During an evening walk in our neighborhood, I felt—more than heard—the THUMP, THUMP, THUMP of deep bass notes. Some inconsiderate neighbors had cranked their music up to a window-shaking-TEN.

Nearing the source of the clamor, I was surprised to speaker-musicrecognize the unmistakable sound of a Chris Tomlin song. An aspiring singer accompanied by guitar, bass, and drums belted out a number by the contemporary Christian artist. I glanced through an adjoining yard and identified the culprits.

A family in our subdivision hosts a weekly small group for a megachurch in the area. The meetings closely resemble the home churches of first century Christianity. The gatherings encourage mutual support and accountability along with worship and study.

The scene inspired mixed feelings in me.

On the one hand, God created us as individuals in need of relationship. At the inauguration of his public ministry, Jesus formed an inner core of disciples. Each believer needs a wider community of faith, and I regularly encourage Christians to get involved in a small group.

On the other hand, claiming the title of Christian puts a believer on public display. People watch closely to see if we walk the walk or just talk the talk. Jesus said that love is the chief mark of Christian discipleship.

So what to think about the witness of my neighbors that balmy evening?

If asked, the people at the home church might describe their warm fellowship, insightful teaching, and inspiring prayers. If asked, the neighbors in the subdivision might grumble about the on-street parking, loud singing, and bass-beat music.

Christians can be right and righteous. At the same time, we can be wrong and self-righteous. Sometimes a thin line only a Pharisee could discern divides the two.

I’m not sure of the question—much less the answer. However, the deep-toned rhythm of contemporary Christian music followed me all the way home.

Ubiquitous God

During the 6th century, the church baptized time by creating a new way to count the years. Jesus’ birth divided the bc-adcalendar into “before” and “after.” In Latin, BC signifies Before Christ. Anno Domini or AD literally means In the Year of Our Lord.

The politically correct in society seek to reduce all things to the most common denominator. So they substitute BCE and CE for BC and AD—Before Common Era and Common Era. However, the dates still revolve around Jesus’ birth. Who DO they think they’re fooling?!?

The birth of Christ forever bisected history. The Incarnation transformed the very fabric of the cosmos. Not only reality but also each Christian life can be divided into two eras: BC and AD.

We seldom if ever use the word ubiquity in daily conversation. Synonyms for the word include omnipresence, pervasiveness, and universality. The term defines a state of being everywhere and at all times.

Reflecting on God’s ubiquity or omnipresence, Frederick Buechner wrote:

Every automobile bears on its license plate a number that represents the number of years that have elapsed since the birth of Christ. This is a powerful symbol of the ubiquity of God and the indifference of humanity. (Wishful Thinking, p. 94)

The year in every date bears witness to Christ’s birth. Ubiquitous, indeed.

3 Brothers & 17 Camels

camelOnce upon a time a nobleman left 17 camels to his 3 sons. The eldest brother received one-half of the camels, the middle son one-third, and the youngest boy one-ninth.

None of the boys could make the math work. The three brothers argued vehemently about the solution, and no one would compromise. Finally, they sought the advice of a wise man in the community.

After hearing about their dilemma, the wise man devised an intriguing solution. He gave the three brothers his only camel. The boys now had 18 animals. The oldest brother’s share was one-half or 9 camels. The middle son received one-third or 6 camels. The youngest boy’s share was one-ninth or 2 camels.

Add the numbers up. 9 + 6 + 2 = 17! The three brothers returned the 18th  camel to the wise man.

After extensive ciphering and cogitating, I still do not understand how the math works in this story. No doubt one can learn many lessons from the tale. Since my experience with camels is thankfully limited, I might be missing the subtler nuances of the fable.

The most impressive point of the story is the character of the wise man. Rather than viewing the situation as a win/lose confrontation, he sought out a win/win solution. In the end, everybody got what he wanted.

In conflict management, the best resolution occurs when everyone wins. The art of compromise is not an act of capitulation or appeasement. Instead, it takes seriously the command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The story reminds us that brothers are always more important than camels.

Such a concept has application for individuals, families, churches, communities, and nations. In our personal relationships, seeing a disagreement from the other person’s perspective gives us new understanding. Parents and children who talk with each other defuse explosive situations. Marriages endure when spouses think of themselves as “we” and not just “I.” Churches grow stronger when diversity and difference are cherished.

In the best of all worlds, brothers and sisters would never disagree over trivial things like camels. However, I suppose that would make the story a true fairy tale.




I recently saw the latest, greatest cell phone prominently displayed in a retail store. According to the sign, the pocket sized device could meet every technological need. The handheld computer bore little resemblance to the phones of my youth.

I grew up with a single rotary phone that weighed half a ton. Southern rotary-phoneBell leased the 1960s’ tech for a monthly fee. The company offered a variety of colors as long as they were black or beige. The coiled handset cord put the only “mobile” in “mobile phone.” We shared the party line with an anonymous stranger.

During my teens, Mom and Dad upgraded to four princess phones with rotary dials built right into the handsets. Extension cords to the base units granted an amazing 10 foot arc of movement.

In my thirties, we bought our first cordless phones. The base plugged into the wall but the cordless handset provided limited mobility dictated by the radio frequency’s range. Multiple handsets could use the same base.

Then science fiction became science fact with the advent of cellular phones. The congregation I served owned a bag phone the size of a large purse for emergency use on the church vans. In the early 1990s, my wife and I bought our first car phones with a grand total of five minutes of “free” calling time per month.

Technology continued to advance in a geometric progression. Car phones to flip phones to Nokia phones to Razor phones to Blackberry phones to I-phones. My current smart phone  keeps me wired 24/7/365. Two screens of apps perform every service conceivable and a few I never imagined needing.

I appreciate modern technology and its conveniences; but some days . . .

I miss the single rotary phone of my childhood.

Ash Wednesday

People keep time with a variety of calendars. The calendar year runs from January to December. Businesses operate on a fiscal year. Families with children follow the school calendar. Kindergarten students learn about the four seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter.

The church marches to the beat of its own time. The Christian calendar begins with Advent—the 4 Sunday season prior to Christmas. The 12 Days of Christmas celebrate Christ’s coming into the world. Epiphany begins with Jesus’ baptism and recounts Christ’s early ministry. During the forty days of Lent, believers prepare their hearts for the events of Holy Week. Easter proclaims that Jesus Christ is risen indeed! 50 days later the festival of Pentecost remembers God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.

The annual cycle rehearses the story of Christ and the church. The seasons recall Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. The Christian calendar baptizes ordinary time with sacred meaning.

The Season of Lent begins today on Wednesday, March 1. The 40 day season (excluding Sundays) concludes the Saturday before Easter. The somber, reflective time calls Christians to prepare their hearts to hear once again the story of Jesus’ suffering and death.

During Lent, many believers “give up” something as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice. Others “take up” a spiritual discipline or charitable cause in imitation of God’s love.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. During the service, the
minister marks believers’ foreheads in Ash Wednesdaythe sign of the cross. Traditionally, ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday fronds are used. Since Old Testament times, God’s people have observed penitential times with sackcloth and ashes.

During the imposition of the cross with ashes, the minister typically says, Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe in the gospel. The ashes and words serve as reminders of humanity’s mortality and sinfulness. However, the sign of the cross recognizes God’s gifts of eternal life and forgiveness.

The Christian calendar reminds us that each day is God-breathed. The seasons of the church year rehearse God’s salvation story. On Ash Wednesday, we begin the journey to the cross and empty tomb. During this 40 day journey, we are invited to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.