Showing posts from March, 2016

Daily Devotion - Thursday, March 31, 2016

I've been thinking about what it means to live into the hope of the Resurrection of Jesus, and how that transforms you and the world around you.  It's easy to say all the right things about how to live a Resurrection life:  "Live abundantly!"  "Experience joy!"  "Embrace happiness!"  

What I've come to understand, however, is that sometimes it's much harder to actually live an abundant, joyful, life--to practice the things we so easily say.  There are so many things that get in the way, aren't there?  

Just now my wife Merideth and I were contemplating all of the things that we have to do today--places we have to go, people we have to meet, tasks that have to get done.  More immediately, the kids have to be awakened, fed and dressed to go out the door in forty-five minutes. 

Add to that about a hundred things that are swirling in our heads about issues that we're dealing with, hard conversations that we need to have, challenges we are…

Life In His Name - Week 1: Sing

Easter Sunday has come and gone.  Last week was amazing. We broke attendance records. We had incredible music, awesome energy.  And we proclaimed over and over again through song, prayers, praise and even through the proclamation of the word in the sermon that: Jesus. Is. Risen.  

But all of that is over.  This is the Sunday after Easter, which is commonly known as Black Sunday, or Cannonball Sunday among pastor-types--when you can fire a cannonball in the sanctuary and not hit a soul.  

I was talking to a pastor friend of mine the other day.  He said, "I feel drained this week, with a bit of a headache and I can't keep my eyes opened."  "Like a hangover?" I asked.  "Yes," he replied, "an Easter hangover."  

So this seemed like the perfect Sunday to start a new series on what it means to live into the hope of the Resurrection.  That was also a pretty bad non sequitur.  

Seriously, I think it's the perfect Sunday to ask a very important quest…

Daily Devotion - Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I stopped at a store yesterday, just to run in quickly and grab something.  As usual, I was in a hurry.  I had ten minutes between one appointment and another, and decided to maximize my time by squeezing in an errand.  

When I stepped out of my car, I looked down in the planter next to the parking lot and saw a bouquet of flowers.  It's fairly unusual to see a bouquet of flowers stuck in an otherwise bland and boring parking lot planter.  

But there was this bouquet of flowers stuck in the ground in the middle of this planter, and I couldn't help but stop and stare at it.  Upon closer inspection, I realized that, although it was colorful and bright, the bouquet was, in fact, not real.  It was straight up plastic.  

Someone stuck a plastic bouquet of flowers in this remote area of a parking lot in the middle of a bland planter.  They actually took the time to bury it, then arrange the mulch around it. 

I like to imagine them standing back and admiring their handiwork with delight.…

Daily Devotion - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I was reading the Resurrection story from the Gospel of Luke yesterday, and I noticed something I'd never seen before.  It reads that the women who went to Jesus' tomb and found it empty returned to the apostles to tell them what they had discovered, and this is the response they got: 

"But [the apostles] did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense."

I've been thinking about that line ever since, especially since I've been pondering a question I often ask myself this time of year.  "Jesus is risen, now what?"  Easter Sunday has come and gone, and we celebrated the Resurrection with great joy and energy.  Now what?  How do we live as people who have been set free because Jesus is risen?  

Honestly, one of the first things I think we need to do is to fully embrace the miraculous and mysterious implications of the Resurrection as the life-transforming and world-altering event that it is.  Which is easier said than done, as …

Daily Devotion - Monday, March 28, 2016

It's the Monday after Easter, and I'm tired.    

Yesterday at my church we had record crowds.  The energy was through the roof. It was an incredible celebration on all fronts.  Every one of our worship services was filled with joy, fantastic music, enthusiastic participants---it was a great day.  

But today...  I'm weary.  I overslept (probably because I needed to) and I'm running behind. I need to head in to the office in a few minutes, and there's a long day of meetings and tasks in front of me.  

I'm not looking for sympathy, mind you.  Far from it.  I'm just stating the obvious.  

For pastors, Easter Sunday is the pinnacle of the church calendar.  It's our Super Bowl, to use a cultural analogy.  And then it's over--after all of the planning, the build up through the season of Lent and the excitement leading up to it, Easter inevitably comes to an end. 

And you find yourself asking the question, "Now what?"  

In John 21 the disciples have tha…

Daily Devotion - Friday, March 25, 2016

22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 22:2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. - Psalm 22:1-2

There are few words in the Bible that are more poignant than the first few words of the first verses of Psalm 22.  Most of us probably know these words from Matthew's account of the Passion of Jesus:  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" (which means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"). (Matt 27:46)

In the throes of agony, in the worst moment of his life, at the very brink of death--what comes to Jesus' mind is a psalm, one that he had memorized as a child.  And the first words of this psalm reveal the intense feelings of abandonment that Jesus felt in that moment.  "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  

Christians believe that Jesus was fully human and fully divine.  We …

Daily Devotion - Thursday, March 24, 2016

13:5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 13:6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"13:7 Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand."13:8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." 13:9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"  
- John 13:5-9

I was leading a mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico several years ago, and we decided to introduce foot washing into one of the worship experiences we were creating for the teens on the trip.  The idea behind it was to give them an intimate experience of what it's like to both serve and be served.  

At the conclusion of one of our worship services one night we told the kids about our plan.  We informed them that th…

Easter Sunday - "The Greatest News Ever"

Today is Resurrection Sunday.  Today all over the world Christians will be pouring into churches to celebrate what is easily the highest and holiest of all of the high, holy days in the Christian tradition.  And many of them will say, shout, sing or otherwise exclaim these words:  "Jesus is Risen!"  

We say these words with a great deal of joy and gusto on Easter Sunday, don't we? And in the Presbyterian tradition we often accompany them with a response, "He is risen indeed!" But what do these words really mean?  When we say them, do we truly believe them?  What exactly are we proclaiming when we say that Jesus is risen?  

Well, for starters, we might simply be proclaiming something that we've always proclaimed.  We say "Jesus is risen," because we've always said that Jesus is risen.  We do it without a lot of thought, without really pondering what it is that we are saying even as we say it.  Because to not say it would somehow violate some unwr…

Daily Devotion - Wednesday, March 23, 2016

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 12:2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.  
- Hebrews 12:1-2

We are in the middle of Holy Week--the middle of our symbolic journey with Jesus to the Cross and the Tomb.  The cheering crowds of Palm Sunday are behind us, the solemnity of Maundy Thursday and the sorrow of Good Friday awaits us.  So, for the moment we can take a breath, and consider what Jesus might have been thinking and feeling in that same moment.  

The writer of Hebrews, our lectionary text for today, has an interesting take.  He writes, that Jesus endured the cross "for the sake of the joy that was set before him..."  When I rea…

Daily Devotion - Tuesday, March 22, 2016

12:24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 12:25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 12:26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. - John 12:24-26

Jesus tried to help his disciples understand the meaning of selfless sacrifice.  He tried to help them to see clearly why his impending death was necessary--as a way to demonstrate the restorative, reconciling power of God through resurrection.  Jesus connects his teaching with the way Creation works--that when something dies in Creation, something else has a chance to live. 

When you think about it, everything that you will eat today was created because something died in order to give you life-giving nourishment.  Jesus put it like this, "...unless a grain of wheat falls in…

Daily Devotion - Monday, March 21, 2016

12:3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 12:5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" 12:7 Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. - John 12:3-5-7

As we enter into Holy Week, our lectionary text for today points us toward an important truth about the Passion of Jesus--namely, that it's marked by extravagant sacrifice.  

This story from the Gospel of John is found in all four Gospel accounts, with slight variations in each.  In each of the stories, Jesus is at a dinner party and a woman (she's named only in John's account) enters the room, pours expensive perfume on Jesus and is then roundly criticized by some of the people who witness it…

Daily Devotion - Friday, March 18, 2016

17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. -  Hebrews 2:17-18

It's hard to imagine what it was like for Jesus.  He was so completely connected to God that he knew what God was like and did everything he could to show God's true nature to the world.  Jesus, we Christians believe, was God incarnate (in the flesh).  He was unlike any other human being as a result.  

Through Jesus, God embraced humanity, and presumably all of the frailties of humanity with it.  We know that Jesus grew tired and hungry.  He often became frustrated with his disciples lack of faith, and sometimes became angry at the stubbornness of the religious elites of this day.  He wept at the funeral of his friend out of sorrow and grief, and…

Daily Devotion - Thursday, March 17, 2016

13 For I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side!” They conspire against me and plot to take my life. 14 But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” - Psalm 39:13-14

I've been watching the recent political debates with a bit more interest than I have in past elections.  The other day it struck me that almost every single presidential candidate had built their essential political platform upon the premise that the average American is worse off than at any other time in American history.  Even the candidates from the incumbent party managed to make the same argument in one way shape or form.  

It feels like the modern politician has to effectively convince us that there are problems, obstacles and dangers that are so vast, so incredibly insurmountable that the only recourse we have is to elect them to solve them.  I'm starting to believe that whichever political party manages to create the most anxiety in their respective constituencies will ultimately prevail. An anxio…

Palm Sunday - "The Back of the Crowd"

Today is Palm Sunday.  
Palms have been waved, photos have been taken, songs have been sung with gusto. 

And all of this begs the question, "What's up with the Palms?"  Seriously.  Why are there a bunch of kids running into the worship space?  Someone inevitably gets hit in the face with the palms, am I right?  Raise your hand if you got smacked a bit. 

But where did all of this begin?  Why do we celebrate Palm Sunday?  And why does it seem, at least on the surface, like an exercise in futility?  I mean, here we are cheering and waving and celebrating... 

... And then on Friday we'll be huddled together, remembering the day that Love died on a cross.  

Let's journey together almost 2000 years back in time.  Our guide today will be Luke's Gospel--chapter 19 verses 28-40: 
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them…