Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Power of Hope

There's a famous passage of scripture that ends with the line, "And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love." And that's totally true -- that love is the greatest of all characteristics and actions. No question about it. But I wonder if, for some people, the other two characteristics or concepts might not be more significant and vital at certain times in people's lives. I wonder if, for some, faith or hope might be the sort of idea they need to cling to as a sustaining force in certain periods of life...even more than love.

For me, hope carries a terribly potent energy. I can so easily fall into the trap of pessimism and cynicism and begin to wallow in my own despair. Even if love is present, without a glimmer of hope from time to time, depression nips at my heels. But hope rejuvenates. Hope fills me up when I am empty. Hope has an electric dynamism that allows me to push on despite all obstacles.

Hope is a powerful drug.

Hope has a way of reminding us, in the midst of all the challenges and uncertainties life brings, that it might. just. be. okay. That there is an end in sight. That there is light at the end of this tunnel. That this will all work out in time. And for people of faith, like myself, hope is a reminder that God will be a comforting presence through all of these trials and doubts and fears.

For me personally, I have a job that can sway my emotions by the minute. I can be riding high after a wonderful church service and be brought to rock-bottom by one fleeting, critical comment. I can be on cloud nine after a great week of ministry, only to be wondering when the pink slip will arrive in my office after an average sermon and a Sunday of low attendance. It's a sick cycle -- and probably reveals something of my insecurities and flaws -- but it's real and it's ugly...and the only antidote to this poisonous pathology has been hope. A small victory. A great conversation. A beautiful and meaningful Sunday morning. A word of encouragement.

Hope is a sustaining force. 

Hope has a way of subtly grabbing us by the shirt collar and reminding us of our worth and our true identity in God. Hope, for me, comes and goes with random unpredictability. But when it shows up at my doorstep, I welcome it in with open arms. Because we all need a little hope from time to time. To buoy us in our moments of drowning. To comfort us in our moments of despair. To remind us that it's all going to be okay. Keep hanging on. Keep trusting God. Keep hoping.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Striving for Both/And in an Either/Or World

It has been like this forever – as there is nothing new under the sun – but we currently live in polarizing times. We are pitted against each other. We are expected to take sides. One group must be right and the other must be wrong. Red vs. blue. Gay vs. straight. Black vs. cop. It is an either/or way of thinking about the world.

But what if it could be BOTH/AND instead? What if you could BOTH hold your Christian identity with strength and assurance AND honor, respect, and learn from people of other faith traditions? What if you could BOTH support a political candidate AND acknowledge that the opposing candidate maybe-just-maybe isn’t the anti-Christ? What if you could BOTH question the morality of homosexuality AND love our LGBT brothers and sisters through welcoming them into our churches and supporting their equal rights under the law?

What if saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ came with the undergirded assumption that, of course, All Lives Matter? What if BOTH Black Lives Matter AND Blue Lives Matter?

It is possible to BOTH love and support our police officers who daily risk their lives for our safety AND to recognize that there are some systemic racial problems in our country that have led to much discrimination and way too much lethal force of late. The danger of labels like “black” and “blue” is that we can so easily forget that REAL people are ACTUALLY being made black and blue. People are getting hurt and killed as we resort to violence instead of peaceful, creative solutions that might bring about real, actual, substantive change.

The gospel of Jesus is all about breaking down barriers of separation. Jesus, in everything he does and says, is eradicating an either/or, us vs. them, hate-the-enemy sort of worldview. And we are called to do the same. Let’s commit to not demonizing our opponent. Let’s commit to putting aside the false-binaries that our world teaches us exist. Let’s commit to listening to all people, even and especially when we know we will disagree. Let’s commit to the Jesus-centered spirit of hospitality, generosity, and love that we see laced throughout the pages of Scripture. Let’s commit to being BOTH/AND people, rather than EITHER/OR.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Power of Pilgrimage

Last Time I was in Whistler - David on the far left
It was April 2012. I had just graduated from seminary in March and Mandy was due with our first child in May, so it felt like I needed to do something grand to mark and celebrate these two occasions. So my best friend, David, and I took an epic road trip – mountain biking, rock climbing, and disc golfing from Seattle to Moab and back. It was a fun trip, but an exhausting trip. It was a time of incredible connection and amazing memories. But more than anything, it was a spiritual trip…a pilgrimage.

And now, four years later, David and his wife are about to have their first child and he asked me to join him on another adventure as we mark the commencement of a whole new season in his life. Here in July (perhaps as you are reading this), I will be spending 4 days in British Columbia, riding mountain bikes at one of the most amazing mountain bike locations in the entire world, Whistler. Another fun, but exhausting trip. Another time of incredible connection and amazing memories. But more than anything, another spiritual trip…another pilgrimage.

The art of pilgrimage has been an essential piece of Christian spirituality for thousands of years. There is something significant that happens when we get away from busyness, unplug from normality, turn off the technology, and allow ourselves to simply be. Scripture is laced with stories of journey – of being sent from one place to the next, with the expectation of encountering God along the way. And we have this same spiritual opportunity available to us – the challenge to go and encounter – to see God’s presence in new and transformative ways.

So I’m trying to seize the spiritual potential of pilgrimage, and I’m encouraging you to do the same. Find opportunities for spiritual journey this summer. Find ways to get away. Find places to go that will refresh and encourage your soul. Find good people to do life with – people that will leave you better than when they found you. And I’ll see you when I get back – with my spirit in a better place than when I left.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Power of Worship

I preached about desire last Sunday - that at the most basic level of our humanity, we are lovers - we desire. So then the question for us isn't whether we desire, but what we desire. Are our desires pure and altruistic? Do they benefit the rest of creation? Are they selfish and harmful? What do we desire?

Many of these thoughts were aided by a philosopher named James K.A. Smith. Smith argues, in a book called Desiring the Kingdom, that we naturally create cultural liturgies around our desires. We form rituals and practices that reinforce that which we love and desire. These desires are varied and diverse, ranging from sports and art and hobbies to social justice, spirituality, and volunteer work. We form rhythms around our desires. Borrowing from Augustine, Smith reminds us that,
"We are what we love."
Which leads me to worship. As a Christian, if I claim to love and desire God and relationship with God, then my cultural liturgies I create will manifest themselves in what we normally think of as worship. But we don't just create these cultural liturgies - we don't just create worship liturgies - they also create us. There is a symbiotic power in worship, where we don't shape a worship gathering, but it shapes us as well. Too often worship is thought of as a passive event that you simply attend. But worship isn't just some boring, rote ritual we perform. It's not placebo; it's not a crutch; it's not a task to cross off in our weekly schedule. It's not even something we go to. Once again, from Jamie Smith,
"Liturgy isn't something that you do; it does something to you." 
Worship shapes us; forms us; takes us from one place to another. We don't stand on the outside of a worship gathering and witness the liturgy. Worship is no spectator sport. We join in; we play a role; we get implicated into something bigger than ourselves. We join together with thousands of years and millions of people who have stepped into the formational process and allowed themselves to be moved, changed, transformed. So if you love God - if that's where your desire is located - then show up to the worship gathering expecting to get changed; for something to happen; for the liturgy to do something to you - because I guarantee it will.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Magical, Mystical, Mysterious Moment

Last Friday, I spent the day in Yellowstone National Park with a friend, a congregant in my church. It's shameful to admit to my fellow Bozemanites, but this was only my second trip into the Park in my life...but it was certainly a day I won't soon forget.

In contrast to my Yellowstone inexperience, my friend has spent about a day per week in the park for the past 27 years. Needless to say, he knows his way around. We bypassed many of the standard park attractions, opting instead for some off-the-beaten-path goodness of which only the most fervent park aficionados might know. And one of these obscure locations served as the setting to a profound, mystical experience that caught me off-guard and about had me in tears.

We were heading back to our car after a short hike near the Firehole River, when we detoured down a riverfront trail. It was cold that morning, about 35 degrees, and a thick layer of steam hovered throughout the valley. After a few hundred yards we came upon an incredible mud pot, bubbling and boiling and projecting mud as much as 10 feet into the brisk, morning air. We were thoroughly enjoying this thermal anomaly, captivated by its mysterious oddity, when I heard a noise and turned around to a great surprise.

It was a more than a hundred feet from us. And as I peered into the thickness of the steam, I could see more and more arriving behind him.

My friend and I moved up the hill to a safe overlook and both stood speechless for 10-15 minutes. There were about 35 buffalo, innocently walking and grazing and playing in the meadow below us, all within a few hundred feet. The buffalo snorted, the river babbled, the steam moved gently across the plain. So peaceful. So serene. So beautiful. And in that moment, I felt closer to nature and God than I have in quite sometime. It was most-certainly a spiritual experience. Surely God had been in that place and I was unaware.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Finding My Sermon-Writing Rhythm

I'm pretty new to all this. I've been preaching and pastoring for quite a while, but this is the first time being senior pastor and full-time preacher. So the past six weeks have been a process of figuring out how I work best. And when. And where. I'm searching for rhythm.

One thing that has surprised me, thus far, is the PLACE I have written most of my sermons. Most of my sermon preparation has taken place at...McDonalds. The trendy side of me is ashamed. My seminary colleagues might disapprove. I'm in my early 30s, lived in one of the more trendy cities in the world, and studied at one of the more creative, hip seminaries in the country - I shouldn't be writing sermons at McDonalds. I should be downtown at some trendy coffee shop - in tight jeans and a v-neck t-shirt.

And yet, here I am at McDonalds. And I'm Loving It.

Firstly, on a purely practical level, I'm not much of a coffee drinker, but I drink soda like crazy. So for a dollar, I can sit and drink soda and read and write to my heart's content.

But more importantly, the atmosphere at McDonalds is more closely aligned with the demographic I do and want to connect with. The clientele at McDonalds is generally pretty different than me, but I love how that stretches me as a person and a professional. They are down-home, salt of the earth folks - they aren't rich, they aren't pretentious, they work hard. Fox News plays on the TVs incessantly. The conversations I overhear are fairly right-of-center. These folks are pretty different than me and I'd probably fit in better at some local coffee shop. But these folks need me and I really need them.

So I'm learning to embrace this place. I'm learning to own and accept it. I'm learning to love this new rhythm. I'm coming to grips with my shame. I'm learning to recognize my judgment and condescension. I'm learning...and McDonalds is my teacher.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

God’s Refreshing Grace

Amongst a variety of things I do at our church, I lead a bible study for a group of women every Tuesday morning. We are currently (slowly) working our way through the book of Acts, which has been an incredibly life-giving endeavor.

As we have worked through Acts, one recurring theme is that an extraordinary miracle will happen (like the coming of the Holy Spirit and the healing of a crippled beggar), the witnesses will be filled with awe and wonder, and Peter will preach a sermon to explain the significance of the event. In Peter’s sermon in Acts 3, he presents the gospel in a compelling and convicting way and then calls for the people to repent.

But the interesting aspect for me, that I’ve been mulling over for weeks, is Peter’s declaration that the grace of God brings ‘times of refreshing’ from the Lord. The word, in its original language, was used to speak of a good drink of water; of Sabbath for slaves and animals; of the soothing of Saul’s spirit by David’s music; of respite from the plagues for Pharaoh; of the end of slavery in the Psalms. I don’t know about you, but that sort of grace sounds amazing, incredible, and refreshing. In a world of constant and extreme expectations and pressure, a grace that refreshes sounds like an oasis in the desert.

Wherever you are today – however easy or hard life might feel – I pray that you would experience the refreshing grace of God. I pray that Jesus would meet you anew with the words of an easy yoke and a light burden. May you truly sense the peaceful refreshment of the Lord.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Advent Week 4: Love

Here is my excerpt from our Advent devotional at First Baptist Church of Bozeman, where I serve as one of the pastors.


As I’ve been saying each week, Advent is a journey. We began by striving to hold hope – even when hopelessness can so easily pervade our lives and our world. In the midst of death and sickness and war and divorce and all kinds of evil that have invaded our world, we cling to hope as we anticipate the coming of the hope of the world. We anticipate God’s redemptive goodness being birthed once again into our world of chaos and pain. Then, as we begin to trust that God is doing a new thing here – a new creation – we begin to gain a sense of peace. Despite the lack of peace all around us, God’s faithful presence and active involvement in the world endows us with a sense of assurance that could only come from the Prince of Peace. And then, when the peace of Christ has washed over us, cleansing us from the tyranny of violence, confusion, and chaos so prevalent in our world, we emerge from this baptism with a profound sense of joy – a joy that strikingly transcends the trite, superficial happiness the world so often pedals.

And finally, this journey brings us to the category of love. As we learn to struggle through this hope-peace-joy process, the journey of Advent, we emerge not just with a personal joy, but also with the capacity to love. We have felt and seen the presence, faithfulness, and love of God – even in the worst of circumstances – and this propels us forward to be present, faithful, and loving for the world. As Jesus says in John 13:34, “Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.” As we experience the love of God, we too are invited into the task of love. We are invited to help others find hope, peace, joy, and love in the midst of their despair, restlessness, depression, and bitterness.

So as this Advent season wanes and Christmas day draws near, may we not just anticipate the joyous arrival of the cute, cuddly infant in a manger. But may we also invite the God of love into our lives. May we allow ourselves to be shaped and transformed by a God that loves us enough to come near, enter into the mire and muck, and redeem the world from within. And may we be challenged to embody this same love for our world – to partner with God in creating a new heaven and a new earth – a wholly redeemed world.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent Week 3: Joy

Here is my excerpt from our Advent devotional at First Baptist Church of Bozeman, where I serve as one of the pastors.


“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

As author Frederick Buechner alluded to in yesterday’s reading, joy is a journey that one does not arrive at quickly. It is the ‘final’ word that is only reached through enduring the first word (and, undoubtedly, many other words). We, in the church, are quite skilled at masking our real emotions – the pain and hurt and confusion and anger that so often surround us – choosing to answer the frequently-asked question, “how are you,” with the stock response of “fine.” We know that joy is inherently Christian – a good emotion that we all ought to strive for in our lives – and yet, we haven’t been taught that true joy only comes as we learn to properly travel through our own grief and loss and brokenness. So we put on our happy faces and pretend that all is swell, when in reality we might be crushed inside and longing for a true joy that far transcends momentary happiness.

Which brings us again to the significance of the Advent season – because this is really what Advent is all about. We begin this season with an effort to hold hope, even when all seems so hopeless. The world is dark, and yet we’ve been given the promise of the Light of the World. And then, if we will be brave enough to truly wrestle with hope in the midst of our hopelessness, we might just come to some sort of peace – that no matter what, in all circumstances, in good times and bad, God will be with us. In the midst of an angry, violent world of war, we’ve been given the promise of the Prince of Peace. And then, as we experience a sense of peace in the arms of our ever-present, ever-loving God, we have finally made space for true joy to enter our lives – the Joy of the world – a joy that neither neglects our pain and struggle, nor allows that hurt and brokenness to define and control us.

And so, as we continue this season of Advent, may we be people who will embrace our brokenness without losing hope, encounter peace without succumbing to passivity, and then experience a joy that far exceeds the trite, meaningless quest for happiness that is so pervasive in our culture.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent Week 2: Peace

The following is my piece from week 2 of our Advent devotional at First Baptist Church of Bozeman, the church I help pastor.


Vengeance and anger and war have engulfed our world – surrounding and suffocating us in a prison of violence. From our front porch to Ferguson, from Bozeman to Baghdad, we are constantly bombarded with the reality of conflict. In fact, the U.S. has spent over $10 million PER HOUR on war since 2001. We have come to assume that this tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye way of thinking is not just normal, but right. We have come to know of no other way.

And yet, the Advent season begs us to dream of another way. In a world so steeped in violence that it has lost its collective imagination for any other way of problem solving, we are invited to wait for, and welcome, the Prince of Peace into the world. In a world where it is impossible to watch the news for any length of time without encountering enormous amounts of strife and conflict, we are invited to remember that violence and war and death do not get the final word in the Kingdom of God.

So, in this Advent season, may we hold out hope that the Prince of Peace might show up on the scene afresh, with a new, revolutionary message of shalom in the midst of our terribly broken world. May we have eyes to see how our God of redemption might be knitting together a tapestry of peace and love and justice for all. And may we be courageous enough to partner with God in being agents of this peace, love, and justice…here, and now.