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The Way Of The Cross - Week 5: "Invite"

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This week I'll be concluding the sermon series "The Way of The Cross: Following Christ On the Lenten Path."   

Each week we'll be exploring one of the core values of our church as a Lenten practice, a spiritual discipline that we can take up --both as individuals and as a community.  Our core values are: Worship, Connect, Grow, Serve and Invite.  

Today we'll be talking about what it means to Invite.  

When I was in seventh grade I used to go out with my youth group doing "door-to-door witnessing."  In case you are wondering what "door-to-door" witnessing is all about, think Jehovah's Witnesses, or Mormon missionaries... kind of like that. 

I would be required to dress up for these occasions.  I would wear a short sleeved dress shirt, a garish clip on tie and would fix my hair with Brylcreme.  Brylcreme, for those of you have no idea what is was a kind of pomade that made your hair look slick and shiny.  

Some might call that greasy.  Tomayto..…

Discovering Jesus In Our Pain & Suffering

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I've had more than one opportunity lately to offer advice and guidance to friends and family, who are going through difficult seasons.  Some have lost loved ones, others are going through health crisis, and still others are dealing with doubts and fears.  

What advice I have to give, I’ve shared.  When guidance was needed, I’ve done my best to give it.  But in the end, nothing I can say will completely heal the wounds that come from loss, pain and suffering.  

There's no way around suffering and struggle, sadly.  When it comes, you can't avoid it, you just have to journey through it.  

The great playwright Tennessee Williams once wrote, "Don't look forward to the day you stop suffering, because when it comes you'll know you're dead."  

At this point, you're probably saying to yourself, "Leon is cranking out some uplifting stuff today!  Keep that positivity coming, brother."  I hear you, but stick with me.    

Through the low moments, the vall…

Seventy Times Seven

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This week I've been dealing with a difficult person.  

For the record, they aren't a church person, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with church.  I'm having to deal with them over some personal business, and they are making things harder than they need to be.      

Dealing with difficult people is not my favorite pastime.  It's probably not yours either. 

The French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre once quipped, "Hell is other people."  Sometimes I totally get that.  Being connected to negative, needlessly obstinate and nasty people can suck the life right out of you... and it can feel pretty hellish.  

It's easy to begin to see the difficult people in our life as caricatures as mere instruments of negativity and maybe even evil.  When we see them through the lens of our own self-interest, it's easy to demonize and dismiss them outright. 

But Jesus teaches us by his example another way.  Jesus taught his followers to practice radical forgiveness.  Check ou…

Heaven Isn't Too Far Away

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My wife and I flew to Chicago yesterday to surprise our good friend on the occasion of her fiftieth birthday.  It was one of those moments when everyone actually kept the secret and she was completely surprised when we showed up at her work.

Last night we went out to an incredible French restaurant for one of the most memorable meals I've had in a very long time.  We had perfect seats, great food and drinks, and the conversation was full of joy.  

As I sat there taking it all in, I was overwhelmed by a thought that filled my heart near-to-bursting.  "This feels eternal." And by "eternal" I think I meant heavenly.  It felt like heaven to eat and laugh and drink with friends--pushing back our busyness, connecting, listening, enjoying the energy between us.  

My thoughts about heaven aren't the same ones I was handed when I was a kid. When I was a kid I thought that heaven was a sparkling, shiny, but sterile kind of place.  

When I was told about heaven's stre…

God Is Still Speaking

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When I was a kid I used to wish that God would speak to me in an audible voice.  I remember praying really hard that God would just speak out loud to me so I could know for sure that God was there.  But all I got was silence.

I'd grown up reading all of those stories in the Bible about how God spoke to people and people spoke right back to God.  The Christians in my faith tradition back then would explain away God's silence with simple, glib answers. 

"The time for signs and wonders has gone," they would say.  "God doesn't speak in an audible voice any more---only in very special occasions and only to really, really holy people."

Or they would say, "If you want to hear God speak, then read your Bible."  Or "You can hear God's voice in your heart when you pray."  The implication in those kind of statements was, "You'd best get to reading and praying, bucko, because you're obviously not one of the really, really holy peop…

In The Flesh

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I've been thinking a lot lately during this season of Lent about one of the most important (in my opinion) of all our Christian beliefs: the belief that through Jesus Christ, God became one of us.  

This belief is known as the Incarnation, a word with Latin roots that essentially means "in the flesh."

The Incarnation is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith.  To say that Jesus was both fully human and fully God isn't something that should just trip off the tongue lightly. But it also is perhaps one of the most deeply transformative beliefs that Christians can offer to the world.  

Think about it.  Because of Jesus, God intimately knows what it is like to be us.  God knows what it's like to mourn, to hunger and thirst, to feel frail, suffer loss and even to experience the seeming absence of God.  

In other words, there is nothing that you could experience or endure that God has not already felt.  God gets it.  Which means any attempt to water down or domes…

The Way of the Cross - Week 4: "Serve"

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This week I'll be continuing the sermon series "The Way of The Cross: Following Christ On the Lenten Path."   

Each week we'll be exploring one of the core values of our church as a Lenten practice, a spiritual discipline that we can take up --both as individuals and as a community.  Our core values are: Worship, Connect, Grow, Serve and Invite.  


Today we'll be talking about what it means to Serve.  

I have a really big question that I think needs to be asked and answered before we go any further:  

If we cease to exist tomorrow--who would miss us?  Seriously, if we shuttered this whole thing and locked the doors forever tomorrow morning, would anyone in our community miss us?  

Or would they say---"Man, I really hope they put an Alamo Drafthouse there?"   

A couple of years ago, I was asked to moderate an elder meeting for a small, dying congregation in a neighboring town.  Their worship attendance had dropped down to less than fifty a Sunday, and over half…

This Sacred Moment

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It's a long, slow, slough through these days leading up to Resurrection Sunday, and I often find myself wishing for it all to be over--wanting to rush through it all to get to Easter morning and cries of "He is risen!"  

It's tempting to wish your life away when you feel strongly that on the other side of whatever is happening in the moment is something greater, bigger and more extraordinary than your ordinary now.  

Just then, as I wrote that last line a song by the country group Alabama went through my head:  

I'm in a hurry to get things done
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun
All I really gotta do is live and die

But I'm in a hurry and don't know why.

I'm not sure that I completely agree with the notion that all I "gotta do is live and die," but there's a lot of truth in that little chorus.  When we get in a hurry to rush through to the next big thing, we can easily lose sight of the extraordinary in the ordinary.  

In one of my Lent…

A Hard And Welcome Relief

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I've been spending a lot of time during this season of Lent asking for forgiveness.  

In all of the busyness of moving, working and managing life, I've found myself experiencing the anger and frustration that often comes from stress--both real and imagined.   

You see, when you get busy it's easy to narrow the margins in your life, and, when your margins for error get narrowed, it's easy to get stressed. And when you get stressed it's way too easy to take it out on the people closest to you.  

I've had to plead forgiveness  over the past couple of weeks from my son for barking at him when we were running late to school.  I've had to do the same from my wife for a number of neanderthal moves on my part that caused hurt and tension. 

It's a long list of things--all the ways I need forgiveness.  Maybe you've got one of those lists, too.  I think we probably all do.  

Lent is a good time to think and talk about repentance. It's a time when many of us nat…

Your Sole Purpose In Life

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Last night at my church's elder meeting we received into church membership a small group of students, who had just completed Confirmation.  As part of their confirmation process, they were asked to write their own faith statement, and then share it in small groups with elders and pastors at the meeting. 

I was blown away by the young middle school student who shared her faith journey with our particular cluster of elders.  She wrote something in her faith statement that has been resonating with me ever since.  She said that her "sole purpose" in life was to be in relationship with God. 

She went on to share what that meant as a Jesus-follower, and how Jesus embodied the love of God for her.   But I have not been able to stop thinking about the words she chose to describe how important her relationship with God has to be--so important that it needed to be her "sole purpose."  

This young student has begun her journey of faith figuring out what so many Christians ne…

When We Confess OUR Sins

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In his book Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller relates a moment when he and some Christian friends conducted an experiment on their college campus in Portland, Oregon.  They set up a confessional/photo booth at a Renaissance fair, dressed as monks and invited people inside. 

But when the curious would step into the booth they soon discovered it wasn't there as an opportunity for them to confess their sins, it was an opportunity for Donald and his friend to confess all the ways that Christians and the Church had let people down, wounded others, ostracized various groups, or otherwise alienated people from the Gospel, rather than drawing them to it.  

The results were amazing.  Tony Kriz, one of the participants in the experiment later wrote this about it: 

Over the weekend dozens of students slipped in and then out of our booth, each surprised and expectant. Some stayed for just a photo 1-2 few minutes. Most lingered as long as half an hour. Without exception, each one offered us the gift …

Don't Speak

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I don't often suffer from writer's block, but today is one of those rare days when the words just don't seem to be flowing all that easily.  In fact, that last sentence was the first one I haven't  written and then deleted over the past half hour.  

You would think on the first day of Spring that I would have plenty to write about, but Spring has not sprung on my keyboard this morning.

Come to think of it, sometimes I suffer from "writer's block" when it comes to my prayer life, too.  I find myself not really knowing what to say to God.  I feel like there are words there to be said, but I can't seem to find them. 

There have been times when I've been too weary to search for words to pray. Or perhaps I've become a little peeved at God because of some trial or tribulation that I'm enduring. It might also come down to plain old-fashioned doubt.  I find myself wondering, "What's the point?  Is some prayer of mine really going to change a…

The Way of The Cross - Week 3: Grow

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This week I'll be continuing the sermon series "The Way of The Cross: Following Christ On the Lenten Path."   

Each week we'll be exploring one of the core values of our church as a Lenten practice, a spiritual discipline that we can take up --both as individuals and as a community.  Our core values are: Worship, Connect, Grow, Serve and Invite.  

Today we'll be talking about what it means to Grow.  

First, this isn't a sermon about how to attain numerical growth.  We do track our attendance figures, but our goal isn't to increase the size of the church.  If that happens, we rejoice, but it's not the be-all and end-all of why we do what we do.

While all of the core values that we're lifting up are part of what it means to follow Jesus more fully, Grow is the value, the discipline that is most closely connected to what we would describe as "discipleship."   "Disciple" is a word that means follower or imitator.  So what we are talkin…