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When It's Hard To Be Grace-Filled

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  As we enter into an Advent season like no other that we've ever experienced, I'm finding myself reflecting more and more on grace and how much I need it.  And this morning I got to thinking more deeply about it.   You see, here in Austin, the schools have all been shuttered for a week in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID after the Thanksgiving holiday.   So once again, we're having to navigate the changes with our kids, breaking their routines, negotiating new norms, and reminding them (and ourselves) once more that nothing is certain in this new world that is emerging.   What I  have discovered in all of this is that one of the many side-effects of the constant strain and stress of uncertainty is that I am finding it harder to summon grace-filled feelings toward people with whom I'm disagreeing.  Based on the conversations I've been having lately with friends, church members, and colleagues, I think that I'm not alone in this discovery.   Yesterday,

First Sunday of Advent - Keep Awake

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Today is the First Sunday of the Season of Advent---Advent is a season of expectation when we begin to look forward to the coming of the Messiah, and the promise of hope for a troubled world.  I don't know about you, but I am expecting something a whole lot better than what we had this past year.  That's what I want for Christmas, y'all! So over the course of this Advent season, we will be living into the expectation of a better world, the expectation of a Messiah who will set things to rights, the expectation of better days, better news...   Today I am going to be talking about what it means to be awake, and alert to see what God is doing in the world around us---so we can live in expectation with some measure of awareness that it's going somewhere good!     First, we're going to watch a video.  What I want you to do is to watch this video and count how many times the people in white shirts pass the ball.  Pay close attention to the people in the white s

A Thanksgiving Message

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Grace and Peace Everyone!  I want to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours... in hopes that despite our circumstances each of you has been able to find connections, share, discover new joys and begin looking forward to better tomorrows.   I am grateful today for so many things.   I'm grateful for the opportunity to do what I do each and every day.  It is my greatest joy to serve as a pastor not only to a particular community of faith, my local congregation here in Austin, but also to serve as a pastor to so many others from far and wide.  For those of you who know me, I still believe I am the last person I would ever pick to be a pastor.  Every day feels like grace when I  realize what I am constantly called to do and to be for the sake of God's kingdom.   My heart is also full today because of the love of my family and the many friends who continue to support me and lift me up---especially when I have struggled, lately.  It's true that so many of us have ha

Living Out of Abundance Rather Than Scarcity

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Generosity done for the wrong reasons is easy to spot.  It looks inauthentic.   According to a recent study by the Harvard Business Review, over the past two decades,  charitable giving by U.S. companies has declined at an alarming rate, dropping to 15-year lows in the early 2000s and descending even lower to date. Despite the fact that overall charitable giving by companies has decreased, what has increased is what is known as "cause-related marketing." In other words, companies will strategically engage in philanthropy as a form of public relations, increasing their brand exposure in ways that will provide positive impressions among consumers as well as increasing employee morale. While there may be some good that is done through the charitable contributions of companies who are engaging in this form of marketing, it has begun to come off as inauthentic. According to the Harvard Business Review, cause-related marketing may lead to an overall sense of cynicism on behalf of t

All Good Things Don't Come To An End

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All good things must come to an end. Have you ever heard that before?  Maybe you've even repeated it on occasion. Probably when something good was coming to an end. I actually grieve when my favorite TV series come to an end.  When I watched the finale of the Office the first time, I actually cried.  Yeah, I know.  I am a wuss.  I also probably cry every time I've watched it since.  Probably.   I remember once my wife and I ate dinner at this really fancy restaurant with some friends on New Year's Eve.  It was one of those meals where they kept bringing out course after course--every one of them looking as if they were prepared on Food Network for one of those cooking contests.  None of us wanted that dinner to end.  And we sort of grieved when it did. All good things must come to an end...  That's what we tell ourselves, isn't it? But what if I told you that there are some things that don't come to an end?  And that this one thing assured that all of the really

Expressing Gratitude With Every Breath

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According to a Pew study from a couple of years ago, 78 percent of people said they felt strongly thankful at least once a week.  The same study also revealed that most of us are more anxious, less hopeful, and more distrustful than ever.   And that was before COVID.   Clearly, there's a disconnect here.  Diana Butler Bass believes it comes down to the fact that as individuals we value gratitude as a virtue, and we strive to express it in our own lives.  But as a society, we are becoming less and less thankful.  The same gratitude we feel individually is not making that much of a difference in our common life.  Check out this bit of amazingness from Psalm 8:  3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?  "What is man, O God, that you are mindful of him..."  You are small.  You are dust.  You are only here for a breath of tim
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Today we are going to be concluding the sermon series, "What's Next?" a series that has been focused on this particularly challenging question:   How do we discover purpose and direction in life when everything we used to use as a guide to doing just that has changed?  I'm going to make a bold statement that I know might be a bit controversial... are you ready?  Things are kind of messed up in the world right now.   I know, I know... you're shocked by this.  Sorry to say something so provocative on Sunday, church.   Actually, that's a Captain Obvious moment if there ever was one.  We all know that things are messed up.  And all you need to know about just how messed up things are is by the number of conspiracy theories that are abounding in our society.   For example...  You've all heard about the Flat Earth Society---people who believe that the earth is actually flat and that there is some kind of dome over it, and that we might be some kind of experiment