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Showing posts from May, 2016

Awake Lord! Why Do You Sleep?

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I don't always feel close to God. 

I frequently do things I wish I hadn't done. 

I have moments when I struggle to have the kind of faith I ought to have. 

There are days when I wonder what God is up to.  

Sometimes I have doubts about my beliefs.  

I also understand that for some people it might seem a bit off-putting to read these sentences, and realize they are written by a pastor.  After all, pastors are supposed to be professional Christians, right?  

Except we're not. 

We're just like everyone else when it comes to struggles with faith and doubt.  But I've discovered a few things over the years.  There are basically two ways that people respond when I reveal that I sometimes struggle to have faith:  They feel relieved or they become angry.  

People that feel relieved typically respond out of gratitude--they are grateful that they aren't alone in their doubts, and even more grateful that a pastor would admit to feeling the same way from time to time.  

They get tha…

Memorial Day, Tending Graves & Resurrection Hope

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When I was a kid my family would often travel on Memorial Day to the small community of Seibert, Colorado where my dad grew up. In a small cemetery on the outskirts of town, we would visit the graves of my dad's grandparents, and those of close friends and relatives.  

I remember walking among the graves, reading the stones, and marveling at the small American flags that were placed by the those who had served in the military.  

When my grandfather died when I was ten, those trips took on new meaning for all of us.  My grandmother would refresh the flowers on his grave, and we would all stand quietly as she did--each of us thinking our own thoughts, remembering him in our own way.  

Years later, I officiated at my grandmother's funeral and would visit that cemetery for the first time as an adult.  I recall recognizing gravestones I had gazed at as a child, and for a moment it felt timeless, albeit the fresh dirt and clay from my grandmother's grave told a different story.  

To…

Is There A Crack In Your Faith Windshield?

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I had this crack in the windshield of my car.  I'd watched the crack grow for some weeks.  It started small, near the point of impact, and then it started spreading.  By the time I finally got my windshield replaced, the crack was over a foot long and inching upward every day it seemed.

The guy who fixed it told me that it started with a "small impact."  He said it was probably a rock that struck the windshield in just the right way in the right place.  "That's all it takes," he told me.  "Just a little impact like that, and it can grow."  

I got to thinking about the technicians words.  "Just a little impact like that, and it can grow."  I don't remember the exact rock that made the damage, but I almost immediately saw the results.  And if I hadn't replaced the whole thing, my windshield would have become very unsafe in a very short amount of time. 

I think that our faith is a bit like that windshield.  Like the windshield, our fai…

You Are Blessed To Be A Blessing!

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I have this friend who has the most annoying habit.  Every time you ask him "How's it going?" he responds by saying, "I'm blessed."  Every. Single. Time.  

You're probably thinking, "What's the matter with you, man?  The guy is just feeling blessed.  You're a serious grump."  Allow me to elaborate on why it annoys me when my friend constantly says, "I'm blessed."  

It's because there are days when I don't feel like blessings are showering down upon me.  There are moments when I am feeling kind of blue and bitter and not at all filled with the joy of the Lord.  I have seasons when it seems as if God has withdrawn his favor. 

And then my friend--despite whatever is going on in his life--slaps a grin on his face and says "I'm blessed," and it makes me feel rotten.  

The fact of the matter is I am blessed.  Blessed beyond measure.  I happen to live in the greatest country in the world, I have a roof over my …

Jesus & We - Week 5: "Anything Short of Sin"

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We are at the end of a sermon series for the month of May, entitled Jesus and We. 
The basic idea behind this series is pretty simple.  We're wrestling with what it means to be a community of faith that lives into the hope of the Resurrection. 

Christianity in America has become decidedly self-centered.  Christian book stores are filled with all kinds of self-help books on all of the things you can do to become a better Christian.  Far too many churches in America espouse a Jesus and Me kind of theology.  

But what we know from Scripture, from the teachings of Jesus and from experience itself is that it's not all about Jesus and Me.  The Church is about Jesus and We.  Church is more than just a place you go, it's who we are.  

Today we're going to be concluding our sermon series with a sermon entitled, "Anything Short of Sin," and we're going to be talking about what it means to do whatever it takes to reach people with the Good News of Jesus.  

A couple of ye…

Overcoming Fear & Living In Abundance (Pt. 2)

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When you research the things that human beings fear the most, fear of ridicule and failure is always at the top of the list.  I also read that most people fear public speaking even more than they fear heights, the dark, spiders, and even (believe it or not) death. 

It's not too hard to see how the fear of ridicule and failure, which seems to loom large in most of us, would also influence the way we view things like public speaking, or starting a new venture, or stepping out in faith when the way is uncertain.  

I live and breathe within the context of the Church, which (whether fairly or unfairly) has been stereotyped as an institution that resists change and often struggles to move forward into uncharted territory.  I've encountered more than my fair share of inertia over the years--churches and church members unwilling to change, or step out in faith.  I've also heard things like this on numerous occasions: 

"We've never done it that way before."  
"We tri…

Overcoming Fear & Living in Abundance (Pt. 1)

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As long as I live I will never forget my encounter with Buck.  It was nearly eighteen years ago, now that I think about it, and I was working as a part time youth director in a small Presbyterian church in Tallahassee, Florida. 

Buck, who passed away some time ago, was an elder in the very first church I served as a staff member. He was gruff, imposing and he stumped around the church leaning on his cane like he owned the place.  

One night, I was leading a youth meeting, which included a rowdy game with the teenagers running amok through the halls of the church.  Unbeknownst to me, Buck was meeting with the Pastor in the room directly across from our meeting space.  I discovered this when they both emerged and confronted me in the hallway.  The pastor had an odd look on his face, and Buck was scowling. 

"Young man," Buck said to me in a growl. "I want to tell you something."  He moved toward me laboriously until he stood about six inches from my face, and then put hi…

God Doesn't Want More FROM You. God Wants More OF You.

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I was reading a familiar passage of Scripture today from Micah 6:6-8 when I discovered something I haven't seen before, and I got excited to share it.  That's kind of how reading the Bible works sometimes.  You might have read and reread the same passage a hundred times throughout your life, and then all of a sudden you see it in a new way.  

At any rate, here's the passage I read: 

6 With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy

    and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6-8)

As I read through this passage--prepared to focus once again on verse 8, which is one of the mos…

Spiritual But Not Religious (Pt. 2)

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The idea of being "spiritual, but not religious," is not a new one by any means.  

In the 1940s and 50s, my grandfather used to drive the twenty-plus miles into town on Sunday mornings with my grandmother so she could attend church in the little farming community where they lived. He would sit outside in the car reading the newspaper while she worshipped inside with the faithful--wanting nothing to do with organized religion. 

Yet, he had read the entire Bible from cover to cover at least three times during his life, he had a deep faith in God, maintained high morals, and was more loving and kind than most Christians I have known.  

But in the past decade, the number of people who maintain a personal sense of spirituality and connection to the Divine without actually being connected to a religion has exploded.  

However, according to a Pew Research study on religion in America, many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-third…

Spiritual But Not Religous (Pt. 1)

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I had a conversation not that long ago with a young woman who used to go to church, but who left some time ago, and hasn't been back.  

She had a host of reasons: she had been hurt by a pastor, the teachings of her church were too legalistic, the people in her church were mean-spirited, all her church worried about was money... it was a long list. 

"I don't really need church all that much," she told me. "I don't miss it at all, honestly.  I can be spiritual without all of the religion."  

From 2007 to 2014 the percentage of Americans who self-identified as not having any religious affiliation rose from 16% to 23%.  That number continues to rise each year, with the highest concentration among those in the Millenial generation (those born from 1981-1996) at 35%.  

To break this down even more dramatically.  Since 2012, 7.5 million Americans have "lost their religion."  The fastest growing "religion" in America is none.

Despite the seeming …

Jesus And We - Week 4: Irrational Generosity

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We are in the middle of a sermon series for the month of May, entitled Jesus and We.  The basic idea behind this series is pretty simple.  We're wrestling with what it means to be a community of faith that lives into the hope of the Resurrection. 

Christianity in America has become decidedly self-centered.  Christian book stores are filled with all kinds of self-help books on all of the things you can do to become a better Christian.  Far too many churches in America espouse a Jesus and Me kind of theology.  

But what we know from Scripture, from the teachings of Jesus and from experience itself is that it's not all about Jesus and Me.  The Church is about Jesus and We.  Church is more than just a place you go, it's who we are.  

Today we're going to be talking about Irrational Generosity, and what that means for us as a church.  And when I say "irrational" generosity, I mean the kind of generosity that doesn't make sense to most people, who put safety, secu…

When We Live Like No One Is Watching (Pt. 2)

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Christians.  We are our own worst enemies. 

For generations of people who have either fled the Church or never bothered to give it a chance, the number one reason they always give is that the Church is "full of hypocrites." It's a generalized, and perhaps stereotypical statement, to be sure.  But maybe we've earned it.    

According to author and church futurist Dave Kinnaman, we are setting ourselves up for failure by focusing on all of the wrong things--rules, regulations, appearances, etc..  He writes,  "We have set the gameboard to register lifestyle points; then we are surprised to be trapped by our mistakes. The truth is we have invited the hypocrite image.”

And sometimes our actions can have far-reaching and deep repercussions.  An offhand comment... a juicy bit of gossip we share without thinking... a moment of temper... These seemingly harmless acts can land on someone who might be struggling in their faith, or who are looking for more reasons to hold God …

When We Live Like No One Is Watching (Pt. 1)

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Years ago, I was standing in line at a Walgreens, waiting to pick up a prescription when I learned a valuable lesson.  

As I stood there for ages, waiting to get my prescription, I kept saying to myself, "If I stand in this line and they've messed up my prescription again... so help me."  When I got to the end of the line and told them my name and particulars, the technician shook his head.  "We don't have this ready yet."  

I thought of a few things I wanted to say, and opened my mouth to say them, but suddenly I was overwhelmed by better judgment.  "That's okay, I know you're busy.  I'll just wait here until you get it filled."  The man nodded tiredly, and smiled a small smile of gratitude.  

What I didn't know at the time, but found out later, was that one of the members of my church was standing right behind me.  I was relatively new to the church, and hadn't formally met everyone.  I didn't know her, but she knew who I wa…

Shine The Light Of Jesus & Watch The Shadows Disappear!

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One of the many things I love about my house is the fact that it's oriented so that most of the larger windows in the back of the house face east.  Today as I watched the sun rise through all of those eastward facing windows, I had an epiphany of sorts.  

Before the sun rose, there was nothing but shadows, vague shapes of trees, hints of what was really out there beyond my windows, but nothing more.  But as the light began to dawn, I could begin to make out more clearly what was actually there.  Colors came into view, depth, texture, the intricacies of those former vague shapes.  

Sometimes your imagination can run wild in the darkness, making the shapes into things that are scarier, and more dreadful than they are.  

The light reveals their true nature, though.  The light turns a shadowy demon, ready to pounce on you into an overgrown bush.  The light transforms a menacing figure watching you in your house into a gently swaying tree.  

There's a lesson in this for those of us who…

When The Darkness Comes Will You Still Shine?

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Throughout my career as a pastor, I've had occasion to counsel and provide pastoral care to people in some of the worst circumstances of their lives.  

I've sat at the bedside of scores of people who were taking their last breaths.  I've knelt beside grieving spouses who have lost their partners.  On at least two occasions I've had to try to help a family make sense of a loved one's suicide.  

There's one thing that I know for sure after all of those experiences:  In the midst of struggle, strife, tragedy and trial, the difference between people who are filled with hope and joy and those who aren't is dramatic and distinct.  

Recently, I met with a woman who tells me every time I meet her, "I wish I was dead."  She is well into her 90's and in relatively good health and sound mind for her age.  Yet, she lives each day filled with dread and anxiety, never experiencing light and peace.  

Contrast this woman's existence with one of my former chur…