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Showing posts from August, 2017

The Face of the Father

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On July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached what would become his most famous sermon: Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God.

Edwards must have had a particularly bad week leading up to that sermon because this is what he told his congregants: 

"The God that holds you over the pit of Hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath toward you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire."  

This image of God that Edwards painted would become perhaps the dominant image lifted up by Christians in America for centuries---one that still persists today.  

In fact, I have had more than a few difficult and painful conversations over the years with disillusioned Christians who can't get beyond the images of a seemingly angry, vengeful God that appear throughout the Bible.   

Sadly, far too many Christians, who lift up the image of an angry God, also seem to be pretty…

Returning to Egypt Isn't An Option

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There is a moment in the book of Exodus from the Hebrew Scriptures when the Hebrew people have only just escaped slavery in Egypt, and they discover to their utter dismay that they are being pursued.  

The story tells us that after allowing the Israelites to leave Egypt, Pharaoh (king of Egypt) repents of his decision to let his slave work force escape, and heads after them with his army.  

Immediately the Hebrew people start lamenting their circumstances.  

10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

All the Hebrew people could see right then was their present …

Forgiven

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In his excellent book Breathing Under Water, author Richard Rohrspeaks of our need to ask God to help us overcome our shortcomings.

The asking often comes at the end of a hard realization of what we've become, and who we have hurt.  

Far too many of us Christians think we can overcome our brokenness by sheer force of will, and then we will often grow angry at ourselves because of our inability to do so. Inevitably, our anger quickly turns to others who remind us of our own darkness.  

Rohr writes, "If you go after [sinfulness] with an angry stick, you will soon be left with just an angry stick--and the same faults at a deeper level of disguise and denial."  

I was listening to some music this morning, and one of the songs that came across my playlist was "Forgiven" by David Crowder.  If you have never heard of David Crowder, you should look him up.  And then you should buy some of his music---you'll thank me later. 

The song this morning really resonated with me…

Flood

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This morning as I was reading through my devotional books, I read from Psalm 93, which contains these words: 
The seas have lifted up, Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.As I read those words, I glanced down at the newspaper on my desk which had a photo of a woman being carried to safety through the floodwaters that had overwhelmed her home in Houston.  Hurricane Harvey did a number on my new home state this week.  

Thousands of people who live on Texas' coast are homeless today, millions are without power. In some areas of Houston there will be over four feet of rain by the time the storm finally moves northward.  

This week we have seen the waters of the sea lift up their pounding waves, the rivers overflow and the rain fall in historic amounts.  I am sure it feels like it will never stop for those who have been in the midst of it for these past several days.  

Some of you may not be facing a physical storm with wind and rain righ…

The Creed - Week Two: "In Jesus Christ His Only Son"

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I'm going to start today with a pretty pointed question.  

Who is Jesus?

Our culture is full of all kinds of descriptions and images of Jesus.  There have been 26 major motion pictures created about Jesus, according to IMDb, a film organization that keeps track of those kinds of things.  

There have been at least 3 successful Broadway musicals about Jesus, tens of thousands of books written about him... and then there's the artistic renderings.  

The fact that some of these people are taking themselves super seriously is pretty disconcerting isn't it?  

And then there are lots of images of Jesus--some of which defy the imagination.  

Or there's these quotes about Jesus from some famous people... 

"If Jesus Christ were to come today people would not even crucify him.  They would ask him to dinner, and hear what he has to say, and make fun of it."  ~Thomas Carlyle

So... Who is Jesus to you?  When you hear the name of Jesus, what are the words that come to mind?  I want…

Escaping Spiritual Ruts

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The past couple days my wife Merideth and I have been doing some pretty intense walking as part of an exercise regimen we're trying that fits our crazy-pants schedule.  

My oldest son has enjoyed making fun of the whole intense walking thing.  I get it.  I always made fun of people I saw who were power walking through the neighborhood. But now that I am one of them, I repent of everything I said. 

Merideth and I ended our 30 minutes and three miles of walking/jogging today covered in sweat, out of breath and feeling pretty righteous.  Plus, we did it together.  We're working to change some of our old, unhelpful habits and replace them with new ones. 

Changing old habits is hard.  

Inertia is a powerful de-motivator when it comes to  getting healthy---physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Once you find yourself in a rut--it's hard to come up with the energy or imagination to get out of it. 

Since most of my days are spent helping people figure out the spiritual side of their…

Bread or Stone?

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Today we're going to be continuing our conversation on prayer--the second of two questions on prayer that I feel are very important for those of us who struggle sometimes to understand prayer, how it works and whether it makes any difference. 

The question for today is, "How do I know if my prayers are appropriate?"  

At the heart of this question is an observation that is fairly obvious:  There is a difference between prayers for healing or for spiritual direction, or for peace in the world and prayers for a prime parking spot at the mall.  

I've heard the following statement more than a few times in my life, "All your requests matter to God, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem to you."

Honestly, I don't think God cares in the same way about all of the requests we might bring to God. There's no way that a first world problem like a parking space is on the same level as peace in the Middle East.  

The fact of the matter, however, is that…

Making Room For Prayer

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Over the past twenty years or so of ministry, I have fielded a lot of questions about prayer.  These questions have ranged from the simple ("How do I pray?") to the complex ("Why did God ignore my prayers?").  

For the next couple of days I am going to address a couple of the most frequent questions that I've received over the years:  "How do I pray more effectively?" and "How do I know my prayers are appropriate?"

First, let's address the notion of effective praying.  Jesus told his disciples the most effective way to pray was to do this: 

"When you pray, go into your room and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." - Matt 6:6

I've heard lots of teachings on this passage, and the interpretations of "go into your room" are wide and varied.  

Some people have said that what Jesus meant was to draw your prayer shawl over your…

Don't Sweat The Small Stuff

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Each day, my wife Merideth and I plot out our day, planning how we are going to be devoting our time and energy.  It never ceases to amaze us how few hours there are in a day as we plan how we will spend them.   

One of the things that we work hard to do each and every day is to ensure that we are spending time doing the most important things like spending time with family, eating together, doing life with friends, pouring ourselves into the good work that God has given us to do. 

Are we awesome at this?  Nope.  We trip and fall on a regular basis, and there are plenty of days when we get hijacked by the "tyranny of the urgent," and we find ourselves struggling to be at peace.  But what we've discovered is that when our intentions are to focus on the things that matter, more often than not we do.  

Several years ago, therapist Richard Carlson wrote the bestselling book, Don't Sweat The Small Stuff. In the book Carlson essentially argues that most of us spend almost all …

Village

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This morning Merideth and I got our two youngest boys out the door for the first day of school.  Our first-grader rode his bike to school this morning with two of his buddies (and a couple of dads, including Yours Truly).  Our eighth-grader (all dressed up) walked to school with two of his friends, who live on our street.

At our littlest boy's school, we ran into church members, preschool staff, friends from our neighborhood, and teachers we have come to love.  I'm sitting in a Starbucks now while Merideth visits with moms from our church--a drop-in event organized by one of our awesome church staffers.  

Later this morning we are driving to San Antonio to attend the swearing-in ceremony of one of our church members who is becoming a U.S. citizen.  I'm excited to see this ceremony, and I am super excited for our friend, and to be able to share this incredible milestone with her and her family. 

This is what it means for me to be a part of a church.  To do life with other peop…

The Creed - Week One: "I Believe..."

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A couple of years ago I had to take my middle son Jackson with me when I attended a presbytery meeting.  He was on summer break from school, and there was no one to watch him that day, so he had to tag along. 

I should explain what a presbytery meeting is to those who are uninitiated in the ways of Presbyterianism.  A presbytery is a gathering of representatives from a group of Presbyterian churches which are typically organized geographically.  These representatives usually gather on a quarterly basis to debate and vote on denominational issues and such...  

I literally almost fell asleep explaining that.  

So Jackson went with me to this meeting, and it was preceded by a worship service. 

To say that this worship was dry, lifeless and boring is an understatement.  The prepared prayers were too long.  The music was listless and dull.  There were readings, statements of things and more assorted stand up/sit down kind of stuff than was necessary.  

It was like the people organizing it gathe…

Dentist

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I am sitting in a pediatric dentist's office in Florida this morning.  My littlest boy had a dental emergency and they were able to squeeze him in for an appointment.  

I actually wish I could go to this dentist.  The waiting room is decorated like a theme park and the waiting room is loaded with video games.  There's also a Disney movie playing on a big screen TV in front of all these comfy seats.  

The group who works here knows what they are doing with kids.  They use the most state-of-the-art equipment, and have obviously studied how to minimize the negative feelings children have with going to the dentist's office.  

When I was a kid, my dentist was a no-nonsense guy with a sterile office and a waiting room stocked with decades old National Geographic and Reader's Digest magazines.  

Once the guy went against what nurse was telling him and brusquely injected the wrong side of my mouth with Novocain.  He eventually admitted his mistake, thankfully, but I walked out of …

A Eulogy

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Today I'll be attending the funeral of my wife Merideth's uncle, Senator Richard Langley.  

Senator Langley was a larger than life figure, in his beloved Lake County, Florida, but he made an indelible imprint on the entire state of Florida during his years of service in the Florida House of Representatives and the Senate. 

He lived his entire life to the fullest---wringing the most out of every single day, and leaving an incredible legacy to his children and grandchildren. 

He was also a man of faith, who spent a lifetime wrestling with Scripture, examining his beliefs and fully and completely placing his trust in God as he did his best to follow Jesus. 

Although he and I approached our faith from different perspectives, I know for a fact that he prayed for me and my ministry, and I will always be grateful for the gift of his prayers. 

The role that Senator Langley played in my wife Merideth's life, however, is the one that was most dear to me.  To her he was "Uncle Dick,&…

Reminder

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I was listening to NPR this morning and heard a story about an Uber driver in St. Petersburg, FL who saved a suicidal man's life.  

Chad Farley, an Uber driver from Gulfport, FL was about to call it a night when he felt a strong urge to accept one more fare.  He became alarmed when he realized the passenger had asked to be driven to the highest point of the Sunshine Skyway bridge, which is one of the top spots in Florida where people commit suicide.  

According to the Tampa Bay Times, "Farley chatted up the passenger, learned he had brain cancer, prayed with the man, held his hand — even snapped a photo of them smiling together before dropping him off at the rest stop to the north of the bridge." 

Farley immediately called 911.  Florida Highway Patrol officers responded, and ended up rescuing the man from drowning himself in the Gulf.  

When asked about the incident, Farley reported that it was by "divine appointment" that he encountered the young man that night.  …