Showing posts from November, 2018

The Facts Aren't Good Enough

As we approach the season of Advent (which begins this Sunday), I've been reflecting on how to prepare for this blessed season of expectation.  

Today, I have been thinking about how easy it is to forget why we are celebrating in the first place.  Before you start thinking that this is going to be one of those predictable "Keep Christ in Christmas" messages, let me explain.  

I happen to believe that it's not just the cold, cruel world around us that has consumerized Christmas and lost the plot.  There's plenty of us Christian-types who have veered off the road a bit, too.  

We lose sight of the fact that we're getting offended because someone at a big box store where we happen to be shopping is saying "Happy Holidays" to us as we enter to drop hundreds of dollars on gifts for people we probably don't really like all that much.  

The late Elie Wiesel often told a parable to his classes at Boston University. I'll paraphrase it here: 
There once wa…

An Urgent Season for Neighborliness

As Advent is approaching, I'm pondering some of the things that I am hoping to do in order to help make this the most memorable Advent season possible.  

For the next couple of days, I'm going to be reflecting on those ponderings here in this space in hopes that maybe my reflections might spark some of your imaginations, and help lead us all to a better Advent.  

Today I'm thinking about the concept of neighborliness, and how I want to be a better neighbor to the people who live on my street.  

I've learned over the course of the last couple of years that my neighborhood is full of awesome, busy people.  But when we've taken the time to get to know them, to ask them about their lives, their hobbies, to engage in real conversation... it's made a huge difference in the way we see our street and everyone who lives here.   

This morning I read an awesome, convicting quote from theologian Walter Brueggeman about the need for more and better neighborliness from those of …

For Ever, And Ever, And Ever, And Ever...

This Sunday at my church we will begin our celebration of the season of Advent as we begin counting down the days until Christmas Eve--when we both remember and experience anew the coming of the Messiah. 

Undoubtedly, at some point during this blessed season, you might hear the familiar strains of portions of Handel's Messiah, which often gets sung this time of year.  

Many years ago, I was serving a very small congregation where we had a traditional worship service led by a chancel choir that struggled at times to find the right pieces of music to complement their particular talents.  That last line was charitable, just so you know.   

One day, one of the choir members was volunteering in the church office and she was playing a recording of the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah when a fellow choir member walked in.  "Is that us?" she asked brightly, thinking that the recording was of one of their choir performances. 

The friend listening to the recordi…

Half A Century

I turned fifty yesterday.  Half a century.  I can now be a member of AARP and can start receiving "senior" discounts with a valid AARP membership card.  Heck yes.  

My wife asked me earlier in the week what I wanted to do on my birthday (which was yesterday), and I told her that I wanted to smoke a brisket and some ribs and celebrate with friends.  We also planned on having the church staff over for lunch. 

Two of my best friends surprised me by flying in from Chicago just for one day, which was just incredible and humbling.  

I had a great afternoon with the church staff just sharing, eating and celebrating.  

And then in the evening, a close friend, my oldest son and my daughter-in-law came over to the house and we all feasted on some awesome Texas-style BBQ (I may be from Florida, but I'm learning how to do BBQ properly).  

It was one of the best birthdays I can remember, and I got to spend it with so many of the people I love.  

An older friend texted me yesterday to tell …

Headwinds and Tailwinds

There's an interesting phenomenon that occurs at times during my wife's frequent flights between Austin and Orlando.  

Sometimes she arrives ten to fifteen minutes early on the Orlando to Austin leg, which has caught me off guard on a few occasions and caused me to have to break a few speed limits on my way to the airport to pick her up.  

Even though the distance never changes, the flight times fluctuate depending on the direction of headwinds and tailwinds.   If the airplane is flying against a headwind, the journey might take longer than it would if it is flying with a tailwind, pushing it along.  

I was reading about the concept of headwinds and tailwinds as they relate to psychology and human development (as you do), and (since today is my 50th birthday) I got to thinking about my own life, and experiences. 

In the study I was reading, researchers Shai Davidai and Thomas Gilovich did some in-depth work on how the stories people tell about their hardships and challenges can of…

Attitude of Gratitude - Week Four: Irrational Generosity

Today we're going to conclude the sermon series "Attitude of Gratitude"--a series that is based on this one simple notion:  When you finally realize all that God has done for you, the only true response is gratitude. 

You might be wondering, "How do I maintain an attitude of gratitude... How do I live like this every day?  It seems like an impossible thing to do!"  

Well each installment of this series has been a step toward more fully understanding what it means to maintain an attitude of gratitude in every aspect of your life.  

This morning we're going to be taking our final step as we focus on this one very important idea:  When you have an attitude of gratitude, you practice irrational generosity. 

Irrational generosity is authentic, real and a little gritty.  

Before we dig too deeply into our text today--I need to put this out there.  Sometimes people do the right things, but do them for the wrong reasons.  Here's some examples: 

Those are all really g…

Maintaining An Attitude of Gratitude - Day Five

In 1941 Franklin D. Roosevelt gave in to the requests of business leaders and retail giants and moved Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November, to coincide with the beginning of Christmas shopping season.  
This move ostensibly created "Black Friday" shopping, long lines outside of "big box" stores and riots inside Wal-Mart over cheap TVs, which is kind of a bummer.  
At the heart of the mania that surrounds all of the shopping that will take place today is a sense of lack.  We have that sense of lack embedded in our brains through advertising, social expectations and more broadly by our own messed up ideas of what we truly need.  

So in order to protect ourselves from the emptiness that comes from this false sense of scarcity that we feel, we want more and more...  This helps us at the moment to feel more certain, more guarded against lack.  

But in a strange way, our efforts to assuage our feelings of scarcity by buying more things for ourselves and others te…

Maintaining An Attitude of Gratitude - Day Four

Today I'm going to practice what I preach and share some of the things I'm grateful for as I seek to maintain an attitude of gratitude!  

At my house this morning, the turkey is already in the oven, and the smells of our traditional Thanksgiving dishes are filling the air.  

Jacob, our youngest boy, has been up since 8AM and has been clamoring for waffles for the last half hour in between playing video games, sitting by the fireplace and running around the house chasing the cat.  

My middle son is still in bed--I'm going to be awakening him in a while to do some chores, which will be accompanied by a litany of grumbling and moaning.  But later, he and I will inevitably watch football together, and he'll be my partner in crime as we tackle the pecan pie. 

My oldest son and his new wife will be joining us as well--their first Thanksgiving as a married couple.  I have come to appreciate my son so much and I see him blossoming into a good man right before my eyes.  And my daug…

Maintaining An Attitude of Gratitude - Day Three

For the rest of this week, the Daily Devos will be centered around what it takes to maintain an attitude of gratitude each and every day.  Spoiler Alert:  It's not as easy as it seems!  

Being grateful can not only prolong your life, it actually makes you a better person. 

It's true.  According to a Harvard Business study on philanthropy in the United States, an attitude of gratitude can enhance your happiness, your health and your overall purpose in life.  

The study revealed that there was a direct connection between generous practice and measures of well-being.  In other words, the more generous people are, the more fully they are able to embrace abundant life.  

Dr. David DeSteno of Northeastern University believes that when we develop the habit of practicing gratitude it has the effect of enabling us to build resilience.  He writes:  
It's not about being thankful for things that have already occurred and, thus, can't be changed; it's about ensuring the benefits of…

Maintaining An Attitude of Gratitude - Day Two

For the rest of this week, the Daily Devos will be centered around what it takes to maintain an attitude of gratitude each and every day.  Spoiler Alert:  It's not as easy as it seems!  

In the ancient Japanse art of Aikido, there is a unique way of describing someone who is able to keep from overreacting to a sudden, unexpected outside stimulus.  In Aikido you would say of such a person that they have "soft eyes."  

In other words, they have a wider field of vision that isn't hardened and narrowed.  They are able to see what is on the periphery and are not just reacting to what is immediately in front of them.  

Author and theologian Parker J. Palmer describes it like this:  
If a stimulus is introduced to an unprepared person, his eyes narrow and the flight/fight response takes over.  If the same unexpected stimulus comes to someone with "soft eyes," the natural reflex is transcended and a more authentic response takes its place--such as thinking a new though…

Attitude of Gratitude - Week Three: Enduring Love

All good things must come to an end.

Have you ever heard that before?  Maybe you've even repeated it on occasion. Probably when something good was coming to an end.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to get away for a couple of days--just the two of us.  We relaxed, sat by the beach, wandered around Key West, watched the sunset, ate unbelievable meals, slept in, read some books, laid in a hammock...

What? I should tell you everything?

At any rate, as we came to the end of our time away we both found ourselves saying over and over again---"just one more day... if we had just one more day..."

I remember the last football game of my oldest son's high school career.  He re-injured his surgically repaired shoulder throwing a forty yard touchdown pass, and then a few plays later got concussed on a running play.  We all knew that it was over.  His season had ended, and a promising football career with it.  I remember my wife and I sitting with him on the si…

Maintaining an Attitude of Gratitude - Day One

For the rest of this week, the Daily Devos will be centered around what it takes to maintain an attitude of gratitude each and every day.  Spoiler Alert:  It's not as easy as it seems!  

Today I thought I would focus on how retelling the stories of our past in more constructive and life-giving ways can give us the opportunity to live more fully in gratitude.   

My wife and I have been married for nearly twenty-seven years.  We've actually known each other for thirty-seven years, however, and were boyfriend/girlfriend for three out of the four years we were in high school.  

We broke up after high school and were apart for many years before finding each other again.  Both of us had terrible things happen to us during those years--hard experiences, difficult life lessons.  

For years I beat myself up about what I considered all of that "lost" time.  I tortured myself with all of the "what-ifs" that I could imagine, thinking that if only I hadn't been so irres…

How You Talk About Yourself Matters

It's a terrible feeling to discover that someone close to you has been talking badly about you behind your back.  The feeling of betrayal in those moments is enough to take your breath away.  We all know that feels like, sadly.  

But over time, I've discovered that the person who spends the most time talking trash about me and tearing me down is none other than the same person who I squint at in the morning when I brush my teeth--namely, me.  

Debilitating and defeating self-talk is one of the most bruising and awful things that we do to ourselves.  It often sounds something like this:  

"I'm not good at those kinds of things..." 

"This always happens to me..." 

"I'm so stupid..." 

"Why do I always get myself into these messes...?" 

"That's the story of my life: one bad thing after another..." 

You can probably come up with a few of your own that you've heard yourself say from time to time. My own list is a lot longer m…