29 December 2017

Beware the Dragons!

Before we jump forward to 2018, let's take a moment to go back in time to 1611 in England and imagine what kind of language they used to celebrate Christmas. Guess what? You don't have to imagine it. We have a written record of it. Here is a taste how people put language to the wonder of Christmas in England in 1611. Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps: Fire, and hail; snow, and vapours; stormy wind fulfilling his word: Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars: Beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl: Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth: Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children: Let them praise the name of the Lord: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven. He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the Lord. (Psalm 148:7-14, King James Bible) How would you describe that language? I would say it’s eye-opening. Elegant. Interesting. Startling. Stunning. I especially love the reference to dragons. I wonder what kind of language you would use to describe Christmas? Would you include a reference to dragons in your description? Peace, Jon B. … Image attribution: Fiorentino, Rosso, 1494-1540. Small angel playing (detail from Madonna of Spedalingo), from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55412 [retrieved December 13, 2017]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rosso_Fiorentino_-_Madonna_dello_Spedalingo_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg.

25 October 2017

A Chill Out Prayer for You


Making your way in the world today
takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, 
sure would help a lot.

“To find peace."
"To know where you belong.”

That is my prayer
for you today.

I pray
you may
find peace.

I pray
you may
know where you belong.

One of my favorite Bible verses
I return to again and again ...
is this:

“Whether we live
or whether we die;
we belong to the Lord.”
(Romans 14:8)

“With the Lord”
is where we belong.
Now and forever.

Jon B.
P.S. May you find yourself
at peace with the Lord today.
St. John's Presbyterian Church, ACTS FUND
5020 West Bellfort Ave, Houston, TX 77035

03 March 2017

One thing Im not going to tell you

I'm not going to Tell you how GOOD
the cool breeze through the bright sunshine
Feels in Houston right now

and I'm not even going to
Show you a Picture
of how blue and clear the sky Rests
behind the white puffy clouds above

because I really just want you to
Send Me a Positive Vibe NOW
and I don't want to say anything
to distract You
from Doing That

02 March 2017

Why do Evangelicals say JUST so much in public prayer

Have you ever heard someone pray and they repeat the word just so many times it becomes noticeable. For example, Lord, we just ask you to hear us as we pray right now and we just ask that you will be with us and bless us and we just want you to do this and we just ask you to do that and we just thank you and just praise you and we just want to say Amen when the prayer is over.

Why do they use just so much when they pray? Here's a few ideas about that.

"Just" is a term that implies "not much" so it fits well with prayers of petition in helping us convince ourselves and perhaps influence God of the idea that what we are asking for is possible because it's not as big a deal as one might think and so that possibility thinking seeps into our unconscious mind and becomes more likely to manifest.

And yet, all the above may be disregarded as the repeated use of "just" in others becomes a bad habit like a nervous verbal tic in the one praying out loud in front of others as it is used like the repeated use of the word "umm" or "and" by an insecure public speaker.

And yet it has a deeper function, repeated use of "just" serves to subconsciously identify the prayer as being part of our tribe, our religious subculture, our church family, similar to the way people in the Deep South use "y'all" to serve many purposes one of the most important of which is to self identify as a person who is a Southerner, and who is thus more likely to say "just" when she prays and "y'all" to refer to the plural form of "you."

And so you can see that "just" serves just so many functions it would be just dumb to not use it as often as possible especially when leading public prayer in the Southern United States.

01 March 2017

An Ad for Ash Wednesday

Imagine tonight in the sanctuary. We have a 20 year old gospel singing Elvis Presley doing "Where Could I Go but to the Lord?" Some of the sisters faint in their pews. Some of the brothers begin to cry.
You really don't have to be a huge fan of the Hebrew Bible (what we Christians call the Old Testament) in order to realize that our church campus is situated on the edge of perhaps the largest Jewish community in Houston.
I'm not going to tell you the so-called Old Testament is unparalleled in expressing the human condition through story telling. Remember Adam and Eve? Abraham and Sarah? Isaac and Jacob? Dreamy Joseph and his coat of many colors? Moses and Elijah? And the wide range of human emotion and experience from mountain tops of spiritual heights to the valleys and pits of depression. All is exposed in the Psalms of David, is it not?
Speaking of David, the Ash Wednesday Sermon will be about David and Bathsheba and the amazing Psalm that David composed after he was called out by the Prophet Nathan for the sins of adultery and murder for which God forgave him and yet he still paid a heavy price. This story will knock your socks off.
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, forty weekdays before Easter. The practice of placing ashes on the forehead symbolizes repentance and contrition. We will engage in that mysterious liturgy in the church sanctuary and courtyard tonight. Will you be blown away tonight at 7:30 PM in the sanctuary? Will you then have that moment and that memory for all eternity? Only if you are present to experience it live.

Jon B.

P.S. And you can attend and enjoy the mysterious Ash Wednesday Service starting in the sanctuary today at 7:30 PM, on March 1, can you not? And if you Mark your calendar and set a reminder now you will be more likely to remember to attend, will you not? That's right.

04 February 2017

Here is my Super Bowl story

Here is my Super Bowl story. 10 years ago I was seeking a new call as a pastor. My prayer was "Lord, I want to be a pastor in a Major League City." Today, 10 years later, I live in a major league city, Houston, Texas. This weekend we are hosting the Super Bowl. The stadium where the game will be played is five minutes from my house. Prayer answered. Thank you, Lord.
So, what is like living in a major league city that is hosting the super bowl? Does it make you tingle 24/7 and lose sleep at night? No. It's more like living in a small town that is hosting a Cherry Festival. If you are on the Cherry Festival Planning Committee or really into cherries then you will be caught up in the excitement of the Cherry Festival. If you are not on that planning committee or a big fan of cherries, you probably won't notice anything different.
That is what it's like living in a city that's hosting the Super Bowl. If you are on the Super Bowl Planning Committee or if you are a huge NFL fan then you are very excited and it seems to be happening all around you. If you are not involved in hosting the event and not a big NFL fan, then you don't notice anything different except maybe a little more traffic the day before and the day of the game.
The reason for that is when you live in a major league city there are big events happening every week if not every day. There are big name rock concerts, plays, symphony concerts, art gallery openings, new restaurants opening, NBA games, MBL games, NFL games, college sports, etc. happening all the time. So you really don't notice any one event because that's just part of the ongoing flow of activity. However, if you are really a big fan of some particular event or activity, then of course you notice it and get excited.
I share this because it came as a revelation to me. I moved here from a small town. I soon noticed that what would have been a big deal in my small town was hardly noticed in the big city. There's too much happening all the time to take notice of any particular event for long. It's an interesting dynamic and I didn't expect.
By the way, the photo is from my high school days when I played quarterback at my small town high school. It was a big deal to me and the whole town because high school football is still a big deal in small towns all across America. However, I'm not sure it's such a big deal now as it was when I played back in 1978-80. I put a team picture because football, like life, is a team sport.
I learned a lot from playing football. I learned when you get knocked down you jump back up on your feet as quick as you can and act like nothing happened and it didn't hurt even when it did. I learned to be a leader by going first and inviting others to come along and follow your enthusiasm. It was a valuable experience but there are other ways, less dangerous ways, of learning such life lessons.

20 January 2017

2 old donkeys get a big surprise and watch this now

My APCE Workshop: Speaking Order into Chaos

Next week I'm teaching a workshop at the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators in Denver.
The title is "Speaking Order into Chaos:  How to Cultivate a Research and Writing Team in Your Congregation." Here is a link to the workshop notes.

Here is the workshop description:
The religious landscape looks bleak and chaotic. Yet God is doing a new thing! Discover and tell good news stories about what is working in the church today. Learn where to find such stories. Learn how to speak them into eBooks that you can publish for free. Grow your congregation’s platform. Foster cohesion among your congregational leaders. Become a writer and publisher! This skill may develop into a side business for you over time.
This course covers my 2016 research into writing and self publishing. One outcome of my work on that last year is that our congregation wrote a book in honor of our 60th anniversary called Healing Happens Here: Faith Stories from St. John's Presbyterian Church. You may read it for free here.

Now this week is a chance to get a broader perspective on things.

I'm in Denver presenting a workshop at the annual conference of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE). I started out some 30 years ago as a Director of Christian Education (DCE) and the APCE conference was huge to me then. So this is a homecoming of sorts for me. These are "my people" and "my tribe" and I'm excited to get reconnected to them. My workshop is one of 80 so you get a sense of the size of this conference.

And my course is called "How to Cultivate a Research and Writing Team in Your Congregation." I'm going to tell them how we did that last year at St. John's. We produced a little book called "Healing Happens Here" with some faith stories from some real people like you. 

That book, and our story, is not finished yet because each of us is writing a story with our lives. After our lives on this earth is over we will have plenty of "time" to read that story and get all the different angles on it. We will see in exquisite detail how each of our actions effected the other people involved. Our life stories will be like a research project we will review over and over again in the future life to come. While some of our thoughts and actions will be disappointing to us, we will overall be astonished at how well we did. After all, life as a human being is truly a challenge!

We will feel encouraged by how well we did and most of that encouragement will come from God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Three in One. I think they will sit there and watch with us the movie of our life over and over again and maybe even eat some heavenly popcorn with divine butter and salt on it. And boy, oh boy, are they and we going to laugh out loud at that movie! There will be also be drama galore. That's my idea of the afterlife. Who knows if it's accurate?

Which means whatever you are going through today that seems like the end of the world, at some point in the future it may look to you like a comedy. Project yourself into that future now and imagine how funny it will seem then. That may help move you to a different position above and beyond the stuck and suffering place you are in right now, if that's where you are. If you're in a good place right now, relax, enjoy, have fun. Cherish each moment of your life for what it is: A gift from God to you and those around you.

St. John's Presbyterian Church :: NEW Book!!

You may want to read our church's new book for free here now: 

This book was written in celebration of our 60th Anniversary.