Showing posts from January, 2017

It's The Climb

I rode my bike to work yesterday, fulfilling a vow I made before I moved to Austin, TX. 

So, roughly three months after arriving in Austin, and after a ton of research and trolling Craigslist for the right kind of "starter" bike, I pulled the trigger and bought an inexpensive bike to help me fulfill my vow.  

Yesterday was the first day I rode it to work.  As I pedaled away from my house, I felt incredible.  The sun was shining warmly on my face and a refreshingly cool breeze was blowing behind me, pushing me gently down the road.  

A little voice inside my head said, "You did it!  You actually pulled this off!  You're riding your bike to work, dude.  You're saving the earth, doing your part.  You, my friend are an eco-warrior!"  

Then I noticed something as I gathered speed out of my neighborhood.  The road I was on was mostly downhill.  Then the little voice inside my head chimed in with this little nugget: 

"Ummm, so this is great right now, but going ho…

For You Yourselves Were Foreigners

I've led four trips to the Holy Land over the last few years, and each time I have had the opportunity to visit Israel's moving and inspiring Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem.  

The name Yad Vasehem comes from the prophet Isaiah chapter 56:4-5.  The verse reads, "I will give them in My house and in My walls a yad veshem (a place to memorialize their deeds), and thus their name." 

One of the many things about Yad Vashem that wounds my spirit deeply is an exhibit of all of the countries of the world that either actively participated in the Holocaust, or who passively participated because of their general antipathy toward Jews.  

The United States is among the latter group of nations.  In fact, one of the darkest moments in U.S. History during the World War II era was the sad tale of the refugee ship, the St. Louis.  

The U.S. government refused to receive nearly 600 Jewish refugees from Germany, who were on the St. Louis, and who fled that country just prior to the Holocaust.�…

Foundations Week 5 - "The Call"

Today we are concluding the sermon series that we started on January 1st--a series entitled Foundations.  This idea at the heart of this series was simply this:  We need a strong foundation to take the first good step in the right direction for this new year.  

Each week we have come back to a very profound and shockingly simple truth that I learned long ago from Pastor Andy Stanley:  It's your direction not your intention that determines your destination.  

In other words, it doesn't matter how good your intentions are, if you step off in the wrong direction, chances are you won't end up where you wanted to go.  

In order to take that first good step, however, we need a strong foundation to ensure we are on good footing.  We've established that our foundation needs to have faith, trust, hope and today we're going to be talking about the foundation stone of love.  

What I want you know today--what I want you to walk out the door with and hold on to long after I am done…

God Is Always There First

When I was a kid, I thought God was in the past.  Or at the very least, I thought God sort of hung out in the past, and was always trying to pull people back into the past where God was.  

I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out.  The phrases I heard to describe God and God's actions were almost always in the past tense.  They went something like this:  God spoke. God created. God acted. God redeemed. God did.

Most of the Christians I was around in my formative years seemed to be totally fine with this idea.  In fact, most of them seemed to prefer the past to the present.  To them, the past was when everything was as it should have been.  The present was where the world was going to hell in a hand basket. 

I think there are a lot of Christians who unwittingly adopt the belief that if we could all just get back to the God of the past, then we would truly be ready to experience whatever God has in store for us in the future.  

During the time of Jesus, there was a large movement within …

When All You've Got Is A Tiny Bit Of Faith

When I was in seminary, I was required to take class in homiletics.  Homiletics is a fancy word for the art of preaching or composing sermons.  It was a forgettable season in my seminary career, but I still remember a couple things about the class.  

I remember that the professor generally always reeked of cigarettes because he would take a smoke break right before the class--even in the dead of winter.  I also remember that he told us never to use stories from our own lives as sermon illustrations. He considered this self-indulgent.  

The reason why I remember this lesson so well is because I decided there and then that it was a practice I had no interest in adopting.  

And so, whether I am writing or preaching, I talk about my brokenness as well as the moments when I feel whole.  I share the ways I feel the darkness of doubt, and I share the moments when I feel the pleasure of the Lord washing over me like grace-filled rays of sunlight.   

One of the passages in the Gospels that means s…

God Loves (Some) Facebook Videos

I was watching a video a friend of mine had shared on her Facebook page yesterday.  It was a compilation video of children and teens showing kindness and good sportsmanship to one another on the playing field. 

In one memorable moment, a high school softball player, who had been paralyzed from an accident, was carried around the bases by members of an opposing team so she could experience one last home run.  

My friend commented that she had tears streaming down her face when she watched the video.  I have to admit, I, too, felt a knot in my own throat as I watched. 

I got to thinking about all of the similar "feel-good" videos I've been seeing lately on other friends' Facebook pages---quite a lot of them actually.  I've often wondered about the popularity of these videos.  What makes us watch them, share them and cry over them?  

In the book of Genesis, the Creation account declares that God created humankind (both male and female) in the "image of God."  …

What To Do When You're Too Busy

It's a busy time in my life right now.  My calendar is full of meetings.  The to-do list at home and work keeps growing and doesn't seem to be shrinking.  So, to get an edge today, I set my alarm for 4:30 AM in order to get out of bed a half hour before my usual wake-up time of 5AM.  

And then it all slipped away.  A full fifteen minutes of that extra time was spent staring off into space and sipping a cup of coffee as I tried to shake the cobwebs out of my head. 
I don't even know what happened to the other fifteen.  I think I might have spent it trying to get my foot working again so I could walk to the other room without falling down.  

I know that there is a "season for everything," and a "time for every matter under heaven," as the book of Ecclesiastes states.  Even though "busy-ness" isn't included in the list that follows after that statement, I think that it sort of falls under the "every matter" category.  

And when I'm …

Live As Children Of Light And Love

The cable news channels I occasionally watch, and my social media feeds have had a busy week with the inauguration of a new President, and all of the protests and brouhaha that followed.

As I discovered this weekend, I have friends from all over the country who marched in protest on Saturday, but I also have plenty of friends who were not shy about expressing their opposition to the marches.   

Some days it's just too much to process--all of the anger, the outrage, the demonization of the "other."  It can wear you down, and bring out the worst in you.  

Try as I might, I often find myself falling into the trap of over-generalizing my view of people who disagree with me.  I also have to admit that I'm not all that loving and grace-filled toward them either.  

But those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus are called to a different kind of life.  This new life doesn't mean that we can't disagree, or protest when we feel that justice demands it.  It doesn'…

Your Feet Know The Way

This week I've been traveling some old paths as I have been driving all over the city of Chicago.  Essentially, four years of my life were spent here when I was going to seminary and serving as a youth director in Evanston, just north of the city.  

It's funny, but it doesn't take you long to remember those old paths when you return to a place you knew so well.  Without even noticing it, I began driving without my GPS yesterday as I went from one place to the other.  I just kind of knew where to go.  

I also began remembering little things from the past. A vivid memory of a walk in the park with my oldest son rushed back to me.  I saw the neighborhood where we took our kids trick-or-treating on a bitterly cold Halloween.  The park where my middle son crawled on a blanket when he was not yet a year old. 

Those memories, and the places where they were made are all a part of me, but I am different than I was then.  I've changed and grown.  I have new stories to tell and new …

Teach Your Children Well

I'm in Chicago this week to celebrate the wedding of our dear friends' daughter.  We came early to help with some of the preparations and to spend some time with them before festivities begin this weekend.  

As I was driving through the city with my youngest son, I began pointing out landmarks, showing him where his mother and I (along with his oldest brother) lived downtown.  

I showed him the park we used to frequent, where we got our Christmas trees every year, and as we drove I talked to him about our visits to Grant Park, Navy Pier, Lincoln Park Zoo, the hospital where his brother, our middle son was born. 

Through the rear view mirror, I could see his face was filled with the most thoughtful expression.  I realized he was processing the fact that there was a history of our family that he shared but had not experienced.  He didn't know exactly how, but Chicago was a part of him.  

As I watched my son, I thought about the way families pass these things down to children and…

She Is Worth More Than Diamonds (Way More)

Today is my wife Merideth's birthday, which ought to be a national holiday as far as I am concerned.  The other day someone told me that I had most assuredly and without any question married "up."  I couldn't agree more.  

Almost every single day I sit down to write these devotions, Merideth is either sitting across from me at our shared desk, or she's somewhere ready to read them, and offer her praise or her advice.  And the ones that didn't have a typo or a grammatical error... Well, Merideth most likely proofread those.

This will undoubtedly embarrass her. But this is her birthday, and other than our anniversary (which is in three days) it is one of the most important days of the year to me. So, I am going to share.  

In Proverbs 31 there is a description of a woman from the ancient Near East, "a good wife," who is "worth more than diamonds," according to the ancient text.  

This woman  demonstrates all of the finest qualities a woman in th…

God Wants A Bunch Of God-Wrestlers

Many years ago, I was leading a study at my church entitled Experiencing God.  There was a moment in the study when I invited the group to talk about times when they struggled to understand why God allowed suffering and pain. 

Most of the members shared their own stories--seasons of their life when they had more questions for God than answers.  But there was one couple who seemed perplexed by the exercise.  Finally, the man spoke up.  "We've never doubted God for a second," he said. His wife nodded in agreement.  "We always just assume that God knows what he's doing," she added. 

As we dug deeper, I soon realized that their dogged belief really stemmed from something that they had been taught when they were very young:  Never. Question. God. 

That sweet couple in my Bible study had a very simple image of God.  In their belief system, God's wider view affords God wisdom we'll never attain.  God is God, we are not.  The sooner you accept this, the better…

May The Redeemed Of The Lord Live Like It

One of the stories in the Gospels that has always captured my imagination is from John 8:1-11. In the passage, we find that some legalistic religious leaders brought to Jesus a woman, who had been caught in the act of adultery. A strict interpretation of Mosaic law meant that the woman should be executed by stoning.  
The purpose of these religious leaders was to discredit Jesus as a false teacher, who didn't uphold their religious laws.  The text later reveals that these guys already had stones in their hands, ready to throw at her.  Her verdict, as far as they were concerned, was decided.  

But Jesus offers a strange response.  He kneels down and begins drawing on the ground in front of these men, and then invites any of them "who is completely sinless" to throw the first stone at her.   

John's Gospel reveals that "one by one" they dropped their stones and left.  And then Jesus turns to her and asks her "Who is here to condemn you?"  She replies &…

Foundations Week 3: I'm Not Letting Go

Today we are going to be exploring the third of a five part sermon series for the month of January--a series we've entitled Foundations.  The basic idea behind this series is pretty simple:  We want to explore what we need in order to have the best foundation to step off in the right direction for 2017.  

As we learned the first week in this series, it's important to take a good first step in the right direction because--as Pastor Andy Stanley wrote in his fine book The Principle of The Path--"It's your direction, not your intention that determines your destination."  In other words, it doesn't matter how good your intentions are, if you step off in the wrong direction, you won't get where you want to go. 

The last two weeks we've learned some valuable lessons.  We learned that we need some solid foundations stones--faith and trust to be precise.  Today we're going to be focusing on the foundation stone of Hope. 

I want you to remember one thing toda…