Showing posts from February, 2018

Where You Are Standing Matters

There's not much that's worse than being betrayed by a friend.  I've had my fair share of those experiences over the course of my life in ministry.  

Perhaps none of them hurt so much as the ones that take me completely by surprise--the friend that I defended from attack... the one I poured my life into... was loyal to... the one I would have never dreamed would stab me in the back.  

Those kinds of betrayals are like a kick in the stomach and can leave you questioning everything you thought about who you are.  

As I think now about how I've felt in those moments of betrayal, my thoughts turn to Jesus and what it must have been like for him to experience the betrayal, denial, and abandonment of his disciples--his friends.  

Scripture indicates that he knew this was going to happen.  He knew that they would flee, that one of them would betray him, that Peter would deny him.  He knew all this long before he experienced it, but I am sure that it wounded him to his very soul w…

Wake Up!

May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to all: "Watch!"
Mark 13:36-37

I'm living out of a hotel room for three days this week as I attend a training for lead pastors in Houston, TX.  The bed I slept on last night was a bit on the firm side, and so I tossed and turned a good bit--unable to really rest like I wanted.  
When my alarm blared this morning at 5 AM, I wasn't ready for it.  I also wasn't ready for the text I'd unwittingly received just a few minutes earlier. A friend was about to go into surgery and her family was texting to see if I would pray for her over the phone.  
Without any coffee on board, and shaking off the fog of the night before, I found words to say and prayed that her surgery would go well and that she and her family would have peace.  I felt like it probably wasn't my best work, but it came from my heart.  
A few minutes later I received a text from her--an emoji of a heart wrapped in yellow ribbon.  

Fan or Follower?

Several years ago, I read a book by Kyle Idleman entitled, Not a Fan: Becoming A Completely Committed Follower of Jesus.  I learned some valuable lessons from the book, but there were two things that impressed me so much, I find myself recalling them over and again. 

Here's the first thing I learned:  Jesus has a lot of fans, and not a lot of followers.

Lots of people who call themselves Christians don't actually live their lives in ways that resemble how Jesus lived his.  

They have what the great theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard referred to as "admiration" for Jesus, but don't seem to reflect Jesus' teachings in the things they say or the way they live their lives.  They are fans, but not followers.     

The second thing I learned is this:  I often live my life as though I am a fan of Jesus and not his follower.  

It's not easy to follow Jesus.  Jesus has a tendency to lead us to places and to people that make us uncomfortable.  To follow in Jesu…

Rescue Me: Week Two - "Revere"

It's the Second Sunday of the season of Lent, and we are journeying together after Jesus as he travels to Holy Week and the Cross.  

The thing is, when we step into the Lenten journey, it's easy to feel a bit lost.  It's one of the most difficult seasons of the year--a long wintry trudge that is sandwiched between the joys of Advent and the transforming moment of Easter. 

And let's face it, following in the footsteps of Jesus as he journeys to the Cross isn't exactly the most thrilling of propositions for most of us.  

What we need are guides to help us along the way, to inspire us to keep going and to give us direction when we feel lost and alone.  That's the focus of the sermon series we're beginning today--a series entitled, "Rescue Me."  

We'll be engaging with the lectionary Psalms that are part of our Lenten readings for each of the Sundays in Lent.  The Psalms are more than just poetry.  They are more than prayers.  The Psalms provide us wi…

Ten Thousand Truths

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder.  - Matthew 5:20

Jesus' words in Matthew chapter 5 are challenging to say the least.  

He tells the crowd gathered to hear him at the Sermon on the Mount that if they want to aspire to their true humanity, to be the people God dreams for them to be, it will mean living their lives far differently.  

Jesus essentially informs the crowd, "You think you are doing good because you are keeping the easy command not to kill someone, but what you don't realize is that your anger, your antipathy toward other people is releasing lethal energy into the world."  

In other words, in this new economy of the kingdom of God, holding resentment toward someone else is the same as assault with the intent to kill.  

"But what about the jerks in my life?" we ask.  "What about the idiots?"  "What about the …

Wait For It

One of the most challenging things that we face as we follow Jesus down the Lenten path is our fear of uncertainty, particularly as it relates to our future.  

Far too many of us spend too much of our present wrapped in shrouds of dread and anxiety over what we don't know about tomorrow.  

And we try to plan ahead, to make ourselves secure, to prepare for whatever might be headed our way, but even those tasks seem to bring with them their own unique sets of worries.  

You know you are in the midst of that kind of stress when you stare at your all-too full calendar and begin to despair at how busy you are, and how little margin you have if something unforeseen happens.  

Author Leo Buscaglia once wrote, "Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorry, it only saps today of its joy."  I feel like I need to have that quote posted on every computer screen, mirror and TV in my house.  

As we journey behind Jesus through this season of Lent, we are challenged to "walk by faith and not…

Does Your Inside Match Your Outside?

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a pastor and leader, who I'd long admired.  When I was younger, this person had played a distant, but pivotal role in my return to the Church and to faith, and I was thrilled when (after becoming an ordained minister) I was finally able to meet with him as a peer.

What I discovered, however, was that the person on the stage--the one I'd admired from afar--was far different than the man I was getting to know more personally.  The man I came to know was not at all what I had once imagined him to be.  He was cynical, arrogant and often boorish in his behavior.  

It was incredibly disappointing, but it also served as a valuable lesson I have returned to time and again:  It's what you do--not what you say or even believe to be true about yourself--that reveals who you really are. 

During this Lenten journey, I find myself thinking about that lesson anew, and asking myself some important questions:  "Do my actions r…

How To Live In Joy During Lent

The reason Lent is so long is that this path to the truth of oneself is long and snagged with thorns, and at the very end one stands alone before the broken body crowned with thorns upon the cross. 
- Edna Hong

As I was walking our dog the other morning, I caught what I imagined was the smell of flowers on the warm wind that was blowing.  In that moment, I had an intense longing for a change in seasons and the arrival of Spring. 

The intensity of that longing surprised me, and I began to wonder if there was something underneath it, something deeper that I wasn't fully acknowledging.  

A lot has changed in the past year.  

When I last entered into Lent, we hadn't yet had a full year of political and social strife--the kind of strife that divides and wounds us as a society.  There hadn't been devastating hurricanes, three horrific mass shootings and a host of other tragedies.  

My mom was still alive, and happy to be living with me and my family--all of us under one roof.  

And now…

How Can You Find Spiritual Maturity?

From time to time I have people ask me what they need to do in order to achieve spiritual maturity.  These kinds of questions always humble me, because I feel as though I haven't figured out my own spiritual journey enough to answer them well.  

But still, because I'm a pastor, the questions come, and I do my best to offer whatever wisdom I've picked up along the way.  

Lent seems to be a time of year when questions of spiritual maturity come up more often.  I think many of us think about spiritual matters more during "liminal" moments--the in-between seasons of our year.  

Many of us feel as though we are trudging through this wintry, grey, in-between journey from Epiphany to Easter with a serious degree of weariness.  We long for shortcuts to get us quickly to Resurrection.  

We don't want to engage in the work of trudging through this Lenten journey.  What we want is to experience spiritual highs, revelations that come to us like lightning and the peace that c…

Rescue Me - Week One: "Remember"

Today is the first Sunday of the season of Lent, the season that leads us to Holy Week and to Easter Sunday.  The word "Lent" is derived from the Latin word for "forty" and denotes the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Why forty?  Forty, according to some Biblical scholars is a number that is connected to trial, testing, trouble or hardship.  

In the Genesis account, God made it rain 40 days and 40 nights. Moses spent 40 years in the desert until he finally saw the burning bush.  The people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty hears.  Goliath taunted the people of Israel for 40 days until David killed him.  The list goes on and on.  

Jesus was tempted in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.  There was also 40 days between Jesus resurrection and ascension.  So it seems kind of natural considering all of this emphasis on the number 40 that there would be 40 days in a season where we are called to reflect on Jesus final weeks leading up to his dea…

When "Just As I Am" Isn't Enough

Ah! happy those whose hearts can break/And peace and pardon win!/How else but through a broken heart/May Lord Christ enter in? - Oscar Wilde
This morning I scrolled through the list of students and teachers who were gunned down two days ago at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.   

Seventeen more lives to add to the over 138 students, teachers and staff who have been killed in 239 school shootings since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in 2012.  

I believe that there's a time for inspirational words, and we need to speak them.  But there's also a time for transformative action. 

You see, sending our "thoughts and "prayers" can be generative and life-giving, but I think most of us settle for "thoughts and prayers" because the transformation that would lead us to action might cost us too much.  

It seems to me that those of us who claim to be Christians spend a lot of energy talking about how we want the world to change, but most of us a…

Why Give Up Anything For Lent?

I have this friend who told me once in confidence that he absolutely couldn't stand Lent.  "Why do you have to walk around all depressed and somber for forty days?" he asked me.  "We should be celebrating."  

Then he went on a diatribe about the phoniness of people who made such a big deal about giving up coffee for Lent, or social media, or chocolate.  I remember laughing nervously because I'd just decided to give up Facebook and a couple of other things for Lent. 

What I didn't articulate in that moment was the reason why I had decided to give up those things (not coffee) for Lent.  It wasn't that I was trying to act depressed or to garner attention as some holy fellow--far from it.  

The real reason was because I felt like I needed to let go of some of the stuff that was keeping me from being my best self, and was inhibiting my ability to fully follow Jesus.  

You see, I'd started to listen to the critical voices in my head---the ones that consta…

Learning To Truly Live During Lent

The Tempest, was the last of Shakespeare's plays written entirely by the Bard himself.  Toward the end of the play, the retiring magician Prospero speaks directly to audience in what is widely believed to be Shakespeare's own farewell address:  
Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.  (The Tempest, 4.1) As we step into the season of Lent today, we are reminded on this Ash Wednesday that we "are dust, and to dust we shall return."  

The reminder that death is an integral part of what it means to live is a thought few of us choose to entertain willingly.  We w…