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Showing posts from August, 2018

Stepping Away From Fear

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When you research the things that human beings fear the most, fear of ridicule and failure is always at the top of the list.  I also read that most people fear public speaking even more than they fear heights, the dark, spiders, and even (believe it or not) death. 

It's not too hard to see how the fear of ridicule and failure, which seems to loom large in most of us, would also influence the way we view things like public speaking or starting a new venture, or stepping out in faith when the way is uncertain.  

I live and breathe within the context of the Church, which (whether fairly or unfairly) has been stereotyped as an institution that resists change and often struggles to move forward into uncharted territory.  I've encountered more than my fair share of inertia over the years--churches and church members unwilling to change, or step out in faith.  I've also heard things like this on numerous occasions: 

"We've never done it that way before."  
"We trie…

Light Dawns

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Throughout my career as a pastor, I've had occasion to counsel and provide pastoral care to people in some of the worst circumstances of their lives.  

I've sat at the bedside of scores of people who were taking their last breaths.  I've knelt beside grieving spouses who have lost their partners.  On at least two occasions I've had to try to help a family make sense of a loved one's suicide.  

There's one thing that I know for sure after all of those experiences:  In the midst of struggle, strife, tragedy and trial, the difference between people who are filled with hope and joy and those who aren't is dramatic and distinct.  

Some years ago, I met a woman I would visit on occasion, who was a long-time member of the church I was serving at the time.  Every time I would meet with her she would tell me, "I wish I was dead."  At the time, she was well into her 90's and in relatively good health and sound mind for her age.  Yet, she lived each day fil…

Be At Peace With All

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Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. - Romans 12:17-18

Arizona Senator John McCain passed away last week at the age of 81, after a long and difficult battle with cancer.   McCain was a Vietnam war hero who turned to politics after returning from the war.  He was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1987 and served there until his death last week.   

McCain was also a presidential candidate more than once and became the Republican nominee for President in 2008, an election he eventually lost to Barack Obama. 

Despite his bitter disagreements with Obama on policy, McCain refused to participate in the nasty personal attacks that many were leveling at his then-rival, referring to him instead as "...a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues..." 

Whether you agreed or disagree with McCain's polit…

No Agenda

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For the past several days I've been doing my best to care for my wife as she's recovering from surgery.  I'm not the greatest nurse, by any stretch of the imagination, but we're muddling through. 

It's been kind of strange for us as our lives have had to come to a screeching halt this week.  We're both used to pretty busy schedules, so this forced season of quiet feels odd.  

We are also discovering opportunities to exercise patience and grace to one another.  It's a running joke in our family that if you get sick and I have to take care of you, it better only last for 48 hours because that's pretty much all I've got to give.  

But I'm learning that I actually have more to give, and I also think Merideth is learning how to receive more care than she is ordinarily comfortable with receiving.  

I haven't been perfect in my caregiving, to be sure.  I've made mistakes.  But I'm beginning to see so much more clearly how in spite of our imperf…

Being On The Way, The Lord Led Me

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I was reading one of the daily devotional books that I read nearly every day, and a passage of Scripture quoted in the reading caught my eye.  In this passage from Genesis chapter 24, the servant of Abraham is speaking, and he says the most incredible thing about his journey to find a suitable wife for Abraham's son, Isaac.  

The servant of Abraham says, "...As for me, being on the way, the Lord led me..."  (Gen 24:27, NKJV).  There are other ways to translate that verse, to be sure.  "The Lord led me while I was on the journey," also works.  

You might be wondering why this verse is remarkable.  Think about what the servant doesn't say.  He doesn't say, "I waited to start my journey until I had clear directions from God."  He doesn't say, "I wanted to be careful about which way I went, so I waited until I knew for sure where God wanted me to go."  

He says, "...being on the way, the Lord led me."  He says, "The Lord…

Coffee Shop Reflections

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I'm sitting at a coffee shop this morning trying to think about what to write.  There are days when the words come easier than others, but this isn't one of them.  
A wise person once told me that when you have writer's block, write about writer's block, and you'll find your way through it.  There's so much wisdom packed into that statement, don't you think?There is a young couple sitting next to me talking about the guy's new job.  She appears to be someone who works with him but seems to also be a friend.  

Earlier, I heard him ask for her advice on how to do well at the new job, and she launched into a fifteen-minute verbal checklist.  Actually, the snippets of advice she is giving him are all pretty awesome.  

"Don't be afraid to stay late to get the job done... nobody likes a clock watcher."  
"Ask questions, don't pretend like you know what you are doing when you don't." 

The guy is not taking notes.  I want to hand him …

A Friend Indeed

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I remember having a conversation with my oldest son a few years ago after he'd experienced some disappointment with a friend.  

The friend in question was not supportive of a prestigious study-abroad opportunity he had been offered and ultimately would accept, and was doing everything they could to keep him from pursuing. 

One of the many things I shared with him as I helped talk him through that painful situation went something like this: 
You know your true friends by the way they celebrate with you when you win.  This is one of the truest things I've ever said to my son about friendship.  If you have a friend or a loved one who doesn't celebrate your wins, you have to wonder where their heart really is when it comes to your relationship.  

Maybe you have someone like that in your life.  The kind of person who always finds the cloud in your silver linings.  

And I'm not talking about the sort of friend who helps you keep things "real," or who speaks the truth to…

A Long Obedience

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In his fantastic book, A Long Obedience In the Same Direction, pastor and author Eugene Peterson writes about the idea of faithfulness and discipline when it comes to living the Christian life.  

In a very eloquent way, he offers an alternative to the stereotype that so many people have about Christians and the way we often are so "heavenly minded" we aren't any "earthly good."  Peterson writes, 
"Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions."What Peterson captures here is too good to miss.  Christian hope is grounded in action.  Its very foundation is exemplified by the words of Jesus who said in John 6:38: 
"I have not come here to do my own will, but the will/work of the Father, who sent me." You and I have work to do, we are called to take the gifts, talents, time and treasure we've been given and put them to…

Reflections on Tuesday, August 21st

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If you've been following along with my daily devotions for any length of time, you know by now that I often write about whatever is going on with me at the moment.  

This past year I've had more than a few occasions to reflect on grief and loss.  I've heard from many of you that those reflections were helpful in your own journey, and for that I'm grateful.  Perhaps today's reflection will be helpful, too. 

Today is my mother's birthday--the first of many that I'll celebrate without her in the world.  I've been quietly dreading this day for a while, but now that it's here, at last, I'm not sure how I feel.  

It's strange for this day to come, and for there to be no planned celebration, no family dinner, no present to buy.  Instead, I have a staff meeting today, a pastoral care team meeting, a meeting with the church Treasurer and I'll cap the day off with a church board meeting this evening.  

Mix in a handful of errands and other chores that…

The Darkness

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God [sometimes] puts out our lights to keep us safe... because we are never in more danger of stumbling than when we think we know where we are going. - Brown Taylor 

After reading a few studies that have been done on the effect that ambient light has on our sleep patterns, my wife and I have been working on making things darker in our bedroom.  

We purchased blackout curtains, and we ensure that the blinds are closed tight every night.  I've also gotten vigilant about covering up all of the little "blue" lights that blink from our cable box, Apple TV, cell phone chargers and the like. 

I got to thinking this morning about the way we too-often view darkness in negative terms when, in fact, there's so much that is generative and life-giving about it.   

What if we began to see the dark spaces in our lives a bit differently?  What if we began to see them as places where we are finally able to let go of our need for control and our reliance on our own power? 

The poet David …

One Big Story - Week 12: "Asking The Right Question"

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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…

Embracing Grief To Discover Healing

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Yesterday, as I was driving my middle son to handle a task for marching band, I was struck with a memory of my mom driving me on a similar errand when I was about his age.

I was on the basketball team at my school and all of the guys on the team were getting a particular Nike basketball shoe.  We were not very well off.  I am sure the shoes were expensive, and that we couldn't afford them, but she took me to get them anyway.  

I suddenly found myself acutely missing my mom, grieving the passage of time, stunned that my middlest boy was so grown...  

I also realized that I was angry.  I was angry that my mom was gone, angry at myself for not being a better son, angry that I was so sad...   

And then I felt guilty and ashamed at being angry.  

It's the strange milestones that cause grief to return in a flood, just when you think you've started moving beyond it.  And no one really prepares you for how angry it can make you when it does.  

I'm writing this not to elicit sympathy…

Beholding

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Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. - Henri Nouwen 
I don't like to wait.  
When I am de-planing after a flight, I am always prepared to leave--my bags are gathered, belongings secured and I'm poised to move.  
Alas, not everyone has the same philosophy about getting off an airplane that I do.  
I've discovered that the majority of people de-planing on the flights I've taken seem to act as though they've never done it before.  They arise from their seats bewildered, confused and lacking the memory of where they left their luggage (most likely directly above their heads).  
It's maddening.  
My wife tells me that I should work on being less impatient.  I know she's right.  It's justs that I can't stand how long it takes to learn patience!  I'm only half joking about that last bit.  
I recently read that one way to look at the story of Adam and Eve was through the lens of their…

Practice Makes Perfect

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I made the decision about four months ago to head back to the gym after taking almost an entire year off from engaging in a serious exercise regimen.   

The first couple of months back was pretty brutal.  I was sore all of the time, hurting in places I didn't know I could hurt.  I had to drag myself to the gym to meet my trainer, who had no sympathy for me. 

But slowly, over the last couple of months, things have gotten a bit easier.  

I can now run on the treadmill for longer periods of time, row for farther distances on the rowing machine.  I can lift heavier weights for more repetitions.  And all because I have been practicing--working hard to get better, faster, stronger.  

This morning, I read the following quote from Richard Rohr that captured my attention:  
It is strange that we have come to understand the importance of practice in sports, in most therapies, in any successful business, and in any creative endeavor, but for some reason, most of us do not see the need for it in t…

Broken Jars

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But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  - 2 Corinthians 4:7

The above verse from Paul's nearly two-thousand-year-old letter to the church at Corinth has always been a bit of a mystery to me.  

Until recently, I assumed that Paul was merely pointing out the finite and transient nature of human beings--addressing our frailty and potential for brokenness.  

But I've come to believe that when he used the words "jars of clay," Paul may have also been referring to the ways in which we convey our understanding of God.  

Paul seemed to know intuitively that we would be tempted to worship our beliefs about God rather than simply worshipping Godself.  Which is why he said that we hold the treasure of God's great story of love, grace, redemption, and resurrection in "jars of clay."

Sometimes it feels like there are far too many of us Christians these days, who act as though we have it all figured out. …

But I Could Be Wrong

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All a person's ways are pure to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord. - Proverbs 16:2

I'm going to admit something publicly that I probably shouldn't, but I'm going to anyway.  

Here it goes...  

I like being right.  I enjoy it when I know that I'm on the winning side of an argument.  When the sports teams I support win, I feel like a winner.  If the politician I voted for wins the election, I feel like I've triumphed.  

I have to fight these feelings on a daily basis.  

I struggle to end my declarative pronouncements about life, the universe and everything with the words: "But I could be wrong."   I'm trying to learn how to be more open and less precious with my ideas about how things ought to be.  

It's an uphill climb, to be sure, but one that needs to be made.  

"Being Right" has become one of the ultimate values of our current culture.  These days it seems that everyone on all sides of an issue wants to claim the high ground about …

One Big Story - Week 11: "Water Walker"

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Today we're going to be exploring the story of the Apostle Peter and the time that he and the other eleven disciples were in a freak storm on the sea of Galilee, and Peter became only the second person in the history of ever to walk on water. 

Jesus was the first, in case you were wondering. 

But first, let me share with you a story of my own rough and wild boat adventure. 

Several years ago, my wife and I, along with our oldest son, went on a fishing trip with my father-in-law.  Our boat wasn't small--it was like a 42 foot fishing boat--but the waves were at like 8-10 swells on the way from Ft. Lauderdale to the Bahamas. 

At first, things were sort of okay, and then it got bad real fast.  I regretted everything I'd eaten for the past two days... let's put it that way.  I soon found myself lying on the floor in the cabin with my face in the carpet, holding on to it for dear life. 

Let me tell you if Jesus had shown up walking on water at that moment, I would have totally la…