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In Times of Crisis, Is Prayer Enough?

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The operation to rescue the 13 trapped members of a Thai soccer (football) team has captured the hearts of the world. Tragedies happen every week across the globe, and they scarcely register in the world's newspapers. The hope of saving these 12 kids and their coach feels different from the often faceless accidents where the victims and the drama are already in the past. In this instance, salvation remains possible.

I've written in the past about the seeming emptiness of offering up "thoughts & prayers" when tragedies happen. If you're truly praying for the victims' families, then fine. But if you're just posting words to look empathetic, then your words do a disservice to faith. In such an instance, your offer of "thoughts & prayers" is an egotistical way of telling the world, "Don't forget about me! I want you to notice me!" Your empty words are dangerous and hurtful.

Offering up "promises of prayer" carries add…

Finding Beauty in the Face of Death

I’ve had time recently to reflect on death. It’s a horrible thing to face. But there is the possibility of finding beauty when faced with life’s finality. The following article contains stories about my dad and about a man I knew named Jan Wiener. My experiences with them have helped me find peace in life’s darkest valleys. Here's my post for Charis, a blog-site run by the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality at Abilene Christian University. The link is below.
Charis Blog Post

In Memoriam of Larry Locke, My Father

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My dad Larry Locke took his final breath this afternoon. He was in the comfort of his own home in Lebanon, Tennessee. It was as beautiful a spring day as Middle Tennessee can provide. Lovely breeze. Chirping birds. Blooming flowers. But Dad had been unable for weeks to notice the glory of God's created world. He was ready to go and be with the Lord forever.

Over the last 2+ years, Larry had struggled with dementia and previously undiagnosed depression. A lifelong runner, he had never spent a night in the hospital prior to this sickness. The loss of his vitality was a blow to all who knew and loved him. While his first hospitalization returned him to a level close to his old self, subsequent declines and hospital stays left him a shadow of the man we knew. His time for this life would number 76 years.

Larry Locke was born in 1942 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. His father, W. H. Locke, owned a small diner. His mother, Pansy Worley Locke, had done office work but as a mother was mostly …

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly about "Thoughts & Prayers"

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Why do we pray for people who experience hardship? There's talk within our broader society about whether we should send "thoughts and prayers" out for those who experience tragedy or who face a crisis. Is there anything wrong with offering to pray?
The reason for the backlash is that words frequently come across as empty. I've witnessed the tragedy of empty words. I've been with well-meaning Christians who visit the sick in the hospital or who try to comfort someone during a crisis. I'll most likely cringe if you utter these words, "If there's anything you need, let me know."
Why do I react negatively? I have to qualify that there are a handful of people I know in the world who can say that and be totally genuine about it. But for everyone else, you don't understand the potential price of what you're offering. You may mean well. But too often it's a cliché which confuses being nice with making yourself look good: "Let's do lun…

All Saints Day

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November 1 is a day for remembering those who have died in the Lord. It may mean little to you if you don't have much involvement with Catholics, Anglicans and other high-church traditions. Yet for many believers around the world, this is a solemn occasion for decorating gravestones and reflecting upon loved ones.

Catholic terminology can lead some to believe that only a select few Christians get to be saints. The Bible teaches that all baptized individuals are now with God and therefore saints. The Roman Catholic Church in fact supports this vantage point.

No one knows exactly how or why churches started celebrating a day of remembrance for the dead. There are various references to such occasions starting in the 4th century. Pope Boniface IV gathered the bones of martyrs from the Roman catacombs and re-entombed them beneath the Pantheon. In so doing, he dedicated a time to remember all the saints. This was in May, not November. The practice as we know it on November 1 took root som…

Fresno's Killing Rampage: A Pastor's Response

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A crazed gunman killed three people in downtown Fresno yesterday. Sadly, murder isn't a rare occurrence in Fresno or in most big cities across our nation. Tuesday's tragic killing made world news, however, both because there were multiple victims and because the shooter, an African-American man, was targeting white men.
Here are some important things to know and to remember about this tragedy:
1. Take time NOW to tell people how much you care. No one is ever 100% safe. I don't say this to make you cower in fear. Just realize the fragility of life. Kiss your spouse when you say goodbye. Hug your kids or your parents as much as you can. Don't leave conflicts unresolved for long. There just are no guarantees in life. Cherish the relationships you have, and let people know how much you appreciate them.
2. Hate-filled rhetoric springs forth in hate-filled actions. People who stir up trouble ought to face some consequence for filling people’s minds with hate. We've seen it…

Revelation's Message for the Present

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Who is Revelation written for? Does it talk about the end times? How should we interpret it?

The Book of Revelation is without doubt one of the Bible's most difficult books. It is filled with apocalyptic material that confuses modern, Western readers. We don't speak in such symbolic language today.

To be fair, however, apocalyptic writings were confusing to ancient readers as well. Jewish apocalypticism was wildly popular starting in the mid-second century BC through the late first century AD. While the metaphorical depictions of apocalyptic preaching were not intended to be taken literally, that's exactly what people did. Rereading the ancient prophets like Isaiah, many Jews took the apocalyptic images literally and believed God wanted them to rebel against Rome. The disaster that followed with General Titus's pillaging of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple nearly caused the extermination of the Jewish people. Clearly, they had misinterpreted the apocalyptic …