Thursday, December 31, 2009

But I'm Not Done with Christmas Yet!

It’s been kind of sad to me that at least two people have told me that they were glad Christmas was over. In some ways I can understand what they mean – it can be a very busy and stressful time (probably not the type of celebration the Lord had in mind), and after months of hype, it can seem like Christmas will never just hurry up and get here and stop cluttering up our schedules.

But why do we stop saying, “Merry Christmas” after December 25th? Why do the Christmas music radio stations yank the Christmas songs at midnight on the 25th and everyone rush to plan their New Years Rockin’ Eve? It seems to me that December 25th marks the beginning of a season of celebration, a season of rejoicing that our King has come, not the end. Christmas day should be merely the start of the party. My friend David has “Joy to the World” as his ring tone all year long because Jesus’ coming is joyous news both in December and in July.

Isaiah 9 tells us that unto us a child is born, to us a son has been given, and He shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. If you are confused, He is the counselor. Weak? He is the Mighty God. Alone? He is the Father who has brought you into His family. Anxious? He is the Prince of Peace. The Lord of light and life has come, humble and weak, yet possessing the very life of God that He will one day give to us, and I think we turn off our celebratory lights way too soon.

I am not sure we know how to celebrate well in our culture. We love events, but as soon as one is over, we dash off to the next one, relishing in the build-up and the hype so much that the event itself never delivers, leaving us empty and moving on to the hope that the next party might do the trick. (Are the heart-shaped boxes of candy on display in Wal-mart yet, because there are only 45 shopping days left until Valentines Day?)

Will you join me in lingering over the wonder of Emmanuel, God with us? Joy to the world, let earth receive her king, this day and every day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Foiled Again!

I have tried and tried to keep my kids from the commericalization of Christmas, but I have been foiled again! Here is a recent exchange between Eliza and her babysitter, Anna:

Anna: Eliza, what do you want for Christmas?
Eliza: Well, I used to want peace and love, but now I just want a coloring book.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It is what it is and that's OK

God is doing a new thing in my heart regarding our Wednesday Community Fellowship dinners at Grace. Each week over 150 guests (most of them homeless) come for dinner and a message of hope, and this is one of the ministries that I am responsible for in my role as Director of Outreach. I came in with high expectations of myself – I was going to cast vision and usher in transformation, taking this ministry to the “next level,” which in my mind meant fixing/saving our guests. The less that transformation happened, the more frustrated I became, feeling like I was failing and not knowing how to make things better. And so the dinner stopped being a simple act of kindness, a meal of hope. The dinner stopped being for me an opportunity to fellowship with friends that I have grown to know and love.

But lately I am letting go with expectations for change. I do deeply desire that my friends find work, find shelter, find healing and hope. I want to see their lives look different. But I cannot make that happen, and right now I am not receiving clear direction from the Lord on doing much differently on Wednesday nights. What God has been leading me to do seems so simple – have a couple of worship songs each week (and God provided someone to do that); involve guests more in the dinner (so we are having a guest pray each night for the meal and will soon do another testimony night in place of the message; give the guests a chance to pray over some of the requests we receive each week; pray with our church staff team each week for the prayer requests that come in. I am letting go of trying to fix and simply being available to love and enjoy our community.

That sounds really simple, and it sounds like I am not “doing anything.” But I think that this is the ministry God is giving us at Grace right now. Maybe everyone else who serves at WCF understood this already. But it’s taken me a while to see that it is what it is, and that’s OK.

Good news from the GUPY's

As I continue to keep up with graduated GUPY’s, one of the things that excites me most, even more than their work for the Lord amongst the poor, is how many of them are continuing to grow in understanding the depths of grace and the gospel. They continue to wrestle with the inconceivable wonder of grace, the freedom that the Lord gives us from sin and its power over us. They continue to stretch their souls to truly receive all the love that the Lord has for them.
Here are some quotes from three GUPY's blogs:

it just continues to strike me how we as humans continue to try and earn our salvation through works or words or ritual. Our forgiveness has been accomplished already. Christ said "It is finished," so why don't we believe him?

I will always cling to the hope that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1). This is no excuse to sin, of course, but it is an excuse to live by the Spirit, free from the law that I cannot fulfill on my own. That is why Christ came, to be the sin offering for me, so that the barriers are now broken a friendship with God is possible. I will continue to look to Old Testament laws as good moral guidelines, but I know that the Lord calls me to more than just following the rules. He calls me to a life led by the Spirit, a life that is dead to sin and former ways and is alive...fully alive in the confidence and hope of Jesus. He doesn't want me any other way.

God sees through all of my junk & pride. ALL of it. Yet, His decision to love me never waivers (*absurd!*). He gently provides a dose of rebuke, a lathering of forgiveness, and the empowerment to change.
These days He’s trying to teach me that there’s no need to waste my time putting a PR “spin” on my sin and failure or covering it up with cute suits and church event attendance or respectable titles and empty words. And He’s using His unconditional love to break down the facades, take off the layers of my ish, and slowly reveal the daughter with humility and character I was meant to be– not the fraudulent one attempting to run fig leaves through a sewing machine.
It feels so icky to my sin in its depths, but I am genuinely thankful that Jesus doesn’t want to leave me this way.

I believe that this work of God in these young men and women will bear fruit for a lifetime, leading them to love others and to give the good news of the gospel away to so many who need to hear it, including people in their own churches!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Notes From My Advent Journey

God got me thinking about advent well before Thanksgiving, which is a blessing because I usually think about advent about halfway through and then I sort of feel it’s too late and say. “We’ll get ‘em next year.” (That happens to me during Lent, as well) To aid my advent journey, God also provided me with two companions for my advent journey, two books actually: Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross, and Stations of the Crib by Joe Nassal. Living the Christian Year was a gift from IV Press (one of the perks of still being on IV staff), while Stations of the Crib was a delightful, random find at St. Francis Springs retreat center.

I would highly recommend both of them, for different reasons. Living the Christian Year gives you plenty of Scriptural food for thought, offering 6 different Scriptures each week of advent, and a short meditation on each Scripture. For example, this week’s focus was on lamenting the brokenness of the world, and I have found my heart crying out over the darkness all around, saying, “Come, Lord Jesus,” echoing the haunting cry of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

Stations of the Crib is a powerfully-written call to hope consisting of 15 meditations on the birth of Christ. The writing is simple, beautiful, and it speaks directly to the heart. I have been particularly struck by three meditations: a call to be silent and ponder Christ’s coming, written in response to Zechariah’s forced silence before John’s birth; a call to be hopeful not just for the future, but hopeful for the past, knowing that while we cannot undo our past, Christ’s grace and mercy enables us to see it with hopeful eyes; and a call to let Jesus interrupt the hurry of life, to get in our way and force us to deal with the presence of this holy one who has come.

In some ways I feel pressure to have an “aha” experience, to be able to write down “Advent 2009 was about FILL IN THE BLANK.” But this morning the Lord reminded me that advent is about creating space for Him to fill our soul more and more fully, to birth something new that might not be immediately seen or understood, yet would be present and real all the same. And so I will continue to wait.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fullness of Joy

Last week I had the chance to preach at our church, and the topic given to me was “joy,” going with an advent theme. Hoenstly, I was surprised at what came out (though I shouldn’t have been, as most of my GUPY’s would tell you that I only have one sermon that I preach – Christ in you, the hope of glory). My take home truth (sermon-class talk for "main point") is that if we truly knew that Jesus came to give us more than forgiveness, that He came to give us life, we would live lives of joy-fueled obedience. If you’d like to listen to it (it’s not long), click here and download it to your favorite PC/Mac/iPod. Below is my closing (I was preaching out of 1 Peter 3:3-9; 13-15):

In the first episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, Jed, Granny, Jethro and Ellie Mae pull up to their new home and go inside. Their mouths hang open as they stand in the foyer and look at the chandelier and the spiral staircase. Granny tells Jethro to bring her iron cook stove in from the truck and asks Ellie Mae to gather wood so that she can cook supper, despite being told that there is a brand new stove for her to use in the kitchen. When she sees the kitchen oven, she sets to work building a fire inside it. Jethro comes down from the upstairs and says, “There’s a whole other house up here, Uncle Jed,” to which Jed replies, “Git down from there – like as not that belongs to someone else.”

If only they'd known that they had a stove that would cook without a fire. If only they'd known that the whole house belonged to them, not just the downstairs.

And while we laugh at the Hillbillies, we are so often the same way with our salvation. We are amazed at the forgiveness of Jesus, as we should be, but we never begin to explore the fullness of the life that He has given us. We try to apply our old way of doing things to the new life that He has given and it just doesn’t work. We doubt that all that God says about His love for us and His work in us could possibly be true. And so we stay in the foyer of faith, missing out on the fullness of joy.

Could this Christmas season be the time where you discover afresh the joy of Jesus Christ? Will you fix our eyes upon Jesus? Will you prepare your mind for action, looking at all you have been given in Christ, and will you respond with a loving obedience, fueled by joy, that our lives might be consistent with the life of Christ in us.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lights on Silver Avenue

It’s no secret that I love Christmas, pretty much everything about it. I especially love the lights that people put up, and my wife has done such a wonderful job of putting simple, beautiful lights on our home.

But as I drove home the other night, seeing my house made me realize that there aren’t many Christmas lights on Silver Avenue. I don’t think it’s because people are “too poor” to put up lights, though some are. But I think it speaks to the lack of ownership that people have on my street and in my neighborhood. College students just passing through and renters just finding the least expensive place to stay. I remember when I was a renter, I didn’t do much of anything to decorate the outside of my home; we just put up a tree and some decorations inside. But as an owner it’s different for some reason.

I wish there were more lights on Silver.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Grace in the moment

In a recent sermon, I told a nice story about a time where I was arriving home from work exhausted, and I remembered to pray to the Lord, asking Him to be my life and to love my family through me. It was a nice analogy of holiness working its way from the inside out, and it happened to illustrate what happens when we remember on the front-side to depend on Jesus.
But often times the rubber meets the road for me when I am in the midst of an independence streak and I realize the fruitlessness of my actions. At that moment, when I realize that I am failing the Lord and others, I tend to just press on in my funk, reasoning that since I didn’t get it right from the beginning, it’s too late to start now.

Yet isn’t that where faith and grace really kick in, when we’ve already taken the wrong turn, made the wrong choice? When I’ve already overly-fussed at my son for pooping in his bed and decided internally to have a grumpy morning from that point on? When I’ve already decided that I am too tired and frustrated to try depending on Jesus so I am just going to handle things my way, no matter how bad they get? Those are the very moments where, despite the enemy’s whispers to run, my call is to stand and remember. I have been given new birth into a living hope, and that truth is good all the time and is not dependent on my past five minutes of behavior. It is dependent on Jesus Christ and the loving grace of our Father, who takes the time to interrupt my independence and offer me life.

I think that for most of us, we swing and miss the first time through. But our identity has not changed, and God is calling us to surrender our way, surrender our guilt, surrender the thought that we’ll just get it right the next time, that we might see Jesus meet us in that very moment, giving us, as Peter wrote, “everything we need for life and godliness.” Amen and Amen!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Music Suggestions

Need some new music to get your Christmas spirit goin’? Let me be your guide. First, my top three Christmas albums:
1) Joy by Bebo Norman, Ed Cash, and Allen Levi
2) Behold the Lamb: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ by Andrew Peterson
3) The Silent Stars by Alli Rogers

The first two have been on my list for years and would be a welcome addition to any musical library, but I have to say that Alli’s record is getting pretty much constant play on my iPod right now. She has written some amazing original songs, and has redone a few Christmas hymns. Her voice is very soothing and it’s a worshipful, relaxing Christmas CD. Check it out on iTunes.

Also, if you are strapped for cash, go to and check out free music by lots of great artists. My favorite free Christmas finds there are the offerings from Justin McRoberts , JJ Heller, and So Elated (and Justin’s “Deconstruction” CD is amazing, too).
You can also go to this site for a free holiday download featuring one of my favorite artists that I found on noisetrade, Katie Herzig. I have liked all of the songs on the CD.