Category Archives: Jesus

smaller and less

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Recently there has been talk about making Christmas bigger and better than ever. And something about this just hasn’t set right with me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas and big family gatherings and all the festivities around the church. But bigger and better than ever? I’m not quite sure those are the values that should qualify Christmas. It almost seems like more and more this is how society is trying to shape what began as something very different. You need to buy this better gift or your friend, spouse, kid, coworker, etc. won’t have a Merry Christmas. You need to make sure your debt ratio is getting bigger and bigger or Christmas won’t be complete. We have to make sure we capitolize on this season in our churches with as many activities to draw people in because this may be the only time of year we get to see them (well at least until Easter). We need to make sure everyone around us knows how big and important this holiday is because otherwise they’ll never understand the true meaning of Christmas.

To me it just all feels a bit off. The idea of shopping and planning and stressing and exhausting schedules seems so far removed from Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. One of my favorite versions of the Christmas story in scripture was actually written by Paul to the church in Philippi. “Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human.” – Philippians 2:6-7 The Christmas story is best categorized by words like emptied, slave, less, weak, humility, frail, fragile, etc. Not words like bigger and better. When God stepped into our world He became less. God became small. In fact, if you weren’t a shepherd or a magi (I’m not sure if I ever got to be one in one of the kid’s Christmas pageants) you probably didn’t even know about the first Christmas.

You may ask yourself though, why am I taking such issue with this? Because Christmas should represent our values as Christ followers and not as economists. Perhaps we should seek to embody the shepherds and seek out those who appear to be weak, vulnerable, less, frail and fragile this season. And when we find them it might be an opportunity for us to practice a Christmas value as we seek to enter into their situation with them. Perhaps Christmas is more about becoming like the broken, outcast, unloved, untouched, smaller and weaker because that is what God did for us at Christmas. So maybe for a moment this holiday season we all might find a way to try something different. It doesn’t have to be a huge gesture or anything massive, but maybe the smallest thing might become the most Christ-like as we seek to emulate the God who emptied Himself and became smaller and less for our sake.

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the most wonderful

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I don’t know about you, but I love Christmas music. And I’m definitely not a purist when it comes to when one is allowed to listen. I’ve been known to listen to Christmas music all during the season of Advent. I’ve been known to even begin listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving (I just told my students recently it was because there were no good turkey songs). I can even tell that I am truly getting into the spirit of the season when I bust out the Carpenter’s Christmas album. For me it truly is the most wonderful time of the year…and yet for some. Well they struggle with this season more than any other. Often times issues of grief or family drama or financial stress become even more prevalent during holiday seasons. For some this season even becomes the least wonderful time of the year. In a season that is meant to be marked by joy, peace, love, and hope, some find themselves struggling to find these very things in the midst of all the other issues that become more transparent as the holidays take hold.

And on some level I think it all hinges on that last aspect of the Advent practice…hope. The season of Advent, for those who aren’t aware, begins this Sunday and marks the beginning of the church year. Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and it is both a celebration of the initial coming of Christ and an anticipation of His return. And yet, we so often struggle with finding hope in the midst of this season. Many find themselves placing their hopes in things like the economy, politicians, national defense, etc. and as they often discover; this is no place for hope. When it comes to Advent, our hope takes on an incredible shape. Hear these words from the prophet Isaiah, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” – Isaiah 2:4 The Advent hope of Christ return almost seems too wonderful when we read it in the context of our current situation, but this is what true hope should look like.

In a world of shopping malls, black Friday sales, twitter feuds, international diplomatic escalation, racial unrest, cancer, and the like we struggle to take comfort in the story that Advent ushers in. Sometimes it is too much to find ourselves marveling at the story of a young Jewish mother giving birth to a son in the midst of a small town in Judea. Sometimes we struggle to find hope in the shepherd’s vision or the Magi’s quest or the angel’s songs. These stories are too wonderful and too far removed from our present situation for us to take hold of hope in the midst of a competing narrative. Perhaps what is needed is for us to look forward to the coming Advent that will take hold of the broken systems of this world and redeem them. The hope of Isaiah the prophet becomes realized in the words of John the apostle in that concluding hope of scripture. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 May we come to find ourselves caught up in THIS wonderful season and hopeful promise as we anticipate the Advent of Christ once again.


the norm

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In the introduction to Walden in an essay entitled Economy, Henry David Thoreau writes, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” In the 1850s Thoreau felt the need to escape life and run away to the woods because he felt that everyday existence had become so desperate, so mundane, so meaningless that he had to find something more. Can you imagine what would happen if we stuck him in the middle of the civilized world today? A world of enslaving technology, over prescribed medications, processed meals, incoherent work schedules, meaningless division and loosely connected family lives. I imagine Walden pond would not be deep enough for him to escape into.

And yet for many of us these routines, habits, diversions and crutches not only define us, but even give us some false sense of security. It is as if our routines, habits, and definable patterns make us feel normal. OPEN YOUR EYES! This is not normal. This is robbery! This is theft! You are being led away from who you were made to be. The writer of the book of John quotes Jesus with the following, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.They will come in and go out, and find pasture.The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – John 10:9-10. And the problem I have is with the way we read these verses. We read that those who come through Christ as the gate will be saved and we think it refers to an eventual reality and we stop there. We rob ourselves of the next verse! Jesus says that he has come to give us life…and life to the full. The Greek would be played out a bit like this; life that is more than, greater, exceeding, abundant, overflowing, passion filled, surpassing, uncommon, superior, more remarkable, more excellent, etc., etc. Are you getting the picture?

And yet so often we get to the end of the day and are glad we “made it through another day”. One of my favorite shows as of late has been the BBC’s Sherlock. In the season 2 finale (this shouldn’t be a spoiler at this point) there is a scene where Sherlock comes upon Moriarty who is listening to the Bee Gee’s Staying Alive. Moriarty then launches into an odd soliloquy, but this is my favorite part, “Staying Alive. So boring, isn’t it? It’s just…staying.” Now granted this is a delusional maniac saying this, but he does have a point. Why are we ever content to just “stay”? And especially those of us who are people of The Way! We should be moving. We should be active. We should be transforming those areas of our lives that people could see as normal into something that is truly incredible! Think about the ares of your life you could transform today. Maybe it is time with  spouse or kids. Maybe it is an encounter with  co-worker or fellow student. Maybe it is a chance encounter with a clerk or a waiter or waitress in your daily routine. Maybe it is something as simple as walking with a smile and a skip in your step. There are multitudes of ways to take your life to the fullest! Why not allow Jesus to do that for you and go out and make His name great today!


govern the night

This last Sunday morning I was up with my coffee early and I was reading a blog post about pastors. One of the concluding lines in the post suggested that pastors should get thirty minutes of exercise a few hours before they engage with their congregation…so I went for a run. It was a nice muggy hot morning in Odessa, but the thing that struck me the most was the moon. It was a fingernail sliver of a moon and as I turned a corner it completely disappeared. I had to do a double take, because I was pretty sure moon phases don’t happen that quickly. I then realized some clouds had simply passed in front and it soon returned to its normal phase and I returned to sweating early on a Sunday morning.

The moon has always been fascinating to me. I can’t imagine what it was like for ancient people to look up and see this light in the sky that at the end of the day wasn’t even a light at all. We of course know that the moon itself is not a source of light, but a source of reflection. Even on those nights when the full moon seems to light up everything you see, it still is only reflecting the light it receives from the sun. But the ancient Hebrews described it this way in the Genesis creation poem, “God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.” – Genesis‬ ‭1:16‬ ‭They saw the moon as a light itself, which would be one’s perception, but its role seems to be the more important facet. The moon was present to govern the night. The word in Hebrew is memshalah and can be translated as the power to rule or govern. The moon was thought of as the light to have power to rule over the night.

Now here is where it gets fun. ‘The moon is only a reflection’ you might say, and yet the better it reflects, the brighter it is. And the brighter the moon, the lesser the night/darkness. In some ways our lives themselves reflect the moon. We are called to reflect the light of Christ to the world around us. The darkness or the storm clouds or whatever may come our way shouldn’t diminish our reflection because we have been granted the “power to rule” over the darkness. 1 John 4:4 puts it this way, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” The power of Christ in you…the power to reflect the light of Christ is greater than all the other powers combined. Sometimes I hear people complain about the darkness around them or the storms that seem to move in on them and I wonder…how will their reflection be affected? In his book Velvet Elvis Rob bell poses the following, “Why blame the dark for being dark? It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn’t as bright as it could be.” Maybe that is the question to ask ourselves today. Is our light governing the night? Are we reflecting all the Jesus we should to the world? Perhaps we may someday find our reflective light shining so bright that people can’t see where Christ ends and we begin.


mi casa

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One of the most common phrases heard around our house these days is, “that’s mine”. And it really is a rather recent development with our two youngest. Foster kids can really change your perspective…for a bit. Because for a while it seemed like they were super human because they really didn’t claim ownership to much of anything and so “those disputes” didn’t seem to happen. Boy was I naive. Now that #3 & 4 have been in our house for over a year the claiming of property seems to resemble the gold rush of 1849 more than the charitable sharing that typified their initial behavior. “That’s mine”, “I had it first”, “No” and “Give me” have become the calling card of all their interactions as of late. And I  can’t help but wonder how much of this I have taught them.

Most of us learn the art of possession from an early age. We learn that things cost money and we have to work for that money and so through our toil these things take on a value that we assign. The problem occurs when we assign these things a greater value than we assign to other people. We don’t want certain people coming into our house because they might mess it up. We horde up or collect nice things because we we worked for it (Even the word horde brings to mind images of Smaug from the Hobbit). Yet at the end of the day, if we don’t even own the very breath in our lungs, do we “own” any of these things? Or do they own us? Jesus had this to say about the things on earth we lay claim to or possess, “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” – Mark 10:29-30 The crazy thing about that is the inference to the expansion of family and resources in the present age. A lot of folks might try to tell you that this is about God “blessing” you with bigger and better things, but it really is about something much richer.

I’ve begun to see it happen recently due to impending/ongoing threats to people’s homes and security in the United States. In the wake of Harvey and under the threat of DACA or Irma I have begun to see Christians open up their homes, lives  and possessions to those who face the unknown. And this is what Jesus really is referring to in the passage above…a shared kingdom life. It’s a life that literally says, “mi casa es su casa (my house is your house)”, because the things that I have come to “own” are actually things that I am a steward of and so they are best used when they are shared. In fact, this is the “hundred times as much” that Jesus refers to in the passage above. It is not about me amassing wealth and being greedy, but about me belonging to something much bigger than myself by realizing I don’t own any of it. There was a wonderful quote from Mahatma Gandhi that describes our world and the need for this type of behavior, “The world has enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.” I hope today you find yourself letting go of the “that’s mine” mentality so that you can open yourself up to see how Christ could use you for those who need you in the worst way.


but that’s not what I meant

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One of the most important things I’ve come to learn over the last couple of years from being a senior pastor is the ability to be vulnerable. And it really began with a realization of how little control I have over what people hear me say. You see, I say…well and I even write a lot. Even if you just take into account this blog, I’ve written over 65,000 words over the last two and a half years. But I’ve come to realize that I really have no power when it comes to people interpreting my words. I’ve been taken out of context, misquoted, and even lied about. And if it was done to the right audience, then no amount of pleading, arguing or even explaining will sway my words from being misunderstood. I wonder if any of the Biblical writers would feel this way today?

You see, one of the things we as Christians love to do is to latch on to a singular verse and use it for our causes or motivations without considering what we might be doing to the original meaning and context. One of my favorite verses that this is done to is Philippians 4:13; you know, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” You see it on t-shirts, work-out equipment, necklaces or even football player’s face tape. But when Paul was addressing the Philippian church, he had something drastically different in mind. Listen to the context here, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” – Philippians 4:11-12 Paul’s declaration of being able to “do all things” had more to do with powerlessness than power. It had more to do with vulnerability, than strength. It had more to do with contentment in adversity, than accomplishment.

Today my mind goes out to the thousands who have been displaced by Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Philippians 4:13 truly would be a life verse for them. For they have had to leave their homes and and all they know. They have had to accept the help of friends or even strangers. They still may encounter hardships and hurt that they aren’t even aware of yet. There will be trials, temptations, frustration, pain, anger, denial, etc. over the next few days, weeks, months and maybe more. You know, it sounds a bit like this, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” – Philippians 2:6-7 The reason that Paul could declare that he could face hardship and troubles through Christ’ strength is because he knew Christ endured it for his sake. The reason we can endure that which is about to come next is because we know Christ has endured it before.

So may you find encouragement today in reading and understanding the bigger context. And may you find strength in vulnerability, power in weakness, contentment in hardships and the ability to continue moving forward because of Christ and His example.


in the flesh

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I once heard a story about a little girl who was having trouble going to sleep one night. Her father came into the room to remind her that there was no reason to be afraid because God was right there with her. However, even after this reassurance, a few minutes later the girl was calling for her dad again. Her dad came back into the room again and tried to remind her once again that God was right there with her. “But dad, I need someone with skin on.” We might hear this story and think of it as just being a cute anecdote, but it might be a story that calls us to the greatest Christian action that we could practice…being present.

The very beginning of the Jesus story goes a bit like this, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” – John 1:14 The thing that makes the Jesus story so powerful, so compelling is that God was willing to put on human skin and join us. He was willing to suffer, laugh, play, dance, sing, work, cry, think, move, and share in every other human experience. Not only that, but He set the example for us as to what it meant to be truly human because He was always fully present. As you read the story of Jesus throughout the gospels, you begin to see a trend in his approach towards others. Regardless of the person’s station in life or their spiritual state or status, Jesus was always fully present with them. I even think of the most extreme example where we may even think of Jesus not being present in Matthew 15. A Canaanite woman approaches Jesus and he really doesn’t seem to want to take the time to interact with her as He feels compelled to continue taking His message of healing and redemption to Israel. Yet at the end of the encounter we read this, “Then Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment.” – Matthew 15:28

Now think about this with me for a moment. If Jesus proved His love for those around Him by being present in each and every situation, how much more should we work at being present to those around us? Perhaps if we began to value each conversation, each interaction, each moment as God would have us to, then people might begin to respond to us differently. I can’t help but think of the marvel Jesus had each time He encountered someone new. Even though He knew them, all of a sudden it was real…because they both had skin on. Perhaps if we could come to realize that people are more than agendas, schedules, products, customers, numbers, etc. we might begin to see them with the same awe and wonder that God has for each and every human that ever walked the face of the earth. So may you today seek to be present in a new and real way to those around you. Because you never know when they may need somebody with skin on.


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