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Showing posts from August, 2019

When Your Church Service Doesn't Cut It

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One of my least favorite passages in the Bible is from the Hebrew prophet Amos, who really let ancient Israel have it when he declared this message from God to them:  
I can’t stand your religious meetings.    I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.I want nothing to do with your religion projects,    your pretentious slogans and goals...I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.    When was the last time you sang to me?Do you know what I want?    I want justice—oceans of it.I want fairness—rivers of it.    That’s what I want. That’s all I want.  (Amos 5:21-23, MSG)Ouch.  

In my faith tradition after we read the Scripture passage in our worship services we will often say, "This is the word of the Lord," and then the congregation will say, "Thanks be to God."

That's a difficult passage to thank God for, am I right? 

The reason why this is one of my least favorite passages from the Bible is that it hits me right where I live.  

I'm a pastor, you see…

So How Are You Really?

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Have you ever ran into a friend or an acquaintance and asked them "How's it going?" 

Of course, you have.  We all have.  And we typically expect the following kinds of answers:  "Good!" "Great!" "Never Better!" "Awesome!" 

But how many times have you asked someone that, and then suddenly they told you how they really felt?  

I've actually been that person from time to time.  

And what you quickly discover---as you are relating just how awful you might be feeling, and how challenging things are in your life---is that the person who inquired after your well-being is suddenly no longer wanting to hang out with you.  

Seriously, you can watch them visibly begin to shrink back and try to find a way to retreat, escape or otherwise retreat.  

When I see it happening to me, I don't blame the shrinking person.  When you're expecting "Never Better!" and get a darker, heavier and not at all breezy response, it can be a downer.…

Becoming the Answer To Your Prayers

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I've written a few Devos on prayer over the last several years, but I always feel like I haven't mined the topic for all it's worth, and I keep coming back to it.

There's a reason for this, to be fair.

I get a lot of questions about prayer in my role as a pastor.  And almost all of the questions I get are in some way connected to the main question that everyone seems to have about prayer, which is:  What difference does prayer really make? 

It's a challenging question because we all so desperately want our prayers to be answered... Or at the very least, we want to know that when we pray that we are being heard that somewhere out there God is paying attention.

The trouble occurs when prayers go unanswered.  Or worse, when it seems as though the answer we get is the exact opposite of what we were praying for.

For many people, this is the point when they begin to struggle with praying at all or they begin to wonder if God just might be arbitrary and capricious---favoring s…

Becoming More Yourself

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The other day I was reading from Anthony de Mello's excellent book Awareness, and I came across a quote that I had to write down.  Here it is: 
The three most difficult things for a human being are not physical feats or intellectual achievements.  They are, first, returning love for hate; second, including the excluded; third, admitting that you are wrong. At the time I wasn't sure what it was saying to me exactly, but I trusted that it would come to me.  Today, as I read it again, I finally saw why it had struck me so strongly.  

It comes down to this:  If I were able to do these three things well---each and every day of my life--I would actually have a real shot at becoming the person God created me to be.  

Jesus taught these three things over and again to his followers.  

He took on the worst that the world had to offer, and returned love for hate.  Even as he was dying on a Roman cross, Jesus prayed, "Father forgive them for they don't know what they are doing."…

Freedom to Live

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In Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night, there is an exchange that takes place between a slightly drunk Sir Toby Belch and the dour character Malvolio that has always made me smile. 

Many scholars believe that the character of Malvolio was a not-so-subtle critique by Shakespeare of influential Puritans in Elizabethan England, some of whom were vocally opposed to the theater, which they deemed a vice to be avoided. 

Sir Toby dryly says to Malvolio:
Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?Malvolio had a way of bringing everyone down with his pessimism and piety.  But Sir Toby reminds him that despite his best efforts, Malvolio wasn't going to steal his joy and his zest for living. 

I've met my fair share of Malvolios in Christian circles over the years. 

In fact, there was a time as a young man when I came to believe that Christianity was little more than a bunch of Puritans walking around sucking the life out of life.  And so I walked away …

Made For Mondays - Week Two: "Working For The Weekend?"

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Today we are continuing our three-part sermon series entitled Made for Mondays.  Our Mondays have more meaning than we may give them credit.

Whether you’re in the marketplace, in the school, or in the home, God takes great joy in work done well. Together we will discover what it looks like to go from simply working a job to glorifying God with all you do.

What would it look like to go from simply working, to glorifying God with all you do?

Today we're going to be focusing on this one big idea:  Work done well happens when our minds are changed.

When I was a very, very young man... a very young man...  there was this band named Loverboy that had a hit song entitled Working for the Weekend.   If you came to church early enough today, you probably got a chance to hear it.

Here's a quick look at the video for all you youngsters who are just dying to make fun of us old people.

I entitled this sermon "Working for the Weekend" in part because of this song and the way it kept goin…

(Holy) Workin' For A Livin'

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There's a strange notion that many people have when it comes to what they consider "spiritual" activities as opposed to "non-spiritual."  This contrast has also been described as the difference between what is "secular" and what is "sacred."   For example, going to church has often been classified as a "spiritual" or "sacred" activity, whereas meeting friends for dinner at the pub is described as "secular."   Some people might take this farther and extend the descriptions to vocation.  Being a pastor, for instance, is considered by many people to be a sacred vocation, whereas being a businessperson is considered a secular one.   I can't tell you how many times I've had conversations with people about their life of faith and they will say things to me like, "Well, I'm just a banker, not a pastor..." or "I'm only a stay at home mom, not a minister..."   The great Christian mystic Th…

Maybe You've Done Enough

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This one is from the archives, but it fits with what I've been preaching about lately, and I thought it would be good to run it again: 

I have a confession I'd like to make in today's Daily Devo: I have a hard time asking for help.  

At some point in my life I fully embraced the old adage that "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself."  

Recently, I've been spending a lot of time studying the Enneagram--a system of understanding the human psyche that can be traced back to the 4th century.  

I'm a "3" in the Enneagram, which means that my resistance to asking for help is pretty high.  

The truth is, in the case of Enneagram "3s" that old adage should be "If you want something done the way that you want it done, you will most likely do it yourself, especially if you don't want to appear like you're not capable."

When it comes to matters of faith, however, what is true for the "3" is also true fo…

Holy Interruptions

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When I was a kid, the faith communities that we were a part of were obsessed with "end times" theology.  

Among the people in the various churches we attended over the years, there was always endless speculation about what was commonly referred to as "The Second Coming of Jesus."

I also remember hearing more than my fair share of sermons about what was going to happen when "Jesus came back."  And brother, it wasn't good.  Especially if you "unsaved."  

There was this passage of Scripture that the preachers in my churches would often quote Jesus from the book of Mark:  
"Be awake. Be alert... You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning."  I used to lay awake at night praying to God not to let Jesus come back.  I was terrified that I would be on the outside looking in if he did return.   Those verses seemed full of judgment and anger.  

But Jesus wasn'…

There Is No Fear In Bike Riding

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Today is the first day of school in our community, and my wife and I just saw our littlest boy off to his first day of 3rd grade. 

We took the obligatory "first day of school" photo and then he mounted his brand new bike, pulled on his sparkling new bike helmet and rode off down the street with a friend. 

It wasn't that long ago when he was frightened to ride to school on his own.  Now he pedals away with the confidence born of repetition, and familiarity. 

He's learned that his neighborhood is a safe place for him to ride.  Neighbors wave at him when he sails past them.  The little girl across the street calls him by name.  

It's hard to be afraid of what you know.  

I read something this morning that got me thinking about how fear affects us.  The great Christian mystic Anthony de Mello once said this:  
And there's not a single evil in the world that you cannot trace to fear.  Not one.  Ignorance and fear, ignorance caused by fear, that's where all the evil…

If You Are Looking For A Sign, This Is It

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It is wonderful what you can do when you have to. - C. S. Lewis

Three years ago this month, I was at a crossroads.  I was facing one of the biggest decisions of my life, and I didn't know which path to choose.  I began to pray for a sign from God, mostly out of desperation and without any real hope of finding one.  

I got the sign that I was asking for, by the way.  It came in a miraculous-can't-be-explained kind of way.  But despite the miraculous nature of the sign I'd prayed for, I then found myself struggling to believe it.  

This morning, I felt a bit inspired to share the story a bit differently--so here's my attempt at a poem:   
I prayed for a sign to help me decide which way to go. 
And God, in God's infinite capacity for humor
Painted a really big one, and stuck it in a church
Six thousand miles from where I first prayed--waiting to be found.  
And I did find it.  After boarding a plane, flying for hours
Booking a cottage, renting a car, traveling for miles,
and th…

Made For Mondays: Week One - "A Theology of Work"

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Today we are launching a brand new three-part sermon series entitled Made for Mondays.  Our Mondays have more meaning than we may give them credit.

Whether you’re in the marketplace, in the school, or in the home, God takes great joy in work done well. Together we will discover what it looks like to go from simply working a job to glorifying God with all you do.

What would it look like to go from simply working, to glorifying God with all you do?

Today we're going to be focusing on this one big idea:  Work done well lasts forever.  
It doesn't matter what kind of work you are doing--or where you are doing it.  Work done well lasts forever.  But before we dig further into this big idea, let me ask you a question: 
What is the worst job you've ever had? 
My worst job involved a Love Boat costume.  
Seriously.  I had a job for about a month where I was a supervisor for a hotel valet parking team.  After I went through the training, they handed my uniform, which was a stiff white shi…