Showing posts from November, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

I want to take this opportunity to wish all of you who "listen in" on these daily devotions a Happy Thanksgiving (or if you are abroad, a wonderful rest of your week)!  I hope that you spend this holiday week with friends and family, and that you are blessed beyond measure.  

I'll be taking a bit of a break for the rest of the week from the Daily Devos to spend time with family in friends in Chicago.  As always, it is a privilege to share these thoughts with you every day.  

Counting it all Joy, 

Pastor Leon

Unscripted and Unexpected Resurrection

Since I usually write these devotions a day early, I'm writing this particular devo on my birthday (which was yesterday, for the record).  I'm really not mentioning this in order to elicit a few more birthday well-wishes... much.  

It's just that it has been wonderful to hear from so many people from all of the various seasons of my life the way I have today.  I have messages from childhood friends, high school buddies, work friends from all of the various places I've worked, members and friends from all of the churches I've served...  

It's humbling, and gratifying and amazing.  It's also kind of crazy to think about where I find myself at this stage of my life.  And when I look back on all of the places I've been, the challenges I've faced, the struggles, doubts, triumphs and joys that I've experienced... I do so with no small amount of wonder.  

You see, when I was fifteen, I stopped believing in the God I'd been taught to believe in.  When …

Jesus Finds Us

When I was struggling to find my way back into the Christian faith, one of the major obstacles in my way was what I believed to be the exclusive nature of Christianity. 

I'd grown up with the very clear cut message that people who "asked Jesus into their heart" went to heaven when they died, and everyone else spent eternity doing laps in a lake of unquenchable fire. 

The problem was that most of the Christians I knew then weren't all that Jesus-like.  In fact, I'd met more people who weren't Christians who were more kind, gracious, generous and open-hearted than almost all of the so-called Jesus-followers I knew. 

Since then, I've talked to lots of people who had the same issue, and for many of them it was too difficult to overcome, and they walked away from Christianity as a result.  Or others simply found it was a bridge too far for them, and they never gave Jesus a chance. 

The other day I was reading from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, and discovered…

You Are Chosen

One of the most important questions of my life came early in my journey toward seminary and eventually ordination as a minister.  

It was a question that would find its way back into my thoughts and prayers more than once since then.  

"Am I really chosen for this?" 

Which then led to these follow up questions:  "Am I good enough? Am I  too broken... too unworthy...?"   

You see, in those early days I wondered if what I was feeling was an actual calling by God, or if it was just my own desires--an effort to fulfill some need.

I felt ill-equipped and messed up.  I was the wrong person.  And some days I felt the desire to do what I  was doing begin to wane, and doubts about my direction would fill me with dread.  

From time to time, I've felt those old feelings creep back in and those old questions that inevitably follow.  

Perhaps you have felt the same way.  Maybe you are transitioning to something new and you wonder if you are ready.  Or you have had some setbacks an…

Under God? Week Four

Today we are going to conclude the sermon series that we started last week--a series that is going to take us all the way through the month of November...

Which just happens to be the month where we begin our year-long trek to a national election that could be one of the most contentious in American history.

So there's that.

But there's hope... and that's what we're going to be spending the next several weeks focusing on--the hope that we can find when Christians actually do what Christians are called to do when it comes to healing the divisions among us.

To that end, this series is focused on how those of us who call ourselves Christians can be peacemakers in a culture that seems hopelessly divided and at war with itself.

Today we are going to be taking on perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to our becoming the peacemakers that God would have us be in the world.

Let me ask you a really big question...

Would you rather be RIGHT or HAPPY?

Oh, everybody says that they would rat…

Let Go Of Your Past Attachments

Memories are funny things, aren't they?  

We play them back in our minds like ever-increasingly edited movies, complete with our own inner commentary, reviews, critiques and ratings.  

Some of the home movies in our head are pleasant and get replayed over and again when we want to feel better about ourselves, our choices, our circumstances.  

We often leave out some of the dialogue, though, and definitely the second act milieu, the conflicts and difficulties... and skip right to the happy ending where we get to be the hero... find true love... have that incredible day...  make it through the maze...  

You know what I'm talking about, right?  

But there are also memories that we play back from time to time that are sad and unfulfilling, dramas that end poorly, and remind us of our losses, failures, griefs, tragedies and missteps.  

In these memories we often do our best to cast ourselves in as good a light as possible, but we tend to fail more than we succeed.  These are the memories…

The Sword of the Lord

When I was a kid, we used to have what we called "Sword Drills" in Sunday school or in chapel at the various Christian schools I attended. 

A Sword Drill went like this:  Our teacher would have us poised with our Bibles on our laps, and would give us a book of the Bible, a chapter and a verse, and then shout "Go!"  The first one to turn to that passage, stand up and read it would win. 

I  won a lot, just for the record.  I was good at Sword Drills.  

At this point, you might be wondering where we got the idea to call these exercises "Sword Drills," let me explain: 

There's this verse in the New Testament book of Hebrews that I memorized when I  was a kid that has been improperly interpreted and misused for centuries to portray the Bible as a weapon:
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

We Are Photons Released From A Dying Star

In his latest album Ghosteen, singer, songwriter and shadowy raconteur Nick Cave wrestles with life, death, loss, truth and beauty.  It's a fine addition to Cave's forty year musical career, a lyrical study in existentialism that is both moving and haunting all at once. 

That's a pretty good album review, right?  I used to work in the music business a hundred years ago, so once in a while I feel the urge to write about music that moves me. 

There's a wonderful song on Ghosteen entitled "Fireflies," that contains these amazing lyrics.  They moved me so that I had to write them down, and I've been thinking about them for weeks: 
Jesus lying in his mother's arms
is a photon released from a dying star.
We move through the forest at night
the sky is full of momentary light.
And everything we need is just too far
We are photons released from a dying star.
There's so much I love about this.  Cave seems to be picturing Michelangelo's Pieta, with Mary holding t…

The Power Of Specificity

In 1994, psychology professors at Santa Clara University tested a theory they'd been developing about the power of specificity as it relates to compliance.  They called the procedure pique technique. 

The professors enlisted students in the experiment to go to a public place known to be frequented by panhandlers, and begin asking passers by for money.  Some of the students simply asked people for spare change, or for a common amount like a dollar, but others became very specific in their requests.  

Several of the students asked specifically for thirty-seven cents, an odd amount, which would more often than not pique the interest of the people they were asking.  In the end, a greater number of people stopped and inquired of the students why they were asking for thirty-seven cents than stopped for the students who weren't as specific.  

And more often than not, they would give something to the thirty-seven cent students after the exchange--regardless of the reason they students of…

Do Your Best Until You Know Better

I've been practicing what I preached, and it hasn't been easy.   

I gave my congregation homework to do after the last two sermons that I preached as part of a sermon series we've been doing at my church.  The sermon series is entitled "Under God?" and it's a series focused on exploring how Christians can be peacemakers during times of division and contention. 

In case you weren't aware, we live in a particularly divided culture.  We're divided over politics, religion, social issues and a whole lot more. 

I told my congregation that one of the many ways that we can bridge these gaps is to spend time listening, reading and engaging people with whom we have disagreements.  And I gave them homework to do just that. 

However, it's been a challenge for me to change news outlets, read different authors and try to engage in conversations with people who hold different views than I do on the aforementioned issues. 

But I have learned some things. 

First, I foun…

We Are Made of Stories

Some years ago, I got the chance to have dinner and chat with the Congressman, who represented my district in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

I was kind of skeptical about meeting him at first because I was diametrically opposed to most of his stances on a variety of social issues.  But he was not at all what I expected. 

To begin with, I quickly learned that I had more than a few points of agreement with him on a surprising number of things.  Sure, he held some views that I disagreed with, but there was also a lot of common ground. 

And then he told us about his efforts to build bridges between an increasingly divided Congress. 

Every month he would hold a dinner at his house in Washington, DC and he would invite members of Congress from both political parties.  Democrats and Republicans would gather to eat at his house, with only one standing rule:  No one could talk politics.

Instead, they had to tell their stories.  They had to share the stories of where they came from, what matter…

What You Love Well, Remains

I used to draw and paint. 

When I was a kid, someone told my mother I had promise, so she spent money our family didn't have to get me oil painting lessons, and then tutoring with a retired art teacher, who specialized in pencil.

I took lessons all the way through middle school and into high school before I finally convinced my mom to give up.  

You see, I realized that in order to be a truly great artist, I was going to have to work hard at it.  Talent will only get you so far, unless you are a prodigy, and I was no prodigy.  

And I wanted to play sports, hang with my friends, have a girlfriend... So I set aside my paints and pencils and never really picked them up again.  

After my mom passed away, I was going through some of her belongings, trying to determine what to keep, what to store and what to let go.  I had to smile when I  found some of my drawings, and a painting of mine that she'd kept. 

I thought back to those lessons that she couldn't afford.  

She took some of the…

When You Swim Against the Current

I  was talking with a friend recently, and our conversation turned to reflections on how quickly time passes.  I shared a quote with my friend that I'd heard from somewhere--a quote I've shared in similar conversations:
"The days are long, but the years are short." Afterward, I got to thinking about that quote, and what it means to me.  It's a simple and yet profound idea, isn't it? 

Our days get filled with tasks and appointments---places we have to be, people we need to meet. We often schedule ourselves with very little margin, and then wonder why we are exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed. 

And then there's this...

I don't know about you, but I often find myself at the end of a long day feeling as though there is more left undone than done.  Perhaps you feel the same. 

Maybe what you feel is a sense that if you'd only had more time in your day, you could have done more, which is ridiculous because you went from one thing to another all day long with…

Trust The Process

Off and on for the past year, I've been reading a little book about architecture written by Matthew Frederick. 

The other day I read a line that resonated with me, but (per usual) I had to sit with it for a while before I began to understand why.  

Frederick wrote about the design process and how frustrating it can be when the solutions to problems aren't immediately evident, or when the ideas aren't flowing well.  This is what he had to say:  
Engage the design process with patience...  Accept uncertainty.  Recognize as normal the feeling of lostness that attends too much of the process.  Don't seek to relieve your anxiety by marrying yourself prematurely to a design solution; design divorces are never pretty.  Today I found myself reflecting on Frederick's words---especially in light of the many challenges swirling around me at the moment.  I  have tasks that need doing, problems to solve, feelings of uncertainty to deal with, things to write...  

And the place I oft…

Ruining Your Canvas With Paint

Do you have something hanging over your head today that needs to get done?
Are you having a hard time getting started?

Maybe you've had a project that you have been needing to get done, and it is still sitting there in your inbox, on your table, in your garage, on your computer screen...

It sits there accusing you of stuff, like:

"What's the matter with you? Lazy, much?"
"Hey I'm not going to finish my self, Pal."
"You aren't good enough to do this, are you?"
"Why aren't you more like your brother... sister... successful cousin?"
"I'll just be here reminding you of how you never finish things..."

Wow.  That list came pretty easy---too easy.  I'm guessing that there are a few of us out there who resonate with this all too well.

And sometimes the things that we haven't started are transformative actions that we know need doing, but doing them will disrupt our lives too much, turn things upside down, or bring the kin…

Under God? Week Two

Today we are going to continue the sermon series that we started last week--a series that is going to take us all the way through the month of November...

Which just happens to be the month where we begin our year-long trek to a national election that could be one of the most contentious in American history.

So there's that.

But there's hope... and that's what we're going to be spending the next several weeks focusing on--the hope that we can find when Christians actually do what Christians are called to do when it comes to healing the divisions among us.

To that end, this series is focused on how those of us who call ourselves Christians can be peacemakers in a culture that seems hopelessly divided and at war with itself.

Today we are going to dig a little deeper as we discover how important listening can be in the peacemaking process.

In 1968 elementary school teacher Jane Elliott conducted a famous experiment with her students in the days after the assassination of Dr. Ma…