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Showing posts from July, 2018

The Doorkeeper

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Years ago, when I was in seminary, I served as the youth director of a large suburban Chicago church (Evanston, to be exact).  

Because the church was located near a high crime area, it had a pretty stringent security process, which required someone to staff the front entrance and screen whoever was trying to enter.  

During the day, there was a paid staffer monitoring the entrance, but in the evenings it was zealously guarded by a particular volunteer.  This volunteer--I'll call him Bob--was an older man, with a not-so-convincing gruff demeanor.  Bob was a big guy, and even though he'd stooped some with age, he still set an imposing figure--albeit, one that was pretty soft around the edges.  

Bob's eyesight wasn't the best.  It took a couple of years before he could recognize me through the glass door well enough to let me in on those rare nights when I didn't have my keys with me.  He read his devotional books and his Bible every evening, using a huge magnifying gla…

If Grace Is An Ocean, We're All Sinking

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Almost two years ago, there was a fatal car accident in our town that shook us up.  A lady and her nine-year-old grand daughter were sitting at a stop light when a car driving the opposite direction, lost control and struck them.  The grandmother was killed instantly, and the little girl died later in the hospital.  

My wife texted me that morning with these words.  "[She was] just sitting there minding her own business... That quick one of us could be gone."  

I thought about her words all that morning, and about a conversation I had with one a church member about this haunting question that each one of us has asked more than once in our lives:  "Where is God when bad things happen?"  

I've written about this pretty extensively over my career,  but it bears repeating that I believe God is in the midst of our suffering, with us in the moments of pain, tragedy, and heartache--just as I believe God is with us in our moments of triumph, joy, happiness and success.  

I…

If You Were the Last Person On Earth

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Earlier this year, the UK Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a Minister for Loneliness to address what she has referred to as “the sad reality of modern life” for many people.

Recently, I read an article online about how there are more people walking around with anxiety and depression than at any other time in history. 

The percentage of teens and pre-teens that struggle with body image and self-esteem issues continues to rise--up 6% from last year and nearly 10% from two years ago. 

As I was pondering all of this today, I started reflecting on how Christians often struggle to respond to these kinds of issues, and the negative effect our struggles to respond have had on our overall witness as Jesus followers. 

What I've come to believe is that far too many Christians have defined their understanding of God's redeeming story in negative terms.  They can't get beyond the belief that God is inherently angry, and people are inherently awful, and their responses to the real probl…

No More Buts

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Sometimes when I am counseling someone who is having a hard time seeing beyond their struggle at the moment, I will ask them to describe what it would look like if they were able to get everything they wanted.  

I'll say, "Tell me what it would look like if you got what you wanted out of your relationship."  Or I'll ask them, "Can you describe what your ideal future would look like?"  

My only goal is to get them to focus--even for a moment--on a hope-filled tomorrow, and then to reframe where they are now with this new vision.  

I want them to begin to see their current circumstances with fresh eyes and to realize that God will meet them right where they are in order to lead them where God wants them to go.  

Nine times out of ten the person will get a faraway look in their eyes.  They will first ponder my suggestion and then relate to me what their future could be if they were able to overcome their challenges, fight through their struggles and get to the oth…

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

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I was reading today about an interesting aspect of human development that resonated with me on a spiritual level, so I thought I'd share. 
When we are very small, we want to have a measure of independence from our parents or guardians. We want to stretch the limits of how far away we will wander from them in a crowd, at a park, or a store, but we don't actually want to be too far away.  

As children, we want what is called object constancy, which is to say that we want to maintain our connection with our parent or guardian even as we wander a bit.  When we can still see them, or know that they are there--we feel safe. 

This is why children will often rush back and forth from playing on a playground to the patient parent, who is sitting nearby on a bench.  They just want to be reassured the parent is still there before returning to play. 

There is a lesson here for those of us who struggle sometimes to know that God is with us in our struggles and wandering: God is always near to u…

All Will Be Well

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Today, I am remembering an evening from a few years ago when I found myself stranded on a broken-down boat in the middle of a lake with my wife and two youngest sons.  

We were a good four hundred yards from shore at the time, and darkness was approaching.  We tried calling for an emergency tow and were informed by the towing company that it would cost us over $700.  

At that point, I felt like I had no choice.  So, I stripped off my t-shirt, grabbed the tow line and jumped into the lake.  For the next hour, I swam toward shore, pulling the boat behind me while the sky grew darker and darker.  We finally made it to shore--landing at the first wooden dock that was unoccupied, where I collapsed in exhaustion.  

Two things happened at that moment.  First, my wife peered over the side of the boat at me, and said: "My hero!"  I have to admit, that felt pretty good.  If I accomplish nothing else in life, it would be enough to be her hero.    

Then I heard a little voice in my head tel…

Does God Hear You?

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Our words are feathers that fly on our breath. Let them go in a holy direction. - Jeanne Lohmann

My littlest boy Jacob has basically been an only child for the past week.  Both of his older brothers are gone for the moment--one on a mission trip, and the other attending a wedding out of state.  

I've noticed that when his brothers aren't around, Jacob wants to talk more and share more about what he's thinking.  This translates into some fairly diverse conversations about things that happened at his day camp, a new video game he loves to play, Minecraft and much more. 

I've also noticed a bit of a pattern with him.  Jacob will chatter away for a while, and then will pause to make sure that I'm listening.  I completely understand why he does it.  He wants to know that I care about what he cares about to some extent, but deeper still he wants to know that I care about him.

We all have the same longings when it comes to our conversations with others.  We want to be heard w…

One Big Story - Week 8: "You Can Run But You Can't Hide (From God)"

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Did you know that the Bible is One Big Story of God’s love for people who don’t always feel like they deserve God’s love?  It's true--it's the best kind of story, to be honest.

And God has a way of always picking the wrong kinds of people to do what God needs doing.  People who think they aren't good enough, people who the rest of the world thinks aren't good enough--heck, people who really aren't good enough... that's who God seems to love to pick to write God's One Big Story.

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 c…

The Road Less Traveled

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When I was in my late teens and early twenties I was part of a subculture of mostly young men my own age who were referred to back then as a "metalheads."  

We all listened to hard rock or "heavy metal" music almost exclusively.  We all attended the same heavy metal concerts and generally, all wore the same kinds of jeans, shoes and black concert t-shirts when we did. 

We all thought we were such unique individuals.  

You see, we lived under the illusion that we were special even though we did everything we could to fit into a group with which we longed to be associated.  

Most of us live with these kinds of illusions every single day in a culture that is constantly creating them at a feverish pace.  

And so, far too many of us become part of a desperate and mad scramble to fit in with our chosen tribes by any means necessary.  

We do this, even if it means silencing our questions, blindly accepting the status quo, squashing our creativity and imagination or saying we be…

Silver Linings

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Yesterday my wife Merideth and I drove to Houston TX, and then spent the entire day at the U.S. Passport Office to get her a new passport issued before she flew to Guatemala for a mission trip this morning.  

One of the many things that I love about my wife Merideth is how she always tries to find the silver lining in the midst of the worst clouds.  

Throughout the morning, I watched her cheerily engage the weary people standing in line with us as we waited to gain entry into the Passport office.  Within moments she had everyone's story as to how they ended up there in the first place.  

One lady was traveling to the Cayman Islands and didn't know she needed a passport to go there.  The young man in front of us discovered that his passport had been lost the day before he and his family were heading the Bahamas on vacation.  

Merideth also found out how long the security guard had been working at the Federal Building (7 years), and that he was a retired deputy sheriff from Atlanta,…

We Must Serve Or We Die

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In 2007, while on an epic trip to London and Paris for our anniversary, Merideth and I found ourselves in the middle of a huge crowd outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.  Hundreds of police officers held the crowd at bay as large limousines pulled up.  

"I think that is Jacques Chirac!" I stage-whispered to Merideth as the then President of France emerged from one of the vehicles.  "What is going on here?"  A lady turned around and said to us in perfect English.  "It's the funeral of Abbe Pierre.  He was a famous priest, a man beloved by the people for his work with the homeless." 

We chatted together for a bit about his work, and she shared with us that almost all of the services and resources for the homeless in Paris had their origins in work that Abbe Pierre had accomplished.  

I learned later that Abbe Pierre was born into a wealthy family, but dedicated his life to ministry and service. After World War II the streets of Paris were filled w…

Shiny And Oh So Bright

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I drove my oldest son to the airport this morning.  He's on his way to attend yet another friend's wedding--the third or fourth this year.  
I remarked on this fact, and that his own wedding is only a couple of months away. It seems hard to believe, to be honest.  
I say to myself, "Surely, I am not old enough to have a kid who is getting married," but then I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror, and realize that I definitely look old enough to have a kid who is getting married.  
The ride to the airport this morning was a groggy one for both me and my son.  We had a late night last night at a Smashing Pumpkins concert.  At one point (in between songs) I reflected with him on how I'd started listening to the band not long before he was born.  
An unspoken sentiment passed between us as we thought about the connection we shared through the music we were hearing---songs that were part of the soundtrack of our lives.  
I'm not sure how many moments like tha…

Saying No To Good Things

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Good is the enemy of great... Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.- Jim Collins 

There is a moment in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus is tempted by the Accuser (the literal translation of the word Satan) to do good things, rather than great things. He's tempted to:  turn stone into breadrule the worldperform impressive miracles The Accuser's temptations are strong.  In one fell swoop, Jesus could solve the problem of hunger in the world, blow everyone away with how powerful he is (which would remove all doubts about him), and then basically take over the world and fix all the political, economic and social ills of the day.  
Instead, Jesus refuses to do what seems good in favor of what is great.  He pushes back against the temptation to affect one particular moment in history, in order to fulfill his calling to change all of history and to bring redemption to all of Creation.  
In his engaging and thought-provoking bo…

One Big Story - Week 7: "Fire Fall"

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Did you know that the Bible is One Big Story of God’s love for people who don’t always feel like they deserve God’s love?  It's true--it's the best kind of story, to be honest.

And God has a way of always picking the wrong kinds of people to do what God needs doing.  People who think they aren't good enough, people who the rest of the world thinks aren't good enough--heck, people who really aren't good enough... that's who God seems to love to pick to write God's One Big Story.

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 …