border between us when the truth is that it is completely and only our choice that separates us… a “more pure than thou” perspective, that is little more than air.

Neither of our two major candidates is worth defending. Neither should be attacked.clintontrump We should not be tying our name to theirs because they do not represent who we are nor what we believe.  Also neither one of them is going to achieve a future that will make a lasting difference to our lives or faith.  Their choice of Supreme Court justices, their decisions on insurance and the economy will not create heaven and it will not be of any effect on the will of God.  God is going to use whatever we throw at him to make things work according to his own ultimate design.  We will not find or be able to follow the will of God.  The best we’ll ever be able to do is acknowledge it is working, usually after the fact.  We cannot accomplish good or pure.

“Why do you call me ‘good’,” asked Jesus of a young man and then he made things perfectly clear by saying, “No one is good but God.”  Not you, not me and not by our vote.  The leaders who are suggesting you can get there are only trying to retain their own power.

You will not secure the future through trying to be pure because purity is not achievable.  It is a gift from God and cannot be earned any more than God’s love.

The way into purity is through peace with God.  It’s found in the wholeness that God creates in our souls.  We need to step back from the people who are shouting.  We need to step back from the posts on Facebook.  We need to step toward our brothers and sisters, and also toward all those who are ashamed at how we look on the world stage at this moment.  We need to become the community of Jesus because the new purity he brought us is ours because of his efforts.  This will require us giving up control of the future and trusting God.

Once, I was in a gathering of Christian leaders when one of them made a seriously racist statement.  The room went silent.  The single African-American in the room spoke about that later, that no one spoke up, no one challenged the statement.  I don’t know if they, as a young person, had ever experienced a cold plunge into unexpected shame before.  One voice actually clarified the situation that sparked the original remark, and that actually challenged the perception that led to it.  But the speaker wasn’t addressed again that evening.  He was shunned spontaneously because he had shamed the room.  He came back repentant the next day.  He came to see a new purity.

Step back from the keyboard and the keypad. Step toward faith.



I’ve been kicking around, with a few people, the idea that money is the closest thing we experience to the power of God.  Weaponry was (and still is for some) the thing we leaned on and even philosophy held sway at one point, but today as we face living in our society the thing that will make a difference, that will change the course of life, that will make things easier or give us answers is money.  The spiritual power of money has never been so effectively on display.

Power, the ability to wield change regardless of others’ choices, is thoroughly integrated with a high level of financial stability.  So, money is trusted and respected and worshiped even when we act like we’re talking about power as primary.  Power is built on the presence of money today.  Anytime effective power is expressed without money (civil disobedience, e. g.), it is experienced as remarkable and even surprising.  It makes the evening news.

The stark contrast of true power, that which doesn’t rely on the presence of money, is such a part of everyday living for most people that we almost don’t notice it.  People who use it well dismiss its presence sometimes and certainly state that they have no claim to responsibility for its strength.  It’s referred to as “just what you do,” or “the right thing” or “what anybody would do.”  Its worth and truth are so deflected that it is generally experienced as if it doesn’t contain the strength on which we all rely daily.

This is love.  We narrow it down sometimes to call it kindness, patience, joy but the essential element we’re talking about is love.  This is the nature of the world, how it actually works.  What is a marvel to me is how much Christians do not get that.

The immanence of God, that recognizable presence, is sometimes misconstrued by Christians.  It’s as if we act like it comes and goes.  That it was here at the time of creation or Jesus or as the Spirit touches one’s life, but that otherwise it is, perhaps not far away, but, not here.  But what if it is?

What if the presence of God is what we rely on for everything?  What if every element of every day is inhabited by God – Creator, Son and Spirit, as we experience and explain God?  This is not to be confused with pantheism where God is holed up in every feature of nature.  It is the living power that keeps everything happening, and we experience God’s presence through the mediation of the Son and the enlivening of the Spirit.  Then God’s otherness than us is always in touch with the reality we inhabit through the work of Creator, Son and Spirit.

So, dropping it down a bit… the lady feeding the cats out her back door is living in relation to God.  The protestor who is shouting for equality for the voiceless is living in relation to God.  The friend who picks up the tab at the diner and slaps you on the back with a smile as you leave is living in relation to God.  Our weakness, frailty, and the limitations of who we are, or what we can accomplish individually, do not separate us from God.  God infuses them with the power that sustains the world… love.




As a person who has dealt with serious depression I recognize triggers that can lead me into the whirlpool of disconnection.  I use that word particularly because I feel like it expresses my experience.  Disconnected.  I recognize when the plug is pulled from life and what is life-giving and how I begin to live as if I am untouched.

It’s been hard for me to write my blog for a period of time now because of the internal wrestling.  So, if you look at the last few with that in mind you’ll recognize that they speak of light, life, hope, relationship.  But you’ll also notice that they come sporadically and that’s because of the wrestling.  I make no excuse for it.  I don’t feel bad about it.  I don’t worry over having it.  I recognize it.  lonelyAnd then I work against it.  In following that direction, I discovered that depression gets me in touch with real life and real hardship in mine and others’ lives.  I also discovered that it is a feeling and not reality itself.

I can’t tell you why the feeling arises.  I can and do reflect on my life and what kinds of trauma may have led to the power of the triggers later in life.  But the triggers, themselves, are just happenstance.  They are just comments or memories or bit of worry.  They just happen along at a particular time.  And that’s the thing, the particular time is one that includes an atrophy, a decline in effectiveness because of underuse or neglect.

You see, that “particular time” is already upon me.  The trigger just takes advantage of that.  It’s an aspect of spiritual warfare.  Our spirits are supposed to be connected with the source of life.  We are supposed to be living in relation with the fullness of reality – we are creatures in the same way that trees and streams and bees floating through lavender and dandelion seeds in a breeze are creatures.  When we forget that we lose touch with the sense of being created.  That sense, that connection with the source of life is what provides our way forward.  It is that voice speaking behind us that guides us into the future.  “You have come from somewhere and you are going… somewhere.”

The ancients used to describe God in these terms.  “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”  When we lose touch with the ends we wander into disconnection, doubt and we are left to make up our best bets on living without guidance from behind or direction ahead.Life

Maxfield Parrish painted a cover for Life magazine and they held a contest for the best caption.  The winner was something like “He is a scoundrel indeed who robs life of its ends, leaving only doubt.”

When I wrestle I realize sometimes that I’m not wrestling with depression.  I’m wrestling with God.  I’m wrestling with the one who wants me to know that I don’t have to do this on my own, I don’t have to worry myself into oblivion, Jacob angelI don’t have to think the stresses and travails of life are biggest and only things that matter.  There is more.  He is wrestling with me to release my claim on power, my claim to be able to handle whatever life throws at me.  He shows me my weakness without removing my dignity.  He reminds me I am Israel… which means “one who wrestles with God.” He is wrestling for my heart.


23 hours and 15 minutes

Crawled out of bed at 2:15am, got washed, shaved, dressed, kissed my sleepy wife good-bye and headed out on the trip to the airport.  Parked, went through security with no bags except my briefcase and made my way to the gate.  Flew to Nashville, TN and, even with having lived in FL for 10 years, felt like I was suddenly, really in the South.  Rented a car and drove to the address I was given with GPS.

When I got there I stopped short because I was suddenly at the right number on a semi-busy road and backed into the driveway.  There were three young adults on the front stoop.  I hopped out and asked, “Are there Cloningers here?”  They all smiled and nodded and so I hopped back in and backed up the driveway and behind the house, got out and came in.

There was grown-up Lilly who said, as she came across the room and hugged me, “I’m Lilly.  Gosh, I haven’t seen you in soooo long.”  I said, “I know, yeah, but I’ve seen pictures of you right along.”

And so I was in Nashville, TN at a brief stop on my way to Franklin, TN to be with my friends Curt and Tish Cloninger as they celebrated the life of their son, Kappel.  I caught up with them at the house, met Lilly’s friends and their friends, the ones helping with the service, and then we drove on to the church in Franklin.

The place flooded with young adults.  There were older people.  I was there.  But, it was filled with young people who had come to touch something other than death.  One person made the comment, ”Look at how many people loved Kappel” and they were corrected with, “No… look at how many people Kappel loved.”  Both true.  These people had come to touch love again.

All the best stories are about what we do for love and Kappel’s life grew into the Best of Stories… what Love did for us.  The shared experience of this day was love.  It was sisters and brothers, friends and family, mom and dad, God and his people.  It was a joyful, deep celebration of how high, strong and eternal is Love.  Death is not stronger than Love because Love’s strength is light and the darkness of death has no defense.  The celebration was amazing and beautiful.  It shared, re-created the experience, of how Kappel’s darkness was flooded with the light of Love and how it pervaded every relationship and moment he had.  It was so much about what a mess he was and his life was and how it was from out of the mess that the light now shone into the lives of those who also recognized the mess they were… or who found permission with him to admit it.

Said my good-byes and gave and got the hugs.  Hopped back into the car and rode the GPS back to the airport.  Came through security, still with just a briefcase and found my gate.  Flew to PA, found the Jeep, drove back home, kissed my sleepy wife and climbed into bed and fell asleep at about 1:30am.  All for love.