Tag Archives: Paul

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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petty

mosquito sucking bloodA couple of years ago my wife and I got to spend a day with one of our professors from college. I say “our” even though I never took him for a class,  because of how instrumental he was in shaping both of our paths. My wife often says that she would have spent her entire student debt on his one class that she took because of what it meant to her faith walk. And in our lives together he’s the person that we have often turned to during difficult times in ministry and he usually has some small nugget of truth that resonates with us for months and even years to come. This day was no exception as we found ourselves talking about ministry and the church again. At some point in the conversation he says to us, “You know what the two great sins of the church are? Being boring or being petty.” At the time I kind of shrugged it off, as I am apt to do…but time reveals so much, doesn’t it?

I’ve come to realize how much truth there was to that statement. The first piece is pretty self-explanatory. The last thing the church should ever be boring with is the life-transforming message of the Gospel. The second piece is something we have all lived with and seen in our own contexts. We love to major on the minors. We will go to war in the church over the color of carpet, style of worship, wall decor, etc. And the grudges we hold if we don’t get our way. Paul says this to the people of Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” – Colossians 3:12-13 Clothe, dress, adorn, put-on love, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience! In other words, don’t be petty. Don’t major on the minors. Keep the first things first.

And if you don’t think pettiness is a big problem consider this adage from the Dalai Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”. Granted, he may have meant this in a positive light, but I have trouble seeing anything positive associated with mosquitoes. If we allow pettiness to dictate our actions, it can destroy relationships, families and even churches over stuff that at the end of the day doesn’t even matter. I have seen friendships ruined over stuff that people shouldn’t even be getting up in arms about, but because they have taken a stand, they can’t back down. And at the end of the day, when we allow pettiness to dictate our actions, we have allowed sin to control our lives…because truly is about me and not about we. I always find myself coming back to the quote by Meldenius, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Perhaps it is time for some of us to learn not to be petty in non-essentials and to clothe ourselves in charity for the sake of our friendships, our churches and the world.


trick or treat

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One of my favorite events in the life of our church here in Odessa took place last night. For one night each year we roll out the red, or should I say orange, carpet in a big way. Our annual Fall Festival is awesome! We have about 50 or so volunteers rally to host over 500 people each year. There’s food trucks, inflatables, face-painting, carnival games, pop-corn, music and costumes…so many cool costumes. I love seeing all of the kids, and “adult kids”, coming to our church in their costumes for a night of fun and festivities. In fact, it seems that more and more each year people are really getting into the Halloween spirit. And yet, sometimes we in the church struggle with what to do with this holiday full of spooks and ghosts and ghouls.

I guess we could start by taking a look at our own history, after all, Halloween began as part of Allhallowtide, a Christian feast holiday. According to HistoryChannel.com, “In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; All Saints Day…The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.” Halloween was originally part of a Religious feast intended to honor those who have gone before us. And yet so often we see all of the hullabaloo of Halloween today feeling like something different from it’s Christian roots and often become something else entirely. Even as I am writing this I am thinking about all of those who feel like Halloween is a dark holiday to be avoided at all costs…and I respect your opinion, but think with me for a moment. Try putting yourself in the place of one of the kids who got be at our Fall Festival last night or who looks forward to Trick-or-Treating this coming week. You’re telling me that for a day I get to dress up like someone else, go around to my neighbor’s houses and they give me candy? It’s almost kind of magical. And who doesn’t love another excuse to eat candy?

I have always looked at scripture a little differently and I hope you will amuse me here. To me, one of the saddest verses in all of scripture is found in I Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” So often we think of this as the natural maturation process, but what if it is talking about the loss of the natural wonder and love that comes with childhood? I think all to often we are ready to grow up and we miss the joy and simplicity of living that can be seen through the eyes of a child. Maybe if we began to see this holiday again through the eyes of a child and all the joy I saw last night we might be able to see it a little differently. Maybe the treat is found through the trick of seeing Halloween as a child. And maybe holidays like Halloween can be enjoyed in a new light as we seek to reclaim the world yet again through childlike wonder and joy.

 

 


our go-to

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Do you ever get nervous about what is to come? Do you ever find yourself fearful of the next moment? Do you watch the news at all? It’s crazy to think that our culture has become dependent on fear and worry. It’s almost as if we as people of faith have to struggle more than ever not to give into “the rulers, the authorities, and the powers of this dark world”. The crazy thing is that this isn’t a new struggle. We as humans have been quick to cling to fear or dread or worry…even in the good times. I’m reminded of the story in scripture recorded in the book of Nehemiah. The people of Israel had come home from exile, had begun to rebuild, and had even rediscovered the law. They gathered as one to hear the law read and explained to them and their response is recorded here, “Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.” – Nehemiah 8:9 What should have been this beautiful moment of reclaimed identity became a moment of weeping. Why? Because we’re not very good at joy.

In her book Daring Greatly, author Brene Brown addresses this a bit when she speaks to fear, dread and joy. “We can’t prepare for tragedy and loss.  When we turn every opportunity to feel joy into a test drive for despair, we actually diminish our resilience.  Yes, softening into joy is uncomfortable.  Yes, it’s scary.  Yes, it’s vulnerable. But every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments, we build resilience and we cultivate hope.  The joy becomes part of who we are, and when bad things happen–and they do happen–we are stronger.”* The people of Israel wept in the face of the law because they worried once again that the other shoe was about to fall. They had experienced loss and exile and in this moment of what should have been pure, unadulterated joy, they wept…they were still fearful. As Brown puts it, joy is scary because it’s vulnerable. It opens us up to the possibility that we could be hurt or let down. But if we never fully experience joy we actually become more hollow, more shallow, more fearful and even weaker in the face of tragedy.

The great thing about that passage in Nehemiah is that it doesn’t stop at verse nine. “Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength’.” – Nehemiah 8:10 Did you see that? The joy of the Lord is our strength. Being able to be grateful and joyous in the good things that God gives us actually becomes that which makes us stronger. I often hear Christians quote or paraphrase German philosopher Nietzsche when it comes to tragedy and pain; “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” (Sometimes they just sing Kelly Clarkson) But this isn’t entirely true. Our go-to after facing tragedy and hurt and pain, can be worry or dread over whatever is coming next…and this is not strength. True strength can be found in the gratitude and joy for those surreal life moments when we experience God in a new way and truly come to realize that the joy of God becomes our strength.

 

* Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books, 2012. Print.

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.


wait, what? 


So on Monday I became a teacher…

I guess it all began a few weeks ago. I heard a “story” about a guy in a flood. As the water rose to his knees someone came by in a boat. “Do you need help?” “No, my God’s going to rescue me”, was the man’s reply. As the waters continued to rise someone else came by in a boat. “Do you need help?” “No, my God’s going to rescue me”, was the man’s reply again. Eventually the water rose so high that he had to climb onto his roof. Not long after that a helicopter came by. “Do you need help?” “No, my God’s going to rescue me”, was the man’s reply yet again. Well he ended up drowning. Upon arriving in Heaven he asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?” God’s reply, “Well I sent two boats and a helicopter, what more were you waiting for?”

Now the business of a church is tricky at times. And sometimes when you feel like you are doing the ministry God has called you to it doesn’t always add up in terms of finance. And at our own church it has been this way for quite some time. You could see the proverbial waters rising and we all were just waiting on how best to solve this dilemma. Then a couple of weeks ago I found out that the school my kids attend needed a science teacher. For most pastors this probably wouldn’t sound like a boat, but this pastor happens to have an undergraduate degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. Not only that, but the school was looking for a Middle School teacher and I had worked with Middle School students for over five years during my youth ministry days…what?!? So I applied, talked it over with my board and on Monday I became a Middle school science teacher.

Now here’s the beauty of it; I’m not alone in this endeavor. More and more pastors are turning to bi-vocational ministry as they seek to minister to contemporary culture and settings. Not only that, but there is a Biblical example for this type of ministry as well. In his letter to the Thessalonian church we read this from Paul, “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.”‭‭2 Thessalonians‬ ‭3:7-8‬ Although I may feel a little overwhelmed, I am actually excited about the possibility of working outside and inside the church. It will help stabilize our church finances, but it will also give me an opportunity to see the work and sacrifice many of our laypeople already engage in (not to mention a platform to speak to those laypeople who aren’t all that involved).  So I invite you along on this new journey with me and our church. I ask for your prayers and patience in the days ahead. And I still look with ever-increasing expectation and optimism to what God is going to do among His people.


family

Friendship Together Bonding Unity Youth Culture Concept

Last month my family got to experience something pretty special…family. I know that sounds a bit redundant, but that is what happened. For three weeks my kids were able to spend time with cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles. I know that may not seem like a big deal to most of you, but when you live 2,000 miles away from the closest relative, it’s kind of a big deal. We all arrived back in Texas just in time for July and you know what I’ve begun to experience that’s pretty special…family. For for my first Sunday back I was welcomed with a loaf of bread and squash in my office (I’ll let you guess which one of these I appreciate more. Even last night we had visitors drop off watermelon to aid my wife in the passing of a kidney stone (evidently it helps, although the jury is still out). I’m coming to realize that maybe family knows no genetic linkage when it comes to the family of God.

In his epistle to the church in Galatia, Paul writes these words. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  -‭‭Galatians‬ ‭6:2‬ The word for burdens in this passage is baros and it is best translated as weight or load. When we help each other with the weights, loads, burdens, even life itself, we fulfill the law of Christ. Jesus himself had this to say in the gospels, “Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’.” – Matthew 12:49-50 The family of the church is made up of those who do the will of God, who fulfill the law of Christ, who carry each other’s burdens.

Sometimes in today’s world I wonder what the church has to offer. I mean, between social media and the internet and limitless entertainment, what does the church really have to offer? But I think the answer is quite simple…family. You see, when we carry each others burdens, encourage each other, deliver bread, squash or even watermelon, and love each other we embody God’s kingdom on earth and shine God’s light to the world that so desperately needs something genuine. Salvation still comes from God through the church for the world. The community that we live out through the local church is trans-formative if we truly live out the law of Christ. I’m reminded of of the lyrics of one of my favorite Avett Brother’s songs in regards to this.

“We came for salvation, We came for family, We came for all that’s good that’s how we’ll walk away.                                                                                                                                          We came to break the bad, We came to cheer the sad, We came to leave behind the world a better way”

May we embody the family of God in the world around us today.And may we leave behind this world a better way.


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