Showing posts from September, 2016

Your God-Given, Creative DNA

In his book Finding God in Unexpected Places, Philip Yancey writes about encountering a remarkable woman in South Africa, who started a ministry in one of the most violent prisons in the country.  She started small group Bible studies, did counseling, started group therapy sessions and much more.  

In one year, the prison went from 279 reported acts of violence down to 2. Yancey asked her how she was able to accomplish such an incredible task.  She told him that God was already present in the prison, she just needed to help reveal his presence to the inmates.  
I think the dominant understanding of God in Christian culture needs some work.  The fact of the matter is, God is present in all things, in all spaces, in all times.  I have come to believe that God is the very "ground of our being," as some theologians have offered.  

But most of us struggle to experience God because we've been taught that God is high in his holy temple, removed from us by some imaginary gulf betwe…

Inside the Cave of The Apocalypse

This past week I got to do something that I have wanted to do for years--I visited the island of Patmos, and the traditional site where the book of Revelation was born.  In the first chapter of Revelation we find these words from John the Revelator: 
 I, John, with you all the way in the trial and the Kingdom and the passion of patience in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of God’s Word, the witness of Jesus. It was Sunday and I was in the Spirit, praying. I heard a loud voice behind me, trumpet-clear and piercing: “Write what you see into a book. Tradition teaches that it was John the Evangelist, the youngest of the disciples of Jesus, who received the Revelation while he was in exile on Patmos.  These traditions teach that he would climb the highest hill on the island to pray inside a cave.  It was in that cave that he saw the vision that would become the Apocalypse or the book of Revelation.  

We visited The Cave of the Apocalypse while we were on Patmos.  The Greek Orth…

Standing Where Paul Preached--Sharing the Story

Yesterday I stood on the Areopagus in the center of Athens, Greece.  

Merideth and I stumbled upon the site after visiting the Parthenon and the ruins of other great temples of ancient Athens, which were built on the highest point in the center of the city.  When you stand on the ruins of the Areopagus (Also known by the Romans as Mars Hill), those temples loom over your shoulder--you can't miss them. 

The Areopagus is the site where the Apostle Paul addressed some of the leading intellectuals of the city, using Athenian cultural references and their own curiosity about religion and new ideas to preach the Gospel to them.  

The Apostle Paul was astounded at the number of gods that were being worshipped in Athens, and he began sharing his "new ideas" with a twist: 
So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all …

Mary, Venus & Lessons In Sacrificial Humility

On the outer wall of the Our Lady of Assumption church in medieval town of Erice, Sicily is a whole row of marble crosses that were embedded there in the early 1400’s.  

In the early medieval period, the main church of Erice was at the very highest point of the town, but because people were still practicing pagan rituals to Venus, the Roman goddess of fertility,  in the early 1300’s, the church was built on the site of the ancient temple to erase it from memory. 

Aside from some large foundation stones, the aforementioned marble crosses were the only decorations from Venus’ temple that were included in the construction of the new church. 

I got to thinking about the whole thing after I took a photo of one of the crosses.  The church was dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and this church was built on the site of Venus, the goddess of fertility.  I wondered if there was something deeper at work—even deeper than the intentions of those medieval builders. 

The worship of Venus that took …

That Beautiful Moment When Your Faith Comes To Life

We recently visited the island country of Malta which is south of Italy and just north of Tunisia.  Malta is a beautiful country, with a rich history.Wherever we went, we encountered one of the over 300 churches that were dotted throughout the island, many of them large, ornate buildings.  
One of those churches, which I’d visited on a previous trip to Malta is Shipwreck Cathedral—a church built on the traditional site where (as the book of Act relates) the Apostle Paul washed ashore with the passengers and crew of a ship, which crashed into rocks just off Malta’s coast.  
Paul told everyone on board the ship to not be afraid, that God would not allow anyone to lose their life in the wreck, and his prediction came true, of course.  The Maltese people welcomed the survivors and gave them food and supplies.  
As Paul was gathering wood for a fire, a poisonous snake bit him on the hand and refused to let go.  He had to shake the snake off into the fire.  Everyone expected Paul to be dead by…

Crazy-Awesome Peace

I've been doing a bit of worrying lately.  I know, I know... pastors shouldn't worry about things.  The sad fact is, even though I am probably considered a "professional" Christian, I am actually more of an amateur when it comes to most of it.  

Take the worrying, for example.  I have known what it's like to feel perfect peace about a decision I've made, a problem that is before me, a crisis that I have to face.  I know that feeling, and it's amazing.  But sometimes in the midst of dealing with decisions, problems and crises, I find myself having a hard time connecting with that feeling of peace.  

And most of the time the reason why I struggle to connect with that feeling of peace (one that should be familiar) is because I am trying too hard to control the outcomes.  When I struggle with God over control of my life, when I am trying to hard to wrestle the wheel away from Jesus... that's when things can go very, very wrong. 

Sometimes, I even start to wo…

Turn or Burn & Other Niceties

In his great book The Jesus Centered Life, author Rick Lawrence was writing about some of the popular misconceptions that so many people have about Jesus and what Jesus desires from his followers.  One of them struck me pretty hard.  

Lawrence wrote, "Jesus told us not to focus our energies on fighting sin but instead to do everything we can to encourage good growth.  He is less interested in what we are against, and more interested in what we are for." 
I got to thinking about what Lawrence wrote, and decided to do a bit of research on my own on the power of positive vs. negative reinforcement.  Every psychological journal that I found on the topic all came back to the same notion:  
Positive reinforcement is much more effective in changing behavior than negative reinforcement.  And by much more, I mean so much more that it's not even funny.  
When I was serving as a youth director in Chicago, we took our junior high students on a mission trip to urban Nashville, TN.  Unbek…

Wrestling With God In The Dark

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord from Genesis chapter 32:22-31.  Jacob finds himself on the edge in more ways than one.  It's the edge of night in the hours just before dawn.  It's also the edge of a precipice Jacob had been avoiding for years.  

The brother he betrayed years before is pursuing him--perhaps to kill him and take revenge.  His family has gone on before him, and Jacob decides to stay behind and in the dark finds himself wrestling with a divine being.  The wrestling match goes on all night until the morning when the angel demands that Jacob let him go. 

"I am not letting go until you bless me," Jacob cries out.  "I'm not letting go until you bless me."  All of his life Jacob had felt like a fraud.  He'd done underhanded things, betrayed family members, acted in his own self-interests, and somehow managed to amass a fortune in the process.  

But all he wanted, in the end was …

The Backside of God's Glory

"There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever."
- Revelation 22:5

"No one looks for stars when the sun's out..."  
- Rumi 

I have these moments where I long for the presence of God in my life so deeply that it's hard to breathe.  I know that sounds kind of odd, but it's true.  I want to know more, to feel more, to understand more of God more and more all of the time.  

I catch myself wishing that there was a rift between whatever dimension we happen to be living in at the moment and the one where God exists in God's fullness.  I just want a glimpse, just a glimpse of what it must be like there.  

Heaven, at least in my humble opinion, isn't somewhere up there.  Heaven is just on the other side of here.  God is all around us, in us and through us, but we struggle to experience God because of the limitations of our sight.  

But jus…

How Can Not Believing in God Help People Know God?

In his international bestseller, The God Delusion, renowned atheist Richard Dawkins writes, "We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in.  Some of us just go one god further."  

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to read some of Dawkins' works, as well as the works of other popular contemporary atheist authors like Sam Harris, Stephen Hawking, and the late Christopher Hitchens.  

I have to say that I don't disagree with them completely when the offer severe critiques of the ways religion has caused so many problems in our world.  Case in point: All of the upheaval in the Middle East, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the exploitation of women in children in fundamentalist Mormonism, and so on.  

They also raise serious questions about a God who condemns, rages, espouses violence, and directs His followers to judge others, act with intolerance and generally walk around angry and combative. 

And here's where I am about to s…

Football Jerseys & Showing Jesus

Football season has begun, and I feel like I can watch ESPN again.  No more boring stories about basketball, hockey and (yawn) soccer.  I am still hanging with baseball because the Cubs are winning and it's almost October.  

But it's football season, which brings a tremendous amount of joy to the people in my house, and it also means I can wear my team gear as much as possible.  I'm well into the double digits when it comes to football jerseys, and I've got more than my fair share of other kinds of team wear.  
My whole family gets in on this.  

I sent my six year-old to school today in his Peyton Manning football jersey.  My middle son Jackson has about three or four jerseys for both the Broncos and Seminoles, and my oldest boy has a few here and there that he wears to anger his friends who are Carolina Panther fans.  
Oh, and I bought Merideth two Broncos jerseys, too (but they're kind of small, and kind of sexy so she only wears them 'at home').  
The other d…

Go In The Strength That You Have

There is this story in the book of Judges in the Old Testament about Jewish hero named Gideon, who defeated thousands of soldiers from a rival tribe with only three hundred Hebrew warriors.  

But before Gideon was a great hero, he was just a guy--a guy keeping his head down, trying to make ends meet and desperately afraid of having his grain and goods raided by members of the aforementioned rival tribe.  

In the story, an angel from the Lord appeared to Gideon and exclaimed, "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior."  To which Gideon replies, "Beg your pardon, but it sure doesn't look or feel like the Lord is with us.  I mean look around you, we're all afraid, we're uncertain, things are bad.  How could the Lord be with us when things are so bad?"  

I love this.  The guy has an angel appear to him and tell him that he's favored by God and he argues with the angel.  But how different is that from the way that so many of us act?  

Have you ever had one of th…

Parenting: God's Way

Last week I had a rare opportunity.  I got the chance to take a photo of my 21 year-old son in the exact same spot, in the cloisters of the exact cathedral in the town of Cirencester, England where he stood eight years ago when he was barely 13 years old.

Back then he was transfixed by the location because it was used in a scene from one of the first Harry Potter movies.   When he remembered where he was, I caught a glimpse of that 13 year-old boy in his eyes once again.  The fact is, nine years ago, he was a boy, but all of that has changed.  When I looked that the photo I took the other day I was reminded once again that he was a man.  

He's been through a lot since that first photo was taken--grown up right in front me.  And I've changed some, too.  I guess you could say that I've grown up some as well.  

All of those years ago, when we were in England I wrote about what it felt like to watch him grow up and to realize that he would one day leave home to go on his own jour…

Eric Clapton & Lessons in Evangelism

I almost met legendary guitarist and rock icon Eric Clapton last week.  I say "almost" because I didn't have the guts to approach him and say hello to him.  He was sitting in front of us on a Saturday night showing the musical "Charlie and The Chocolate Factory" in London.  

It took me a few moments, but I finally decided that I was almost 100% sure it was Eric Clapton.  But I still didn't want to say anything to him.  My wife Merideth did, however.  She walked over to him, leaned down and asked, "Does anyone ever tell you that you look just like Eric Clapton?"  To which Eric Clapton answered, "All of the time," and then he added, "but I don't pay it any mind."  

We did, in fact confirm through the venue staff that the guy I was almost 100% sure was Eric Clapton was, in fact, really Eric Clapton.  I walked behind him as we exited the theater, resisting the urge to reach out and touch his jean jacket in a creepy way.  He kept …

The Space For Grace Between Faith and Doubt

My friend Mike McHargue has written a book about his journey from being a born-again, Bible-believing, Baptist deacon to a doubt-filled atheist, who then became a sold-out, committed Jesus-follower.  It's a book about losing faith and finding it again through science.  It's also a book about how God never stops pursuing us.  

I was there when Mike first revealed publicly to a room full of pastors and pastor-types that he was an atheist, who also happened to be a deacon in his Baptist church where he also happened to teach Sunday school.  He thought he would be reviled in that room, or at the very least that we would spend a bunch of energy trying to convince him that "God is not dead."  

Instead, we embraced him and affirmed him in his journey.  We shared with him that we all had doubts, we all had questions and that many of us knew exactly what it was like to sit where he was sitting.  That grace was unexpected for Mike, and it opened some doors in his heart that even…

30 Days To Live - Week 2: Eternal Perspectives

This week we are concluding a short two-part sermon series entitled 30 Days To Live.  The basic premise behind this series is to come face-to-face with what it means to live a full and purposeful life.  The fact that we couched it in kind of morbid terms doesn't mean it's meant to be depressing, however. 

I am sure that some of you came in here today kind of dreading what we were going to talk about.  I hope that if you were here last week, though, that you would kind of give those who weren't an encouraging nod.  Let them know that it's all right.  They need to be filled with confidence that they won't walk out of here feeling blue.  

BUT... we do want to wrestle with a fairly serious question.  What WOULD you do if you were told you only had 30 days to live?  Would you live with more intensity?  Would you be intentional with every moment that you had?  Of course you would.  

So why is it that we are so afraid to live like we are dying?  We know that we are all going…