Friday, December 18, 2020

A Week Before Christmas

It’s one week before Christmas.  Seven days. One hundred sixty-eight hours. The countdown is on. Presents still need to be bought and wrapped. Meals need to be planned and cooked.  Decorations better be up, but if not, there’s still plenty of time for those last-week touches.  What do you do seven days before Christmas?

I wonder what Mary and Joseph were doing the week before Christmas? Had the edict to return to Bethlehem been issued yet? Were they packing their bags for the trip? As they lay in bed that week before, was Joseph gently holding his hand on Mary’s now large belly and feeling the baby kick? Was Mary being constantly bombarded by questions like, “When do you think the baby’s coming?” Was Joseph, the carpenter, putting the finishing touches on a crib for his expectant son? They knew the baby would be arriving soon, but did they know it was only one week away?

How their lives would change in seven days. And oh, how things changed when Jesus came. And not just for the expectant parents, but for the whole world.

In that one holy moment just one week away God would breath into his lungs the first molecules of the air he had created. His human eyes would see the first rays of light he had called into existence. His nose would smell the not-so-pleasant aromas of the animals he fashioned. His skin would feel the first touch of a human hand. The holy, infinite, divine spirit encased in flesh.

The whole world changed when God became man - and that’s exactly what happened. As mysterious and incomprehensible as it may be, the Bible makes the claim that Jesus was fully God and fully man. John puts it well in his reflection of the coming of Jesus as he simultaneously declares Jesus to be God and human. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” wrote the beloved apostle.

It all would happen in just one hundred sixty-eight hours.

But it really goes back much further than that.  God had been planning this day for millennia. This birth was centuries in the making.  The countdown started long before Gabriel let Mary in on the plan.

God dropped the first hint in the Garden of Eden shortly after mankind rebelled. The great deliver Moses caught a glimpse of the plan when he promised the coming of a prophet like him.  Isaiah saw through his prophetic eyes that not only would a special child be born, but the man he would grow to be would die a sacrificial death. Prophet Micah even pinpointed the town he would be born in – O Little Town of Bethlehem.

Did Joseph and Mary know that in seven days the dreams and visions of prophets would come true?

His birth may be just one week away, but the plan was conceived of even before time began. When God created us he determined to become one of us. He came to us so we can come back to Him.

It’s one week before Christmas.  Seven days. One hundred sixty-eight hours. In one week we celebrate His coming. The arrival of God to planet earth as a man. A coming that assures for us an eternity of weeks, days, and hours we can be with Him.



Friday, November 13, 2020

Home is calling

Remember that movie about the animals who amazingly found their way home after thinking they had been abandoned by their owners? They survive the dangerous mountain terrain, ferocious wildlife, and several other dangers but made it home! It’s been made and remade and recently I confirmed that the movies were based on actual events.

The instinct to return home is so powerful. There is something about the security, love, and belonging of home that calls us back, even through dangers and troubles.

Church leaders have been wringing their hands with worry at church buildings that have gone from maximum capacity to 50%, and that’s a generous estimate. We know many have been watching from afar online, but we’re concerned. Will those unable to attend in-person find their way back home, whenever that will be?

I believe they will. There’s something about home that calls us back. The faces, the voices, the communion, the passing of the peace – these are calling out to our spiritual instincts leading us back to our spiritual home. I long for that day.

But we also know that whenever people wander there will inevitable be those who forget. There will be those who get lost. There will be some who have trouble remembering the comfort and peace and security that church should be and, in most cases, is.

Pandemic or not, people do tend to wander. And even before these days of masks and quarantines, the wandering had begun.

Jesus told a story about a young man who wandered. The man prematurely took his father’s inheritance and went to a far country where he thought he could find something better than home. And for a while, he thought he did. He lived the life he dreamed of, but before long he woke up and realized it was really a nightmare. His instincts kicked in and he remembered home. What he thought was oppressive was really liberating. What he thought was restrictive was really freeing. In his wanderings he came to know that home was the place he was looking for, and he decided to come back. He really didn’t know if he would be received back, but, to his surprise, his return was not only accepted but celebrated. The father had been waiting for him all along.

Home won the day.

Jesus told that story to remind us all that no wanderer has wandered too far. He told that story to remind us that home is always calling us back. Jesus told that story to remind us to follow our spiritual instincts and come back to the place where security, love, and belonging is found.

Maybe you have wandered. Maybe you’ve gotten lost. Maybe you’ve have felt abandoned. Maybe you’ve been lured away by what you thought would be better. No matter the reason, there is a path back home. And, like the wandering son in Jesus’s story, your return will be celebrated.

Home is calling you back.


Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Outwit, Outplay, Outlast

Over the pandemic I reunited with an old friend – Survivor. That’s right, the father of all reality shows and I had been apart for several years when the shutdown brought us back together. I had faithfully watched the first few seasons, but, as it is with many relationships, we drifted away over the years.

I really don’t want to confess how many seasons I’ve watched and since streaming mindless television episodes is not on many people’s list of virtues, I figured I needed to redeem that time with some spiritual application – so here it is.

The premise of Survivor is to gather 20 or so people on some remote location and let them fend for themselves as they systematically vote each other out of the game until there are only 3 left. Those 3 are then voted on by those they had cast out to determine who will win the title of “sole survivor” and the check for one million dollars.  The climax of the season is the final “tribal council” when host Jeff Probst collects all the votes. But instead of revealing the winner then and there, Jeff walks off screen after telling the 3 anxious finalists that the results will be revealed when they are all back in the States for the live season finale. That gap is at least 6 months.

For 6 months the winner has been determined, but not revealed. For 6 months someone is sure to be a millionaire, but no check is cut. For 6 months victory has been determined, but the celebration is delayed. There is a gap between the victory and the celebration.

We are living in the gap.

Christian, the votes have been cast and good has been confirmed the run-a-way winner. Through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, Satan and all his evil minions have been defeated. It turned out that it really wasn’t even a contest. The devil has been voted off and his destiny is set – the Lake of Fire.

The dilemma is that even though victory has been secured the winner has not been publicly revealed. There is a gap between victory and celebration and during that gap the Devil is still creating doubts in our minds that he has a chance. Since he knows he’s going down he wants to take as many of us with him. That’s how he is. He’s always been that way. He’s always tried to rob victory from us.

But know this - Satan has been defeated and his fate is sure.  As wily as he is, he has been outplayed, outlasted, and outwitted.

We are living in the gap between victory and celebration but don’t doubt that one day the gap will come to a close. One day we will all be gathered together as the final pronouncement is made. One day the Producer will give the orders.

Dim the lights. Cue the celebration music. Set off the fireworks. Release the confetti. Read the results. Good Wins!


Tuesday, October 06, 2020

The NIV Study Bible Review

We are living in a world of mobile Bibles and on-line research. As a minster I have my fair share of Bibles on my devices and, I admit it, I’ll “google” a biblical question every now and then. And I’m thankful for these tools, I really am. But every student of the Bible needs to know the limitations of mobile Bibles and the potential dangers of on-line research. Every student of the Bible needs some reliable tools to dig deep into the biblical text and NIV Study Bible, Fully Revised Edition is without a doubt one of those tools. This study Bible contains the entire text of the Bible with study tools that will get you well on your way to a deeper understanding of the text and a more meaningful application of its truths.

Here are some valuable qualities of this edition:

  • The translation is the New International Version which continues to be my go-to translation. Among the many excellent English translations of the Bible, the NIV has set the standard for textual accuracy and readability. The font is very readable. This may be a concern for aging eyes, but I had no trouble reading the text. The pages are sturdier than I anticipated.
  • Each page of text has a wealth of cross references in the classic middle column style and more than sufficient foot notes offering explanation of the text. I have found these to be fair and insightful and they are all right there – no need to shuffle through other reference books. The researchers for these notes are top-notch scholars. I was privileged to study under one of the contributors whom I’m sure is representative of the scholarship and faithfulness of the group. I am familiar with many of the other contributors through their independent writings.
  • The volume is replete with helpful charts, maps, archaeological notes, and historical references that would take you hours to find on your own.
  • Each book has introductory notes and an outline. These are very well done. Additionally, each section of Scripture has a brief introduction.
  • Maps, indices, tables, and a surprisingly extensive concordance round out the volume.
  • This may not be the most important quality of this work, but the photography and color are simply stunning! I have an older NIV Study Bible that was printed in all black and white. It does the job, but this volume is beautiful to look at!

The downsides to this Bible are all related to its very nature. Before buying just know that you are purchasing a study Bible.

  • It’s big. Almost 2500 pages.
  • The footnotes and cross references are a smaller font. I struggle a little with the size (I’m almost 60). I do believe there is a Large Print edition.
  • The footnotes take up to half the content of some pages which distract somewhat from the readability of the volume. This is not ideal for yearly reading plans.

In all, the NIV Study Bible is a valuable addition to your library. I do not hesitate to recommend and even encourage it to anyone who is looking for a study resource. It takes the place of several resources and it can be trusted for its faithfulness to the inspiration and authority of scripture – not what you’ll always find on an internet search engine.

As a preaching and teaching minister, I will keep it in a prominent spot on my desk and anticipate turning to it frequently.


Available for purchase at the  Faith Gateway Store and other online retail locations.

I received this Bible for free as a member of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid for the purposes of writing this review. #BibleGatewayPartner






Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Even if ...

I’ve been reading and teaching through the book of Daniel the last few weeks. What a great book. If you’re looking for something to read and need a suggestion, I recommend Daniel.

He lived about 600 years before Christ and was among the faithful Jewish people of his day. When the Holy City Jerusalem was overthrown, he and many other Jews were exiled from Jerusalem to faraway Babylon, a land of idolatry and paganism. He found himself spiritually in the minority and on more than one occasion was challenged to compromise his faith. Yet, time after time he proves himself loyal to God. At great personal peril, Daniel stands up to more than one king and, as we all know, even manages to escaped unscathed from the lion’s den – the punishment meted out to anyway who dared to pray to anyone but the king.

Daniel is the epitome of a person standing firm in their faith in a hostile culture. And hasn’t that been the challenge for believers of all ages? I know it is in ours.

But Daniel is not alone. There are at least three others who shared this same faithful determination that Daniel demonstrated. Their names were Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego. They, like Daniel, faced a spiritual dilemma. The king commanded everyone to worship an idol he had set up or otherwise be thrown into a fiery furnace. They simply said “no”, and for their faithfulness were brought to the door of the fiery furnace. There, the king gave them a chance to recant. With the heat the furnace bearing down on them, they make one of the most beautiful and profound statements of faith:

Daniel 3:16–18 (NIV) —  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

What is especially inspiring in their statement is, “But even if he does not…” Their faith is not contingent on the outcome. Their “come what may” attitude reveals a faith that goes beyond immediate results.

Oh, for such a faith as this. Too often, my actions of faith are determined by the potential favorable outcomes. I look for instant rewards. Not so with these three. They are confident God can deliver, but their faith is in God, even if things don’t work out they way they want them to.

This “even if” faith is essential to all who live in a culture antagonistic to faith. Otherwise, we will find ourselves compromising our beliefs and constantly caving into the pressures of a godless world.

How would you describe your faith? Is it contingent on people’s response? Does it vary from situation to situation? Or is a deep-seated belief in the reality of God and the truth of His word? Are you faithful despite the consequences? Is it an “even if” faith?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Thoughts on Empty Ballparks and Masked Church

Baseball is back and, although I’m a big fan, I really wasn’t too excited when the season finally started. Most disappointing was the fact that there would be no fans. But I gave it a chance, and after a while I found myself enjoying the games, fans or no fans. It’s not like I prefer empty stadiums, but it’s really not that bad. With or without fans, it’s still baseball.

It’s been about a month now that we’ve been attending church with masks, and at first it was a real downer! However, this Sunday I left church feeling like I had actually been to church. It felt good. It felt almost normal. It’s not like I’ll be campaigning for masks when all this passes, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s not so bad! With or without masks, it’s still worship.
I guess I had to ask myself these questions:
  • “How much do I love baseball?”
  • “Is my love for baseball greater than my dislike of empty stadiums?”
  • “How much do I love worship?”
  • “Is my love for worship greater than my distaste of masks?”

I’ve decided I love baseball more than I dislike empty stadiums.

I’ve decided I love worship more than I dislike masks.

So, I’m watching and attending.

(Note: I know many people who would love to be at in-person church but are at high risk and need to stay home. Continued prayers for the pandemic to pass so we can all safely be together.)

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

My life: Crazier than it has to be

Last Friday was a crazy day. But I made it crazier than it had to be.

High winds blew through Texoma the night before leaving hundreds without power including the church building – well, sort of. One of our assistants called me when she got in the office and said the lights were out, which didn’t surprise me. But what did surprise me was what I discovered when I got to the office. Not all of the lights were off. About 1/3 were off.

What made me go into a tizzy was that we had a group coming up to view an online seminar and the room they were to meet in was one of the rooms affected. We were told by our electric company that they were working on the issue, but we all know that could be forever! So, I started buzzing around the building (I got my steps in by 10 am that day) with cables, computers, and extension cords preparing a room for the seminar. The phones were out, so I rigged more extension cords to get those working. One of our modems was out, so I hustled to try to connect them.  I was tired and frustrated.

Just about the time I got everything working, all the lights came on! I should have been grateful, but I was mad that I had gone through all that work and expended all that emotional energy for nothing! Then it dawned on me. If I had only waited and trusted in someone who could fix it all I would have saved myself so much worry and stress.

If I only waited on someone who could fix it all …

The Good Book tells us more than once to wait on God, and Friday morning that all made sense. How many problems have I tried to fix, how much physical and emotional energy have I spent, how much worry and stress have I needlessly borne because I just didn’t wait on the one who could fix it all.

We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. - Psalm 33:20 (NIV)

Friday, July 17, 2020

Masked Communication

Communication has become even more difficult with masks.

As we continue to battle this pandemic, and, as uncomfortable as it may be, I’m trying to learn a few lessons along the way. This week I have learned how much we communicate with our mouths. That sounds pretty obvious, but what I mean is not what comes out of our mouths but how we communicate with our facial expressions. I find myself talking to people or just passing by people and giving them a little smile and then I realize that they can’t see it. My attempts at communicating some measure of good will is masked by my mask.

It’s common knowledge that communication is so much more than just the words that come out of our mouths. Our tone, inflection, body language, and facial expression all contribute meaning to what is actually heard.

There have been times when I’ve said something that I thought was innocuous only to get a negative response. You see, I have been told I have a “tone” - a mysterious and unbeknownst quality of my voice that can communicate anger or disgust. I must admit, sometimes it is intentional but more often it’s because I’m in a rush or just not thinking. It’s then that I have to use many more words to explain what I really meant.

These masks are teaching me how complex communication is and reminding me that I need to be aware of and monitor the subtle ways I am adding meaning to my words. The dangerous thing about this is that many of these gestures and signals have become almost instinctive.

Communication can be difficult, even without masks, so let me offer some advice that has helped me:
  • When you get an unexpected response to something you said, ask the one you are talking to if you said something that offended them or made them angry. Even though you didn’t intend to, you probably have a “tone”, or something similar, communicating something you didn’t intend. Take the time to listen to what the other person heard—it may not be what you were trying to say.
  • Apologize for miscommunicating. Don’t put the blame on the other person. Don’t defend yourself. Admit to yourself that you are like every other person who sometimes contradicts their words with misleading body language or facial expressions.
  • When on the other end of the conversation and you are angered by someone’s tone or body language, be merciful. Everyone gets tired. Everyone struggles with clear communication. Give them a chance to  clarify themselves. Too many arguments are over what you thought someone said and not what they actually wanted to communicate.
The Bible talks about how healing and how destructive words can be. In fulfilling the command to love one another, we must include in that mandate our willingness to communicate well. Commit yourself to being a good communicator. It will bless your life and your relationships in so many ways.


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

2020 - A Year of Clear Vision

Well, we are halfway through 2020 and what a first half it has been! I had been looking forward to 2020 for a long time. This was going to be the year of clear vision when we would be able to see things with a precision and accuracy of a person with 2020 sight. It started out just fine, then kaboom!

A microscopic virus closes down the plant. Racial tensions reignite. It’s downright depressing following the news, and things are not looking much better for the second half of this much anticipated year.

I really thought we were beyond all this.

Plagues were something from the middle ages. You would think that with all the medical and technological advances of the last century that we would be able to deal with a virus. Hadn’t we found all the cures? Couldn’t all the bright minds of science come up with an instant vaccine?

Racial tensions were the issue of the 1960’s. Hadn’t all the legislation made it clear that we are all created equal? Didn’t Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement put an end to racism?

I guess not!

2020 was the year we were supposed to see clearly into the future – a future filled with health and peace. We were hoping that our 2020 vision would reveal how far we as a human race had come. We were expecting to see progress and unity.

Instead, our 2020 vision has revealed how far we are from what we should be. Our 2020 vision has exposed how susceptible we are despite our advanced intelligence and our progressive social thinking.

Oh, 2020 has helped us see clearly, but it has hardly been what we hoped for. The world is broken and we can’t seem to fix it. Any hope we had that, with more knowledge, some utopian society is within our grasp is gone. Any hope that justice will someday be administered flawlessly has vanished.

This has come into clear focus – we are hopeless. We can’t learn enough to keep us healthy and we can’t enlighten ourselves enough to keep us at peace. If hope has any hope it must come from somewhere and someone other than this world.

Isn’t that the message of the Bible?
  • This world has been irreparably broken by sin. But God has promised to make all things new.
  • He has prepared a place immune to all disease and devoid of all hate. But it’s not planet earth.
  • He is gracious enough to invite us and even qualify us to live in this new world. But we must have faith.

2020 has opened our eyes. God help us see.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Greet one another with a holy ??????

We’re coming back Sunday and, while I’m excited, I must admit I’m a little apprehensive as well. How many people will show up? Have we done all we can reasonably do to keep people safe? Will we be somewhat disappointed with a smaller crowd? Will the live stream be effective? Will those who stay home feel left out? If you haven’t guessed it, I’m a bit of a worrier. Please forgive.

But while I’m at it, another concern I have about Sunday is how will we greet each other? We instinctively hold out our hand for a handshake. Others go right in for the hug. It’s part of who we are, but for now we will have to abstain from both handshakes and hugs. It almost sounds cold and even unbiblical but, if it is, it won’t be the first time we’ve deviated from a biblical greeting mandate.

Four times in the New Testament we are commanded to greet one another with a holy kiss. All growing up I was told that we were exempt from that command, at least exempt from the “kiss” part of it. (And I must admit I was relieved to know that. Outside of my immediate family I’m not much of a physically affectionate person.) I was told that it’s not so much the specific manner of greeting that was important. What mattered was that we all gratefully acknowledge other people and in our culture the kiss could be replaced by a handshake or a hug.

And I agree with that interpretation. Never once have I felt in violation of scripture because I didn’t kiss someone when I saw them at church. One of the difficulties of interpreting a document written millennia ago is how to factor in cultural conventions. The kiss was the appropriate cultural greeting then (and even now in some places), but not so much in 21st century America.

As culture changes, so do greetings. Culture is changing again and so should our greetings.

Come Sunday there will be fewer if any handshakes and hugs. I will not be extending my hand or offering an embrace. But please don’t take it the wrong way – no more than you would that I haven’t been kissing you all these years.  You may not get a handshake or hug from me, but you will be greeted.  With an eye-to-eye glance. With a salute or a wave. Maybe with a hand over my heart. Maybe with a thumbs up. Maybe with a smile. We’ve had to be adaptive these last few months and I’m confident we can creatively greet one another.

I know there’s power in physical touch and I really hope we can get back to those handshakes and hugs (I can live without the kisses) but for now it’s not the kiss or the handshake or the hug that really matters. It’s acknowledging each other. It’s valuing each other’s presence in our lives. It’s greeting one another with a holy expression of the sacred love we have for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

For All Women on Mother’s Day

“To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you.
To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you.
To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you.
To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you.
To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you.
To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you.
To those who have disappointment, heartache, and distance with your children – we sit with you.
To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you.
To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience.
To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst.
To those who have aborted children – we remember them and you on this day.
To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be.
To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths.
To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren - yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you.
To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you.
To those who placed children up for adoption — we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart.
And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you.
This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.”

Amy Young
@TheMessyMiddle /

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Confessions of a dog owner

Years ago we had a dog, a Welsh corgi named Callie.  I don't dislike dogs, but I've never really been a "dog person."  My wife is much more the animal lover.  She was the one to care for her, walk her, and be the kind master every dog deserves.  I must confess, Callie never did get too much attention from me.  In fact, I often considered her a nuisance more than anything else.

We got Callie as a puppy, and she was all puppy.  She raced around the back-yard moving those little legs faster than you thought was possible.  When anyone would go outside Callie would race to their side.  We would later get her a companion, Jem, and they would frolic in the yard together chasing each other and doing that dog wrestling thing that dogs do.  But then one day, we noticed Callie was slowing down a bit.  She had even developed a slight limp.

So, we brought her to the veterinarian to see what the problem might be.  After examinations and tests the doctor told us that Callie had a condition called hip dysplasia.  We were given the medical explanation of the disease, but the bottom line was that Callie was in pain and, although that pain could be treated with medicine, she would always suffer to some degree.

From that day on I became more of a dog person.  I found myself a little more tolerant of her annoying behavior and even found myself petting her more often. Knowing that she was in pain I treated her with more compassion and kindness.  Perhaps a little rub on the belly would help her forget about that pain, even if just for a moment. Isn't that what a person should do?  Be kind to others who are in pain.  That whole experience caused me to reexamine how I treated my dog, but it also caused me to rethink how I treat people. 

Back in 2004 I had to wear a cast on my leg and use crutches for six weeks. During that time people offered to hold doors, they yielded to me, they asked if they could do anything for me.  People treated me with an extra measure of kindness. People treat others better when they know they are in pain. My bright orange cast was an obvious sign of my pain. My hurt was apparent - most people hide their hurts so that no one else knows the pain they are in. 
I'm guilty of ignoring people at times and, I must admit, sometimes I look at people as a nuisance more than anything else.  Then, when I realize that most people are bearing some sort of pain, my response changes.  And even if they show no signs of pain, I just assume it, and, truth be told, most people are in pain to some degree - they just are very good about concealing it! Everyone needs to be treated with compassion and tenderness.

Perhaps we should find ourselves a little more tolerant of others. Perhaps we should take the time to be more gentle and considerate to those around us. Maybe a kind word or a friendly gesture is just what people need. After all, shouldn’t people be kind to others, especially when they are in pain? 

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Sad silence at 3000 S. Park Avenue

I can’t begin to say how much I miss us all being together. I can’t say how much I miss my weekly routines.

I write this on Friday morning. My normal routine is to get everything wrapped up for Sunday which includes a trip or two to the auditorium to make sure all the technology for Sunday is in place.  It’s lonely and quiet in there on those Fridays, but I always leave with the anticipation that come Sunday the church will be full of people and noise!

These Fridays I leave the church building knowing that Sunday will be just like today—still and quiet. This building was made to be occupied. This building was made to be noisy. This building was made for gatherings. Large gatherings of loud people.

But Sundays have gone silent here at 3000 S. Park Avenue. Parking lots are empty. Lights are turned out. Pews are vacant. Instead of preaching to a crowd, I’m preaching to a lens. Emoji’s have replaced handshakes. Thumbs up's have replaced amen’s. Friendly but poor replacements.

I miss the crowds and I miss the noise. I miss the handshakes and I miss the hugs.

Please excuse me for my lamentation, but all of us have to do this.  All of us have to mourn what we have lost.

I miss it. I miss it all. And it makes me sad. I’m trying to keep up a positive attitude, but I’m sad and I’m wondering if things will ever be the same as they used to be.

Even now I’m trying to think of the positives, but my heart is stuck on sad. Isn’t it my job to give people hope? Aren’t I the one who is supposed to be upbeat? Aren’t I the one who is supposed to lift people out of the doldrums?  Maybe I am, but not today.  Today I’m sad. Tears are coming to my eyes. Maybe tomorrow or next week or next month I can get back to the “sun will come out tomorrow” Todd I usually am. But right now I think I need to be sad. And maybe that’s okay. I hope it is. And maybe I need to let everyone be sad in their own time and in their own way.

Don’t take this wrong. It’s not like I’ve lost my faith. I’m just learning that faith and sadness can coexist. And I’m not giving up. I’ll continue to preach to the lens and upload the videos and learn some new routines.

But Sundays have gone silent at 3000 S. Park Avenue. And I’m sad.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Our National Timeout

Most parents and kids are familiar with the discipline technique affectionately known as the “timeout.”  A child misbehaves and is sent to the timeout chair to think about their behavior and usually can only resume their normal activities when they apologize for their misbehavior and are able to articulate to their parents what they have learned from their time in isolation. Seems like we’ve all been sent to timeout.

So, here’s my apology.
  • I apologize for taking for granted the full shelves at my grocery store.
  • I apologize for not appreciating a handshake.
  • I apologize for complaining about anything my child’s teacher ever said or did.
  • I apologize for not utterly relishing sitting in a church or a  movie theater or a restaurant with crowds of other people.
  • I apologize for standing in lines and ignoring the people around me.
  • I apologize for not appreciating good health.
  • I apologize for being the selfish, overfed, under-grateful, unappreciative person I so often am.
  • I apologize for not absolutely loving all the simple, everyday gifts I was blinded to before I was sent to this timeout.

And here’s what I’ve learned:
  • I’ve learned that life can turn on a dime and I need to be thankful for every day.
  • I’ve learned that we are not really in as much control over this life as we once thought.
  • I’ve learned that slowing down should be a pattern in my life and not a punishment.
  • I’ve learned that if my hope is in this world, then I will eventually be disappointed.
  • I’ve learned to be nicer to people, especially those who regularly experience isolation.
  • I’ve learned we may need each other a little more than I was once thought.
  • I’ve learned I can get by without some things that I thought were indispensable.
  • I’ve learned that I need to treat every day as a gift that has a 24-hour expiration date with no returns or refunds.

I am not enjoying this timeout but, after all, timeouts are not meant to be enjoyed. They’re meant to make us think. To reflect. To change. To become better people. And if that happens, then maybe this timeout is exactly what we need.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Top Ten Proverbs for a Great Marriage

Perhaps there is no relationship which can give both great joy and great misery than marriage. No marriage is without its problems - conflict and strife are inherent in any relationship - but is there a way where we can move the needle more towards great joy and away from great misery?  There is, but only when we intentionally do so. Bad marriages seem to be the default. Good marriages rarely happen by chance. Great marriages only happen with wisdom. So, when we need wisdom, we go to the ancient but ever-so-relevant book of Proverbs.  So, I present to you my Top Ten Proverbs for a Great Marriage.

Proverbs 5:15 - Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.
You want to ruin your marriage – have an affair. It’s not that it’s impossible for a marriage to survive infidelity, but you are putting yourself at an extreme disadvantage when you go drinking from another well. Proverbs doesn’t deny the lure, excitement, and the temptation of adultery, but wisdom reminds us that cheap thrills do not compare to the enduring intimacy of a faithful and monogamous marriage. Keep your vows. Be faithful. Read all of Proverbs 5 and 6 for more wisdom.

Proverbs 11:13 - A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.
Your spouse needs to be your most trusted confidant. In great marriages, husbands and wives know each other better than they know or are known by anyone else. In a marriage we should be able to share our deepest thoughts, our greatest fears, our most personal feelings, and our most profound joys. And these need to be kept only between a husband and wife. When you reveal private matters about your spouse with others you automatically stifle the sharing of these confidences which impedes the creation of deep intimacy.

Proverbs 15:16 - Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil.
The pursuit of wealth has been the downfall of many marriages. It is always wise to evaluate how your careers are affecting your marriage. It’s possible to live on less while actually living more. 

Proverbs 15:1 - A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Always be careful about how you talk to one another. Sometimes, even without knowing it, our words can be harsh rather than healing. It’s so easy for a reasonable disagreement to morph into a full-scale argument. Gentleness is a much-underrated virtue. Are you gentle?

Proverbs 17:14 - Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.
Not every matter is worth mentioning. So, he did something that wasn’t perfect. Did you really think he was perfect in the first place? Before bringing up a matter consider if it’s really worth it.

Proverbs 17:22 - A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
Have fun with one another. Laugh with each other. Share good news from your day. Have a positive outlook on life. Love what your spouse loves. Constantly dwelling on everything that’s bad withers up our spirits.

Proverbs 20:1 - Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. 
Abuse and overuse of alcohol leads to all kinds of problems. Don’t ignore it if it’s a problem in your marriage, and if your spouse says it’s a problem, it’s a problem.

Proverbs 16:24 - Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
Make it a habit to say nice things to your spouse. Compliment one another. The spoken word has more power than we give it credit.

Proverbs 31:30 - Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
This is written to a woman but is applicable to both genders. If you want to be a good spouse, love the Lord. How much effort do you put into your relationship with the Lord? Is how you look more important than who you are? Tending to our souls is far more valuable than tending to our bodies.

Proverbs 18:22 - He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.
Again, this is written to a woman, but works both ways. You spouse is an incredible blessing to your life. Living with a spirit of gratefulness for your spouse will go a long way in being the spouse you need to be. Take a moment right now to thank God for your spouse and then make it a regular habit.

And here’s a bonus #11.

Proverbs 20:5 - The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.
It takes a lot of work and patience to truly understand what a person thinks and feels. Most people do not wear their deepest thoughts on their sleeve. A good spouse will take the time and have the patience to listen carefully to get to the deep waters of their partner’s heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

(Many churches have resources for marriages or counseling services to help you. Don’t hesitate to call your church or any church to find the help that you need.)