Resurrecting Hope

“Easter was when Hope in person surprised the whole world by coming forward from the future into the present” (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope).

That was the topic of today’s sermon at The Church at Avenue South– that after being crucified and buried, Jesus actually and physically rose from the grave.

The Apostle Paul says that if Jesus didn’t rise from the grave, then our faith is useless and futile and we are all still dead in our sins.

If there is no resurrection, then Jesus’ death was meaningless and He wasn’t who He claimed to be, but just another in a long line of those so-called “Messiahs” whose words were forgotten and whose followers immediately abandoned them after death to look for the newest “Messiah.”

But Jesus stepped out of the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, forever proving that He is the ultimate God-Man, Savior of the world, the true Messiah.

Our hope is in more than a great teacher who gave us some great ideals to live by before he died. It’s in more than Jesus being “resurrected” by keeping His memory alive in the hearts of His disciples.

Our hope is in the Jesus who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf and died on the cross, then bodily rose from the grave and appeared to the apostles as well as over 500 other witnesses.

Because Jesus lives, our hope is alive. Because He lives, we live and can face any tomorrow that comes. Because He lives, we know that there is nothing that comes up against us– illness, death, or the grave– that can separate us from the love He has for us.

“We could cope—the world could cope—with a Jesus who ultimately remains a wonderful idea inside his disciples’ minds and hearts. The world cannot cope with a Jesus who comes out of the tomb, who inaugurates God’s new creation right in the middle of the old one” (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope).



Occasionally, I like to invite guest bloggers to write my blog posts. What I mean by that is that there are some nights when I am just too lazy to do any original thinking, so I “borrow” from some of my favorite writers who have expressed my own thoughts better than I could.

This is another one of those nights. The writer is Frederick Buechner and the topic is darkness. Here goes:

“The Old Testament begins with darkness, and the last of the Gospels ends with it.

‘Darkness was upon the face of the deep,’ Genesis says. Darkness was where it all started. Before darkness, there had never been anything other than darkness, void and without form. At the end of John, the disciples go out fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. It is night. They have no luck. Their nets are empty. Then they spot somebody standing on the beach. At first they don’t see who it is in the darkness. It is Jesus.

The darkness of Genesis is broken by God in great majesty speaking the word of creation. ‘Let there be light!’ That’s all it took.

The darkness of John is broken by the flicker of a charcoal fire on the sand. Jesus has made it. He cooks some fish on it for his old friends’ breakfast. On the horizon there are the first pale traces of the sun getting ready to rise.

All the genius and glory of God are somehow represented by these two scenes, not to mention what Saint Paul calls God’s foolishness.

The original creation of light itself is almost too extraordinary to take in. The little cookout on the beach is almost too ordinary to take seriously. Yet if Scripture is to be believed, enormous stakes were involved in them both, and still are. Only a saint or a visionary can begin to understand God setting the very sun on fire in the heavens, and therefore God takes another tack. By sheltering a spark with a pair of cupped hands and blowing on it, the Light of the World gets enough of a fire going to make breakfast. It’s not apt to be your interest in cosmology or even in theology that draws you to it so much as it’s the empty feeling in your stomach. You don’t have to understand anything very complicated. All you’re asked is to take a step or two forward through the darkness and start digging in” (Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark).

Only One Thing Matters

“Jesus continued from there toward Jerusalem and came to another village. Martha, a resident of that village, welcomed Jesus into her home. Her sister, Mary, went and sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him teach. Meanwhile Martha was anxious about all the hospitality arrangements.

Martha (interrupting Jesus): Lord, why don’t You care that my sister is leaving me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to get over here and help me.

Jesus: Oh Martha, Martha, you are so anxious and concerned about a million details, but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her” (Luke 10:38-42, The Voice).

This Advent season may find you stretched too thin. You might feel like you’re being pulled in a hundred different directions toward a hundred different destinations, each one seemingly as important as the rest.

I believe the word from God for this season is this: the best place to be is at the feet of Jesus. Only one thing matters as we approach Christmas– creating margins and spaces in your life and heart to be able to hear the voice of your Good Shepherd.

Only one thing matters– seeing the Christ in Christmas an adoring the infant King, wrapped snugly and laying in a manger. As the worship song says, everything else can wait. Some of those to-do list tasks can even be left undone.

If you achieve all your holiday goals and purchase every last present and miss Jesus, you’ve missed Advent.

The best witness you can give this Advent season is to say no to the excess spending and the tyranny of the urgent while being still before the presence of God, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

You don’t have to be idle to be still. You can go about your daily life with a sense of urgent expectancy and waiting with hope. You can adore the Christ by your Christlike attitude in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, by your kindness and patience toward others, remembering that the one thing that matters most is not in your wallet or in your shopping bags or in your day planner but rather in the middle of your Nativity scene, laying in that manger.

Busted Brackets

I did my civic duty tonight. No, I didn’t vote. I filled out my NCAA basketball tournament brackets (nine in all).

Some of them I played straight. I picked all the #1 seeds to win. On some others, I just went plain crazy. I picked just about every game to be an upset.

It hit me as I was filling in these brackets. As you know, no 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Ever.

There have been a few #15 seeds upset the #2 seeds and a few more #14 seeds pull a shocker over their 3 seed counterpart, but no 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 seed since the tournament expanded to 64 teams back in the 80’s.

What hit me was this: what God did for me in saving me was the equivalent of a #16 seed winning the whole enchilada. Or if you will, the 64th best team (think Austin Peay) winning the national championship.

I’m definitely not saying that God’s the underdog in this story. I am. On my own, I had absolutely no shot of making it out of the first round. I was the equivalent of a team of corpses.

But God made me alive in Christ. He raised me up with supernatural power. in Jesus, I have become more than a conqueror. My salvation story is akin to that Austin Peay team reaching the finals and beating those mighty Kansas Jayhawks in the national championship game.

A pipe dream? Maybe. But I know that in God what seems impossible to me and you is possible for God. In fact, it’s not even remotely difficult for God (thanks again to Pete Wilson for that one).

I have a feeling that most of my brackets will be busted and broken by the Sweet Sixteen. I know that spiritually speaking, my life in God will never ever be busted and broken because I serve a God who knows the way out of hell and the grave.

The end.


Waiting Patiently

“While fulfilling these sacred obligations at the temple, they encountered a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was a just and pious man, anticipating the liberation of Israel from her troubles. He was a man in touch with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Anointed One.  The Spirit had led him to the temple that day, and there he saw the child Jesus in the arms of His parents, who were fulfilling their sacred obligations.  Simeon took Jesus into his arms and blessed God.

Simeon: Now, Lord and King, You can let me, Your humble servant, die in peace.
    You promised me that I would see with my own eyes
        what I’m seeing now: Your freedom,
     Raised up in the presence of all peoples.
    He is the light who reveals Your message to the other nations,
        and He is the shining glory of Your covenant people, Israel.

 His father and mother were stunned to hear Simeon say these things. Simeon went on to bless them both, and to Mary in particular he gave predictions.

Simeon: Listen, this child will make many in Israel rise and fall. He will be a significant person whom many will oppose.  In the end, He will lay bare the secret thoughts of many hearts. And a sword will pierce even your own soul, Mary” (Luke 2: 25-35).

Picture Simeon. He’s an old man, nearing the end of his days. He’s been waiting for the promised Messiah for as long as he can remember. In fact, the prophecies of that coming Anointed One date back to hundreds and thousands of years before he was born.

Simeon waited almost his entire life to see a promise of God fulfilled.

How long are you willing to wait?

Every advertisement tells us that we are due to get what’s ours right now. No waiting. We live in a world of instant gratification where waiting isn’t looked upon in a good light.

Are you willing to wait as long as it takes? Simeon was, and the payoff made it so much more than worth it.

Wait for the Lord. His promises are sure and true. They are coming, even if they don’t arrive on your timetable. They will come.

Don’t give up.

Christmas and Cold Weather

I confess. I’d really like to see a white Christmas. I mean I’d REALLY, REALLY like to see a WHITE CHRISTMAS. But I live in Tennessee, so the chances of that happening are about the same as those Tennessee Titans of mine actually making a run at the playoffs. In other words, not quite nil but very close.

It doesn’t seem like Christmas when it’s short-sleeves weather. It’s hard for me to get into the spirit of the season when I’m turning on the AC in my car on the way home from work.

Ultimately, what makes Christmas Christmas isn’t snow or freezing temps. It’s Christ. If it ends up being north of 80 degrees this Christmas Day and Jesus is present, I’ll be so much more than okay with that.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to take my eyes off even that during these frantic, fast-paced days. I lose sight of what I’m celebrating and get bogged down in slow traffic and bad drivers (obviously not me– no sarcasm there). Too many will only see the darker side of humanity and miss the fact that that’s why Jesus came– to rescue us from ourselves. If we were such kind and generous people all the time, we probably wouldn’t need rescuing.

I know I still need rescuing from time to time. That’s why I love Christmas. It reminds me that when I couldn’t get to God, He came to me. He became my Savior. My Redeemer. My Rescuer.

So I’m still holding out hope for snow on Christmas Eve. Even if it only flurries for a bit and doesn’t stick, I’d be good. At this point, it’d take a miracle.

The good news is that Christmas is all about miracles and the impossible becoming reality. It’s God doing what people said could never be done. Just look at Jesus.



All Those Miles

Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.

Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts.

We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts.

But especially with gifts.

You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child.

All the stockings are filled — all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up.

The stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s His birthday we are celebrating. Don’t ever let us forget that.

Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most, and then let each put in his share.

Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance.

All the shining gifts that make peace on earth” (from The Bishop’s Wife).

On my way home from work, I hit a milestone. My Jeep crossed over 295,000 miles. For those who aren’t too familiar with cars and all things automotive, that’s a lot of miles. Even I know that.

So, basically, I have a 15-year old cat and an 18-year old car. Most of my shoes are old enough to be in grade school. Just about everything I own is old.

The older I get, the more I realize that what’s important, what truly matters, isn’t anything that can be bought or sold. It doesn’t come with a price tag. In fact, the most important things in life are free (or more accurately, they’re priceless).

Relationships matter. Time spent with family and friends matters. Integrity and character matter. Compassion matters.

All those things that you will never see advertised (or maybe used to motivate you to buy a product).

This Christmas, maybe instead of another gift that will end up in some Goodwill, how about spending more time with those you love? Maybe, give someone a call or send a text.

The most important gift of all won’t be found under any Christmas tree. It was found in a stable, wrapped snugly in an old blanket and laid in a feeding trough. But what was in that small stable was bigger than our whole world (to borrow a quote from Lucy Pevensie of The Chronicles of Narnia).

Advent is all about celebrating the waiting for the Messiah. It’s preparing room in our hearts to once again receive the Infant King who became Savior of the World. It’s knowing that in the heart of Jesus is enough room for you and me and all who seek Immanuel, God with us.

That, Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is all about. That is what the best part of life is all about– your life after salvation is one extended thank you to Jesus for making that salvation possible, for actually saving you. Your lifestyle of gratitude and thanksgiving will make other people want the Jesus you have.

That’s the best kind of gift.


“Neighborliness is not a quality in other people; it is simply their claim on ourselves. Every moment and every situation challenges us to action and to obedience. We have literally no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbor or not” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).

Who is my neighbor? That’s the question that the expert in Jewish law asked Jesus. In other words, who am I required to love?

Jesus turned the question around from “Who is my neighbor?” to “How am I being a good neighbor to those around me?”

So, a neighbor is anyone who is in need and who is within my power to help. I can’t help every single one in need, but I can meet the needs of those who are in front of me, and those by Jesus’ definition are my neighbors.

Ultimately, the Good Samaritan is a picture of Jesus Himself. I’m the one who foolishly took the dangerous road alone and ended up beaten up and robbed. I’m the one lying half-dead on the road whom the Neighbor spotted and had pity on.

That changes the parable quite a bit, doesn’t it? It means just as the Good Samaritan wasn’t the kind of hero the Jewish audience was expecting, Jesus wasn’t (and isn’t) the kind of Messiah we were expecting.

We prize physical strength and virility. We prize magazine-cover good looks. We love take-charge, grab-the-bull-by-the-horns people.

I wonder sometimes if we’d know Jesus as Messiah if He showed up today as He did almost two millennia ago. People were expecting someone to rally the people against Rome, but instead got a man who insisted that we turn the other cheek and go the extra mile.

Sure, Jesus overturned those tables in the Temple, but He also said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

I’m thankful most of all that in Jesus, I got not the kind of Savior I might have wanted, but the kind I so desperately needed. He loved ( and still loves) me just like I am but refuses to let me stay that way.

PS Credit for all of this goes to Mike Glenn, courtesy of tonight’s Kairos message. Check it out some Tuesday evening if you’re ever in the Brentwood/Greater Nashville area.


Listening to Your Fears Again

“‘Hush!’ said the other four, for now Aslan had stopped and turned and stood facing them, looking so majestic that they felt as glad as anyone can who feels afraid, and as afraid as anyone can who feels glad. The boys strode forward: Lucy made way for them: Susan and the Dwarf shrank back.

‘Oh, Aslan,’ said King Peter, dropping on one knee and raising the Lion’s heavy paw to his face, ‘I’m so glad. And I’m so sorry. I’ve been leading them wrong ever since we started and especially yesterday morning.’

‘My dear son,’ said Aslan. Then he turned and welcomed Edmund. ‘Well done,” were his words. Then, after an awful pause, the deep voice said, ‘Susan.’ Susan made no answer but the others thought she was crying. ‘You have listened to fears, child,’ said Aslan. ‘Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?’

‘A little, Aslan,’ said Susan” (C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian).

Everyone has fears.  Everyone.

Your fears may tell you that you’re not good enough– and never will be.

Your fears may tell you that people would never want to get to know the real you– and if they did, they wouldn’t like it.

Your fears may tell you that you can never change– and that it’s too late to try anyhow.

Everyone has different kinds of fears, but they all have one thing in common. All that fear is based on a lie. As a pastor once said, FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real.

Fear leaves out Christ. Fear doesn’t add God into the equation. Fear says that it is totally and completely up to you and that you’re not adequate to the challenge.

That’s partially true. You by yourself are not adequate for the challenge. But the God in you is. And He hasn’t left you to face your fears alone. He has provided a way out and a way through.

Let your fears lead you to the faith that leads you to worship, remembering that God has been faithful in the past and will not fail to do so in the future.


One Year Ago (Almost)

It was a year ago that we officially launched The Church at Avenue South. Well, technically, it was a year ago tomorrow (if you want to be all nit-picky and exact). On September 7, 2015, a group of 115 stepped out in faith based on a vision they had of reaching those in the Berry Hill/Melrose area.

In some ways, it seems like only yesterday, yet at the same time, it seems much longer. So much has happened since then in the life of this growing congregation. We’ve seen both kids and adults give their lives to Christ. It’s been an amazing ride so far.

We’ve run into a good problem. We’re running out of space (again). It looks like at some point we may have to add a third service.

I don’t know why, but I’m still amazed at what God can do with mustard-sized faith. Even with the tiniest amount of consent, God can move those mountains of stone and turn those hearts of stone into hearts of flesh that beat in synchronicity with His own heartbeat.

Who knows what the next five years will bring? Or the next ten?

I’m grateful that I’ve been a part of it from the (almost) very beginning. I saw the building when it was a gutted shell. I look around now and I see a fully-functioning church building that serves the community and becomes a place where God takes on human hands and feet to serve those in need.

I keep thinking about what Jesus said in John 14. After all His ministry and miracles, He said that whoever believed in Him would not only do these works that He did but even greater ones. That seriously boggles my mind.

I’m not sure I completely understand what He meant by that, but I do know that we only limit ourselves by limiting God. God is more able to do incredible things than we are to believe that He can do these things.

I for one can’t wait to see what the next 12 months will bring to The Church at Avenue South.