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CHRISTMAS ANTICIPATION

Christmas anticipation is the best!

That may sound strange to you, but I love the build up! I love the excitement and energy as Christmas morning approaches.

Don't get me wrong, as a kid I hated it! The night before Christmas was horrible. The agony of seeing the presents but not opening them. The torture of knowing (or thinking you knew) what the gifts were, but not having access to them.

Oh, the night before Christmas was always a long, sleepless, cruel night!

But now, as a father, I cherish the anticipation.

There is a stir in my heart every Christmas morning as my daughters are sitting on our bed waiting, even longing for me to come and get them to open their gifts.

I think my anticipation of watching them unwrap and experience Christmas is greater than their anticipation of opening their gifts.

I wonder if God, the Father, felt that way the night before Christmas. I wonder if He had butterflies in His Spirit as He anticipated the arrival of hope. I wonder if His heart beat faster at the idea of peace, coming to the chaos of the world. I wonder if everything in Him quickened as the plan that was written before time was final about to be set into motion.

I wonder if He cherished the anticipation.

The world was about to unwrap the greatest present known to humanity, and they had no idea, but the Father ... He had been waiting for this moment since before moments were created. 

Followers of Yahweh had been longing for the Messiah. For centuries they had eagerly anticipated the arrival of the One who would bring light into their dark world, to make order out of the chaos. To redeem them. Even though they didn't know that Christmas was about to commence, they were in a state of desperate expectancy. They could not wait any longer!

And neither could their Father.

Imagine HIS excitement.
Imagine HIS joy.
Imagine His pride.

Imagine His agony.

For just as the joy of Christmas anticipation was ending, the agony of anticipating His Son's sacrifice is just beginning.

But for now, joy to the world, for the Lord, the Savior, the MESSIAH had come.

In this moment the gloom of distress and the pain of despair are ending.

On this day, the first Christmas, a light to defeat the darkness has dawned.

A Father's anticipation has ended.

Jesus has come ...


From my family to yours, have a very Merry and Hope-filled Christmas,
filled with laughter, joy, and anticipation ...

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REASONABLE FAITH

By definition, faith is unreasonable. According to Hebrews faith is "being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you cannot see." Faith defies reason.

"Sensless. Impractical. Totally unsound." These are words that dictionary.com uses to define the word crazy. Faith seems to me to have a lot to do with crazy!!

A few years ago I became the Lead Pastor of a small church in Bluffton, South Carolina. As I started my new responsibilities I knew that God was going to require more faith of me. More faith to lead others. More faith to direct the church. More faith to guide my family. More faith to follow Jesus. As the church began hitting some snags along the way my faith was shaken, but I wouldn't say it was challenged. Crises don't seem to shake my faith, though I really don't want a severe crisis to test that. For sure they seem to knock it around a bit, but to my surprise, what has challenged my faith more than anything has been asking God for the impossible.

God, there is no way we will get enough money ...
God, there is no way people are going to show up ...
God, there is no way this vision is going to work ...
God, this vision is too big for me ...

You see, I've always struggled with the idea of reasonable faith. It's an oxymoron, I know, because faith is, well ... it's unreasonable. That being said, I would never run out into the middle of a busy street and kneel down before a moving truck on faith that God would protect me. It's unreasonable. As a pastor of a church that struggles to make ends meet, I would never run in front of the church and ask the people to give to a $10 million dollar project. It's unreasonable.

That kind of faith is senseless ... impractical ... totally unsound ...

And so I find myself seeing the limits of my faith stretched. Where does reasonable faith cross into unreasonable faith? At what point does "healthy" faith jump ship and become "crazy" faith?

I think about David rushing out to fight a giant with a sling and a few rocks. Unreasonable, right? If not, then how about Elijah challenging hundreds of false prophets, confident that God will rain fire from heaven. Fire. From heaven. Is that reasonable? Come on, would you believe God would rain fire down at your request? How about Joshua asking the sun to stand still? Unreasonable. It defies science! It's impractical! It's senseless! It's totally unsound! It's CRAZY!

And yet God not only answered their requests, he rewarded their unreasonable faith!

And then there's Peter. Poor Peter. The disciples see Jesus walking on the water and they are terrified, but Peter calls out and says, "Jesus, if you want me to come out there, call me out and I'm there!" So Jesus calls him. You know the story, of course. As Pete walks on the water he takes his eyes off Jesus and begins to sink, to which Jesus says, "You have so little faith!"

We applaud Peter for getting out of the boat, I mean, the rest of the disciples just sat there, but even in doing the unreasonable thing, the crazy thing, walking on the water, Jesus tells Peter there's more! It's as if He is saying, "Peter ... you almost had it! Think of what you could have done if you just had more faith!"

Reasonable faith. As if getting out of the boat and walking on the water is reasonable! Then Jesus blows the whole thing up, as if he's saying, "If you think walking on the water is crazy, then you have no idea what unreasonable faith looks like!"

A little later Jesus would ask something even more unreasonable of us as His followers. He would ask if we would be willing to follow him at all costs. Follow a man who claimed to be a deity, died a criminal's death, was rumored to be raised from the dead and seen by hundreds. And not just follow Him, but BELIEVE in Him ... When I look at it that way, walking on the water does seem reasonable.

Sure of what you hope for. Certain of what you cannot see. Senseless. Impractical. Totally unsound. Crazy. Faith.

Sounds pretty unreasonable to me. I'm in ...

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GOD FORGIVE US

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GOD FORGIVE US

Yesterday Live Oak Christian Church took a look at a few spiritual truths from the movie "12 Years a Slave." If you haven't seen the movie, brace yourself. Powerful. Sobering. Hard to watch.

Inspiring. Challenging. Quite frankly ... it ticked me off.

While an obvious spiritual truth is one of perseverance, we turned that idea on its head yesterday, challenging people to not only persevere through their trials and struggles, but to NEVER TIRE OF DOING GOOD. (Galatians 6:9).

I was most convicted during "12 Years a Slave" at the LACK of people doing good ... of standing up for what is right!

With all that is happening around the world, it seems ridiculous to me that many (if not most) Western Christians are bickering about insignificant issues of comfort and preference instead of being about the "requirements of God:"

Doing RIGHT Loving MERCY Walking HUMBLY with our God

Edmund Birk has said, "The only thing for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." The heart of our service yesterday was that God forgive us for our indifference.

At the end of the sermon we took some time to realize that before we, as followers of Christ, get our hands dirty to serve others we must first get our hearts clean through repentance. Several church members and friends have asked for a copy of that prayer, so here it is. I hope that if you pray it you will do so with earnestness and passion ... and then get off your knees and get to the business of loving the orphans, the widows, the outcast, and the marginalized.

GOD FORGIVE US …

For refusing to open our eyes to those in need … For refusing to open our hearts to the widowed, the orphaned, the marginalized, and the lost … For turning our backs on the down and out … For claiming grace for ourselves while hoarding it away from others … For closing our hearts to the very ones you sent us to open our hearts to …

Forgive us for the stubborn pride that poisons our minds … Forgive us for the judgmental, holier-than-thou posture we take towards those who are not like us: - the poor, the rich, the have-nots & the have-muches who we can’t relate to - Hispanics, Asians, Middle-Easterners, and others who do not speak like us - the Muslims, the Mormons, and the LDS who don’t believe like us - the “other Christians” who don’t worship like us, talk like us, pray like us, or think like us - the immigrants we see as “them” instead of remembering that we were once immigrants too - the homosexual community whom we seem to be so afraid of we cast judgement instead of showing compassion towards

Forgive us for damning the world to Hell instead of doing everything we can to save them from it

Dear God …

Forgive us for quitting on you For giving up the fight on behalf of others For remaining silent when we should be shouting and for shouting when we should be praying Forgive us for KNOWING your Word but not LIVING your Word Forgive us for our indifference Forgive us for doing nothing

God forgive us for the arrogance of making our life about our struggles instead of your grace Forgive us for hijacking your glory for our selfish ambition Forgive us for misrepresenting your Son to a world that is lost

Take all of these confessions, of which we are guilty, and forgive us Lord Embolden/empower us to live Micah 6:8 … to do what is good … what you require of us:

TO DO JUSTLY TO LOVE MERCY AND TO WALK HUMBLY WITH YOU ...

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I'M NOT AFRAID! (I'm Terrified ... I Think)

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being at a friend’s ordination service. During the worship we sang a lyric that I struggled with. It wasn’t a new lyric, but for some reason I just couldn’t get the words out of my mouth.

As a former worship pastor, I’ve sung a lot of songs over the years.

Some of them were old camp songs that had absolutely no point other than fun:

Father Abraham, had many sons; had many sons had Father Abraham

I am one of them and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord - RIGHT ARM!

(Can’t tell you how much I’d like to get that one out of my head!)

Some were 7/11 songs. You know, the songs where you sing the same 7 words eleven times:

I could sing of your love forever

I could sing of your love forever

I could sing of your love forever

I could sing of your love forever

REPEAT CHORUS!

(I really like this chorus, but let’s face it, it’s not the most original text!)

Some were hymns that we don’t sing often today, but had rich text and meaning:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me let my hide myself in Thee,

Let the water and the blood, from Thy wounded side which flow,

Be of sin the double cure, safe from wrath and make me pure

(To this day, Rock of Ages is still one of the “old hymns” whose depth of lyrical meaning moves me.)

The song that gave me such trouble is called, “Show Me Your Glory,” sung by Jesus Culture. The lyrics are all about stepping into the glory of God:

I see Your cloud, I step in

I want to see Your glory like Moses did

Flashes of light, rolls of thunder

And then the phrase that I stopped on …

And I’m not afraid; I’m not afraid.

I just could’t sing it. I thought about the picture that was being painted - the pure majesty of the Almighty God. The enormity of His power. The all-consuming nature of His glory. I thought about Moses begging to see God in all of His glory, and God’s response that if He unleashed the fullness of His being, Moses wouldn’t be able to take it! I recalled that the disciples, on the Mount of a Transfiguration, were terrified at the mere voice of God. Just the interaction with angels made people tremble!

How could I even think in the presence of God, let alone speak or sing? And to verbalized, “But I’m not afraid?!”

I would be terrified!! (Read Psalm 29 and you'll see what I'm talking about!)

But then another thought came rushing to my mind:

I’ve been invited into His presence.

I’m encouraged to sit as His feet.

My Father wants me to come to Him!

His invitation is so important that He sent it to me by way of His Son, Jesus.

This thought of me being a part of Him and Him being a part of me is so pressing on His heart, that He sent His Holy Spirit to live inside of me.

I know what some of you are thinking. “Yeah Michael, but that’s a different kind of presence. We aren’t yet in the full presence of God’s glory.” And you’re right, of course. But that doesn’t disqualify the precedent:

God wants us to be WITH Him.

And then it clicked: When that moment does happen … when I am standing in the full glory of God’s presence … when there is no longer a barrier of sin or flesh between me and my Creator … that moment will be THE point of grace.

That moment, when my unworthiness meets his mercy ...

That moment when His invitation overrides my hesitancy ...

That moment when human fear collides with divine worship …

That moment when His presence overwhelms my reason …

And while I understand and embrace grace today, THAT moment will be a point of grace that I can’t comprehend yet.

I still struggle with the lyric, because I still struggle with sin and self, but I look forward to the day when all of my struggles will melt into the fullness of His presence.

Until that day, I guess I’ll  just have to hold on to His grace the best I can ...

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SANDY HOOK, WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN, AND WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

We Love You Sandy Hook Sign

As a father of two daughters I found myself at a loss for words on Friday. The unthinkable had happened: a young man named Adam Lanza entered an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut and began shooting children. Little children. Six, seven, and eight year old kids. The most innocent of our society caught in the crossfire of an obviously distressed and lost individual.

As of today, the following Sunday, there is still no idea as to why this young man opened fire. We know that he killed his mother, a teacher at the school, before he left home. We know that he went to the school with one thought in mind: shattering innocence. We know that after his act of inhumane violence, he took his own life. 27 lives stolen away from this life, 20 of them who were just learning to read, to write … to live.

The finger pointing has already begun:

  • Liberals are calling for gun control, some pushing to throw out the 2nd Amendment all together.
  • Conservatives are revisiting the "prayer in school" issue, many assuming that if "God was still in the schools this would never have happened."
  • Many across social media platforms are yelling at Hollywood to stop glorifying violence, while some in Hollywood are pointing at major media outlets for turning mass murderers into celebrities.
  • Atheists are questioning a deity that they don't even believe in, while churches across America will talk about the power of the Devil and the evil in this world.

Everyone is trying to explain the unexplainable, trying to make sense of the senseless. A nation grieving over the horrific loss of innocence and looking for someone to blame.

Don't get me wrong. For the record I believe there should be tighter gun control laws. I believe God and prayer should be allowed back in the public schools. I believe that both Hollywood AND the media glorify violence too much in order to turn a profit. I believe that God could have stopped this tragedy, but He didn't (and while I may vehemently disagree with HIS choice, it was not MY choice to make - that's another blog). And I absolutely believe that there is an overwhelming darkness in the world today called evil.

As my very wise big brother wrote the other day:

The thing is, we live in a fallen world. We want to find reasons, explanations, something we can wrap our minds around. We live in a culture that cheapens life, glorifies violence, demands unearned "respect", idolizes self, and marginalizes faith. All of this is true, but none of it is new. Human history is filled with examples of the unthinkable things we can do to each other. We live in a fallen world; but not a world without hope…

But there is one person that no one is pointing the finger of blame at: themselves.

OURselves.

  • Could this tragedy have been avoided if guns were harder to get, or even illegal? Maybe.
  • Would things have ended differently if prayer will still a part of a school's day? They might have.
  • What if society viewed violence as reprehensible instead of profitable? Maybe that would have made a difference.

But try this one: what if young Adam Lanza and his family had been so loved, so cared for, and so accepted by a church somewhere, or by Christians who knew them … what if society would have pursued him as broken instead of branding him as

"an emotionally off-kilter loner, sometimes dressed in black, who moved on the margins of his community?"

Would Friday have turned out differently? While I would never be so arrogant to say that would have changed everything (no one can), I believe it would have had a bigger impact on Adam Lanza than all of the other social issues listed above combined.

I look at the life of Jesus and see him hanging out with prostitutes and alcoholics. I see him spending time with social rejects and community misfits. I see him healing people who are considered unclean, undeserving, even crazy. Jesus moved among "the margins of his community." Too often the Church spends its time condemning those on the margins instead of loving them. We so badly want to "fix" people instead of seeing people redeemed. We start off with judgment instead of approaching them with compassion.

I can't change the gun laws, I can't force the schools to allow prayer again, and I can't pursued Hollywood or the media to change their views on violence, but I can do my part.

  • I can do a better job of reaching out to the broken.
  • I can try harder to see through eyes of compassion instead of eyes of condemnation.
  • I can pray that God would help me love the "unloveable" as much as I love those who are "easy to love."
  • I can actually try to be a light to others instead of trying to shine a light on their issues.

Maybe in doing so, the next Adam Lanza will know that there are other choices, better choices to be made. Maybe the next "shooter" will know that there is a light in the darkness.

In J.R.R. Tolkien's masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, the following exchange takes place between Frodo Baggins, bearer of the ring, and the grey wizard Gandalf:

"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.

"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

"So be careful how you live. Don't live like fools, but like those who are wise.

MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY IN THESE EVIL DAYS."

- Ephesians 5:16,17

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

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