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Showing posts from February, 2020

The Inward/Outward Journey of Lent

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Lent is a time when we are given the opportunity to reflect on the changes that we might need to make in order to be the kind of people we long to be.  

It's tempting to distill the deep meaning of this season, and the journey that we undertake during these 40 days, down to something manageable like giving up chocolate, or "fasting" from Facebook. 

I say "manageable," because I often struggle to truly offer up the things that are more challenging for me to let go of--even for just 40 days.  

For example, once I foolishly decided to give up coffee for Lent.  It was literally the hardest three days of my life... I  gave up giving up coffee pretty quickly.  

There's more to Lent than merely giving something up---although sometimes giving up something for Lent is helpful, especially if what we are giving up is keeping us from connecting with Jesus during this journey.  

You see, our observances of Lent have both an inward and an outward component.  Let me explain...…

Juggling At The Airport

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The other day I was at a gate in the airport about to board an airplane when I saw something that was completely unexpected and awesome. 

There was a man sitting near me, who was holding four juggling balls.  As he waited with his wife, who was sitting next to him staring blankly at her phone, he suddenly tossed the balls into the air and began juggling. 

Everyone around him started staring, transfixed by the sight of it.  No one said anything.  But we went from being just a bunch of weary travelers on a grey, cold Saturday morning to an audience filled with wonder. 

The juggling got a bit elaborate as he moved his hands deftly tossing the balls in odd directions.  A little girl behind me softly said, "Wow!" 

Just then, his wife nudged him with her elbow, and without looking up, said something to him about what she'd been looking at on her phone.  The man stopped juggling abruptly and with a resigned look on his face leaned over and looked at it with her. 

While it was obvio…

God Is Already In Your Tomorrow

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There was this verse that the preachers in the churches of my youth loved to preach from, but it always troubled me---even as a kid.

This was the verse:
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. - John 14:3Whenever the preachers of my youth would preach from this verse they would expound on the idea that what Jesus was talking about was "Heaven," a place where all true Christians were destined to go.  

They also then would declare that (based on their interpretations of the verse) Jesus would return one day for all true Christians, "rapturing" them away from a tired, sinful old world that was bound for destruction---along with every non-believer who was left behind. 

Consequently, this verse filled me with a lot of dread, and not much hope. I worried that I wouldn't be considered a true Christian, and as a result would be counted among the doomed. 

Thankfully, I've come to understand thi…

Living In The Rhythms of Resurrection

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There is a rhythm to the world that feels like breathing in and breathing out... like dying and resurrection.   

I heard once that in the ancient Hebrew, the name for God became YHWH (Yaweh) because it sounded a bit like breathing in and out to say it.  So the thought was that every time you took a breath and let it go, you said the name of God. 

We breathe in and breathe out, and each one of them is like a little death, and then a resurrection.  And all around us things are dying, and in that dying, new life is springing up, new things, new growth... a new world. 

This is the rhythm that Jesus referred to when he said:
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. And then he added... 
Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.It's the last bit that stymies us.  Despite all of the evidence of the rhythm of …

All Of It Is Connected

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Jesus was right all along.  We are most ourselves when we are thinking least about ourselves. - Andrew Peterson

At the end of a long day yesterday, I sat outside for a bit staring at the clouds moving overhead in the dark sky.  It had been a day full of contrasts.  

I'd experienced the wonderful highs of worshipping and preaching with my church, and I'd also felt the lows that come after expending so much energy, and finally slowing down. 

There had been a phone call from a church member who called with sad news that hurt my heart. And there was an encouraging message from a friend, a fun conversation with my son and the peace that came from cooking a good meal.  

I found myself a bit lost and weary, and yet somehow strangely blissful.  

As I sat there staring at the clouds, I thought about all of the contrasts of the day, and the way they were so disparate, and yet so connected, intertwined and interrelated.  

Together they made things complete.  

This is what I have come to underst…

The Good Work - Week Four: Move.

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Today we are continuing our sermon series that will take us all the way to the season of Lent---a series entitled "The Good Work."

We hear a lot about spiritual disciplines in Christian circles—things like prayer, Bible study, and the like.  But there are other disciplines—obvious ones that we tend to neglect.  And when we learn to practice them well, they have the potential to change our world.

That's what have been focused on for the past several weeks---developing these behind the scenes, foundational disciplines that have to be in place for us to move forward into spiritual maturity. 

If these disciplines aren't in place--it's difficult to develop others. 

So we're going to be talking about what it means to develop the spiritual disciplines of service, discernment, speech and movement---all of which are foundations for a full and vibrant spiritual life. 

Today we're going to be talking about developing the discipline of movement. 

Pintrest vs. Reality

What d…

Developing Our Spiritual Senses

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Throughout my life I've had more than my fair share of moments when I've missed seeing something amazing because I was too preoccupied with things that didn't matter all that much. 

Sadly, that kind of thing seems to be the norm in our current culture.  We're all glued to our phones, staring blankly at them all of the time it seems.  It's an epidemic.  

My son told me once that he never spoke with the kids he stood at the school bus stop with---kids he met every morning and afternoon for the entire year.  

"No one talks to each other," he told me.  "We're all just listening to our headphones, or on our phones and stuff."  

I got to thinking today about how much we do the same thing in our spiritual lives---dulling our spiritual senses, focusing our attention on the six inches in front of our face, not willing or able to truly experience what God is doing around us.  

Anthony de Mello wrote about this very thing, and exhorted his readers to live &…

If I Could Change The World

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A little over two decades ago, guitarist and songwriter Eric Clapton penned what would become a top ten hit, entitled “Change the World.”

The opening stanza of the lyrics went something like this:
If I could reach the stars
I’d pull one down for you
Shine it on my heart
So you could see the truth
That this love I have inside
Is everything it seems
But for now I find
It’s only in my dreams
That I can
Change the world
The song is soft, melodic and catchy.  You find yourself singing it after a few listens.  It’s been years since I heard it but as soon as I played it, I remembered the words.

But it’s the last line of the stanza that catches your attention, isn’t it?
But for now I  find
It’s only in my dreams
That I can
Change the world.
It’s easy to despair that the world can’t change.  It feels most days like we’re going backward instead of forward when it comes to progress.  And just when it seems as though we take a step in the right direction, we take two the wrong way.

The Jesuit mystic and author, Ant…

The Divine Locksmith

There was a time in my life when I didn't really believe that God was all that grace-filled.  

In fact, I'd kind of given up on believing in God altogether because I couldn't believe in the angry, judgmental God I'd been taught to be believe in.  When this realization came to me, I   walked away from the Church, from God, and from my faith.  

And I was just fine without all of it.  

Until I wasn't.  

I think the moment where I realized just how much I'd been longing for something more came when I attended a church service for the first time in all the years since I'd walked away, vowing never to return. 

I can't tell you what the sermon was about that day, but all I remember was sitting there in the pew with tears streaming down my face, shocked at how emotional I'd become.   

It was the first time that I recognized the deep longing within me--a longing a longing for a new vision of God, a grace-filled God who loved me, in spite of my objections, and the …

When You Give Thanks You Get More of God

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In Judaism, a berakhah is a formula of blessing or thanksgiving that is recited in anticipation of enjoyment, or of praise in response to gratitude. 

A berakah is imbued with a sense that the person praying is essentially "drawing down" spiritual energy as they pray.  

I find that absolutely awesome.  

Think through this with me.  The idea behind this prayer is that when you feel gratitude for the blessings that you are about to receive... or the blessings you have received... you should offer up that gratitude to God. 

And in return, you draw down spiritual energy that flows into you from the Giver and Sustainer of life, who continually gives without condition, without strings, without reservation.  

Or to put it another way:  We receive God through our many blessings, and when our praises and our thanksgiving flow back to God, God gives us more of God in return.  

The question then arises, "So, what should we give thanks to God for?"  And the answer is quite simple:  E…

The Incredible, Resurrecting Compassion of God

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I  recently officiated at a memorial service for a woman not much older than me, who passed away suddenly.  Weeks before, her sister had given birth to a little girl, and I got to watch as she gently cared for her baby with tears of sorrow streaming down her cheeks.  

After the service, one of the family members saw the sister with the baby, and softly said to me in passing, "It's the circle of life."  

I  recently read something fascinating about how in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for "compassion" has its roots in the word rachuwm, which means "womb." 

Interestingly, in the Scriptures the word rachuwm is most often used to describe God's "emotions" toward human beings---particularly in moments when they find themselves lost, oppressed and feeling abandoned by God. 

Take Isaiah 49:15 for example: 
"Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.T…

You Were Meant For The Exceptional

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As a pastor, I often have the opportunity to counsel people as they navigate some of life's challenges.  And I  would have to say that some of the saddest things I  hear begin with these words:

"If I'd only..."

So many of us live with the pain of regret.  We look back on our life, and can see with the benefit of hindsight all of the things we should have done, the decisions we could have made, the paths we ought to have taken.

But how many of us really learn from our past?  How many of us actually act differently based on our experiences?

From what I've seen, most of us will express our regrets over our past inability to leap in faith, to move forward with courage, to confidently choose a better path... but then we'll continue to make those same mistakes over and over again.

Mostly because we believe we aren't capable of doing anything exceptional.

Far too many of us will find ourselves with tremendous opportunities, moments of great decision and destiny, and w…

When You Think God Is A Jerk

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I spent a lot of my life believing God was a jerk. 

It was the only logical conclusion for me---based on what I'd learned about God and the way God worked.  

God was mad at me.  That's what I believed.  And the reason I believed this was because I had been told as much by Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, pastors and the like.  

To be fair, I believed God was mad at me because I was a sinner.  And because God hates sin so much, God couldn't be anything but mad at me for being a rotten, wretch of a sinner.  

The idea of God having loving, gracious, giving and merciful attributes was kind of an afterthought in most of our conversations about God.  

The fact that everyone around me seemed to be leading with "God is mad at you" when they talked about God, lessened the possibilities I  might have had about seeing God as anything but ticked off.  

It wasn't until years later that I began to embrace new ways of seeing God.  And let's just say that the images of G…

Lessons From An Ice Covered Road

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This past week, while on the homeward bound leg of a quick road-trip, we ended up driving into the aftermath of one of the worst snow storms to hit North Texas in a long time.  

The roads were covered in ice, and the few snowplows and salt trucks out working didn't seem to be making a dent in it at all. 

At one point we found ourselves stuck behind what seemed like miles of traffic, dominated by semi-trucks, which were all ground to a halt.  We sat there for over an hour before things started moving.  And even then, we could only crawl forward. 

Then it happened again several miles later.  Only this time we sat for an hour and a half before we could move forward.  

We were feeling helpless, frustrated and anxious as everything seemed so out of our control.  There was nothing we could do, no where to go, no one to appeal to for information, or help.  

There were moments when I began beating myself up, wishing I'd taken another route, gone another way.  

But in the end, we just had to…

How Do You Know You're On The Right Side?

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Someone asked me a question yesterday that I've been thinking about ever since.  

I'd just finished preaching about the spiritual discipline of discernment, and how we can become more discerning and make better decisions by relying on our connection to the Holy Spirit of God within us.  

My church member referenced the recent political turmoil in our country, and asked what I thought about the following premise:  Two politicians  on both sides of an issue voting against one another, both thinking they are doing God's will. 

The essential question my church member was posing was this:  "Who's right?"

I didn't have time to give a proper response yesterday after church, but I'd like to try to address it here---mostly because I'm pretty sure there are a bunch of us who are wondering the same thing. 

How do we know what is right, good and true when it comes to the big issues we are facing as a society?  Here's what I believe:  
I believe that God is on t…

The Good Work - Week Two: Discern.

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Today we are continuing our sermon series that will take us all the way to the season of Lent---a series entitled "The Good Work." 

We hear a lot about spiritual disciplines in Christian circles—things like prayer, Bible study, and the like.  But there are other disciplines—obvious ones that we tend to neglect.  And when we learn to practice them well, they have the potential to change our world. 

That's what we'll be focused on over the next several weeks---developing this behind the scenes, foundational disciplines that have to be in place for us to move forward into spiritual maturity.  
If these disciplines aren't in place--it's difficult to develop others.  
So we're going to be talking about what it means to develop the spiritual disciplines of service, discernment, speech and movement---all of which are foundations for a full and vibrant spiritual life.  
Today we're going to be talking about developing the discipline of discernment.  

When it comes …