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.