A Christmas Reading

Some folks at this morning’s Christmas service requested a copy of my reading.  Here it is and Merry Christmas!

IN THE BEGINNING… when God carefully sculpted the world; it was perfect.  Absolutely perfect.  No sickness, no sorrow, no pain, no tears.  Pure and perfect.  Faultless and mess-free.

Then, He risked the ultimate risk…He gave it…to us…and we wandered and created more messes than a busy unsupervised two-year-old.  Wars, lies, finger-pointing and shame. We made an absolute mess of things in no time.

But God wasn’t surprised…he had a plan.  True, it was an unlikely plan…one that would at first appear to be adding to the mess.

A young girl’s wedding plans would get messed up.

Her fiancé’s reputation would get a little messy as well.

The Pharisees would see the whole idea as too messy.

Herod would do his best to make a mess of it but to no avail…because no one absolutely no one can mess with God’s plans.

Especially this plan….because God so loved the mess makers that he sent his only begotten son into the mess.

We should have recognized it right away…because the Savior wasn’t born in a hospital, house, or hotel…but a barn???  A very messy barn.

How many of you have those manger scenes at home with the perfectly sculpted figures…absolutely clean of dirt, dung and dust.  They look so beautiful and majestic….so pure and pristine.

THAT’S NOT where this King was born.  He was born right in the mess…a barn.  A dark, dingy, smelly, crowded messy barn.

But why???  Did God the Father mess up?

Did Joseph and Mary get lost in the mess?

Was the Inn Keeper trying to mess with them?

No…God is sending a clear, clean message.

You see the barn birth shouts to us— I AM NOT AFRAID OF MESSES!!!

I will come to your mess. I will sit with you in your mess.  And ultimately, I will deliver you of your mess.

That deliverance will be considerably more messy than anyone would have guessed.  There will be chaos, accusations, betrayal, beatings, and death…ONE DEATH.  But it WILL END THE MESS.  It is finished!

Never again are we hopelessly trapped by our mess.  He who was born in the midst of it promises to save us from all our messes…we simply have to open the doors of our messed up hearts…and say, “come Lord Jesus into this mess once again”.

And the King, who fears no mess sets us free indeed.  And that is the greatest of all gifts this Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

Busyness vs. Hurriedness

Some time ago I was invited to talk to a class full of budding pastors.  What they wanted to know from me is how to have a fruitful and enduring ministry.  While visiting the class I listed a few points, but concluded by saying, “all these don’t matter if you don’t pay attention to this one thing.”  Students leaned forward in their chairs, pens ready to record this one great secret.  I told them, “nothing else will matter if you don’t learn to master hurry.” You could see their faces register immediate disappointment.  That’s it???  One student raised their hand declaring, “Jesus was really busy!”  I answered, “he was indeed…but he was never…I repeat never…led by hurry.”.  Another student queried, “well is there a difference between being hurried and being busy?”  “Absolutely”, I replied.  Let me tell you what I offered to them.

Busyness slides into hurriedness when we let outward demands conquer our inner person.  We lose a sense of who we are, why we are doing what we are doing and ultimately for who we are doing it.  John Ortberg says, “Busyness migrates to hurry when we let it squeeze God out of our lives.”

So, for Jesus (who was really busy!) he rose early in the day to gain a clear sense of balance (see Luke 5:16).  The demands he encountered were met with a recharged soul not a frantic scrambling.  In like fashion, we need to have regular practices that help nurture and care for our inner person.  One way to think about this is that our “output” must be ruled and managed by our “input”.  Often times we are given job descriptions that are impossibly busy so we take time management courses, or get administrative tips.  Those will help some, but hurriedness will win the day if we don’t learn to pace from within.

Over the next few posts I will offer you a few things to consider in the battle with hurriedness.  But for now, ask yourself this question, “do I know how to be still from within?”   We all know calm people, but do we know how to carry around some quiet? Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are learning!  Hopefully these next posts will help.

Tis the season to watch for hurry

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4.11)

You should take another glance at that verse.  It is a weird concept: “make every effort…to enter that rest…”  Effort and rest.  Hmmm.  Sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it?  Effort and rest.  Yet amid this biblical parody lies one of the greatest keys to our spiritual growth; we must learn to pace.

John Ortberg tells a story illustrating our need to pace well.  He writes, “When we moved to Chicago, we had little kids. The pace of our lives had accelerated tremendously. I called Dallas Willard, the wisest person about spiritual life that I know, and described to him kind of what was going on in our lives, and asked, “What do I need to do if I want to be spiritually healthy and alive and vital? What do I need to do?”  It was a long pause, and then he just came up with this sentence I have never forgotten. He said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Then there was another long pause, and then I said, “Okay, what else have you got because I don’t have a lot of time and I want as much wisdom as I can get out of you in these few moments.” Then there was another long pause, and he said, “There is nothing else.” He said, “Hurry is the greatest enemy of our spiritual life today.

So, we must eliminate hurry if we want to find life.  I remember reading a missionaries account while ministering in Africa.  They had been invited into an unreached area, but this required a huge effort of mobilization.  The terrain was challenging and the time was short.  While traveling, the missionary pushed the team hard.  They were hurried.  After three days of this frenzied effort all the African helpers suddenly dropped what they were carrying and sat down.  The missionary panicked and instructed the interpreter to find out what was going on.  The Africans responded by saying, “they are sitting down waiting for their souls to catch up”!  They were about the business of ruthlessly eliminating hurry from their lives.

Christmas is typically a hectic season for many.  This provides a great learning venue for us to practice pace.  Are you up for it?  In the next few posts I’ll offer some tips in how to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” from our lives.

 

Project Restoration

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation…”    (Psalm 51.12a)

The importance of a happy soul can’t be seen any more clearly than here.  David, the man after God’s heart (see 1 Sam. 13:14), has lost his way.  He’s done things that tabloids rant about.  Why?  It appears to me David lost his joy.

When you read the account in 2 Samuel 11 there’s a number of things one should note:

11:1- David’s disengaged.  When your soul is weary you naturally pull away.  Energy, focus, and passion are necessary for our engagement, so when they drop down- we drop out!  If you are disengaging from your work, family, church and friends…WATCH OUT!

11:2- David’s wandering.  He’s not with his men.  He’s not able to sleep.  He’s anxious and feeling “dead” in his soul.  He goes to the roof…but where’s his harp?  Where is his journal to write poems?  Where is his focus?  It’s off.  If someone were watching your life from a distance (like we can look at David’s now) would they say you have a clear focus and aim in life?  Don’t wander…ask God for focus.

11.3- When our soul’s are starving for life…we are suckers for the counterfeit life.  David engages his temptation.  He’s done.  James writes: “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; (14) but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. (15) Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:13-15).  If your quiet times are a little too quiet these days it’s time to rethink what you are doing.  Is your soul weary?  Are you lacking energy because of stress, etc.?  What do you need to get back to a more focused happy soul?  Also take a look at the counterfeit offers of “life”; they actually drain us…where are these leeches taking life from you?  Think about the best ways you connect with God (for example, in worship, quiet, etc) and get busy!

 

2 Questions

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
(John 10.10b)

The pursuit of a “happy heart” keeps this verse in mind constantly.  Jesus wants us to have the fullest life possible.  Of course this doesn’t mean lavish homes, big cars and Swiss bank accounts.  No, Christ’s aim is MUCH higher.  His wants His life reproduced in us.  A big-hearted, radical life that gets regularly described by its recipients as patient, kind, humble, enduring, peaceful, and gentle.  Those kinds of people whose life and love transcends the bonds of earth.  They simply live above the fray.  That, my friends, is real life!  But to experience that kind of freedom requires a “happy heart”.

There are two questions that help us figure out how to get there.  They are:

  1. What experiences make you feel most alive?  (Keeping in mind we are questing towards a Christ-life.  I have a friend who jokes by answering “when I eat excessive amounts of chocolate chip cookies!)
  2. What experiences make you feel most “like you”?

I realize these questions sound similar, so let me provide an example of my answers for each question.  Question #1 is an expansive look at what pours life into you.  For me, a walk in the woods is incredibly life charging.  I love the surroundings and the quiet. Question #2 reflects more on your purpose.  Your work life and career.  The reason(s) you are here on earth.  For me, #2 is answered by, “encouraging others”.  When I’ve been able to encourage someone I feel like I am “me”.  The person God created me to be.  It is my sincerest hope that my tombstone would read, “He encouraged us.”

I encourage you to take a few days to ponder these questions. The will provide you with valuable answers to how you can best help you heart to be happy!

 

Psalm 66 For Your Brain!

“Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.”
(Psalm 66:16)

Listening to Pastor Sharon last Sunday reminded me of how very important storytelling is to all of us.

In a recent study, 89 adult participants were asked to tell their life stories to a team of researchers who then assessed their mental and physical health once a year for four years.

After analyzing the themes found in each participant’s personal narrative, researchers determined that highlighting happy endings (i.e the good and God!) can be linked to reduced risk of depression and higher psychological and social well-being.

The study called attention to agency (feeling hopeful), communion (feeling connected to others) and redemption (feeling that even terrible events can lead to good developments) as key themes associated with better mental health.

Furthermore, when you tell your story and I listen we both experience similar benefits!  So whether you are the storyteller, or listener; it’s going to encourage you!

Grab hold of an opportunity today to either share a God-story with someone, or invite them to tell you “what He has done for them”.  Either way you’ll find encouragement for your heart and help to your brain!

 

4 Keys to Getting Your Praise On!

“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.”
(Psalm 150:6)

One summer I worked in the inner-city of Miami.  Got to know a lot of good people there, but the one I learned the most from was Big Joe.  He had a tough life…very tough.  No dad. Most his family was in prison or dead.  But what I remember most about Big Joe was his BIG smile and unshakable joy.  One day we sat down to talk.  I was really discouraged about my ministry there.  Big Joe flashed that huge smile and exhorted me, “brother…now’s the time you gotta get your praise on!”  He was right.  There’s two times to praise the Lord; when you feel like and when you don’t.

Our pastor, Brendon Fairley; talked about Psalm 150 last Sunday urging us to “get our praise on”.  Here’s 4 keys to helping you get there:

  1. OPEN UP: Hard times tend to close us up and shut us down.  If you stay there you will drown!  The Psalmist was always found stretching himself to open up to his God.
  2. ‘FESS UP: Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”  Unconfessed stuff crowds our hearts and is like a spiritual sock stuffed in our mouth.

  3. LOOK UP: Like the Psalmist (in 123) we need to lift up our eyes.  When tough times hit we need God’s perspective.  Our help comes from the One who is enthroned in heaven!
  4. LIFT UP: Lift up your voice!  There is something about singing.  Just something about it.  People sing when they’re happy, sad, confused, blue, in love and just about every scenario we find ourselves in.  Why ?  I think it’s because singing is the language of the soul.  It expresses the depth of our sorrow and the heights of our joy in ways that just words can’t.

That day, as I walked away from my conversation with Big Joe, I started to open up to God about my discouragement.  Immediately a familiar song about overcoming came to mind. I began humming it at first (I wasn’t quite ready to sing out) but my heart was feeling freer. By the time I got back to the office my perspective had shifted and hope returned!