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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hope That Shines When You Didn’t Know You Needed It

            I was walking through the grocery store, on my way to pick up a bowl of soup for a quick lunch when I got the call.  It was from my financial planner asking me what account we wanted the $65,000 deposited that was being transferred from an Ameritrade account.  I think I actually stopped walking at that point. 
You see, I wasn’t expecting any type of transfer from anyone’s Ameritrade account.  I definitely had no idea where $65,000 would be coming from.  I let them know that but I also did say, if someone was wanting to pass on a $65,000 Christmas gift, Pam and I were definitely willing to bear the sacrifice of such generosity!
            Sometimes the extraordinary shows up in the midst of the ordinary.  It is life as normal – mundane and routine – and then something happens that is totally unexpected.  We become part of a story we didn’t even know was happening.
            God does that sort of thing pretty regularly, it seems.  We are going along, minding our own business and God shows up in crisis or opportunity, wrecking our reality in the process, throwing us into new levels of faith we sometimes didn’t want.
            The Christmas story is this kind of story.  Everyone who is a part of the Christmas story of Jesus was thrown into crisis and opportunity.  Everyone was forced to see God in a new way, to make choices of following or rejecting.  The story of Christmas was life altering in this way. 
            Although the Christmas story caused great turmoil and disruption, it is still ultimately a story of hope.  It is a story of hope because Jesus brought light to the darkness.  He laid bare both the political reality of the day and the personal reality of the people who encountered him.  It required people to make a choice – follow or reject.
            In our times where Christmas is a safe story filled with traditions and sentimentality, it can be hard to capture the power of the first Christmas.  But it should always remind us that God still shows up unexpectedly in the midst of the normal, the routine, the mundane.  And when he does it is both a crisis and an opportunity.  And when he shows up it is an invitation to follow – you have a choice to be made.
            My prayer this Christmas is, in the midst of the joy, traditions, songs, shopping, giving and getting, God would unexpectedly show up with such power and such beauty you would be thrown into the chaos of crisis and opportunity.  My prayer is you would say yes to Jesus, yes to new faith and yes to deeper faith.  And when you do you would see the hope that shines brighter than the crisis.  I pray this Christmas you will see Jesus.

Peace and grace,


Friday, December 5, 2014

I Don’t Want To Be Here

            “This is not good.”  That is what I thought as we sat there.  It was dark.  It was getting colder by the minute – winter in Chicago is like that.  We were in a bad spot both literally and figuratively as we sat in our little Ford Escort in the left emergency lane on a sweeping left turn.  

We were on the Dan Ryan Expressway on the Southside of Chicago with a broken timing belt, in the days before cell phones.  Traffic continued to zip by as Pam and I sat there in our semi-formal attire, wondering how in the heck we were going to get some help.  This was not according to our plan and we didn’t want to be there.
            Not according to plan.  I don’t want to be here.”  Have you ever had those words go through your mind?  No matter how carefully we try to control our lives, not matter how carefully we plan we can find ourselves in times and places not of our choosing.  Darkness is an apt image for these times.  Getting colder is an apt feeling for the experience.  It is in these times where it is common for us to ask the question, “God, where are you?”
            For the people of God in the Old Testament, one of the most transformative experiences was the Babylonian exile where up to 70,000 men, women and children were moved from Jerusalem to Babylon because they were a conquered people.  Jeremiah was one of the prophets God sent to speak truth to these people who found themselves “not according to plan” and not where they wanted to be.  Like us when we find ourselves in similar unwanted circumstances, their focus was on getting back to normal by getting out of this situation.  There is a better place, a better people and a better situation.  Get us out of here!  Can you relate?
            It is into this difficult circumstance Jeremiah speaks God’s words: 
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV)
            I can imagine those who first heard these words spoken to them were a bit confused.  If this was true, why wasn’t God doing something?  Why weren’t they being delivered?  Why weren’t they being returned to their homeland?  God, where are you?
            The thing the people of Jeremiah’s time had to learn is the same thing we have to learn:  Hope is not found in us getting out of our circumstances, hope is found when God shows up in our circumstances.  God told them and he tells us this powerful truth – Wherever you are, there I Am.  I am with you.

            One of the names of Jesus revealed in the Old Testament is Emmanuel.  The name means “God is with us.”  Jesus is our future and our hope and he is right were you are.  He is the light of hope we celebrate in Christmas.
            Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  This is what God told Jeremiah to remind his people right after he told them he had hadn’t forgotten them, he knew what was happening and there is a future and hope.
            As Pam and I sat in the dark and cold, helpless and without options, we still had one option and that was to pray.  So we did.  Shortly after that a passing tow truck made his way over to us and towed our car back to our community an hour away.
            In that dark, cold place where you find yourself without options, there is always one option available and that is to pray.  Wherever you are, God is.  He wants you to know that.

Peace and grace,

Friday, September 19, 2014

Making Room For Grief

Grief, more than anything, touches the deepest part of who we are.  What we do with grief can either tear us apart or open our eyes to hope we never knew existed.

            Grief happens when we lose something of value to us.  All of us live with unvoiced expectations.  Sometimes they are unvoiced because we don’t even realize we have them.  Expectations we will not have to bury our children.  Expectations our marriage will last.  Expectations we will live a long life.  Expectations our community of faith will hold together.  Expectations we will always have beauty around us.  Only when life doesn’t turn out the way we expected do we realize how deeply we held onto these secret hopes and dreams.
            Right now we are helplessly watching the largest fire in recent memory in El Dorado County ravage the wilderness we have taken for granted.  There is a sense of relief that the fire has so far been turned back from destroying homes and taking lives  Once that relief is over the thought of the loss of the beauty we have taken for granted has overwhelmed many people.  The most common emotional response has been anger – especially directed toward the person who was arrested for starting the fire.  If you want to get an idea of what unbridled anger sounds like, read what people are saying about him on social media sites.  This type of anger is what will destroy us.  James warned us about this:  Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19–20, ESV)
            James lets us know there is an anger in us that isn’t any good.  It is the anger that turns into bitterness.  Bitterness destroys us and those we come into contact with.  But the Bible also tells us there is an anger that is righteous.  It is right and understandable to experience anger when beauty is destroyed, when cancer or mental illness destroy a life, when families disintegrate under the weight of divorce.  It is not as God intended and God grieves over the brokenness in the world we live in – a brokenness we unfortunately are part of perpetuating.  And yes, God gets angry about it.
            There is another path on the other side of anger.  We don’t have to go down the path of bitterness, we can choose to go down the path of hope.  But it requires us to look to the One who is bigger than our circumstances.  Paul was trying to get this across to the early church in his letter to the church in Rome:  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19, ESV)
            Paul reminded them (and us) that there is something beyond what we can see and sometimes comprehend.  Hope in this world will always disappoint us.  If your faith in Jesus is only that you will have a “good life” it isn’t going to work out very well for you.  In fact, it is almost guaranteed you are going to go down the path of bitterness.
            An essential part of the Jesus story is that he is going to make all things new.  From beginning to end the Bible is full of examples of this storyline.  We screw up, evil seems to win, everything looks hopeless, we are crushed.  And then, a flower blooms in an unexpected place.  It is the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
            You’re going to experience grief in this life.  But are you willing to look for the flower and embrace the hope of renewed beauty in your grief?  Make room in your grief for the grace and beauty of Jesus to show up.  I don’t know how long it will take, but I know it will bloom.  And one day, it will be forever.

Peace and grace,


Thursday, September 11, 2014


            I recently took a solo backpack trip into the Desolation Wilderness.  I just needed to get away for some “me and Jesus” time so I loaded up my backpack with the essentials on a Sunday afternoon and 3 hours later I was all by myself watching the sunset at 8,000 foot elevation next to a lake.  It was beautiful and peaceful.  And I was tired.  The tiredness was from lugging my pack full of “essentials” a couple thousand feet uphill.
            I am an Eagle Boy Scout.  The motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be Prepared.”  That was drilled into me as a kid and has come in very hand throughout my life.  However, at times I have acted like “Be Prepared” means carrying with me any tool I might need in any situation.  The problem is, all that “stuff” gets heavy!
            As I went through the stuff in my pack at that lake, I kept finding things I really didn’t need at all.  I had too much food, too many clothes, too much extraneous gear.  I could have left a lot of things home and lightened my load.  It would have been an easier trip, for sure.  But I had a good reason for every item I put in my pack – I might need it.
            Mark records for us a story of Jesus sending his 12 closest disciples on an important mission to tell people about this new kingdom Jesus kept teaching about.  Look what Jesus says:  And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.” (Mark 6:7–9, ESV)
            Now, clearly these instructions are descriptive of a particular event and not prescriptive of how everyone is to go out and about.  But we shouldn’t dismiss the significance of what Jesus communicates.  He said it and it is recorded for a reason – there is something we should pay attention to in these words of Jesus.  And I think it is this:  When we are following Jesus, we need less than we think.  The unnecessary things in life become distractions, weigh us down and slow us down  – in mind, body and soul.
            This week we are starting an adventure called Simplify where we are going to take a look at the things that clutter our soul.  This isn’t going to be an intellectual exercise, it is going to be a practical journey that will challenge all of us to be less encumbered with “stuff” so we can live life more fully – the life Jesus invites us to live.  Each week we will look at a critical area of life.  You will have a Bible verse to meditate upon and practical actions steps to remove the clutter.  Some will be fun, some will be painful, all will be freeing.
            I have to be honest, I’m looking forward to this with mixed emotions.  I know I will be personally challenged with some of my “stuff” I have been hoarding.  But I’m excited about the freedom it is going to bring.  I hope you will join me as we Simplify so we can live the life Jesus promised.

Peace and grace,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV)