Pleasantly Surprised

So, my driver’s license is not expired but has an old address on it and I’m tired of carrying around the piece of paper that explains why I should not get any grief for it, but it still provokes suspicious looks from people who inspect my driver’s license. So, I thought that I’d go get a new license to rectify the situation.

I’ve been known to show up a bit early to things and to get a bit anxious on these types of occasions. I’m always worried that I will forget something important and be “that guy” to hold up the line… you know, the average people-pleasing instincts. So, I showed up early and was the 4th person in line.

They quickly called my number and I briskly walked up to the attendant. After catching my breath from short sprint I greeted the person over the counter.

An aside: I think that the employees of tag offices and driver’s license centers have insane jobs. They are hectic busy for nearly their entire shift. They are dealing with legal documents and absent-minded and irritable people, all day. I don’t blame them for being south of zesty while on the job.

My attendant was amazing! She had cool hipster glasses and started out the conversation with “How is your day going so far?” (It was 7am, at this point) This was a far cry from what I expected, something like, “License and proof of address…. ppppplease.” (Said in a miraculously monotone, tired voice)

It caught me off-guard! It cracked me open! I was no longer on an anxious errand, but in a… wait for it… conversation with another human being… with a person who has a soul. A life animated by the presence of God… and it was glorious.

She asked me what I did for a living and said kind things about my occupation as a pastor. We joked about the nature of one of the required questions I had to answer, “are you legally present in the United States?” Haha! I am still giggling about that! #grammar

Needless to say, I left the office going, “Can I do this again tomorrow?”


I wonder if that is the reaction that others have when they interact with us in either meaningful or menial experiences? Are we salt that brings flavor to others? Are we light that illuminates even the mundane moments of Tuesday mornings?

Nat’l Coffee Day

Today is National Coffee Day, also known as “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” So, I am at Starbucks for the first few hours of the day to get things done.

I sat next to a couple of guys having a “small group” study. These guys were Christians. I do this thing where I sit next to Christians talking at coffee shops so I can eavesdrop. (The first step is confessing that I have a problem, right?)

I noticed that these two guys had a third person in their group last week that wasn’t in attendance this week. No big deal, people skip all of the time. (Maybe he saw what he thought were snowflakes falling and decided not to show up?) Well, at the end of their conversation, I discovered why he wasn’t there… they didn’t tell him that they were meeting.

One guy said, “Well, I am more mature spiritually than where he is and I want to go deeper than where he wants to go.” Of course this was said with a “pinch” of superiority and entitlement.

The other said, “He’s a good guy and all, but I don’t particularly enjoy his insights from the Bible.”

All the while, the barista working the drive-thru window was calling most customers by name AND was asking some of them questions about how this one’s baby is doing and how another one likes her new job.

There was laughter, joy, hospitality, freedom, friendship at one place in the coffeehouse and there was cold, ego-centric, unkind, and “unneighborly” behavior at the other.

Green aprons “1” – Small group bible study “0”

Take an extra second and include someone today.

Along with You, the Whole Way

Matthew 9:18-26 was the NT reading for Common Prayer this morning. It is a parallel passage of one of my favorite parts of Mark, (Mark 5:21-43). Matthew’s version is shorter and has some differences from Mark’s account.

In Matthew’s account, Jarius (Mark 5:22), a synagogue ruler’s daughter is already dead (v.18) while she is alive, but sick in Mark’s account, (“My little daughter is dying… put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” – v.23). She will die before Jesus gets there, but Jesus is with Jarius before she dies, after she dies, and then after Jesus raises her from the dead in the end.

As Jesus is going to Jarius’ house, a woman with internal bleeding meets him, in both Matthew and Mark’s account. In Mark’s account, however, we get to hear the woman’s thoughts, the discussion between Jesus and his disciples about “who touched him,” the woman’s admission, and the woman’s re-intergration into the community. Matthew’s version is shorter; it doesn’t have the discussion between Jesus and the disciples, nor the woman’s admission. Jesus simply sees the woman and and sends her away whole.

Matthew’s content shows Jesus jumping in and fixing issues that were full-grown. Mark seems to portray these occasions as developing and Jesus walking alongside in the midst of them, not just a solution in the story.

Both of these ideas that Matthew and Mark portray are important; God is able to help us in times of hardship and God is with us in the midst of them.

May each of us discover God’s nearness in whatever situation with inhabit today.

Take Your Mat and Go Home

Matthew 9:1-8 was the NT reading from my common prayer today and I spent some meaningful time in the story. It is one of my favorite in the Gospels, its parallel is in Mark 2, as well.

Jesus arrives “home” (which is Capernaum, according to Mark 2:1) where he is encounters a paralyzed man, carried by some friends. Jesus heals the paralyzed man in the name of “your sins are forgiven.” (v.2)

Some of the “scorekeepers” do not like Jesus’ assumption that he could forgive sins and so, after a short interchange between them, Jesus turns back to the paralyzed man and tells him to “take up his mat and go home.” (v.6)

The man was healed, he went home, and the crowd marveled at the event.

Theological issues and categories abound in this passage. Leaving those to the side for a bit, I focused upon this command of Jesus to “go home.”

It was common for individuals with aliments to have to leave their homes in Jesus’ culture. We see it in other parts of the Gospels, there was a profound obsession with the idea of sins and impairments being linked together in a mysterious whole. That perhaps sickness or infirmity were material consequences of sin. Communities have always been about finding ways to remove people they think are problems, right?

In many cases, Jews were asked to leave the community when sick and, only after the priest inspected and approved their “recovery” could they re-enter the community, to return home. The aliment’s absence was “cure” and the re-entry to community was “healing.” Perhaps this is why Jesus is so obsessed with the woman with the issue of bleeding in Mark 5 identifying herself and calling her “daughter.” Not only was her issue “cured” but her status with her community is “healed.”

The apparent link that Jesus makes between sins and healing in this passage set off such a radical display of God’s power. Jesus is not a priest and this healing was in the countryside, not in Jerusalem. No wonder the religious leaders were angry and the crowds amazed. Jesus was breaking out holiness in the frontier and that was good news.

The idea of “home” is vital for us as much as it was for the paralyzed man. Home is a place of identity, hope, and community. All of us need a home. Home is a theme for conversion in John’s Gospel. One of the elements of conversion that Scot McKnight mentions is the “socialization of salvation” finding our place among the people of God.

That is my prayer for all of us. That our trust in the faithfulness of Jesus resembles home, that Christianity doesn’t become neither a new bag full of anxieties, nor a way to prove that we are more excellent than others. Because, that sure doesn’t feel like home, to me.

Mad Religion

“Christianity is the only mad religion; which is perhaps, the explanation for its survival – it deconstructs itself and survives by deconstructing itself.” -Jacques Derrida

“We have to change the method of the way we share Jesus’ story without changing its message.” – numerous hip ministers

By the way, the method and the message binary is not as clean as we might imagine, right?

3-minute Retreats

Last week, Todd Hunter shared some time with folks from Tabor College here in Wichita. I found his content to be helpful.

One of the things that resonated with me is how he said that we have trained ourselves and other Christians to practice Christianity “in the margins.” Christians will normally do a morning devotion/prayer practice early in the day or something late at night before sleeping. In between, then, appears to be normal life, and usually (if we were honest) distinct from direct Christian practice.

The goal, then, is to not allow our practicing of our faith to invade the middle, to not have times of connecting with God sanctioned off into the margins.

I’ve used this cool resource, lately, Sacred Space, that allows a person to go on “3-minute Retreats” (or longer, for those who want to take more time). Sacred Space will lead one through a time of meditation, reading, and prayer to help one stay centered and focused upon Jesus.

Check it out if you want help in between the margins.

33 of my Favorite Birthday Salutations

I turned 33 today, so I thought I’d share my 33 favorite messages from FB, Twitter, and text messaging. Birthday salutations mean a lot to people so I thought that I’d say thanks to 33 of my favorites. If you didn’t make the cut this year, see ya next August 25.


Pictures add a bit of style points to the birthday salutation.

Al Schoonover, Barb Lenz, and Mom put these up:image image image





























The first post on FB came from Ukraine, Pastor Ignatenko Vadim, – “Happy birthday, and God’s blessings to you, Joe!”

Ukrainians have a way of sharing awesome birthday wishes, check out this one from my friend Valentina from Kiev – “I want to wish to you AWESOME productive and successful year, full of challenges (good ones), smiles, adventures, trips, family, love, great friends.”

Ryan Wallace sent me one last night. It was great because he used Hebrew, “mazoltoph.” It sure beats his usual, “Have a good one,” without the words Happy Birthday. Way to evolve, R Dub.

There have been apologetic ones. Rick Bartlett saw me at the Chiropractor before he knew it was my birthday and said, later, “Can’t believe I didn’t say Happy Birthday when I saw you this AM. Sorry and hope you have a great day!” He appears to be giving me a book to smooth it over.

Jenny Bradley, always with the flair of theology and humor, said, “I can’t think what birthday is in Greek. But have a happy one.”

A couple of folks used my given nickname in their salutation. BJJ coach extraordinaire Jake Fox said, “Happy Birthday Rev!” while Andy Williamson used an oldie but always a goodie, “Happy Birthday big BABY!” Long story…

My cousin Jessica Martin put two “Happys” in her salutation. We can always use a few more “happys,” right?

Mr. Mike Strong was, and is always, pragmatic, “Joe, it’s your birthday! Happy Birthday!!!”

Dr. Steve Marsh went late-90’s, chat style, using all lowercase in his message.

My new friend Chef O, on the other hand, used all uppercase letters.

Two of the funniest dudes I know, Kyle W. Croak and Terry Johnson, had the same message, “Happy Birthday, man.”

Megan Wohler took the extra time to say happy birthday to “Dr. Joe Skillen.” A little respect goes a long way… Brad Glanville said that at church yesterday, too.

Christy Bosma and Dabria VanGieson posted on FB at the same time with the exact same message, “Happy Birthday Joe! Have a great day!” Dabria added another “!” at the end of her message, though. Advantage: Dabria.

Tim Gibson, who is older than me, called me “OLD man.” I think that how my body feels today would suggest that he has a point.

My friend Aaron Coleman killed two birds with one stone, thanking me for a couple of audio sermons that I sent him as he wished me happy birthday. I ain’t mad at him. Andrew Young did the same thing, asking if the Starbucks that I go to would allow him to advertise for his studio. Hey everyone, go to Andrew Young with Potentials Music for voice and piano lessons!

A lot of folks said, “have a great day!” Kristy Jackson, on the other hand, used “fabulous” in her greeting. Great is… great. Fabulous, however, seemed have a bit more pop in it today, for some reason.

Hank Blase is an attorney and he said that I should take time to do something fun on my day. I’m sure that he could find a way to say it is illegal to do otherwise.

In that light, Debby Rogers said that I should party like a rock star, meaning, “have a great time with your family and friends while counting your blessings more than naming your sorrows.” Well played, Debby.

The cool thing about FB posting one’s birthday is that it allows me to feel connected to others that I haven’t heard from in a bit. Thanks for connecting DeWayne Sykes, Amanda Carrillo,  Bradley Haddock, and Alan Williams. The list could go on and on with this one.

These were birthday salutations that I received before 10am today. I know that a pile of them will come in the rest of the day, too. I am so blessed. This is not counting the impromptu singing at church yesterday or the fantastic time at my friends Steve and Lori Cloud’s home last night. I get to celebrate with my family next weekend… two weekends worth of birthday stuff. Amazing.


My 3 favorite salutations, though, were art projects from my kids, Avery and Ezra, and a sweet card from my wife, Ginger. I got to take Avery to school today and, before she burst into the classroom, she gave me a big hug and kiss and wished me happy birthday. Her teacher saw her do this and raved about how sweet Avery is.

That’s right, Ginger and I have great kids, an awesome family, great friends, and a full life.

St. Irenaeus once said, “The glory of God is the human, fully alive.” Birthdays allow us to capture a piece of what that type of life looks like. So, for all of the kindness that everyone has shown to me, I pray that it would return to you all.



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