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Showing posts from June, 2018

The Readiness Is All

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I read this quote the other day about "being ready" from Tim Fargo, a writer, and blogger. He wrote, "Opportunity doesn't make appointments, you have to be ready when it arrives." 

The fact of the matter is, most of us don't live our lives poised to take advantage of opportunities.  We don't live our lives ready to step boldly into the future. 

If we are being honest, most of us live our lives pretty much the same way every single day--the same patterns, the same roads, the same activities...  

And we do this because it feels comfortable.  There's typically not enough going on to bust us out of the inertia that we create out of a need for safety and security.  

But on occasion, we experience what storytellers call an "inciting incident"--something that shocks us, moves us, jars us loose.  Maybe it's a good thing like a promotion or a new love interest, or perhaps it's something not so good like a bad diagnosis or a tragedy.  

The questi…

Your Life's Road: Joyride or Joyless Commute?

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Among the many keepsakes of mine that my mom held on to for years was my very first driver's license.  It now resides in a drawer near my desk at home, and occasionally I'll catch a glimpse of it.  

I barely resemble the kid in that 33-year-old photo.  He had a defined chin and a nice thin neck.  He had a full head of hair, to boot.  

Honestly, I can't even remember what I was thinking when that photo was taken.  I do remember the feeling of freedom I felt when I took my parent's car out for my first solo drive later that day, though.  

Many years ago, I read this John Updike short story entitled "The Happiest I've Been."  At the end of the story, the young narrator finds himself driving away from his rural Pennsylvania home to the big city of Pittsburgh, where he's attending college.  The young man is filled with a sense of joy as he approaches the tunnels leading into the city.  

As he drives, the young man in Updike's story considers the "many…

The Backside of God's Glory

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"There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever." 
- Revelation 22:5

"No one looks for stars when the sun's out..."  
- Rumi 

I have these moments where I long for the presence of God in my life so deeply that it's hard to breathe.  I know that sounds kind of odd, but it's true.  I want to know more, to feel more, to understand more of God more and more all of the time.  

I catch myself wishing that there was a rift between whatever dimension we happen to be living in at the moment and the one where God exists in God's fullness.  I just want a glimpse, just a glimpse of what it must be like there.  

Heaven, at least in my humble opinion, isn't somewhere up there.  Heaven is just on the other side of here.  God is all around us, in us and through us, but we struggle to experience God because of the limitations of our sight.  

But jus…

Why Can't Our Story Go On Forever?

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This week, while we are in Florida, we reunited my youngest son with some of his buddies that he's known since he was two.  They all grew up together in an unorthodox preschool that was on an honest-to-goodness farm.  

The lady that ran the school no longer keeps kids, but this week she agreed to a week-long summer camp reunion.  To say that my boy has been excited about this is a gross understatement.  

As I was driving him there yesterday, I drove past the road that led to where my parents lived before they moved with us to Texas.  I had to fight off the urge to make the turn... to drive the familiar streets... to pull into that driveway... and to find my mom still there.  

Grief never really goes away completely, I'm learning.  It just finds a place in your heart where it lives quietly until those moments when you remember that there's an empty space in the world where the one you loved used to be.  

And then it noisily and painfully surfaces to remind you that you are stil…

God In The Wilderness

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Yesterday I met with a group from Florida that will be traveling with our group from Texas on the next pilgrimage to the Holy Land I'm leading in October.  My friend shared some of his photos from the two trips we've taken there together.  

We came to a series in the presentation that was taken in the Judean wilderness between Jericho and Jerusalem--including the traditional site where Jesus was "tempted" in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights after being baptized by John the Baptist.   

One of the ladies in the group remarked, "It really is a desert, isn't it?"  

My initial reaction was to chuckle a bit, and say to myself "Well, of course, it is!"  But I realized that for most of us there is a disconnection from the reality of the stories we read in the Bible and the way we imagine them.  

But we don't have to wonder about the realities of the wilderness in our own lives.  We know what it feels like to travel through the deserted seasons…

A Better Way To Share Your Faith

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In his book The Jesus Centered Life, author Rick Lawrence was writing about some of the popular misconceptions that so many people have about Jesus and what Jesus desires from his followers.  One of them struck me pretty hard: 
"Jesus told us not to focus our energies on fighting sin but instead to do everything we can to encourage good growth.  He is less interested in what we are against, and more interested in what we are for." I got to thinking about what Lawrence wrote, and decided to do a bit of research on my own on the power of positive vs. negative reinforcement.  

Every psychological journal that I found on the topic all came back to the same notion:  Positive reinforcement is much more effective in changing behavior than negative reinforcement.  And by much more, I mean so much more it's not even funny.  

When I was serving as a youth director in Chicago, we took our junior high students on a mission trip to urban Nashville, TN.  Unbeknownst to me, the organizati…

What Tim Taught Me About Compassion

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When I was in seventh grade there was this kid named Tim, who annoyed me.  Truth be told, Tim annoyed everyone.  

One day Tim and I got into a fight in class.  It wasn't much of a fight, honestly.  Tim said something insulting to me for like the fourth time that day, and I jumped out of my desk and tackled him. 

By the time the teacher pulled me off of him, I had been pounding on Tim's head pretty good.  We both got sent the principals office and we both got paddled, which still happened back in those days.  

I had to shake Tim's hand and act all buddy-buddy afterward, but when we were walking down the hall back to class I told him, "You keep mouthing off to me like that, and I'm going to kick your butt all over again."

Tim looked at me blankly and said, "If I get paddled at school, I get way worse when I get home. Way worse."  At that moment, for the first time since the beginning of the fracas, Tim began to cry. 

I remember feeling as low as I had ever…

Longing for Egypt

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I'll be taking some time off for the rest of this week and next.  Even though I'll be gone, I'll still be creating some new devos, but will also be re-running some from the past.  This is one from a couple of years ago that still speaks to me. 

When my family moved to Florida in 1982 we rented a small house not too far away from the church and Christian school where my dad would be serving as a schoolteacher.  

We had been filled with hope and excitement when we made the cross-country trek from Colorado to Central Florida.  My parents believed that God had been in the middle of their decision. 

But the house was small and hot--my room didn't have air conditioning.  One evening, as I was reading a book for school on my bed, a huge cockroach crawled across my chest.  I didn't sleep well that night, or for the next several.  

The house didn't have a washer or dryer either.  My mom and I had to carry our laundry to a dirty laundromat every week.  We were sufficiently p…

Wrestling

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A little over fourteen years ago from today, I was face down on the floor of a small Pentecostal church in Nashville, Tenessee having a crisis of faith.  

I was leading a youth mission trip that summer.  I had nearly completed my seminary degree and was about to begin the process of becoming an ordained minister, but I had come to believe I'd made a mistake.  

I just knew I wasn't cut out to be a pastor.  I wasn't good enough.  I had doubts about significant chunks of the Bible.  I struggled to love people.  I really didn't like church all that much.  And I had baggage--lots and lots of baggage.  

As I lay there on the floor, inhaling the musty smell of old carpet and dust, a story from the Bible came into my thoughts--a story from the book of Genesis where the patriarch Jacob wrestled with an angel in the middle of the night.  

Jacob had a lot of baggage, too.  He'd betrayed his family, broken covenants, lived his life on his own terms and always felt like he was less…

Wedding

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Yesterday evening I attended the sweet wedding of two beautiful and awesome people, who I've come to know and care for very much. 

After the ceremony, we all gathered for the reception while we waited for the wedding party to finish with their post-ceremony photos. 

Joy permeated the room.  Laughter was on everyone's lips.  Food tasted better.  The drinks were ambrosia.  The lights twinkled like stars.  All of it was imbued with meaning. 

No matter what was happening outside of that room, for the moment all we felt was joy and hope at the prospect of new beginnings.  For a few precious hours, we all stepped into eternity and simply reveled in it. 

I think most of us long to feel that eternal joy in every moment.  We long to know the kind of peace that comes from a hope that is secured through our trust in God's love and mercy. 

But we relegate most of our moments to "ordinary" status and resign ourselves to days spent feeling as though we're falling short of the p…

One Big Story - Week 3: "Woman On Fire"

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The Bible is One Big Story filled with heroes and villains, great adventures, epic battles, love stories and astonishing tales.  It’s also the story of a “once and future” King who picked the most unlikely people to help him share the story of God’s amazing love, and how far God was willing to go to save the world.

Today we are continuing our summer sermon series, One Big Story.  And what we're going to be learning over the course of this summer is one very simple fact:  "God can use you no matter what."

You might think that you aren't good enough to be used by God... You might think you're too old, too young, too busy, too messed up, too much of a sinner... but God doesn't care about that.  God loves you and wants to use you no matter what.

We'll be encountering some of the great characters in Scripture along the way---characters that undoubtedly dominated many a Sunday school class for some of us church-y types.


I'd like to think that this sermon series…

In Between

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The Truth must dazzle gradually, 
Or every man be blind--
          - Emily Dickinson 

I experienced an odd feeling today--one that I've had before, but have never really reflected on all that much at the time.  Today was different.   

I was sitting with my oldest and youngest son in a cafe while we were waiting for our lunch to arrive, and I had the strangest sense of the passing of time and the importance of the moment.  

My oldest boy is getting married in September, and presumably moving on to launch a new life with his new bride.  I wondered how many moments like that I would have--sitting at a table with my boys at this age, in this season of life.  

I decided that those moments could be counted on one hand.  I felt a strange sense of the importance of that realization.  It felt like the kind of wisdom that only comes when we are open and vulnerable and knowing that life is short, precious and always on the move.  

We are almost always living in liminal moments... in-between, thres…

Beauty Will Save The World

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"Beauty will save the world."- Dostoevsky - 
Today is my middle son's fourteenth birthday.  

A little over fifteen years ago, my wife and I shakingly made our way out of an OB/GYN office in downtown Chicago stunned with the news that the barely three-month-old baby inside her would live. 

A week earlier they'd told us the baby's heart rate indicated the pregnancy was unsustainable.    We were at the office that day because they fully expected to do a procedure following the miscarriage.  

Instead, we discovered that not only was he alive, but his heart was strong and vibrant.

I can still remember the way the cold and mist hit my face on that gloomy, cold December morning.  I could smell woodsmoke in the air from somewhere.  I found myself full of wonder at how the city lights provided a vibrant contrast to the grey sky.  

It was beautiful.  All of it was beautiful.  

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato believed that there were three concepts that constituted all the lon…

Right Here, Right Now

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There was this song we used to sing in the churches of my youth entitled "This World Is Not My Home." The lyrics went something like this: 
This world is not my home I'm just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.
When I was a kid, I sang this song with gusto along with all of the saints who gathered for Sunday worship.  We believed those words, too.  They weren't trite phrases that tripped of our tongues. 

We believed that "this world" wasn't our home.  Our home was some imagined glory where people just like us went when they died.  And because "this world" was so awful, we were supposed to say that we couldn't wait until we got to that "home" somewhere "beyond the blue."  

In light of the recent and very public suicides of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion icon Kate Spade... and the nea…

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 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 angry…

Shoulders

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When my boys were little, I would often put them on my shoulders to carry them high in the air, much to their delight. 

I'd hoist them on my shoulders if we were watching a parade, a concert, fireworks, or just wanted to do something fun.  I'm not sure if they remember those moments, but I hope that at some level they recall what it was like.  

This morning I read a verse that I've never really paid all that much attention to until now.  It is from the Hebrew Scriptures--the book of Deuteronomy in the Torah.  It reads:  
Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders - Deut 33:12I love this verse for so many reasons.  For starters, it's a beautiful image of a God who, like a father, loves to lift his children on his shoulders.  

Second, the fact that this image of God is lifted up in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) is so powerful and moving to me.  Far too many people have th…