Showing posts from January, 2020

New - Week Four: New Hope

Today we are concluding the sermon series that we started three Sundays ago--a sermon series that took us all the way through the month of January.

The title of this series is "New" and it is centered on how we can begin the new year with a new focus, a new outlook and a new way of seeing ourselves and others.

Transformation is in our DNA--we were created to grow and to change, but the best kind of change leaves a mark.  And this is where our imagery of tattoos comes in...

So what do you do when you realize that the tattoo you got... isn't good at all? 

You get it remade--just like the people on the short-lived show on the Lifestyle network entitled "Bad Ink." 

It  ran for two seasons from 2013-2015, and it was glorious.  These two guys who were amazing tattoo artists in Vegas would actually go out and try to find people with really bad tattoos and would offer to make them over for them. 

Here are some great examples of tattoos that desperately needed to be re-done..…

When The Truth Approaches

One of the many issues that those of us who call ourselves Christians face is the fact that we seldom actually pay attention to the example Jesus set for his followers. 

But when we are confronted by the radical truth of what Jesus taught, and the embodied truth of how he lived out those teachings... it can mess us up.  For some of us, it can change everything.  

Let me explain---in a round about way by talking about swans, philosophy and Karl Popper... 

In the Logic of Scientific Discovery, the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper asserted that we can never absolutely confirm any scientific theory.  But what we can determine with a fair amount of certainty is the opposite of the theory. 

Using the example of the color of swans, Popper stated the following: 
"No matter how many instances of white swans we may have observed, this does not justify the conclusion that all swans are white."  In other words, you can't assume with any real certainty the exact color that all  swans com…

When My Heart Got Bigger

I  was at a house concert the other night at the house of one of my church members, and the artist who was playing sang a song with a bit of a chorus that I  wrote down.  

Here was the line he sang:  
When my heart got bigger I could see you better.That line spoke to me, and I've been thinking about it for the past several days.  And I think I've finally figured out why it spoke to me so much.  

I spent a lot of my life as a Christian thinking in small terms, and it kept me from seeing God in the world.    

I believed that God's grace was small, limited and used sparingly on a select few.  I believed that people were excluded from God's kingdom based on a lot of arbitrary and capricious reasons---all of which reflected my own world view.  

I didn't really care all that much about the poor, the friendless, the downtrodden.  I was too busy going to Bible studies, doing church-y things and feeling superior.  

And then my beliefs got turned upside down, my heart began to bre…

What Matters The Most?

One of the most frequent questions I get in my role as a pastor is a question that is centered on discovering one's unique purpose, and it goes something like this:

"How do I know what God wants me to do with my life?" 

It's an excellent question, and there's no easy, pat answer.  To be fair, I have lots of things that I  say when I'm asked that question, and most of them are prescriptive in nature.

In other words, I typically give people guidance on disciplines, practices and habits that will enable them to be better positioned so that they can see their unique path more clearly. 

In the end, I have to admit that anything I might have to say is highly subjective, and may or may not work for the person who is inquiring.

You see, we are all unique, and are all gifted with particular talents, desires, longings and we are also gifted with a purpose to which we are specifically suited.

But far too many of us spend an inordinate amount of time fretting and worrying ove…

Prayer Is A River

Once in a while I've run across a piece of Scripture, a prayer or a poem that just captures where I  am in a particular moment... and when this happens I often sit with it for days, thinking about why it spoke to me.

Here's a poem that I recently read by the Lebanese poet Said Akl that I've been sitting with for a while:  
lordi  refuseto engage prayer as a weaponi  wish it to be like a riverbetween two shoresfor i  seek neither punishment nor gracebut new skinthat can bear this worldThis prayer/poem spoke to me on so many levels.  

As read this poem, I had a vision of prayer that was so beautiful and true that it made my heart ache.  I had never thought of prayer as a river before, but it made perfect sense.  

But when you imagine prayer as a river it is easy to see how it truly is the flow between the "now" and the "not yet," and a moving demarcation line between heaven and earth.  

The flow exists whether we acknowledge it or not, and we can enter into it…

The Ones Who Mean The Most

I often feel the presence of God through other people, which I think is one of God's most wonderful, surprising means of self-revelation.  

I can feel God's presence when I see someone do something kind and gracious, giving and merciful.  I can feel it when someone reaches out to me with encouragement and unexpected affirmation.  
As odd as it might seem at times, I can feel the presence of God when I'm gathered with friends laughing, talking, eating good food, enjoying great beverages...  
I've also felt the presence of God when I've gone through tough times in my life and people reached out to me to share their own stories, offer sympathy, or affirm their support.  
But there are some people who do much more.  These are the people (and there are precious few of them) who don't let me off the hook when I'm trying to put up my armor, and hide from the world.  
They are the ones who will listen to every hard, bitter, angry, blasphemous thing that pours out of me …

New - Week Three: "New Challenges"

Today we are continuing the sermon series that we started two Sundays ago--a sermon series that will take us all the way through the month of January.
The title of this series is "New" and it is centered on how we can begin the new year with a new focus, a new outlook and a new way of seeing ourselves and others.

Transformation is in our DNA--we were created to grow and to change, but the best kind of change leaves a mark.  And this is where our imagery of tattoos comes in...

There is a moment during the tattoo process when fear can get a hold of you.  You might even say to yourself, "What the heck have I just done, and now there's no going back?" 

Interview people with tattoos...  ask them about the fear, and how they overcame it. 

So this is a real thing, but once you're done and you stand up to admire yourself in the mirror... you realize something.  You made it.  You endured the pain.  You had a vision and now that vision is imprinted upon you.  

And you didn…

Failure Is An Option

Several years ago, I learned a valuable lesson about the influence that failure can have over an organization.  It all stemmed from a conversation I had with a group of skeptical members of one of my former churches.  

It seems that they were less than enthusiastic about the new worship service that we were planning to launch, particularly because it was not at all like the more traditional worship service they'd grown accustomed to over the years. 

"We tried that a few years ago," one of them told me.  "We tried that whole contemporary thing, and it just didn't work."  They said the words "contemporary thing" like they were trying to get a bad taste out of their mouth---which was pretty close to the truth. 

The fact of the matter was, the previous attempt to add a new kind of service was not well-executed, not really supported by the former pastor and pretty much doomed from the start.  But in the minds of the folks in front me... it had been a fail…

When The World Shines

As I write this, I'm looking out of a window that is a bit dirty, and the view is nothing but a parking lot.  But the time of day is just right, so the sun is shining through the bushes that surround the parking lot with a soft and warm glow.  

It looks beautiful to me.  I can see the intricacy of the contours of the leaves of the bush, as they are bathed in this golden, insistent light that makes this seemingly ugly corner of the universe as lovely as any English garden.  

Just that little bit of warm, winter sun made that transformation happen.  What was ugly and forgettable took on a bit of eternity and it made my heart swell.  

I could use a bit of that sunlight right about now.  I'm having one of those days where I'm finding it hard to feel joyful.  It doesn't make sense.  Yesterday I was fine. There was plenty of laughter and I was writing about hope.  But today a shadow fell over me, and I'm struggling to type. 

If you're like me and you have these feelings …

I Promise.

I  had a conversation recently that got me thinking. The conversation was about making promises when you have no idea what the outcomes might be.  

At issue was the fact that some people  have a tendency to err on the side of positive thinking when it comes to promises, and sometimes make them even though they don't really know for sure in that moment whether they'll be able to keep them.

I have to admit, I'm one of those people.  

But I never really thought about why I do that.  Why is it that I can feel so confident sometimes about making a promise when I can't foresee the outcome at all?  

Years ago, my wife and I were sitting in the hot tub outside of our brand new house in Florida on a beautiful night with the sky full of stars.  We were about to move to Austin, TX at the time--a move that was full of all kinds of uncertainty.  

At some point my wife turned to me and said,  "This is going to be hard to beat, buddy."  

I looked her in the eye and replied, "…

It's The Little Things

There was this kid I knew in junior high that went forward during an altar call at the church we both attended---an act that wasn't that unusual, considering we attended a fire and brimstone kind of church where altar calls were kind of obligatory...  

If you're not familiar with those kinds of churches... consider your self lucky.  

After my friend responded to the altar call,  in fairly short order, the pastor announced to everyone that the boy had decided to come forward because he was "answering the call to preach."  

For some reason, the kid felt compelled that Sunday to set the course of his life and to start the process of becoming a preacher.    Everyone applauded... tons of people shouted "Amen!"  It was a great moment for my friend.  

He never became a preacher, by the way.  

What he was responding to, however, was some pretty bad theology.  We were taught that what God wanted from everyone who claimed to be a Christian was a really big gesture to prov…

Leaving The Familiar for the New

During a counseling session many years ago, one of my supervisors for Clinical Pastoral Education pointed out something profound to me, and I've never forgotten it. 

He told me that most people will stubbornly hang on to some of the most debilitating things--like anger, hatred, bitterness, paralyzing fear, grief... the list goes on and on.  

My supervisor said that the reason they hang on to the very things that eat them alive, destroy their joy and peace is very simple:  They don't know how to live without them.  

One of the most difficult things to overcome is our fear of losing the familiar--even when what's familiar might be tearing them apart.  

And it gets even more difficult when what is familiar isn't all that terrible.  When the familiar is good (or good enough) most of us will hang on to it for dear life, even if we are given the opportunity for something great.  

I've come to believe that following Jesus is an exercise in letting go of the familiar.  In fact,…

New - Week Two: "New Things"

Today we are continuing the sermon series that we started last Sunday--a sermon series that will take us all the way through the month of January.

The title of this series is "New" and it is centered on how we can begin the new year with a new focus, a new outlook and a new way of seeing ourselves and others.

Transformation is in our DNA--we were created to grow and to change, but the best kind of change leaves a mark.  And this is where our imagery of tattoos comes in...

Tattooing requires trust---otherwise things can turn out poorly.  I mean, you need to be willing to trust the right person, however.  You shouldn't get a tattoo from someone who just bought the equipment and wants to try it out.

But let's say you are getting a tattoo, wouldn't you agree that trust is something you need to have.

Tell the story of the tattoo on my arm.  Then show the tattoo.  

You have to be willing to submit to the artist as well--to trust that the artist has a vision and will be able…