Advent, Darkness, and a Teenage Girl

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Knocking on the Church Door

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Our Church host a Code Purple cold weather shelter for the homeless men in our community. We provide a warm place to stay, cots, blankets, and respite from the cold at night. I received an email earlier today that when the volunteers came to the church, the doors were still locked. While they opened a little while later, our doors were closed. This was/is easily resolved as we have electronic doors that are set on a schedule. However small the mistake, the takeaway image is a group of people in need of the ministry of the church, locked out of the church. Ouch.

The image is appropriate to what I read this morning as part of my personal study time. I am reading Fleming Rutledge’s Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus again during this Advent season. It is a collection of Rutledge’s Advent sermons from over 40 years of preaching. It is excellent. Rutledge writes:

“The world is knocking more insistently on those church doors than it has in a long, long time; and those who knock are not always “our kind.” Some are thieves and murderers. Many are desperately poor and starving. Many are members of other races. Some are handicapped, some are jobless, some are refugees. Some are prisoners. Some are Communist. Some are political terrorists, and some are their victims. Who knocks? Shall we open? Some knock on the door for help. Some knock hoping for an answer, a response, a piece of bread, a place to sleep, a kind word, a shred of hope. Others knock in anger. Some come to negotiate; others come to demand; others come to seize and destroy. Still, others knock on the door for the purpose of sending it crashing to the ground…What is the response of the church to those who knock? Shall we pretend we do not hear? Shall we lock the doors? Shall we install a security system? Shall we give pass keys- and who will we give them to? To members only? To the ones who are baptized? To the ones who come every Sunday? To the ones who pledge money? Shall we keep our lights on, or will it attract the attention of marauders? Who are we, within these doors, and what do we do here? What sort of life are we called to live? What is the church?”

John the Revelator writes about a vision in the final book of the Bible. He records a vision of Jesus where Jesus says:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3:20)

The question we can ask this Advent is how are we responding to the knocking? Are we watching and listening for the knocking of Jesus? Will we open the door for Jesus? Of our heart? Of our church? Of our home? Of our checkbook/bank account? How do we respond to the knocking of the poor, the lonely, the downcast, the forgotten, the abused, the young, the old, the criminal, the ignored?

In Matthew 25, Jesus reminds us that how we respond and treat others is how we treat Jesus. There is a reckoning for the church when we fail to hear the knocking of those in need around us:

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

As we move closer to the second Sunday of Advent, let us listen for the knocking around us. Let us stay vigilant and keep watch so that we are ready to respond to Jesus. We do not want to be found fast asleep when someone (Jesus) comes knocking at our door.

(We are correcting our lock schedule on our door first thing this morning!)

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Advent: The “Time In-Between”

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When I was a kid, my mom made my sister and I an Advent Calendar where we received a piece of candy every day leading up to Christmas. We looked forward to waking up each morning and getting a new piece of candy and having a visual (and tasty) way to mark the progress to Christmas. At dinner time, we would light the candles of our Advent wreath, read from a devotional, and sing a Christmas hymn.

But what is Advent and why is it important?

Advent is the beginning of the Christian Liturgical Calendar. It marks a new season and rhythm for the church. In many churches, you’ll see that the paraments (the colored cloths on the altar, pulpit and other places which mark the liturgical seasons) have changed from Green to Purple or Blue to mark the season of Advent. (If you’re in a liturgical church, look for the change of colors and ask “why are the colors different this week?”)

Here is why Advent is so important: Advent is a season of looking for the return of Jesus. This is different than counting down the days to celebrate the birth of Jesus, Advent invites us to recognize that we live, as Fleming Rutledge writes, in “The Time Between.” Rutledge writes, “The time of the coming of Christ is now, in the Word preached and in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But the time of the coming of Christ to consummate all things is not-yet, and there is nothing whatever that human beings can do to hasten that coming.” (Rutledge- Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ.”)

What does this mean? While Jesus has “already” come and through the Cross and Resurrection has accomplished God’s redemptive purposes, we are living with the effects of sin still. We have “not-yet” experienced the fullness of God’s Kingdom. The “Time Between” is this “already but not yet” tension that we experience as Christians. We live in the victory of Jesus while seeing the effects of the Enemy all around us. We long for, and look for Christ return for the final victory.

If your church preaches from the Lectionary (a three-year cycle of assigned scriptures used in various Christian traditions), you’ll notice that the scriptures for Advent are not scriptures about the birth of Jesus. They are Scriptures of Judgment and HopeWe live under judgment (and are warned of the judgment that will occur when Jesus returns), but we have hope that when we turn to Jesus that we will be saved.

In short, Advent is a season of longing and looking for the return of Jesus to redeem the world. It is a time of preparation so that we might be ready for Jesus’ return. It is a season of repentance and hope as we turn from our sin and turn back to God’s love shown through Jesus Christ. When we do this- then we will be ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus in a deeper way, and to be looking out for the return of Jesus each day.

How do you celebrate Advent in your family? Your church?

 

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Slow (Pt. 1)

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Life seems to happen at the speed of light sometimes.

Ok, all the time.

We are a family of six and we always seem to have somewhere to be, whether it is ballet, field hockey, soccer, wrestling, school, or youth group. That is just the kids activities. Andrea is a teacher, so she is bringing home work on a regular basis. As a pastor in a mid-sized church, there are always meetings to attend, people to visit, and new opportunities. People have looked at the calendar that hangs on our fridge and wonder how we manage.

In ministry, I know I wrestle with the pull to go 110 mph with the gospel. I also want to sit with Jesus and the people God has called me to serve. Speed vs. Intentionality. Something I began to grasp a little better over the four years of ministry is that healthy ministry might look slower than explosive ministry. This goes for our family life as well. We fight the tension of the activities of four kids versus slowing down and taking it slow.

One of my favorite bands, especially lately, is Starflyer 59. They’ve been around since the mid-90’s and the frontman is a few years older than I am. On their last two albums (Slow and Young in My Head), Jason Martin writes about getting older on several songs. These songs have really resonated with me as I age and think about the pace of life. He writes,

I was hoping a change of pace
Would help me find my way
I’m kinda young, and you’re kinda young
And so we’ll find our place

Leave the house in Riverside
And sell the Odyssey
And become the older ones
Who had the #3

What does it mean?
I keep looking for something that I think I have lost
Can’t find the key
I keep looking for something that I think I have lost

My kids, they grow up fast
I want it slow
So slow

My life goes by so fast
I want it slow
So slow

-Slow (from the Album, Slow)

I want to take several post and talk about what slowing down my look like and how the Bible instructs us to slow down and find a rhythm that runs contrary to the speed of the world.

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Centered on Gratitude

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This past Sunday, I preached on Colossians 2:6-15. At the beginning of this section of scripture, Paul writes:

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as your were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:6-7

Since Paul’s mission (or an aspect of it) is to “present everyone fully mature in Christ,” I made the case that Paul offers thankfulness as a sign of a maturity in Christ. As we come to faith we are rooted. We are built up as we study the scriptures and have other people pour into us; being built up results in strengthening our faith AND a faith that strengthens us. All of this leads to a life overflowing with thankfulness. We are thankful in every situation because we are aware of the price that Jesus paid on the cross, cancelling the dead of my sin.

When I got home from church, I looked at the current issue of Relevant magazine and the story on Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan. You know Jim from his comedy routines and specials on Netflix. Both Jim and Jeannie are committed in their faith. Jeannie was diagnosed with a rare kind of brain tumor. Jesse Carey writes,

“And though doctors were miraculously able to remove it, she faced months of setbacks: surgeries, being bedridden for weeks at a time, eating through a feeding tube, a near-fatal bout of pneumonia and losing her ability to speak for three straight weeks.”

Her brain tumor and subsequent recovery allowed Jeannie to view her life in a different way. Again, Carey writes,

“I think now my faith is much more centered in gratitude than it is about asking for things,” Jeannie says. “So even though I wouldn’t have defined my faith before as asking for things, ironically me turning to God when I needed Him the most and asking Him to help me through it, I kind of felt my faith, through that whole process, blossomed into this gratitude.”

The tumor made Jeannie realize just how much she truly had to thank God for.

“I was kind of losing touch in my life, even though looking back at my life prior, the things that were happening in my life were so amazing, whether it was career-wise or my kids or my extended family, but it took me going through this crisis to experience true gratitude,” she says.

Even Jim, a comedian who’s made a career out of being grumpy about everything from physical exercise to the composition of fast food, has found a new outlook.

“You can’t go through that experience without being in touch with some gratitude,” he says. “And particularly, being in touch with the notion of how little control we have and how humble this existence is.”  –No Laughing Matter (Relevant Magazine)

This may have been the best example of what Paul is talking about when a mature faith enables us to “overflow with gratitude.” We can be thankful, even in the midst of trials and tragedy, because God loves us, Jesus paid the price for our sin, and that God is with us in the midst of those trials.

This week, as you “continue to walk with Christ Jesus” commit to giving thanks in every circumstance. Even the ones we’d rather complain about. Look and listen for the ways in which God speaks, teaches, and leads you through those times.

You can listen to the sermon, “Walk This Way” by clicking on this link. Be sure to subscribe to Avenue’s sermon podcast to stay up-to-date.

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New Room Conference 2019: Day One

New Room Conference is a yearly gathering of pastors, leaders, and lay people to seek God’s presence for renewal and transformation. New Room is not a leadership training event- though a deeper walk with God will likely lead to being a better leader. The gathering certainly comes from a Wesleyan theological strain, you won’t hear any church politics from the stage of the conference. This gathering is about going deeper with God.

This is my third time in the last six years of attending New Room. This year, Andrea is with me, which is the first time for any conference I’ve attended.

There were several highlights from the opening half-day of sessions.

Peter Grieg from the 24/7 Prayer Movement was the first to speak. He shared on prayer, which is not surprising when you lead a 24/7 prayer movement. He spoke from Genesis 18 when Abraham prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah. Key to the message was the emphasis of Abraham standing before God. Grieg said that “99% of prayer is showing up.”

The second speaker was another Brit, Miriam Swaffield. I had never heard of Miriam, but she was a powerhouse. Full of energy and passion, she would be quite humorous then bring something so profound. She spoke on holiness and how, perhaps, we’ve misunderstood holiness. I may write on this more, but in essence she said- Holiness is often believed to be something where were are separate from anything that would make us unclean. She suggest that instead, holiness is the bleach that makes things clean. Her example was Jesus talking with Matthew the tax collector. If holiness is being separate, then Jesus would not have gone to see Matthew. Instead, because holiness works like bleach because you put it on things that need to be clean, Jesus went to Matthew and so many others.

Miriam led a powerful time of prayer afterwards as we commissioned one another to take the holiness of God into our communities.

In the evening, worship leader Chris Tomlin led an acoustic set. The place was loud with praise (for God…and maybe a little for Tomlin). Jack Deere then shared his life story and the importance of developing a deep relationship/experience with God that sustains us through the darkest valleys.

It was a great first and I’m excited to hear Alan Hirsch speak on day 2. He is one of my favorite theologians and thinkers when it comes to the church.

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What I’m Reading: Summer 2019

I love reading. I love books. My wife probably thinks I have too many books (is there such a thing?), but she likes to read, too. Thankfully, our kids also like to read. So we have books everywhere. I wanted to share a little of what I read this summer. This certainly isn’t all of what I read, but my favorites.

The Pursuit of God- A.W. Tozer

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This book was a birthday gift for me when I was in college. I can remember my pastor talking about A.W. Tozer when I was in youth group. Tozer, as the story goes, wrote the rough draft for this book during a train trip from Chicago to Texas. The book explores the “essence of God’s nature.” Even in the preface, Tozer drops some bombs that hint at what’s to come, writing:

“To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the “program.”

This is definantly a book for the re-read pile!

The Common Rule- Justin Whitmel Early

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I heard an interview with the author on a podcast (maybe Carey Neuhauf) and immediately purchased the audiobook. I went through the audio version in about a week, but it left a real mark and desire in my own heart to see some of my own habits transformed.

This is what the book is about. Habits. Specifically, creating new habits to provide freedom from technology, screens, and routine. Early breaks everything down to a daily and weekly habit. An example of a daily habit would be to spend one hour each day without your phone. A weekly habit would be to spend time in conversation with a friend.

I saw great potential in this book as a discussion guide, especially with Gen Xers, Millenniels, and Generation Z who are born into a world where smartphones and other technologies are ubiquitous.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs- Stephen Brusatte

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Another audio book for my drive back and forth to my church. Brusatte is a paleontologist and has written a book that is part memoir and part history of the dinosaurs. It was a very interesting listen to hear a leading scientist speak on the dinosaurs, evolution, and how the world formed. The audio version gets extra credit because the narrator does an amazing job pronouncing all the dinosaur names!

Thrawn: Treason- Timothy Zahn

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I’m not ashamed to admit that I love Star Wars, and since I was a teenager I loved Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels. I was pretty excited when Disney released this new Thrawn series making the character part of the Star Wars canon.

In short, this is the continuing saga of Admiral Thrawn. The story is about Thrawn and Director Krennick vying for the attention (and the funding) of the Emperor for their pet projects.

I am currently reading Alphabet Squadron, listening to Master and Apprentice, and have another Star Wars novel on my night stand!

Frederick Douglass- David W. Blight

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I wrote about the Frederick Douglass biography here. It is certainly an important book that is very well-done to the point of getting bogged down in the details at some point. I have found it helpful to read more stories and accounts of people who look and live different than I do. This biography helped me to see the abolitionist struggle in the 1800’s in a new way- and see that there is much work to be done. This is an absolute must read!

So there is a snapshot of my summer reading. What have you been reading? Share in the comments, I love discovering new books!

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