Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Breathtaking


I recently had a conversation with a woman who is a double lung transplant recipient.  The transplant took place over 20 years ago and I had known part of her story, but there was a detail she included in this retelling that stopped me in my tracks.

She gave some facts about the disease, when she started feeling symptoms, and some of her feelings leading up to the operation, but her reaction when she was extubated (that was a new word for me; it’s when the tube they use to help you breathe during surgery and recovery is removed) was what hit me.

When that tube was removed, she remembered the deep breath she was able take.  Deeper than any breath she could ever remember taking. She had been sick so long she didn’t even know how refreshing and energizing a deep breath could be.

At that moment in the conversation I stopped and thanked God for deep breaths!

You see, I don’t ever recall thanking God for that. For my whole life I have been negligent to thank God for the 23,040 deep breaths I take every day. For the over 8 million deep breaths I take every year. For the nearly half a billion deep breaths I have taken since I took my first breath.

I wonder what else I haven’t thanked God for?

As we enter into this season of Thanksgiving it would serve us well to thank God for the literally billions of blessings we so easily forget are blessings. For the miles our healthy legs have taken us. For the scores of music our ears have listened to. For the thousands of sunrises and sunsets our eyes have seen. For the pleasures of life that have brought innumerable smiles to our mouths. For the pleasant aromas that have wafted up our nostrils. For the spices and flavors and seasonings that have delighted our taste buds. For the gentle touches of loved ones.

For deep breaths.

Wouldn’t it be exhilarating to appreciate each deep breath like it was our first? To delight in every step, sight, aroma, spice, and touch and cherish them as if we previously couldn’t walk, see, smell or feel. How amazing life would be.

How amazing life is! So amazing, you might even say it’s breathtaking!




Wednesday, October 09, 2019

My Lawn. My Life.


I don’t have a nice yard. I’ve never been good at keeping the grass thick and green. I’m not sure why but I’m sure it’s tied to some character flaw. I’m reminded of this every time I mow the lawn, and I use the term loosely. It’s more like patches of lawn interspersed with patches of dirt. As much dust and dirt fly out of my mower as grass clippings. But this mowing season there’s been an interesting development.

My neighbors have a nice lawn, and an even nicer lawn this year. This spring they rooted up all their grass and had a sprinkler system installed. Then they had all new grass brought in and, with the sprinkler system working its magic, their lawn was better than ever. Each day, evidence of an early morning watering left their glittering, green lawn mocking me as I walked through my dry and drooping yard.

As spring moved into summer my neighbor’s lawn continued to flourish while mine continued to wilt under the hot Texas sun.  Then one day while mowing, I noticed something.  I got to a section of my lawn and the mower, which normally glides over my balding yard, met some resistance. The grass was thick. The grass was green. What was going on? I hadn’t treated this part of the lawn any differently. Almost magically a small section of my lawn was a landscaper’s dream. It didn’t take long to solve the mystery.

The section of my newly flourishing lawn was on the property line that borders the neighbor with the recently installed sprinkler system. Apparently, there’s an east wind that blows just enough to coax some of the life-giving water from their sprinklers onto my lawn. It wasn’t magic. It wasn’t anything that I had done. It was simply being in proximity to someone who cares.

Life is like my lawn.

We are affected by those we are close to. Surround yourself with negative, pessimistic, foolish people and you’ll soon find that attitude infecting you.  Surround yourself with positive, optimistic, wise people and you’ll soon find those attitudes infecting you. There’s a wind in our lives that causes the beliefs and habits of others to blow into our lives affecting us either negatively or positively. That’s why it is so important to choose your neighbors wisely.

Michael Dell, founder of Dell Technologies, said, “Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people…or find a different room. In professional circles it’s called networking. In organizations it’s called team building. And in life it’s called family, friends, and community. We are all gifts to each other, and my own growth as a leader has shown me again and again that the most rewarding experiences come from my relationships.”

Scripture confirms it: “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” (Proverbs 22:24–25)

If you want a healthy and flourishing life it is essential for you to part of a wise, life-giving community. It’s mandatory to be in proximity to people who speak life-giving truth into your life. There are many ways to accomplish that but let me remind you that that’s one of the functions of church. One of the benefits of worship, Bible study, preaching, and fellowship is the creation of positive borders in our lives. In church we place ourselves in a position to be nourished by the insight of others and, more importantly, to let the wind of God’s wisdom blow into our lives.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Bible – For Mature Audiences Only


Recently I have been preaching sermons on topics submitted by the members of the church.  I thought that was a good idea until someone requested I preach from Genesis 38. It’s not your typical children’s bedtime Bible story. It’s more on the lines of a scandalous storyline for a daytime soap opera.

Read it yourself, but here’s a brief synopsis: A man, Judah, has a wicked adult son who is put to death by God leaving Judah’s daughter-in-law, Tamar, a young widow.  As culture would have it, the man’s brother was responsible for taking his brother’s widow as a wife, but he refuses. Tamar, desperate to have a child, disguises herself as a prostitute and seduces her unsuspecting father-in-law to sleep with her. She becomes pregnant and breaks the news to her father-in-law that he is the father. Talk about an awkward conversation!

To top it off, Judah is the great-grandson of the father of the Jewish nation, the great man of faith Abraham. This is not the news that you post on social media: “So proud of my great-grandson who is expecting a child with his daughter-in-law. Oh, by the way, he didn’t know he was sleeping with his daughter-in-law; he thought she was a prostitute. The couple is registered at your local ‘Oops-a-Baby’”.

To top it off even more, this prostitute-soliciting Judah and disguised-prostitute Tamar are included in the genealogy of Jesus! The Gospel of Matthew makes a particular point to include Tamar in Jesus’ genealogy. This story is part of Jesus’ family heritage. These are Jesus’ people!

Why is this story in the Bible? Shouldn’t this have been one of those family secrets swept under the rug?

The interesting thing is that this isn’t the only story in the Bible where the faults of biblical luminaries are revealed. Israel’s great king David slept with a married woman AND arranged for her husband’s death! Ark-building Noah got a little tipsy in the days after the flood. Israel’s strong man Samson had a weakness for women and an anger issue. The apostle Peter lied about knowing Jesus to save his own hide. The Bible is the story of a bunch of sinners and mess-ups!  But why?

I suspect that God included these less-than-complimentary stories in the Bible to remind us all that God uses less-than-perfect people to carry out his work.

Never should we allow the failings of others or God’s grace to be a license to sin, but neither should we allow our weaknesses and sin to lead us to believe we are outside of God’s plan and his grace. Stories like Genesis 38 remind us that God uses imperfect people. Stories like Genesis 38 remind us that even imperfect people are Jesus’ people.

Don’t we all have skeletons in our closets? Don’t we all have stories we’ve swept under the rug? 

Whatever you have done; whatever salacious story you have; whatever failings are in your past; whatever sin you’re dealing with right now; whatever failings await you in the future – there’s nothing you’ve done that hasn’t been done before; no confessed sin that can’t be forgiven; no person who is outside of God’s love and his purpose.  God can use you - imperfect you. He really has no other option since we are all less-than-perfect.

Thank you, Lord, for you grace and forgiveness. Even as I try to live a holy life, remind me that your love and purposes are greater than my sins and faults. Remind me that you use imperfect people like me to carry out your perfect plan of redemption.



Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A World Without the Beatles

Today allow me to mix in a little movie review with this installment of Moments with the Minster.  Not long ago I went to see the film Yesterday.  It’s a delightful and heart-warming story of a struggling musician who mysteriously is brought to a world where the Beatles never existed. No one else but himself knows these songs that defined rock n roll in the 1960’s. Once he realizes this, he makes himself famous singing all the tunes of the Fab Four. He becomes an overnight sensation. Of course, he faces the moral dilemma of essentially stealing these songs as well as trying to balance a love interest. There are also some other amusing and interesting peculiarities of this modified world. It’s definitely worth the price of admission especially for those of us who grow up idolizing the Beatles.

Now here comes a little spoiler, so if you don’t want to read on and are frustrated that you came to this column wanting some spiritual insight, then I suggest you just put down the paper and read the Bible. It’s much better than anything I ever write anyway. With that said, let’s proceed.

Throughout the main character’s rise to fame there are two people who obviously know what’s going on. While the rest of the world is oblivious to this altered reality, these two remember John, Paul, Ringo, and George.  They recognize these songs. They know he’s a fraud. As these two insiders are followed throughout the movie the audience wonders what they will do.  Will they expose the scam? Will they threaten blackmail demanding a piece of the profit in exchange for their silence?

The day comes when these two confront the now famous singer. And their reaction is unexpected. Instead of criticizing or threatening they embrace the singer with overwhelming expressions of thankfulness and gratitude for giving them back the songs they remember and love. A beautiful piece of their world that was taken away has been restored and for that they are grateful. It took these songs being taken away for them to truly appreciate them. Their absence accentuated their brilliance.

That scene made me think about all the beautiful pieces of my life that I often take for granted. I thought about a world without my wife and children.  A world without my friends. A world without my faith. Do I truly recognize all the beautiful things of this life? What would my world be like without them?

I suppose every movie leaves each member of the audience with a somewhat different message, but this one reminded me to be grateful. It reminded me of all the songs people have sung into my life and how each one of those songs have made my world a better place. It made me wonder how less the world would be without them and how I need to live in daily appreciate for what is.

Too often we are resentful for what we don’t have rather than grateful for what do have. Without a doubt, the world would be a lesser place without the Beatles but how much more would the world be a lesser place without so many of the other splendors of this world? We are indeed blessed.

So, let’s not forget to embrace with overwhelming expressions of thankfulness and gratitude those people who make our yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s so fabulous.

A Tale of Two Trips

Last month I got to take the trip of a lifetime. I got to go to Israel which, especially for a minister, is like letting a kid loose in a candy store. I ate up every single artifact, ruin, and historical site.  I have read about these places for decades, but to actually be there - to see these them with my own eyes - is beyond description. There it was all right in front of me. I walked through the holy city of Jerusalem. I looked down upon the ruins of ancient Jericho. I prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just down from the Mount of Olives. I sailed on the Sea of Galilee.  Capernaum, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Dan, Beersheba, the Jordan River – all of them - I was there. My eyes have seen what only my ears had heard. All of those places mentioned in the pages of the Bible actually exist.

One critique of Scripture is that it’s just a book of myths and fairy tales.  Stories created to provide a history and legacy for the Jewish nation.  Fables of a Jewish rabbi invented decades later to provide a foundation for a new religion. Sure, there are some wonderful truths contained in this ancient book, but to actually believe that the stories have any historical basis is asking people to suspend their sense of reality.

Last month some of my family got to take a trip of a lifetime. They got to go to London. In addition to taking in all the customary sites of the old town they took a side trip to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio tour. Here were some of the sets where the blockbuster movies were filmed. They saw Daigon Alley, The Great Hall, Gringotts Wizarding Bank, walked through the Forbidden Forest, and saw the Hogwarts Express.  What an experience for those Harry Potter fans. Yet as mesmerizing and spellbinding that visit may have been, the fact of the matter is that all those places are fictional. There is no Hogwarts Express. There is no Wizarding Bank. There is no Daigon Alley.

That’s the difference between the Bible and Harry Potter. The world of Harry Potter is made up. It’s not real. And that’s okay because never does the author imply that her books are history. The world of the Bible is not made up. And that’s important because the Bible does make the claim that it’s talking about real people and real places. The Bible talks about Abraham, David, Jesus, and Paul as if they were real human beings who walked the earth. The Bible talks about Ur, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Capernaum as if they are actual places on a map. And although not every person or place mentioned in the Bible has been verified archaeologically, enough have been to lead to the undeniable conclusion that Scripture’s claim to be the story of real people and real places cannot be reasonable disputed.

To believers, this adds a deeper layer to our faith. Since we can trust the Bible in regard to the historical and geographical details, we surely can trust it in matters of faith.  To non-believers, it gives an air of credibility to an ancient text that many simply dismiss as being a work of fanciful fiction with little or no basis in history. The message of the Bible is too important to ignore based on the assumption that is on the level of Harry Potter.

I believe the Bible to be true. True in matters of history and, more importantly, true in matters of life and faith. The Bible is the true story of our God who created us and redeemed us. And I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Miracles for the rest of us


Don’t you love all those Old Testament stories? Oversized arks being built. Seas being parted. Walls tumbling down. Lions mouths being shut. Prophets evacuating earth on chariots of fire.  And certainly there’s no shortage of jaw-dropping stories in the New Testament: the blind see, the lame walk, the dead live.

All these miracles do impress me and remind me of God’s awesome power, but they also can make me feel pretty insignificant. I’ve never built an ark, brought down a wall, shut a lion’s mouth, and I don’t expect to leave earth on a flaming chariot. I’ve never healed the sick or raised the dead.  So, in this biblical world of superheroes and miracle-workers, where do I fit in? Is there a need for an ordinary Joe like me? What about the rest of us?

That’s when I turn to this Old Testament story. The full story is in 2 Kings 5, but here’s a quick synopsis.

A powerful general named Naaman has been afflicted with leprosy. A Jewish servant refers him to Elisha, a prophet known for his healing power. He makes the trip to Elisha expecting the prophet to perform some great show to heal him, but instead is told to dip seven times in the muddy waters of Israel’s Jordan River. Naaman is insulted. How dare the prophet forgo a full-scale miracle-making production? He’s about ready to go back home until a servant boldly confronts the powerful commander with these words, “If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?”

The implication is that we often buy into the lie that God only works in the spectacular. The lie that God only works through mind-blowing special effects. Anything less certainly isn’t from Him! Because God asked for something simple, Naaman almost missed out on a miracle!

Could it be that God is working not only in ark-building and sea-parting and dead-raising but also working in simple acts of obedience? Could it be that we walk away from the miraculous because it doesn’t look miraculous? Could it be that we bypass simple acts of service because they are just that, simple?

No disrespect to the miracle workers of Scripture, but the Bible speaks just as highly of giving cold glasses of water to the thirsty; poor widows giving pennies to the temple fund; and boys sharing their meager lunches. These are all reminders that we will not be judged by the magnificence of our work but by our willingness to do what we can.

I may never be called to a starring role, so if I wait to do something remarkable I might just miss out on the small miracles all around me. How sad it would be to have walked away from what God is calling me to do simply because it wasn’t impressive enough?

Maybe God doesn’t need more ark-builders and sea-parters. Maybe he needs more people who are willing to humbly do the unremarkable and less spectacular work of loving and serving others even when no one else notices. These simple and meek acts of service are the miracles for the rest of us.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Father You've Always Wanted

What a great Easter Sunday we had at the church I preach. Easter is like the Super Bowl for churches – biggest crowds of the year, families getting together, a little extra oomph to the service.  On my way to church Sunday I stopped at a convenience store for a little pre-game, I mean pre-worship snack and the clerk, seeing me all dressed up, asked me if I was going to work.  I told him “You bet. I’m a preacher and this is my big day!”   Easter Sunday is a celebration, and rightfully so.

Celebrations are great. Family reunions, special vacations, weddings, graduations, landmark anniversaries are all special occasions which deserve a little more attention and a “write-it-in-pen” designation on our calendars. And I’m glad to see everyone at church on Easter. It’s a good Sunday, but just like moms and dads want to hear from their children more often than those special occasions, so does God.

God is described in many different ways in Scripture but one predominant image of God is Him being our Father. It’s a term loaded with meaning but, more than anything, it’s a relational term. It implies a degree of intimacy that is established and maintained over the course of time through regular interactions. A good father-child relationship doesn’t happen in a celebration-only relationship. It’s in the day-to-monotonous-day, moment-by-tedious-moment interaction where deep love and lasting bonds etch themselves on our souls.

And that love and that bond doesn’t eliminate the need for celebrations, they only make those celebrations more meaningful and powerful. It’s like the difference between a Super Bowl when your team is playing and one where you have little rooting interest. They’re both Super Bowls but the game involving your team that you’ve been following week after week, year after year is more thrilling and more exciting.  Easter becomes even a greater celebration when you’ve been with your Father day in and day out.

Father God wants to be in our lives - every day, not just the celebrations. He’s been like that from the very beginning. In the Garden of Eden God walked with Adam and Eve. He has this thing – he created us and wants to be with us. Yeah, that can be uncomfortable since as a Father he sometimes needs to correct us and even discipline us, but his end-game is to develop a relationship with us that will not only bring him joy (yes, God delights in being your Father) but will bring us joy. And that type of relationship is not accomplished at celebrations alone – it’s the product of a daily relationship.

Maybe if we consider church attendance, prayer, Bible reading and other ways we connect with our Father as relationship building activities rather than legalistic rituals that get us to heaven, we may be more inclined not only to invest in these activities but actually anticipate them. Perhaps if we viewed religion as a path to knowing Father God rather than a series of unrelated and meaningless obligations, maybe we would long for that time together with him like an overseas soldier longs for communication from home.

God wants to be your Father and that’s a good thing. And like all fathers he loves those celebrations but oh how he loves those quiet and ordinary days when he can just sit and be with you. Father and child hashing out the problems of the day; laughing along at life’s eccentricities; sharing the common joys of the world; sharing advice for life’s mysteries. And the best thing, there’s no need to wait for a celebration because Father God is always there. That’s just the way he is.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Ever-Present God – Nuisance or Blessing? (or both)


I‘ve been studying and preaching from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. I know, everyone’s favorite book of the Bible, right? But wait! I’ve found so many gems in this book that are so often passed by. You really should give it a chance.
The basic message of the prophet is that Jerusalem will be destroyed because of Israel’s prolonged and brazen disobedience. Before you get to thinking that God is impatient and intolerant, read through the book and see all the atrocities going on in the temple. It’s pretty bad. The issue is not that God is angry, it’s that the people have drifted so far away from who they promised to be. They had an agreement with God, and they hadn’t kept their end of the bargain.  
The real mystery is not that judgment is coming. It’s how did it get this bad? How do people become so insensitive to sin? How do people become so blind to their rebellion? Ezekiel addresses these questions - questions that are not only applicable to 6th-century BC Israel, but also to us in 2019. God forbid we become indifferent to sin as they did.
There were many contributing factors, but one that seems especially significant is that they thought that somehow God didn’t see what was going on. They thought that God was oblivious to what was going on behind closed doors. They forgot, or at least chose to forget, that God knows all and sees all. If God didn’t see everything, then there was no problem with them getting away with a sin here and there.
How do you feel about that? How do you feel when you think about God seeing everything you do? How do you feel knowing that everywhere you go God is with you?  How do you feel that God even knows what’s going on inside your heart and mind? It’s troubling to think about, but a failure to do so will lead us down the same road Ezekiel’s audience took - a road that leads to destruction.  
I must admit the idea of God being all-present is disturbing to me. There have been times, and still are, when I’d really like God to run some errand and leave me alone for a while. There are times when I’d prefer God to turn his head away from me for a little privacy. Yet, at other times the idea of his always being there is comforting. It strengthens me to know that whatever I may go through that he is right there beside me. It’s reassuring to know that he’s always available to hear my thanks and my requests. He never puts me on hold!
God’s ever-presence is a double-edged sword, so to speak. But you can’t have the benefits of his presence without the perceived draw-backs. Our ever-present God will be there both to confront our sin and comfort our sorrows. Our ever-present God will be there both to discipline us and bless us.
Do we really except God to hide his face from our sins? What kind of holy God would that be? Do we really expect God to desert us when we really need him? What kind of loving God would that be?
He is both holy and loving and we can’t have one without the other. Knowing that, I prefer to embrace this ever-present God who will love me enough to expose my sin and still love me enough to walk every road with me.


Ezekiel has one of the best endings of any biblical book. With his last words he gives God a new name, Jehovah Shammah-The Lord is There.
God forbid we ask God to leave us alone. A life without God leads to destruction. A life with God leads to glory.