A Good Place to Start

It was another good night at Kairos, a young(ish) adult worship event that takes place at 7pm every Tuesday night at Brentwood Baptist Church (shameless plug). It’s located off I-65 exit 71 if you’re ever in the area (another shameless plug).

Tonight, Mike Glenn spoke about how Jesus, who defined how we measure history, came into the world in an inauspicious way. He didn’t come with pomp and circumstance to Jerusalem or Rome. He was born to peasant parents in backwater Bethlehem and the first eyewitnesses to the event were some smelly shepherds keeping their flocks in a nearby field.

The takeaway from tonight? Jesus is looking for a good place to start.

If I can offer up even the most hesitant agreements and the most tentative yes to God, He can completely transform my world and then use me to transform the world around me. I still believe that because I’ve seen it too many times not to believe.

That’s why I love the Christmas story. Jesus didn’t ask us to get our acts together and get cleaned up so we could make our way to Him. While we was still mired in sin, Jesus came down to where we were and became one of us. Not as a high and mighty ruler or a holier-than-thou mystic, but as the son of a carpenter. A regular joe.

By the way, if you come to Kairos, they have free coffee and Cheez-Its. For me, that’s an irresistible draw, but I understand that not everyone has come to truly experience the awesomeness of the little snack crackers known as Cheez-Its. I pray they one day will.

And if you’re stuck in a rut or don’t like where you are, remember that God is always looking for a good place to start. Maybe that next place is in you?

 

Hey Y’all, It’s Fall!

“There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! “(Romans 5:3-4, MSG)”

Today, September 23, is officially the first day of fall, or as those who prefer the pronunciation po-tah-to call it, “autumn.”

Whatever you call it, I love it. I love the brisk air and the leaves changing colors. I love bonfires, hayrides, and all things pumpkin spice.

Even more than that, I love that fall signifies change before winter comes. Change can be scary, but in God’s economy all change eventually leads to something good, due to the fact that He works all these things together for good for those who love Him.

I personally can’t wait to see what God will do next in my life.  I can’t wait to see what God will do next in the life of The Church at Avenue South. I can’t wait to see how He will stir up His Church all over the world to even greater deeds of love and sacrifice.

Even when the circumstances look as bleak as the tree limbs barren of leaves, we do not lose hope. We know that the same God who kept His promises throughout the history of the Bible and through the centuries won’t fail to keep them now. That’s a fact.

So bring on the mid-60’s temps. I’m ready. I’m also ready for flannel and jackets. I’m ready for hot dogs and s’mores over an open fire.

Bring it all on.

 

Who Is This Jesus?

That’s the question of the night from speaker Tyler McKenzie.

Who else’s birthday do we still celebrate nearly 2,000 years later? Who else do we gather together– some risking their lives to do so–to honor, to celebrate, to sing songs about, to worship?

Who else has changed the way we look at history? Literally, there is a before and after centered around this Man.

Some want Jesus to be a nice guy, a great teacher, a grand example. But Jesus’ own words don’t allow that. The best explanation of Jesus comes from the pen of one Mr. C. S. Lewis, who said that Jesus was either crazy enough to be committed to an asylum, a pathological liar on a grand scale, or He was who He said He was. In other words, Jesus was either a lunatic, a liar, or He’s Lord.

I bet I got a chorus of “Amen”s on that, but how many of us actually live like Jesus is Lord? Like what He did and Who He was (and still is) matters more than anything or anyone else in history?

Jesus is not a board member in your life whose advice you take under consideration. He’s boss of your life. He’s in control. To use a very non-pc term, He’s your Master.

I heard it somewhere and thought it was worth sharing– if someone rejects Christianity, the question to ask is “What version of Jesus was presented to you?”

Was it meek-and-mild Jesus who seemed bored most of the time? Was it the Jesus who just wanted us to all get along and was completely passive? Was it the Jesus who was a white, middle-class Republican who lived in the suburbs and drove a minivan?

Or was it the Ultimate God-Man who beat death on its own terms and emerged from the grave victorious? Was it that Jesus who went through it all for love of you and me?

It’s not about sin management. It’s not about having your doctrines line up like ducks in a row. It’s not about being a good Christian who fastidiously keeps the list of things not to do. It’s about once being dead in sin and now being alive because Jesus died for me and gave me His life so that I could really and truly and finally live.

That’s it.

 

Henri Nouwen and Lent in 2015

“O Lord, this holy season of Lent is passing quickly. I entered into it with fear, but also with great expectations. I hoped for a great breakthrough, a powerful conversion, a real change of heart; I wanted Easter to be a day so full of light that not even a trace of darkness would be left in my soul.

But I know that you do not come to your people with thunder and lightning. Even St. Paul and St. Francis journeyed through much darkness before they could see your light. Let me be thankful for your gentle way. I know you are at work. I know you will not leave me alone. I know you are quickening me for Easter – but in a way fitting to my own history and my own temperament.

I pray that these last three weeks, in which you invite me to enter more fully into the mystery of your passion, will bring me a greater desire to follow you on the way that you create for me and to accept the cross that you give to me. Let me die to the desire to choose my own way and select my own desire. You do not want to make me a hero but a servant who loves you.

Be with me tomorrow and in the days to come, and let me experience your gentle presence. Amen” (Henri Nouwen).

I think that says everything that’s in my heart in this season of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday on April 5, especially the part of dying to choosing my own way and selecting my own desire. That’s me. I have my own dreams and ideas of how my life should play out. God has different dreams and ideas for me. Seeing as how God’s ways are so much higher and better than mine, I would do well to yield to His ways over mine.

Lord, I lay my life at your feet. Make it shine brightly for You and for others to see You, regardless of the cost to me. Amen.

A Third Letter to a Way Younger Me

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Remember that day you thought was your worst day ever? Remember how you felt like you were having a nervous breakdown? You weren’t. Just for the record.

Remember how you thought you’d made the biggest, most colossal blunder in the history or blunders? You didn’t.

As I learned tonight, the worst day ever can be the beginning of your best day yet to come.

You fin that the dreaded worst case scenario did not come to pass. No one stoned you. No one ostracized you. Nothing was lost that wasn’t replaced eventually by something 10,000 times better.

As Joseph put it, even when the worst got thrown at you, what people meant for evil and harm, God used for good. God took all those rough patches to make you who you are now and to help you start to realize all that God could do in and through you.

Even the worst days end. They are 24 hours long, just like your best days and your so-so days. You didn’t croak or kick any buckets. You are still here and those supposedly insurmountable problems and obstacles aren’t. Just you remember that.

It really is darkest before that proverbial dawn. It does get better and you will eventually wonder why you made such a fuss over it.

As I said before, naps are good. You don’t get a rollover plan on those naps, so take them early and often while you still can.

Easter Season Liturgy Part V

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“O God, Creator of heaven and earth:  Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

So I did the whole downtown Franklin thing again. It always does my heart good to be back there, revisiting my favorite haunts and breathing in the perfect spring night air.

I don’t really know what to do with the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. It seems so low-key compared to the tragic drama of Friday and the joyful triumphant victory of Sunday.

But I know what’s coming. I wonder what those disciples were thinking and feeling. Or the Marys. It must have seemed like the lowest point of their lives. All of their hopes and dreams and been awakened and they had only just begun to hope, then it was dashed and broken to pieces beyond recognition.

The one they thought would save them was dead in a tomb. They had seem the bloodied body, seen the moment when the spear went into Jesus’ side and both blood and water poured out. There was no doubt.

I’m glad I’m on this side of history and I know what’s coming. I know with the next sunrise comes Sunday and the empty tomb and a risen Christ. That’s where my hope lies.

I can’t imagine people whose faith won’t allow for miracles or resurrections. Would that even be faith at all? What if Jesus’ death were only an example and the only way He lived was in the memories of His followers? What kind of hope would that be?

Only a literal resurrection can give true hope. Only a Jesus who’s really and truly alive, with the wounds in His hands, feet, and side, could inspire the joy of Easter. That’s why I can’t wait for tomorrow and the celebration that comes with it.

 

A Repeat

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“Everything will be fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end.”

Every time I hear those words, they ring more true than ever. These words are from a movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but that doesn’t make them any less true.

That’s the story of the Bible. That’s the story of unfolding redemption, played out through history. The Gospel.

Adam and Eve knew fine, but their wrong choice ended that. Their sin, the choosing of self over God, made it so that everything was not fine. And so it remains.

Ever since that first sin, it’s been the opposite of fine. It’s been a catastrophe, a disaster, an epic fail. We are cut ofd from God, from each other, and from our true selves– who we really were designed and created to be.

But Jesus came to undo what Adam did, to bridge the gap between man and God, as only God in human skin could. He came to make everything fine again.

Paul says it a little more poetically in Romans 8:28: “We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.”

That’s the whole story. It will be fine in the end because God has promised it would be.

Everything will be fine in the end. It’s not fine yet, but that only means it’s not yet the end.

In His Own Words

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I thought it fitting on a day set apart to celebrate the legacy of one Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I shouldn’t try to speak for him, but instead let his own words speak for themselves.

I found this excerpt of a speech he gave in accepting the Nobel Peace award in 1964. I hope it resonates with you like it did with me:

“I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. ‘And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.’ I still believe that WE SHALL OVERCOME!”

Following a Star and a Promise

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I’m prefacing this by stating that I don’t know a whole lot about these wise men of biblical fame. I mean, where did they come from? Were there just three or were there more who accidentally happened to bring the same gifts? (I’m sure that would have been awkward even then).

I do know they came from a great distance based solely on a single star in the sky and the promise of a Messiah, an Anointed One.

I do know it probably took them a few years to make the journey from home to Bethlehem. I also know they didn’t arrive at the location of Jesus’ birth, but probably a year or two later when the family was settled in a home.

I wonder what it was like for them to travel out into a foreign country with nothing concrete to go on except that solitary star and an ancient promise.

I feel like that sometimes. Maybe you do, too.

You’ve stepped outside of everything that’s familiar with only the promises and the presence of Jesus to guide you. You don’t know exactly where you are going or what you will find when you get there, other than that Jesus will be there.

I imagine it would have been so very easy for the wise men to get sidetracked and tempted to settle for a  comfortable oasis along the way. Or maybe a small village where the locals are friendly and the food is good.

I’m certain that the daily ritual of camping for the night, packing it all up, and setting out again got old quick. I get bored on a car trip that lasts more than 5 hours. I can’t imagine 2 or 3 years of constant travelling.

History shows that they were faithful to the journey’s end. They were faithful to the promise, faithful to keep it sacred and safe from men like Herod who wanted to destroy it.

I’m hoping that you and I will be just as diligent and faithful on our own journeys. May you and I find the Christ not only awaiting us at the end of the road, but feel His presence along the way as well.

 

A Good Weekend

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As I stepped into my car to head home from a Sunday School class party, I could hear the hypnotic drone of cicadas and felt 10-years old again and ready for the next big adventure. That’s what life really is. At least for those who have their eyes open to appreciate the mystery and wonder in each gift God unwraps daily called life.

I still fondly remember running through the streets of downtown Nashville with my friend Katie to catch the next act at Live on the Green, Michael Franti. It was a moment I never imagined happening, yet if you were to ask what my all-time favorite moment was, this one would be climbing the charts. And no Gatorade ever tasted better than the ones from the Exxon convenience store on the way home.

How can I forget an impromptu Starbucks session of great conversation and good coffee drinks? I can’t remember two hours flying by that fast. It was yet another in a long line of unexpected treasures and blessings God has showered on me lately.

I remember Friday and Saturday in downtown Franklin, seeing some of my favorite McCreary’s people and savoring yet another beautiful summer night visiting my usual haunts and trekking my familiar path up and down Main Street. I especially recall how quiet it was in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church as I sat silent and still and expectant, waiting on a Word from God.

I finally fell asleep at 4:30 this morning after another night of tossing and turning. I think I’ll sleep better tonight. At least I hope I do. But even that time awake gave me time to reflect on all the little gifts that eucharisteo had opened my eyes to see.

I remember something my Sunday School teacher Derek Webster said. He said, “God believes in you even more than you do.”

I have to write that down somewhere. Oh yeah, I guess I just did. But I need it in a place where I can find it and see it every morning, because I know some mornings I’ll wake up and not be as excited to be alive. Those old self-doubts will creep in. The enemy will whisper, “See? Nobody really cares about you. No one would notice if you weren’t around. You don’t make one bit of difference to anybody.”

That’s when this Truth of God comes in. God says differently. To me. To you. To anyone who heard and followed the voice of Jesus. God said you do matter because I made you. Jesus said you matter because I thought you were to die for. You have a gift and a purpose that no one else ever in the history of mankind has ever had. Only you can play the part God wrote for you in the Great Romance He’s written out in history.

You being you makes God smile. You being who God created you is what the world around you needs to see more than any Billy Graham or Mother Teresa. You coming alive to your gifts and talents will be the ripple in the ocean whose effects will last far beyond your own lifetime.

Yep. All that from four days in August.