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Showing posts from December, 2017

Daily Devos This Week

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Grace and Peace to all during this Season of Christmas!  

This week I'll be taking some time off from writing the Daily Devos as Merideth and I and our two youngest boys enjoy a brief break with friends. 

May your week be filled with the blessings of the season.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.

Just Tell The Story - Christmas Eve 2016

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Several years ago when I was in seminary I took a Preaching class.  

It wasn't a bad class as seminary Preaching classes go, but they did force us to read our sermons from a manuscript.  I told the professor then that I was not, nor would ever be the kind of preacher who read a sermon.  I thought that reading a sermon did violence to the art of sermonizing.  

I argued that we weren't delivering an academic paper (he disagreed) and then I went on to equate listening to preachers read their sermons with other exciting things like watching paint dry or grass grow.  When I was finished, he sort of looked at me in that condescending way that seminary professors look at you when you make broad, sweeping statements about what you will do once you get out of seminary, and told me that if I wanted a decent grade in his class that I would comply with his wishes.

So that was the first and last time I ever read my sermons.  

He was a good teacher, though, despite his insistence on treating th…

Miracles

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A couple of years ago, a video from the United Kingdom went viral during Advent.  The video was taken by the parents of a little girl who was deaf during a visit with Santa Claus.  

As the girl sat on Santa's lap, it didn't take long for him to notice that she could not hear.  And so he began to speak to her in sign language.  

Because of course Santa knows sign language--come on.  

I sat there watching through misty eyes as the little girl brightened and began to smile as she and Santa talked about what she wanted for Christmas.  

Just a video.  A moment in the midst of hundreds of thousands of other moments during this season of Advent, this season of expectation.  And the reason why this kind of moment gets shared and re-shared is because it's beautiful, amazing and surprising all at once.  

Some might call it... miraculous

We have been taught from an early age to expect miracles this time of year.  

But when they happen--when miracles actually happen... it's like we almos…

God So Loved

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"Why doesn't God love me?"  "Why does it feel like God has cursed me and my family?" "What kind of God would let that happen?"  "Where is God in the middle of all of this?" 

These are the kinds of questions I've had people ask me over the years, and there's no easy answer to any of them. What's worse is that these feelings of abandonment can be magnified during Advent and Christmas.  

This particular season of Advent has nearly come to an end.  But the waiting and anticipation that we've experienced has taught us something about living the Christian life:  It takes trust.  It takes patience.  It takes a particular measure of faith in the great big love story that God is writing.   

The Apostle Paul believed that through Jesus Christ God fully demonstrated his deep and abiding love for God's children.  He also believed that there is absolutely nothing we can do to be separated from that great love.  
38 For I am convinced that…

Advent Imagination

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My kids have an Advent calendar that counts down the days to Christmas.  Each day they uncover and position magnetic figures and symbols from the Nativity on to a board with the image of a stable.  

Over the past few years we've adopted the practice of ceremoniously uncovering the Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve and triumphantly placing him at the center of the scene.  

And every year in that moment we get the chance to re-emphasize to our kids that Light is shining in the darkness, and that, in spite of the hard things they hear and see in the world around them, the darkness doesn't get to win.  

I know my boys want to believe me when I tell them about the Light.  They aren't oblivious to the news of the world, and to sadness and death.  But they hold out hope for a better world with imagination and love.  

Children can carry hope in their hearts much more fiercely than the rest of us.  And they pay attention to the things that give them hope, and hold on to them tightly.  

Walter…

Joy-Bringer

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At the beginning of this Advent season, I strung lights all around the front of my house.  

I'm fairly certain that all told there's several thousand lights in and around my house and Christmas tree.  It's a Herculean task that always makes me wonder in the moment why I am doing so much.  

But when I turn on the lights each night, I know in an instant the reason why we went to so much trouble to make our house so festive:  It brings joy to my family, and to all who see it.  

We learn so much about God from these kinds of feelings--what I like to think are memories of the Divine imprinted into our DNA.  And the story of the gift of the Christ child evokes those joyful memories in all of us.  

Through Jesus, God shows us just how far he is willing to go to show His great love for us. Through Jesus, God reveals His true intentions, His true heart for all of Creation.  Through Jesus, God shows God's love for the world. 

The kind of love that prompted God to become one of us in …

Urgent

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My kids went off to school today slowly and unwillingly because they have already started considering Christmas, and our vacation that follows.  

The countdown has begun in earnest.  

As I sit here writing, I am getting one email notification after another from retailers and online purveyors of various goods and services.  They are telling me that this is the last day that I can guarantee delivery before Christmas. 

There's so much urgency in the air, isn't there?  The questions that hovers over all of us right now go something like this:  "Do you have all your gifts purchased?"  "Do you have everything you need for all of those parties?"  "Do you have the right things to wear for every event?"  

But the question that often gets overlooked in this week's frenzy of doing is the one that was asked by John the Baptist to the crowds he addressed in the first century---crowds who were waiting desperately for a Savior. 

"Are you ready for this?"…

Advent Conspiracy - Week 3: "Spend Less"

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Today is the Third Sunday of the season of Advent, and the third installment of our sermon series for the season of Advent--The Advent Conspiracy. 

The whole purpose of the Advent Conspiracy is to re-frame this time of year from a Christian perspective and to get people to stop buying into the consumerism that dominates the season.  When we do, we find that we are able to live more relationally and use our money to do something worthwhile--to help build the kingdom of God.  

Give More, Spend Less, Worship Fully and Love All.  


Let's learn today why it's important to Spend Less. 

Every year at Christmastime my family sacrifices a few Christmas ornaments in the name of progress---or carelessness, to be more precise.

When you have kids, these things happen.  Adults are pretty adept at smashing ornaments, but kids make it an Olympic sport.

Some time ago, in order to avoid Armageddon-like activity with our ornaments, we determined that the bottom portion of our Christmas tree needed to b…

Savior Song

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My littlest boy is excited.  

Yesterday we read that there were only "11 more sleeps" until Christmas.  

He ran through the house like a crazy person last night before it was time for bed.  From where I was downstairs at the time, it sounded like a herd of cattle being taken to market.  

Meanwhile, my middle son could be heard in his room practicing his trumpet as he prepared for the Christmas band concert at school tonight.  

There was a rhythm to all the noise in the house--a song of sorts that seemed to be playing as we moved together through Advent.  

This song exists all around us all of the time, I'm learning.  The song of the Savior, singing in the ordinary, the mundane.  A song that can be heard in the sounds of life around us.  

However most of us miss this song because we are too busy, or too frazzled to hear anything more than our own jumbled and jaded thoughts.  We often miss hearing the Savior singing because our ears are filled with the noise of our troubled and …

River

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There's a phrase that often drifts in and out of my head during this particular week of Advent--a week when we reflect on what it means that Jesus brings peace to a world that seems far from peaceful.

Here is the phrase: "Peace Like A River." 

What does it even mean to have peace like a river?  And how do we find peace in this troubled world?  

Horatio Spafford wrote the great hymn "It Is Well With My Soul" in 1873 after losing all four of his daughters when the ship carrying them and his wife sank in the Atlantic ocean.  The first line of the song is, "When peace like a river, attendeth my way..."  

When I was a kid, I would sing the old song, "I've Got Peace Like a River" at the top of my lungs in Sunday school.  Little did I know that the song originated from African American slaves, who would sing it at the top of their lungs in the fields as they worked.  

Paul Simon wrote "Peace Like A River" during the turbulence of the 1960&…

Longing

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Novelist and poet Reynolds Price wrote that there is one thing above all others that all human beings long to hear: that the "Maker of all things loves and wants me." 

During this season of Advent we lean forward in expectation of Christmas and the coming of the Messiah, but for far too many of us lose the plot this time of year.  

We fill our Advent days with worry, hurry and razor thin margins in our schedules.  We wonder why we are so tired, and stretched.  

And the entire time, we feel this sense of longing---a desire for something more, something meaningful, something that will give us the kind of peace and hope that can only come with knowing just how loved and desired we are by God.  

An ancient Hebrew poet fashioned a prayer to describe that longing when he wrote:  
"Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?  Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation."So we rush headlong toward the moment when God entered into the wo…

Your True Self

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I read this quote from theologian Richard Rohor this morning and it got me thinking about my own Advent journey:   

We spend most of our lives projecting and protecting our small, separate self-image... [Our true self-image in Jesus] doesn’t come with feelings of success, others’ approval, awards, promotions, or wealth. In fact, others may think us foolish or crazy. And so we put off the death of our false self. We cling to our ego because it feels substantial and essential. - Richard Rohr

The path to discovering our true self is not one that we can sort of wander down aimlessly and comfortably until suddenly we find it.  It's quite the opposite, actually.  

And the idea of finding our true self through following Jesus sometimes clashes with our realities, and our own frailty and fears.  The Apostle Paul wrote about this conflict in his letter to the Romans:  "For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing." 

Then he writes this,…

Spinning

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Some Sundays at my church, when the worship music is particularly lively, there is a little girl who will pry herself loose from her parents, and make her way down to the front of our worship space where she'll begin to dance. 

She'll twirl and jump in time to the music, reveling in worship in a way that most of us would daydream of doing, but would never dare.  

The unexpectedness of her dance always brings smiles of joy from everyone who experiences it.  She is a leaping, spinning, joyful reminder of what it means to be a Jesus-centered community of faith.  

I've learned that when a church is at it's best is when it is able to hold on to it's traditions and expectations loosely enough to experience a new song, and to engage in a new way of dancing to the rhythms of the Spirit of Christ.  

During this season of Advent, those of us who claim to follow Jesus need to expect the unexpected.  We need to be ready to sing a new song, and dance a new dance.  The world is watc…

Snow

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It snowed in Texas yesterday--a real snow that came down in big wet flakes that actually stuck.  

I happened to be making a grocery run when it started to snow really hard.  As I made my way to the entrance to the store, everyone I encountered had a surprised and joyous look on their face.  

At one point in the evening my boys were having a snowball fight with the neighbor kids down the street.  I stood on the steps watching the snow fall and could hear them shrieking for joy.  

I've lived in places where it snowed more than once every few years.  But this particular little snowstorm in Texas ranks up there with the most memorable in my life--mostly because it was so surprising.  

This Advent season I have been reading through the book of Revelation from the New Testament. It's a difficult book to decipher with all of its first century references, and strange images.  

But what I love about Revelation is that in every moment when you think that the world is about to end, when every…

A Light We Can't Always See

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It is Advent, and we are waiting.  

We are waiting for things to change... for the world to be made right.  

We are waiting for healing, and restoration of our bodies and our spirits. 

We are waiting for the light to dawn.  

And sometimes it feels like the light will never come--that all we will ever know is darkness. 

Which is why I am so thankful for poets.  

I was listening to the new U2 album Songs of Experience and the song "There Is A Light."  

The lyrics spoke right into my waiting heart today: 
When all you've left is leavingAnd all you got is grievingAnd all you know is needing...There is a lightWe can't always see. One of my Advent readings today included this verse from an ancient Hebrew poet, who was waiting in darkness for the coming of the light of the Lord.  He wrote: 

"I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope."

There are moments when explanations, and theological ramblings about this doctrine or that simply won't do…

Hanging By A Thread

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I was reminded today in my daily reading about the story of Damocles from ancient Greek lore.  According to the story, Damocles, who was a courtier to King Dionysius, was running his mouth about how wonderfully easy it was to be the king.  

Dionysius then offered to switch places with Damocles for the day, which Damocles eagerly accepted.  The only caveat that Dionysius placed upon the arrangement was for a sword to be hung above Damocles head, held only be a single strand of a horse's tail.  

Damocles learned the lesson: being king is perilous, and you don't want to be caught doing something terrible when/if the sword falls upon you.  

There's another side to that lesson as well.  Sometimes we can live our lives in complete dread of God and God's holiness--as if the Sword of Damocles was hanging over our heads, ready to fall at any time.  

When this is our image of God, we often find ourselves acting out of obligation, guilt, duty or a combination of all three.  There is …

Enough

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For the next four weeks, we'll be reflecting on Advent in the daily devotions--extending the conversation from the sermons I'm preaching each week on how to: Give More, Spend Less, Worship Fully and Love All. 

This morning I came across a prayer that was attributed to St. Francis, and it spoke to me as I step further into this Advent season:   
Most High, Most glorious God, Enlighten the shadows of my heart. Grant me a right and true faith, A certain hope, and A perfect charity, feeling and understanding Of You. So that I may be able to accomplishYour holy and just commands. Amen. I don't know about you, but when I am waiting on God (like I seem to be right now during this season of expectation), I find that the "shadows of my heart" tend to tamper my sense of joy, and keep me from being expectant of God's abundance.  

This prayer is so perfect because it speaks simply of our need for God in the middle of our moments of struggle.  This is a prayer for faith that…

Stuff

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For the next four weeks, I'm going to be reflecting on the season of Advent in my daily devotions--extending the conversation from the sermons I'm preaching each week on how to: Give More, Spend Less, Worship Fully and Love All. 

On a trip that included a stop in Denmark, I bought an awesome watch made by the Danish company Skagen.  I loved that watch.  It looked cool on my wrist.  I felt like it made me look like a well-travelled, debonair man of the world.  

And then one day someone stole the watch out of my duffle bag at the gym.  I left it in a locker only for a few moments while I was showering, but that's all it took.  My cool Danish watch was gone forever.  I no longer felt debonair.  

We've all had those moments when we've lost our possessions or had them taken from us.  Sometimes it happens in epic fashion.  

I've had some recent conversations with people who lost everything in the floods that rose after the recent hurricanes in Texas.  While they were hea…

Advent Conspiracy - Week One: "Give More"

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Once when I  was strolling through the Walmart around Christmastime,  I saw a sign hanging from the ceiling.   "Save money. Live better."  

I have to say that I am encouraged to see that Walmart is so concerned for my welfare that it decided to run a campaign where I will be compelled to save money so that I will live better.

First, I have to say that I actually agree with the idea that saving money will result in better living.  

Second, and most importantly, the fact of the matter is that Walmart doesn't want me to save money.  It wants me to spend it...in the Walmart.  But if it can convince me that SPENDING money in the Walmart will actually SAVE me money and that I will live better as a result... man, that's something.

In the end, Americans will still spend nearly $600 billion on Christmas this year.  And most of that will be on credit.

One Christmas, a few years ago,  my oldest boy got over 50 Christmas presents.  FIFTY.  That year I went to like a hundred stores to…