Monday, November 27, 2017

Forgiveness as an Advent Practice

This Sunday is the beginning of the Advent season - four weeks of preparation for Christ to enter our world anew. Advent is a season of hopefulness and anticipation. We can't wait for God's incarnation into our existence. But Advent is also a time of darkness, pain, and lament. In this darkest time of the year, we long for the Light of the World to radiantly burst forth, because the darkness feels too heavy and all-consuming. Sin and corruption are rampant in us all, people are at odds with one another, and sadness and loneliness too easily overwhelm. Things are not right.

To some degree, our calling is simply to wait. Advent is a season of waiting; of hopeful anticipation that help is on the way. And yet, we are also called to actively wait; to seek solutions to the problems we have inherited and created. 

One form of active waiting that I have been thinking about recently is the long-lost art of asking for forgiveness. If the world is not the way it is meant to be, and if we have some role in that outcome, then one massive step forward is the willing submission to the humble process of apology and forgiveness. Is there something you have done that has hurt someone else and you need to simply say sorry? Is there a way you have contributed to things not being right where you need to repent and ask for forgiveness? Are there relationships in your life that have gone askew, where you could be the bigger person, own your part of the blame, and seek reconciliation through contrition?

During this Advent season, may you be willing to take the bold first step of seeking restoration. May you own your mistakes, say you're sorry, and see if the incarnated God can begin to redeem some of the brokenness of the relationship at a time.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Clinging to the Right Things

an old picture of Zoe clinging to what
actually matters, our friends' dog, Daisy
A few weeks ago I had a really interesting experience with Zoe. It was bedtime and she was obviously quite tired, so I decided to carry her to her bed (which I don't do as often now that she's not a baby anymore). As I was carrying her downstairs, she wrapped her arms tightly around my neck, nestled her head onto my shoulder, and I held her tightly in a warm embrace. It was a precious, special moment.

But then suddenly she realized that she had not grabbed the stuffed animals she was planning to sleep with that night, so we turned around to go find where she had last put them. The tragedy of the story is that as Zoe continued to fill her arms with an immeasurable number of animals, she was suddenly unable to cling tightly to me in a sweet father-daughter embrace. We had lost the cuddly connection we had once shared, and I had now become no more than her preferred mode of transportation from one place to the next.

Hoarding our possessions (our money, things, clothes, time, energy, and skillsets), can often force us to sacrifice more important things. We cannot serve two masters. We can't serve God and money. Like Zoe in the story, clinging so tightly to the things we own can distract us from more significant things or people that are right under our noses and can rob of us of the life God intends for us.

During this season of thanksgiving and gratitude, may we learn to loosen our grip on the things we own and the endless desire for more. May we be more aware of the things in life that really matter. May we recognize that the God of the universe is desperate to hold us close, shower us with blessing, and remind us of our God-given value. And during this frantic season of American consumerism, where a meal of the thanksgiving quickly gives way to Black Friday shopping, may we not let anything distract us from our first love...the God who loves us dear and holds us near.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A No-Gimmick Church

On the whole, I consider myself a pretty loving, hospitable, and gracious person. I don’t get worked up over too much, I’m a pretty good listener, and I have a fairly high pain-tolerance for difficult people. But there is one thing that drives me crazy: a gimmick.

I can’t stand gimmicks. I despise the bait and switch mentality, where I feel like I am being sold a bill of goods. I get so annoyed when I am l led to believe one thing is true and then come to find out it was all a farce. I can’t stand being fed a line. And I’m guessing I’m not the only person in our church that has a pretty low level of patience for gimmicky conversations and marketing.

Unfortunately, this model of branding and marketing has become increasingly prevalent in our society. A new pyramid scheme crops up every day and my phone is constantly ringing with automated scam phone calls. And I’ve found myself having almost zero tolerance for the gimmicks of our society. While I’m certainly not rude to the telemarketers who call daily, they don’t often get to see my kind, pastoral side. I can’t stand gimmicks.

And yet Christians, churches, and ministries succumb to this type of conversation, branding, and marketing as well…and it’s a terrible shame. We advertise our churches as something we aren’t. We try to get people in the door through bait-and-switch tactics. We too often aren’t open and honest about who we are, what we are passionate about, and what it will mean for people to be a part of our church. Instead, we put on a show, trying to make ourselves cooler than we actually are, and people can smell our hypocrisy and insincerity from miles away.

Now, I’m using the royal ‘we’ here to remind us all that it is really easy to slip into this gimmick mentality. But in all sincerity, I am SO proud of our church for generally being an anti-gimmick kind of church – open, honest, and real; doing ministry out of our true identity, rather than always wishing we were some other church; and certainly not trying to puff out our chests and pretend we are better or cooler than we are in an effort to get people through the door.

So, I'm thankful my church isn't like this. I'm thankful they are a church that is passionate about Jesus, comfortable in its own skin, and never interested in being something other than their true identity. And I'm thankful that they resist the pressure of a bait-and-switch way of engaging with the community. I hope we can commit to always being a no-gimmick church.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Our Weekend with the Scandrettes

The following is an article I wrote to my church members following our weekend with Mark and Lisa Scandrette a last week.


What an incredible weekend of activities and events 
with Mark and Lisa Scandrette!!

I hope you all were encouraged as much as I was, but wow, that was an amazing time of communitylearning, and challenge. First, it was great to simply be together as a church so often this weekend. There is something mysteriously spiritual about eating together...and I'm quite certain none of us went hungry over the previous three days! To watch you all gather around a meal, sit with one another, and connect with each other in deep, profound ways is one of the greatest aspects of my job. I absolutely LOVE creating and curating spaces for us all to simply be together.

Second, the weekend was filled with incredibly profound and insightful ideas and information. Mark and Lisa are brilliant thinkers and I constantly found myself jotting down new and exciting concepts. As Christians, we are called to love God with our whole selves -- including our minds -- so it was fantastic to have the opportunity to learn and think and grow.

And thirdly, this was a weekend of being challenged. The nature of Mark Scandrette's ministry is one that refuses to allow people to just attend an event, absorb some content, and walk away unscathed. He forces you to wrestle and process the ways in which we are invited and compelled into a new way of living and being. At the heart of Mark's message and ministry is that the way of Jesus is good and practical and actually leads into better ways of existing. 

So, I'm hopeful that this incredible weekend of being together, learning, and being challenged in our faith will send us out from here passionate about practically living out the way of Jesus in our world. May we truly believe that the path of Jesus is the best possible way of living and be committed to enacting this way in all that we do and say.