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Showing posts from June, 2016

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

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Our world was rocked this week by another act of terror.  Over forty people were killed and more were injured by suicide bombers in the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, Turkey.  

I've been in that airport.  I have walked the streets of Istanbul.  It's not an imaginary place to me.  I have been welcomed by Turkish people, shared a cup of tea with a vendor in the Spice Market, stood in the quiet, awesome beauty of the Blue Mosque watching people pray.  

On a whim, when I was visiting the Blue Mosque, I responded to a sign in English that read something like this, "If you want to know more about Islam, inquire in the office just ahead."  I knocked on the door and the imam, who was on duty opened the door.  I asked him if he spoke English, and pointed at the sign.  

He shook his head, and asked me if I spoke German. When I shook my own head, he took both of my hands in his and held them up in front of him with a sorrowful expression on his face.  "I am so sor…

Don't Let The Season of Giving Pass You By

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I hate paying bills.  I am pretty sure that there's not a single person reading this, who would disagree with me.  

If, however, you get a great deal of joy out of writing checks, or sending payments out of your checking and/or savings account every month, I apologize for my generalization.  And I would respectfully suggest you get some help, because you may have a disorder of some kind. 

There were times in our marriage when Merideth and I would sit down to "do the money" (that's what we call it), and there would be a whole lot of month left at the end of our money.  Sometimes, there would be more than we could handle. 

So, in the middle of the stress of worrying about having enough--we often neglected giving to our church, or to charities that we believed in, simply because we felt like we didn't have it to give.  

Years ago, however, we decided to take a different approach.  We re-oriented our life together around a simple principle.  Everything we have, we have b…

Ending the Cycle of Negativity

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I can't even count how many times in my life I have had negative encounters with people, who unleashed upon me a diatribe, angry criticism, personal attacks and the like.    

I also can't count how many times I have thought of something awesome to say to the person who is attacking me after they've unleashed their venom and then walked away. 

You know how that feels, right?  Whether it's moments or a day later, the thing you should  have said comes to you, and you find yourself saying, "Oh my gosh!  I wish I had said that!"  

There was one time in my life were I said exactly what I wanted to say to someone who had attacked me publicly.  It was when I was an assistant manager at Best Buy and another manager in the store falsely accused me of something in a manager meeting.  

Our argument continued out into the store, and I finally stood directly in front of him and inexplicably said the following--a thought turned to words that came forth from somewhere deep withi…

Gas Station Dancing Queen and The Presence of Jesus

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My son just did one of those things that adult children do to drive their parents crazy--he decided to drive home late last night from a whirlwind weekend trip to North Carolina.  He didn't get home until 4AM, and I am pretty sure his mother was sleeping fitfully until he got in.  I slept like a rock, but that's beside the point. 

This morning he told me a story about a resurrection moment in his trip, and I asked him if I could share it.  

He told me that around 2 AM, he stopped to get gas in the middle of nowhere.  There were other people there, too, he said, and they all looked about as tired as he did.  Just a bunch of weary travelers, filling up their tanks in the middle of the night.  

My son said that while they were all standing there pumping gas into their cars, the music playing over the loudspeakers outside suddenly changed.  The familiar strains of the classic 70's song "Dancing Queen" by ABBA burst into the humid, mid-morning air of South Georgia.  

Jay …

An Open Letter To Our Muslim Neighbors

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After I read an article in the Daily Commercial within which they interviewed some of our Muslim neighbors from the Islamic Centers in Clermont, I felt the need to write letter you'll read below. Like many of us, I’ve been very angry lately about the effects of radical Islam on our world.  

I’ve also struggled with my own ability to show grace even to those Muslims who strongly disagree and abhor the way their religion has been hijacked by lunatics.  Honestly, I feel that way sometimes, too, when I see stories about Westboro Baptist Church, or even hear what many prominent Christian leaders say that people assume all Christians believe. 

The following is a letter that I wrote shortly after the tragic shooting at the Pulse nightclub, and (with the endorsement of the elders of my church) sent to the two Islamic centers in Lake County.  I'm sharing this as an open letter in hopes that it will open minds and hearts (including my own). 

To the Members of the Clermont Masjid, 

Al-salaam…

Taking Your Eyes Off God Leads To Deserted Living

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This morning I am watching the news that people in the United Kingdom just voted to leave the European Union in a very close vote.  I have friends who are extremely happy today because of the vote, but it's also abundantly clear that there are also millions of people who are surprised, angry and disappointed that "their side" lost.  

This week I have been participating in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Portland, Oregon.  I spent the first part of the week working in a 60-plus person committee, and for the past two days I've been part of the larger deliberative body that has 500 or so voting commissioners. 

All week I have participated in votes where some people "won" and others "lost."  I have watched people get angry at times, or express deep disappointment when their ideas were rejected, or their deeply held convictions were not affirmed by the group.  

I've been thinking a lot lately about disappointment, lately.  

Mos…

God Wants You To Brag

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Did you know that God is totally fine with bragging? 

Don't get me wrong, God is never cool with you bragging about yourself.  

For example, In Jeremiah 9:23-24 the prophet declares the following:  

"This is what the Lord says; The wise must not brag about their wisdom. The strong must not brag about their strength.  The rich must not brag about their money..."  

I met a pastor recently who, within the first hour or so of our meeting, made sure that I knew he had a 140 IQ.  I heard later, he also shared this information with his congregation in a sermon not long after he arrived at the church as a new pastor.  Additionally, he made sure to bring it up in conversations with church members, staff, etc. 

When I heard this, I shook my head in disbelief.  

"Who does that?"  I asked the person who was sharing the information.  "I would never do something like that with my congregation.  I know better!  I guess that's one of the reasons why my church has over five …

All The Work You Do Is Holy Work

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There's this strange notion that a lot of people have when it comes to what they consider "spiritual" activities as opposed to "non-spiritual."  This contrast has also been described as the difference between what is "secular" and what is "sacred."  

For example, going to church has often been classified as a "spiritual" or "sacred" activity, whereas meeting friends for dinner at pub is described as "secular."  

Some people might take this farther and extend the descriptions to vocation.  Being a pastor, for instance, is considered by many people to be sacred vocation, whereas being a businessperson is considered secular.  

I can't tell you how many times I've had conversations with people about their life of faith and they will say things to me like, "Well, I'm just a banker, not a pastor..." or "I'm only a stay at home mom, not a minister..."  

Recently, I heard a candidate for …

Finding The Strength For Unity

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I'm learning patience this week.  

You see, I am serving as a Commissioner to the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and I am on one of the most challenging committees, with the largest workload.  

Yesterday, we worked from 9AM until nearly 10PM with only a couple of hours of breaks for lunch and dinner.  We worked on very dense overtures to the Assembly, and we did so strictly observing Roberts Rules of Order.  

At one point, I made a motion to amend a motion that was amended from an earlier motion, which we later perfected before approving it in lieu of the original motion.  If you can't make sense of that at all--I don't blame you one iota.   

So back to this patience thing.  

I have a hard time working in large groups with people who can't follow conversations, don't pay attention and who show up late in the midst of a discussion and raise controversial issues that derail the process.  

Seriously, just when we thought we were about to vote on so…

Sabbath Rhythms of Rest & Peace

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For the past few days I have been in Portland Oregon, participating in the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Although it's been a few days, my body still hasn't gotten used to the time change.  The clock on my phone and the clock in my body have not yet sync'd up yet, you see.  

I've woken at 5 AM or earlier every day since I've been here.  It's served me pretty well because I've been able to beat everyone else to breakfast in some of the hard-to-get-into breakfast joints in town. But around 8PM, I start to fade to black, as my East Coast circadian rhythm begins to kick in, and leaves me feeling weary.  

As human beings we know that we have these rhythms of wakefulness and rest.  Our bodies become accustomed to these rhythms, even when our particular rhythms might be pushing the limits of what we should be experiencing.  

For example, I went to bed exhausted last night after a long day of meetings. I figured I would sleep until my alarm…

Holy Imagination & Wonder

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In just a little while I will be boarding an airplane that will take me on a six hour flight from Orlando to Portland, Oregon--from the east coast to the west coast of these United Statesin just a matter of hours.  

It's amazing when you think about it.  I'll get inside what is essentially a long metal tube with wings and fly across the country, just like hundreds of thousands, if not millions of other people today.  

Just a little over one hundred years ago, when the Wright Brothers made that first flight at Kitty Hawk, NC, no one could have fully imagined what we are able to do today.  

But here's the interesting bit... they did imagine something like it.  It would take great imagination, grit and determination to make that first flight happen.  But after that first flight--that's where the real creativity, the otherworldly kinds of dreams and visions were born.  When people began asking... What if?

I think far too many of us Christians have lost their sense of wonder wh…

When Three Fingers Are Pointing Back At You

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I had this friend on Facebook a few years ago who got an intense amount of joy out of ticking every one off with his controversial Facebook posts.  He would argue incessantly with people, saying all kinds of inflammatory things, offended everything, never seeming to really care who he hurt.  

And then I posted something on my Facebook page that he disagreed with.  

About football. 

You see, we had pretty divergent opinions regarding our favorite football teams--as in, he couldn't stand my team and the feeling was reciprocated on my part toward his.  So the guy started attacking me online, and we had this virtual argument right there on my Facebook page for everyone and their brother to see. 

Finally, the guy posted this comment, and it absolutely infuriated me.  He wrote, "I can't believe you call yourself a pastor, and post things like this."  

I'd had enough then.  I thought about all of the mean-spirited and awful things this guy regularly posted online, and that h…

My Prediction (Sadly) Came True

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It didn't take long.  

I predicted to my congregation on Sunday morning that they would undoubtedly hear from some Christian pastor from somewhere that the victims of the worst mass shooting in American history deserved what they got. 

Like I said, it didn't take long.  Videos surfaced almost immediately of preachers declaring to their congregations that because this past Sunday's shooting in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando happened in an establishment frequented by gay and lesbian patrons, it was obviously Divine punishment.  

Divine punishment... 

One prominent Christian leader actually spouted off and said that perhaps the best way to handle things would be to allow radical Muslims and the gay community to "kill each other."  His organization immediately qualified his statement, claiming what he said didn't actually mean what it sounded like he said.  But he said it. 

Let them kill each other...

These aren't the kind of things that people who claim to follow …

Can I Get An Amen?

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When I was a kid I went to churches where people (mostly men) would give the preacher an "Amen" every once in a while during church.  Sometimes they overdid it, though.  

I remember this one guy who would offer up an "Amen" no matter what was happening.  He would "Amen" the Scripture reading, the end of a song, and at least twenty or thirty other "Amens" during the preacher's sermon.  

When I started attending Presbyterian churches, I discovered that most Presbyterians kept their "Amens" to themselves until after the end of a prayer, and then they would pronounce it "Ah-men," rather than "Ay-men."  

So what exactly are we saying when we say "Ah-men," or "Ay-men?"  

Some definitions of "Amen" simply declare that it means "so be it," or "in agreement," which makes sense, considering how it is usually used and intended by Christians who use it in worship, after prayers,…

Grace-filled Response To A Tragedy: #OrlandoStrong

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Yesterday was one of the darkest days in the history of our country.  It was almost assuredly the darkest day in the history of my adopted hometown of Orlando, Florida. 

A gunman entered a nightclub in Orlando in the early morning hours on Sunday, and over the course of a couple of hours managed to kill at least 50 people, and wound 53 others. 

The gunman, who happened to also be Muslim, pledged his allegiance to the Islamic state before he began shooting.  The nightclub where he chose to terrorize and kill was a club frequented by gay and lesbian people--seemingly targeted for that very reason.  

So many young people... taken violently, wrenched from their families.  And all because of hate--borne out of twisted religious notions, and fear.   

There are so many heartbroken people, grieving today over this terrible situation--including the now terrified and horrified family of the deranged and twisted man who became so filled with hate that he somehow justified his actions in the name of …

God, Disney World & Being A Middle Child

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The daily devotion is a bit late today because my wife and I took our middle son Jackson to Disney World for a two day break—just the three of us.  We had a sixteen hour, marathon day at the Magic Kingdom yesterday, so I allowed myself a bit of grace this morning.  

This was all he wanted for his birthday.  Two days alone with his parents at Disney World.  
I am an only child so the complexities of dealing with siblings escapes me.  But I have to think that being the middle child between a college student and a kindergartner (We spread our kids out just a bit) is not without it’s challenges. But based on what Jackson is telling us, these past couple of days have been amazing for him. 

There has been no little brother to care for, and watch.  There have been no older brothers monopolizing the adult conversation.  It’s just been him and us.  And we’ve laughed together, played together, ate together and just enjoyed one another.  

These past couple of days have not just been great for Jackso…

If It's Too Loud, You're Too Old (Not Really)

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John Hetlinger is an 82 year-old, retired aerospace engineer, former Navy pilot, and grandfather, who frequents karaoke bars, and who happens to love heavy metal music.  He also appeared on a recent episode of the hit TV show "America's Got Talent," where he shocked the crowed, and the judges with his rendition of  a song by the metal band Drowning Pool.

The song he chose ("Let the Bodies Hit The Floor") includes a great deal of screaming--like any good heavy metal song would.  Hetlinger bellowed the lyrics at the top of his lungs, eliciting a roar from the crowd on hand and a standing ovation when he was done.  If you would like to see Hetlinger's performance, you can watch it below: 




Surprising?  You bet.  

I happen to be a huge fan of heavy music--I kind of always have been.  This isn't the best cover of Drowning Pool I've ever heard, to be honest.  But it's definitely the most inspiring.  

The crowd's response, I am convinced, had little to …

God Never Said That - Week 2: "God Won't Give You More Than You Can Handle"

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Today, we're going to conclude the short two-part sermon series that we started last week entitled, "God Never Said That."  We are going to be explore the second of two of the most misquoted, misunderstood statements about God that are actually not biblical, but sound biblical. 

Last week we talked about the phrase "God just wants you to be happy."  We discovered together that God doesn't want us to be happy, he wants us to be holy.  If you missed that sermon, you can listen to it on our podcast, go back and watch it on our live streaming site or pick up one of the CDs as you leave today.  

We've listed a few things that church-y people say to make people feel better.  Can you think of some other phrases?  Maybe something someone has said to you that left you scratching your head, or wanting to bang it up against a wall, perhaps.  

Today we're going to tackle the second of the most misused of these quotes--"God won't give you any more than you…