Happy New Year!

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the Year of the Lord’s favor.”  Luke 4:18-19

Welcome to a New Year! Perhaps you are looking for a fresh start, turning over a new leaf, or maybe beginning a new chapter or phase of life.  No matter how you look at it, the New Year gives everyone a sense of resetting the clock, of starting over…a pre-programed “do over.”  But isn’t it funny, that we were just a few hours, days, weeks away from the end of the year?  Just trying to finish strong (or maybe limping to the finish line), drawing things to a close, putting the finishing touches on the latest chapter, closing out the books on a another year.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems nothing has really ended or begun…things just seem to keep on going as they always have (kind of like the Energizer Bunny).  Another year runs right into the next, just like it did the year before that (and the year before that).  But isn’t it interesting that we somehow desire, even crave, some sort of beginning and ending to things?  We’re almost hard-wired with the need to stop and start, to turn the computer off and reboot.

However, when I look at God’s Word, I am reminded that we were not initially created with this need.  We were created with an eternal, never-ending, Energizer Bunny kind of life!  Sin brought the stop in our lives of death…the need for a reboot, a fresh start, a “do over.”  That’s why Jesus said in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven a person must be “born again.”  There must be an end (death) to the old life and a start (rebirth) that brings about a new life.  And when we have new life in Jesus, it is not just new life in the old way, it is new life in a new way…it is eternal life!  A never-ending, Energizer Bunny life that will never spoil, perish or fade…it will go on here until our physical body expires, but our new life will continue even when the final chapter of this book seems to have come to a close.

Maybe that’s why this year, if you are in Jesus Christ, it seems to me like there really is no need for a “do over.”  Because in Jesus Christ, our lives are a never ending “do over.” They are an ever present reality of new life in a new way, every day.  May the Lord make His new life an ever-present reality in our lives, so that there is no stop or start to His love, mercy, peace, hope and grace. May there be a relentless, unbroken, never ending abundance of His presence and power.  And may this year and every year be the Year of the Lord’s favor upon us.  Amen.

Merry Christmas!

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.” Psalm 65:8

If I’m honest, sometimes during the holiday season I can easily lose the wonder of the Christmas season. So many parties, commitments, financial needs…the list is endless. And it’s easy to get lost in all of it. Sometimes I think I just need to stop and reassess.

And as happens every year, in a frantic frenzy Christmas is finally upon us. So let me take a minute to re-examine this celebration of Jesus’ birth and my level of wonder at its coming. On the eve of this celebration, I can say that I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude. Gratitude for gifts already given and received, for time to spend with family and friends, and for the overwhelming blessings God continually pours out upon me and my family. I’m grateful for those who encourage me to celebrate even in the midst of the busyness of life.

But I think my greatest sense of gratitude is for a great and mighty God. One Who, although I have spurned all His affections toward me and though I have rejected His love time and time again, chose to humble Himself and come as a fragile baby, born in a manger. I am in awe of His never ending, never giving up, never failing love. And I wonder, why He chose to come at all? Why would He choose to love that which does not love Him back?

And there it is…I have rediscovered the wonder of Christmas! And I am amazed once again by God’s great love for me. This Christmas, in the midst of the frenetic pulse of life, may you be full of wonder and continually amazed by God’s love, grace and mercy in the Person of Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas!

Turning Our Hearts Towards Advent

Merry Christmas! Signs of the season are everywhere, Black Friday! Cyber Monday! Giving Tuesday! Best discount of the season, we’ll match your donation…the list goes on and on.

I’m reminded today that when God chose to give humanity a sign of His glory and power, a sign of His love and mercy, a sign of His gift of the Gospel of Salvation…He chose no splashy billboards, no glitzy ads, no fanfare, pomp or circumstance…but rather, a young girl – a virgin, no less – and a baby, helpless and frail.

How very different God is from us! The Bible puts it this way:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14 NIV)

Immanuel means “God with us.” To evidence His presence, God gave us a sign of His own humility to show us His power and glory:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11 NIV (Emphasis mine)

Where are the places this season where we can model the same humility as Christ? How can we make ourselves nothing, becoming a servant to the least, the lost and the lonely? When we model the humility and servanthood of Christ, we become a sign to all people of God’s love, mercy and grace. We become a beautiful picture in stark contrast to the crass commercialism of our world. When we do this, people will see Jesus through us.

Therefore the Lord himself gave them a sign: you.

May God bless you as you bless others this holiday season, Merry Christmas.

Happy Fall Ya’ll!

Fall has finally fallen! The temperatures have dropped and a new season is upon us. I love the chill in the morning, the lower humidity and the crunch of leaves under foot. As a church, we have entered into a new season as well…we’ve seen new people joining, healthy growth in our members and we’re ready to begin a growth project for our facilities. All this as we enter into one of the busier seasons of the church. It’s exciting and daunting all at the same time. Sometimes it feels as if things could “fall” apart at any moment. I’m reminded of Paul when he writes:

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

It could all “fall” apart at any moment, because living a life following God puts us in a place of constant danger…in a position of possible “falling” or failing at any moment…a place of “always being given over to death for Christ’s sake.” And yet Paul goes on to write:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

We don’t have to lose heart because of our circumstances. Though we are surrounded by death at every turn, danger around every corner, potential “fall” and “fallenness” everywhere we look. God renews us inwardly everyday…and besides this is only temporary…light and momentary. But we are heading toward something eternal.

So be encouraged in this season of busy-ness and change, of trial and sometimes painful growth. Let’s fix our eyes, not on what we can see, but rather on the unseen beauty of Jesus our Hope and Salvation!

Where’s Your Passion?

We now have the Passion week in our rear view mirror – the celebration has given way once again to the everyday realities of life.  But should the Passion be a rear view event, or should it be front and center of our everyday lives?  I know every year we say it, “We celebrate Easter every day…”; but is that true in reality?  We live in a culture that enjoys when people get enflamed with passion for many different things, sports, hobbies, eating, fishing, learning…you name it people can get fired up and passionate about it.  But the world also loves to see an ardent, “on fire” person go up in flames…as Lokey in Thor Ragnarok says, “Easier to let it burn.”  When someone flames out, it reassures us that we have made the right choice in remaining passionless, in order not to burn out.

But God has given us a Passion, His Holy Spirit, that empowers us, motivates and moves us…consumes us, “For our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:29)  That Passion, when kept in the proper place…front and center, orders and directs all other passions.  The center driving Passion for us?  I think it just made it to our rear view mirror.

Everything Begins Somewhere…

“You have to start somewhere,” or so the saying goes.  Everything has to have a beginning.  The perfect example? This is my first blog post.  It exists now (or will when I finish writing it), because you’re reading it (hopefully). But in order for it to exist, it had to be thought about, written, then posted (with a whole lot of behind the scenes computer script working in the background!).  Maybe you are ready to start a new job, or to begin “a new phase of life,” or to “turn over a new leaf.”  Maybe, you are searching for hope, or looking for answers…

For whatever reason, you find yourself reading a blog on a church website from someone you may have never even met.  Maybe the thing you need to hear is just this, “start somewhere.”  When I look back for a starting point, the place I inevitably wind up is: “In the beginning, God…”  The gospel writer John, picks up on this idea when he wrote: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  This “Word” (God) spoke the universe into existence.  This “God” revealed Himself to us in words that we know today as the Holy Bible.

Need a place to begin?  Start somewhere.