Showing posts from December, 2016

What's Past Is Prologue

A year ago this week, Merideth and I were in Chicago visiting friends when we decided to make an offer on a new house.  We believed that this house was our "dream" home, and we both bought and renovated it, thinking that we were going to be living in Florida indefinitely.  I was also serving as the pastor of a wonderful church where I believed I would be serving for years to come.  

Fast forward a year...  As I write today's daily devotion, we are now living in Austin, Texas and are in the midst of negotiating the purchase of another dream home--complete with room for my parents to live with us, as well.  Additionally, I am already a month into what promises to be a long and fruitful season as pastor in a fantastic church in Austin.  

When I think of all of the things that transpired to get us to this point, it's overwhelming.  Shakespeare was right, "What's past is prologue."  Our family can definitely see the hand of God at work in the amazing and mirac…

The Jesus I Thought I Knew

The Jesus I thought I knew as a teenager was soft-spoken, sensitive, loving and kind--except when he encountered people who didn't believe in him.  The Jesus I learned about in youth group had no patience for unbelievers.  In fact, I was under the impression that when he encountered unbelievers, Jesus would often straight up tell them that they were going to hell.  

I wasn't aware at the time just how much the Jesus I thought I knew looked so very much like the pastors and youth leaders, who taught me.  When it did occur to me, I decided I didn't really want to follow them or their Jesus at all.  

Thankfully, many years later I not only discovered fresh images of Jesus that contradicted those angry, judgmental images, I also discovered that I really and truly wanted to follow him and dedicate my life to trying to live into his example.   

In the early days of my journey, I found that it's impossible to read the Gospels and come up with a neat portrait of Jesus that is eas…

A Modest Proposal For the New Year

In St. Patrick's cathedral in Dublin there is one particular memorial stone in the floor that stands out above all the others--a stone dedicated to Jonathan Swift.  Jonathan Swift was a 17th century author, essayist, political satirist and also a clergyman.

Swift is perhaps most famous for writing the satirical travelogue Gulliver's Travels. He also served as the Dean of St. Patrick's, where he is memorialized by the aforementioned stone, a stained glass window, statues and the like.  

When I stumbled upon his memorial stone during a visit to the cathedral a couple of years ago, I was elated to find a familiar name in the floor.  You see, all of the memorials that surrounded me, the altars, niches, paintings, statuary, marble slabs and the like were honoring people I'd never heard of before. 

In fact, MOST of the hundreds of memorials in the church were of people who'd been long forgotten--their names shuffled over and smoothed out by centuries of being walked on by t…

You Don't Have to Guess About God Anymore

I've been thinking a lot this week about the deeper meaning of Christmas.  What are we celebrating when we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the Prince of Peace?  What does it really mean that God entered into history?

As Christians we know how to talk a good game about the arrival of Jesus, and how it changed everything for everyone, but how many of us really internalize the truth of what theologians call the Incarnation (God taking on human form)?  

The Gospel of John declares:  

"The [Eternal Creative] Word [of God] became flesh (Jesus) and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen God's glory of the one and only [Son], who came from the Father, full of grace and truth... No one has ever seen God, but the one and only [Son], who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known."  

I don't think most of us really get what this means for us. 

Think about it.  What John is saying is we don't have to wonder what God is like.  We d…

So This Is Christmas

I was dead asleep this morning and somehow heard the sound of the trash truck laboring up my street.  In a moment I was wide awake, shocked by this one terrifying thought: I FORGOT TO PUT THE GARBAGE OUT!

I pulled on some pants and rushed out to the garage, followed by Merideth's sleepy, "What are you doing!!?"  I discovered to my dismay that I'd missed the trash truck by mere moments.  I decided to go ahead and put out the recycling and yard waste, and while I was in the middle of dragging everything out, the guys in the trash truck pulled up.  

"Put it on the other side of the street, so I can get it," the drive told me.  "We just went by your side." After I'd done just that, he emptied everything into his truck and waved out the window.  "Merry Christmas," he said as he drove off. 

"It really is still Christmas," I thought to myself.  "At least for another twelve days." 

I'm not taking my Christmas decorations …

An Odd Way To Save The World: Christmas Day

It's Christmas Day! And you made it to church!  

I am not sure, but I think that there is something somewhere in the rules about showing up for church on Christmas day.  I think you get to sin a little bit more this year.  So good on you.  

I remember Christmas Day when I was a kid was a pretty torturous affair. Before we could open all of the presents we had to make all the beds, eat breakfast and then wash all of the dishes.  It would be like 10AM before we hit the Christmas tree.  

I know, I know... what a tortured childhood, right?  Still, it did teach me patience to a certain extent.  I suppose.  

I'm not sure why I told you that story except that it's Christmas Day and that's my Christmas Day story. 

Did you know that this is the New Year for the Church?  Seriously.  In the official church calendar this is now the new year for the Church.  The journey to Easter begins today as we go through Christmastide, then Epiphany and then Lent.  I know.  That's some pretty n…

Jesus Is Coming, Look Busy

Years ago, I saw a bumper sticker on some wiseacre's car that read, "Jesus Is Coming, Look Busy."  This morning that bumper sticker came to mind again as I reflected on these closing days of Advent.  

As Christians we celebrate this season with an admittedly strange set of sensibilities.  We look forward to the coming of the Christ-child, even though we believe he has already arrived.  

We long for the world to be transformed and changed by the Prince of Peace, even though we believe (at least in our liturgies and prayers) that the transformation began two thousand years ago. 

And we often hear the words from Isaiah the prophet proclaimed this time of year, telling us:  

6 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and o…

What Were You Expecting? Christmas Eve 2016

Welcome everyone.  This is the place to be on Christmas Eve, clearly.  I want to welcome all those who are visiting tonight--those who have traveled from out of town, those who are coming home to celebrate with family... kids home from college...  

To all the children who are here, dying to find out what's under the tree or what's on the way tonight...  

And to those who aren't exactly church goers, who were dragged, coerced, bribed, guilt-tripped into coming to church tonight...  I have a special welcome for you because you are my people.  I know what it feels like, I've been there myself.  

There was a time when I didn't believe in God, and I believed in less in church and church-y stuff.  But once a year, I would find myself dragging in to church on Christmas Eve because my mom would make me feel guilty.  

I have to tell you that even during that time in my life when I was not feeling the whole Christian thing, when I was wounded by the church, when I had zero desir…

Embracing The Mystery

There's not that much information in the Scriptures about the birth of Jesus.  The Gospel of Mark doesn't have a birth narrative.  Matthew basically fast forwards to the story of the Magi.  John begins with a cosmic rush, prophetic language and the voice of John crying in the wilderness.  

It's  Luke that provides details of Jesus' birth, and it's to Luke's Gospel that we are drawn this time of year as we live in expectation of Christmas Eve and the coming celebration of the arrival of the Messiah.  

I read once that the first century Church didn't make much of the Nativity.  Early Christians lifted up Jesus' teachings, and celebrated the Resurrection with a great deal of joy, but it wasn't until much later in Church history that Christians began celebrating the birth of Jesus as an integral part of the life and worship of the Church. 

I get that.  It's a mysterious story.  Human beings crave particulars, but we don't get all that many in the N…

Your Advent Is Too Safe

In the book of Revelation chapter 12, John the Revelator has a crazy vision of a pregnant woman with clothes like the sun, and a seven-headed dragon with a huge tail that sweeps stars from the sky.  

Additionally, there's war in heaven and conflict on earth in this vision, which most scholars believe is the author's depiction of the effect of Jesus' birth on the cosmos. In other words, when Jesus was born, the whole universe shifted, the world was turned upside down, Evil was dealt a deadly blow. 

Not very Christmas-y, is it?

Our depictions of the birth of the Messiah, the Savior of Creation, the Redeemer of our Souls, the Prince of Peace are not quite as dramatic.  We've tamed it down just a tad with perfect nativity scenes, idyllic images, gentle, soothing songs of the season...  When in reality, the advent of the Christ is literally earth-shattering news. 

Philip Yancey writes, "Christmas was far more than the birth of a baby; it was an invasion, the decisive advan…

Don't Miss The Moment

The countdown to Christmas has narrowed to just a few days.  In our house there is a bit of a last minute scramble to get the last few gifts, and we are filled with anticipation of the arrival of our biggest boy, who will be flying in to Austin today.  

Last night we drove by a mall on our way to a Christmas party. The roads were choked with cars, and traffic going into and out of the mall parking lot was at a standstill.  

I thought of all of the drivers, tiredly waiting their turn and more than a few of them probably saying, "We just need to get through this... just get through these next few days... and then it will be all over."  

I also thought about the fact that it's in the middle of all of this busyness that the Christ-child arrives, silently and quietly---under the radar of the rich, the powerful, the busy and the world-weary, who long only for comfort and a return to the routine. 

In Psalm 80:3 all the people cry out to God, "Restore us, O God; make your face …

What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do

Evangelist E. Stanley Jones once told the story of a traveler who asked for directions to a certain destination.  He got his response from the local man he asked: "If you go on the way you are headed, it will be about 25,000 miles. But if you turn around, it will be about three."  

That story reminded me of pastor Andy Stanley's "Principle of the Path," which essentially states, "It's your direction, not your intention that determines your destination."  Regardless of your good intentions, if you are headed in the wrong direction you won't get to where you want to go.  

The difficult bit sometimes is figuring out which is the right path.  There are times when it is clearer than others, to be sure.  When choosing between self-destructive behavior or life-giving habits--the right way is not that hard to figure out, even though we often choose poorly, and find ourselves in need of repentance.  

But what about those moments when it's hard to know…

Living In Expectation - Week 3: "Everlasting Love"

Today I'm going to be continuing the sermon series that we started a few weeks ago, a sermon series for the season of Advent entitled "Living In Expectation."  The basic premise of this series is very simple:  We need to live in expectation of Jesus.  We need to live as though Jesus is present in our midst, even in the most uncertain of times. 

This is a series that I believe offers us the encouragement and inspiration we need as followers of Christ to share a word of hope to those in our culture who may need to desperately hear one right now.  

This week we are going to be exploring this simple idea, which I want you to hold on to long after you walk out the door today:  Living in Expectation of Jesus leads to everlasting love.  

Since the passage of Scripture we'll be digging into in just a bit is about a strange birth announcement--I thought I would share with you all the story of how my youngest son, Jacob was born.  For our family this is a story that helps us to c…

One Thing I Do Know

There is this great moment in the Gospel of John where Jesus restores the sight of a man who had been blind his whole life.  He heals the man on the Sabbath, and he does so in a strange way that has always puzzled me. 

The blind man's healing begins with a conversation among the disciples who ask Jesus, "Teacher, whose sin caused this man to be born blind--his own or his parents' sin?"  

The hidden argument behind this question was rooted in strict interpretations of the Law of Moses, which lifted up the notion that children were punished by God because of the sins of their parents and grandparents.  

Jesus quickly debunks the legalistic approach to faith that the disciples were wrestling with, and declares that the man was born blind "so that God's power could be shown in him."  

He then spits on the ground, makes some mud, smears it on the guy's eyes and tells him to go to a public pool and wash it off.  The guy goes and does what Jesus told him to do…

Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven, But Nobody Wants To Die

I have this friend who has been living with cancer for a decade.  He's in remission now, a brief respite from the dread disease that still lurks below the surface. The whole ordeal changed him--both inside and out.  

I read his Facebook posts now with a sense of wonder. He reflects on the world with a wisdom that I long to obtain.  His outlook on the world is one that is permeated with hope, and gravitates toward truth, beauty and goodness.  

I wish so badly that I could be like him--to see the world with eyes filled with wonder, to speak honestly and plainly about what needs to be made right in society, to bear witness to Jesus without pretense.  I want all these things, but without going through the trials and tribulations that shaped him, of course. 

A song by David Crowder just went through my head as I wrote that last line:  "Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die."  

In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius wrote, "This is the mark of perfection of ch…

How Faint The Whisper

I recently watched several videos made by people who are currently trapped in the city of Aleppo, Syria.  The government forces are even now moving closer to the rebel-held areas of the city, bombardments have been renewed, more destruction is imminent.  

Many of the people making the videos declared that they would probably be the last ones they would make.  "[Government forces] are executing people in the streets," one woman grimly declared.  Behind her you could make out the bombed out, burned out remains of what had once been a thriving city.  

When the innocent are wounded and killed... When war rages... When disaster strikes...  When in our own lives we experience loss, grief and pain...  The question that comes to our minds most often is simply, "Where is God?"  

I admit, sometimes it's harder for me to come up with comforting answers to that question--especially when I'm the one asking it.  However, I do take some small comfort in knowing that we'r…

I Am Not My Starbucks Cup

A couple of years ago, I was wandering around a mall holding my Starbucks Venti Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte.  I wandered into a store and one of the employees working there, called out to me.  "Leon!" he exclaimed.  "How've you been, man?  What's happening?  So good to see you, Leon."  

I was taken aback, and started searching my memory banks for any clue that might tell me who the guy was.  "I'm good, dude." I said slowly.  "How have things been with you?"

"Leon," the guy replied, "things have been so good, I can't even complain."  I finally broke down.  "Do I know you, dude?  How do you know who I am?"  He laughed and pointed at my Starbucks cup.  "It's on your cup, man."  Sure enough, there on the top of my cup was my name printed in large black letters by the barista just a few moments before.  

That guy taught me a valuable lesson, however.  For a few brief moments I thought of a bunc…