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Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Where to Meet God


 In our Ash Wednesday worship service (, I invited our church to practice silence and solitude as spiritual disciplines this year in the season of Lent. The challenge is, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, spend 30 minutes a day in silence and solitude. I believe God will speak to you, in the silence, if you take up this practice

            I found it to be difficult. In the silence, I think about the NCAA basketball tournament, the workout I’m going to try to get done at the YMCA, the tasks I need to get accomplished that afternoon, and 1000 other things. As soon as I drive one distraction from my mind, another takes its place. Some days I can get really quiet and centered so that I give God my full attention. Other days, I spend 30 minutes reaching for God with one hand and fending off competing thoughts with the other.

            This practice takes practice. This very morning, frustrated, I started writing in my journal about my frustration. I was drawn to Lamentations 3:23. God’s mercy is new every morning. God always has more grace to give, and I always need it, and He always gives it. So I thought, if God gives me grace, I’ll extend grace to myself. I finished a distracted 30 minutes. Tomorrow, I’ll try again.

            That’s my word for you. Try again. And again. And again. Relationships demand commitment and sticktoitiveness. In silence, we tune out other stimuli in order to give God our full attention. Learning to be still; learning to hear with the heart; it all takes effort and trial and error. If today’s effort in silent mediation faltered, try again tomorrow.

“It is good to sit alone in silence” (Lamentations 3:27). My prayer is first, you’ll try this, silent prayer, every day, 30 minutes; and second, as you do, you’ll discover why the writer of Lamentations says this is “good.” It is because the solitude and silence are where we meet God.

Sunday, February 12, 2023



I feel bloated. Wonder why?

Could it be the huge bowl of Golden Grahams, with three cups of coffee and a Krispy Kreme donut?

Or the four slices of pizza at lunch?

Maybe the three large chocolate chunk cookies at mid afternoon, chased by three of those “fun-size” Hershey’s chocolates. How is small “fun-size?” How is feeling bloated and fat a good thing?

Dinner was irrelevant. White rice. Duck sauce packets left over from Chinese take-out. Costco egg rolls and dumplings.

One day like that is not so bad. Living like that in a +50 body whose arthritic knees and surgically disrepaired ankle make cardiovascular exercise much more unpleasant than it was even 5 years ago – well that’s a recipe for a doughy belly and double chin.

I can’t tell if writing it down makes it any better.

I know when I get to the point where I feel so oversized, I, even I, with my appetite, have absolutely no desire for any post-white rice dessert – at that point, I need to change something up.

So hard, change. Maybe tomorrow. I’ve been saying that since Thanksgiving. Maybe tomorrow.

I feel like I am becoming a chocolate chunk cookie.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Who Tells Your Story?

Who Tells Your Story?

February 2023


            The past few years, I have tried, through writing sermons and newsletter articles, to shape the Christian story for people who listen when I preach and read what I write. Through much of 2021, I looked at Biblical narratives in Haggai, Zechariah, and Deuteronomy that define the community of God as it is being established. In the former texts, the people of God were rebuilding after exile. In the latter, they were settling the Promised Land after wandering in the wilderness. I imagined us as a church rebuilding after being exiled in quarantine and wandering in the land of COVID. I envisioned people streaming back to church after COVID.

I think we did some good work in Haggai, Zechariah, and Deuteronomy in 2021, and I am glad we examined those passages. The problem is COVID did not leave, and people did not stream back to church in-person in droves the way I though they would. So, in 2022, I drilled down deep in the grand story of Christianity. I though it was the time for us to revisit our basic foundation as a people saved from sin, saved for a life in Christ. We spent considerable time in the book of Romans. The 2022 sermons at Hillside were a journey into core-Christian theology.

Just as I was pleased with the 2021 preaching in Haggai, Zechariah, and Deuteronomy, even though that effort didn’t align with the conditions envisioned because those conditions did not materialize as I figured they would, I was pleased with our journey in Romans. I’m glad half of the 2022 Hillside sermons were based on that book of the Bible.

In 2023, we’ll take a much different approach. I’m asking a simple question that I hope you will prayerfully, thoughtfully consider. Who tells your story?

Who tells your story?

            The ghost of your mother, whom you always disappointed?

            A fashion model, whose body you will never have?

            A neighbor who drives a nicer car than any you will ever own?

            A voice in your head that says you’ll never be enough? Never smart enough. Never attractive enough. Never accomplished enough.

            As you sit with this question introspectively and honestly, listen to another voice, the voice of your Heavenly Father. His message to you is you are beloved. However today goes, you are beloved. Wherever you succeed or fail, you are beloved.

            In the weekly sermons, we’ll pursue this theme throughout the Bible. We’ll look at a different text every week. We’ll hold different passages from the Gospels and the Old Testament up alongside each other. The messages will be theological and researched, for sure, but the driving question will be who tells your story? And our landing point will be God’s reassurance that you are beloved.

            I’m looking forward to this walking this path of faith with you in 2023.


Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Jan 2023 - Power and Powerlessness


COVID-19 has impressed upon us a feeling we Americans do not like to acknowledge: powerlessness. We seize the day. We chart our own course. When life gets tough and challenges confront us, we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. These old canards, reek of half-truths. Yet, we cling to the mythology of self-determination.

            COVID-19 has ripped this independence from us. Maybe that’s good. We need to need one another, and we are poorer for it when we refuse to recognize our own need. When we step in bold self-reliance, our ability to thrive is limited to our own abilities. When we lean on one another, help each other, and live interdependently, we go places we never imagined. When we live depending on God for life and for good things, we discover there’s no limit to the wonders we’ll behold and be part of.

            I’ll begin my 2023 preaching examining power and powerlessness as we look at Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 on January 8. I was powerless to prevent COVID from interrupting my family’s Christmas celebration. I had the power to affirm and validate my relative’s disappointment. I had the power to pray for her and promise her we will get together soon and resume the family time that was interrupted.

            I cannot force my children to be who I think they should be. I have the power and the opportunity to get to know who they are and to love who they are, just as Jesus loves me as I am.

            I cannot make people in my community be nicer to each other and be kind even across the combustible political divides that so threaten our unity and neighborliness. I do have the power to be kind. God empowers us to be good neighbors.

            I urge you to recognize areas of life where you are powerless. Acknowledging it is no weakness. Rather, to name your powerlessness is to see it and to see that it is not as overwhelming as you fear. Name your powerlessness. Ask God to show you the power you do have. Ask God to redeem your powerlessness, to meet you in it. And learn to live depending on God in all things. That’s my word for our church as we step into 2023.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Come, Lord Jesus - December 2022

December 2022


            “Surely I am coming soon.”

            Amen. Come Lord Jesus!

            Thus ends the book of Revelation. It was a word from God for Christians persecuted by the Roman emperor. These Christians wanted Jesus to return and finish the victory that was won at the cross and in the resurrection.  They desperately wanted the promises of God and longed-for return of Jesus to come quickly. 

            I have friends who feel the same way. People I deeply care about, people who know what pain is, have said to me, “I just wish Jesus would come back, right now.”

Revelation and Advent are both for these weary disciples. In 22:17, we are invited to the waters of life (v.17), Revelation meets Christmas. 

We wait and anticipate. We shop, set up our trees, wrap our presents, hope for the smile when our loved ones unwrap them; we decorate, prepare for special worship at church because it is Christmas time; and then, finally, the day arrives. The entire season is one of waiting, anticipating, and then arriving. 

It can weigh heavy on person.  Vibrant faith gets crowded out in the hustle and bustle.  Revelation and Advent are for those who are holiday-weary or world-weary. “Come Lord Jesus.”  It’s a prayer. It’s a desperate cry. Jesus, come into my life!

He has, He is, and He will. The Jesus we meet in the manger is the Jesus who died on the cross, walked out of the grave, and sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts.  He sits at the right hand of the Father, and will one day return to judge the world. We can gain strength anticipating that day because we are sure of its coming. Equally we are sure of the Spirit’s presence in our lives today. Just we hope for the arrival of Christmas this year and the return of Jesus at the end, we can hope for the new things the Spirit will do in our lives today. Sing! Sing the song of Revelation 21.  Sing the song of Advent. Come, Lord JesusCome let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.


Tuesday, November 1, 2022

"The Fruit of the Spirit is ... Kindness"


November 1, 2022          

            Turn to Galatians 5:22. It speaks of the fruit of the Spirit, that is, what the Holy Spirit produces in followers of Jesus. One of the attributes that signals that the Spirit is at work in a person is kindness. In an America where election results are denied for no reason other than disappointment, where science is ignored and mocked, where opinions are so polarized there is no middle ground or nuanced thought, and where churches are emptier each week, I received kindness from strangers, and love in its fullest extent from my most intimate of relations.

            It was a dark and stormy night, specifically Halloween, which was, in fact, dark and stormy. We (I’m not specifying who “we” were, but I wasn’t alone) made the mistake of locking the keys of my new car in the trunk. It doesn’t matter who was at fault. It does matter that this happened in Cook-Out parking lot in a town more than two hours away from home. I called AAA.

            They came within an hour and went to work. They managed to get the front door open, but this car has outstanding theft protection. There was no getting in that trunk without the key. Two AAA tow truck drivers worked at it for quite a while. I guess the positive is, it will be really hard to steal my car. The negative is, after waiting an hour and watching the AAA guys fail to recue my key from its trunk internment, I had to call my wife. She had to leave the joys of distributing candy to our costumed neighbor children and drive two hours with the spare key.

            All that time waiting at the Cook-Out, long after I could not eat one more hush puppy, I sat and counted my blessings. The AAA guys were very compassionate. They gave their best and I tried to give them a tip for their efforts and time. They refused my money. They genuinely cared and were sorry they couldn’t help. The guy working the register in the Cook-Out was equally kind. He showed empathy at my plight and assured me I could hang out as long as I needed to.

            If these strangers demonstrated kindness in an America where it seems to be lacking, my wife did what I knew she would do. She got in the car and drove, nearly five hours (there and back), just so she could open the trunk and we could retrieve the imprisoned key. She wasn’t happy about it. Would you be? But she did it and I knew she would because I know she loves us. It’s a love you can count on.

            Furthermore, God is a God we can count on. There’s a lot of angst and fury in America right now. Sitting there, stranded in a strange town due to a careless error, I had some fury roiling in me. But God sat me down by the soda fountain and helped me see what was right before my eyes. Kindness and love, even in this America. I wasn’t happy about my prolonged night out at a fast place, but I was extremely thankful to see what God wanted to show me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Walk All Night

            Want to walk around downtown Chapel Hill with me, all night long? University Baptist Church is hosting the “Franklin All Nighter” that begins at sundown on November 5 and ends at sunrise on November 6. The walk is meant to raise funds and awareness for mental health. You can see all the details here -

            I hope we can put together a team of walkers from Hillside church. With five or six walkers, you’ll get a nice name in between your assigned walking times. When you walk, it’s a one-mile loop, about 17-25 minutes walking time, depending on your speed.          

Come on Hillside, let’s represent. We’ll be doing something together, we’ll be supporting a fellow-CBF church, and we’ll be contributing to a good cause. If you want to be on Pastor Rob’s all-night team, email or text me and let me know.