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Truth and Help for Tired Souls

Tired. Weary. Drained. Even exhausted. These are the words, feelings, and realities that I’ve been hearing from pastors and leaders over and over in recent weeks and months. And let me tell you, it makes perfect sense. Just think about it:

• An “unprecedented” (don’t you get tired of hearing and using that word? But it’s just simply true.) season of a pandemic with no clear end in sight, exacerbated by polarization, conflicting sources of information, and no clear roadmap for how to navigate a time like this. We’re all just trying to figure this out as we go along, and anyone who claims they have it all down is not in touch with reality.
• The ongoing frustration of longing to be with people- not through a camera or screen, but an embodied presence with one another and Jesus among us.
• The racial injustices and pain that have been brought to the surface once more, in visceral and real ways. We want to “fix” and “do something”, but often we’re not sure exactly what the best way forward should look like, and how best to lead others.
• Add to that the “normal” stresses and concerns of life and ministry- walking with others through crisis, pain, and hardship. Planning for the next season of ministry, except we don’t know what the next season of ministry will even look like.
• And to make it even harder, political polarization that threatens to (and sometimes does) tear apart families, churches, and communities.

Of course we are tired and worn! Every single person you know (including the one you see in the mirror) is experiencing some form of trauma in this season. For many- especially those in leadership- that burden is compounded by our desire to help others who are hurting. It’s a recipe for burnout and soul fatigue, unlike almost anything I’ve seen in my life.

So what do we do?
• Take a really long vacation- like 6 months or so on a beach somewhere? Probably not an option.
• Just keep willing ourselves onward, head down and determined, until we “get past this” somehow? Not a great plan, if you want to lead yourself or others well.
• Quit? Sounds attractive some days, but I’m guessing that’s not your soul’s deep desire.

Instead, I want to invite us to return to this familiar passage that contains a life-giving, soul-filling prescription for times just like the one we are all currently navigating. For those who have been through SoulCare, you’ll hopefully find these thoughts a familiar reminder.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3

First- Do some reflection

The author’s instructions invite us to start by asking ourselves a question: What in my life- in this season- is or has potential to trip me up or slow me down? “Throw off anything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Perhaps there’s a recurring sin, destructive behavior or a negative thought pattern happening. Even if it’s not about to take you out altogether, it is definitely adding to your burden and multiplying your weariness. To discover what “extra baggage” you’re carrying, you’ll want to engage in some reflection with Jesus. Remember the examen from SoulCare? The goal is not to beat yourself up or head out on a guilt trip. Rather, in the context of Jesus’ grace and infinite love, let Him show you what to repent of, release, or abandon.

Try sitting with Jesus with this question:

Jesus, what do you want to show me about myself (my life, thoughts, and patterns), in full awareness of your love and grace, that You want me to turn from, lay down, or let go?


Next- Turn your attention towards Jesus. Be with Him.

There are 2 key phrases in this text that tell us where to focus our mind and heart. The first is “fixing our eyes on Jesus”. The original language has the idea of looking away from one object to focus on another. In other words, rather than letting our minds dwell or ruminate on difficulties, challenges, or uncertainties, we are told to make a conscious choice about what we think about. We are learning more and more about the human brain, and a remarkable truth that’s emerging is that what we choose to repeatedly think about actually “wires our brain” in specific directions. By choosing to consciously turn our attention to Jesus: in quiet contemplation, in prayer, in holding a word or prayerful image of Jesus in our minds, we are shaping our minds in profoundly life-giving ways.
The second phrase is similar: “Consider Him”. This Greek word is used only once in Scripture, and it carries the idea of both thinking carefully as well as repetitively. In other words, think about Jesus over and over and over. Return your attention and mind to Him. This includes reflection on Jesus’ suffering, because this reminds us that we have a God who also suffers with us and for us, and that Jesus is never far off in our pain. Again, you may remember our time in SoulCare of companioning Jesus in His suffering (during the Lenten and Easter season). As we do so, we discover that the One we seek to companion is already and always companioning us.

So you might want to try this as well:

Sit with Jesus in quietness. Perhaps imagine a scene or moment of Jesus’ pain or suffering (His fasting and temptation in the wilderness, His prayer in Gethsemane, His trials and humiliation, the Cross). As you are “with” Jesus in these moments and places, what does Jesus want to say to you? What might He be saying about your current life situation?


In all of this, please hear these words as invitations, not something else you need to do or accomplish. Jesus, through the author of Hebrews, offers us so much more than “hang in there” and “you can do it!” sentiments and slogans. In His eternal and loving wisdom, God extends to us a lifeline for our souls. Yes, this season is hard and it is long. We feel it with you and we are here to pray with you, to listen, to enter in alongside. Please know that now, more than ever. But thanks be to God, even in a season of social distancing and relational disconnectedness, we are not– and never will be—left alone.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Reflections on my High School Reunion (that I didn’t even go to)

Most of us live somewhere near the intersection of unfulfilled dreams and limitless potential.

class-reunion

My 30th high school reunion was last weekend. Even writing those words makes me shake my head—30 years? It can’t be! Didn’t we just graduate a few years ago? How can it be three decades ago? I wasn’t able to attend, but it’s been on my mind a lot.  But what’s been churning in me the last couple of weeks is more than nostalgia, deeper than the truth that time carries us faster and farther than we imagined.

What’s been on my mind is more about trying to make sense of who I was back then and who I am now. The years have blurred my recollection of my former self and I feel oddly disconnected from that person. Who was I back then? My memory of High School Me was largely of an outsider (not by choice or design) who didn’t seem to fit cleanly into a group. If someone would’ve assigned me a category, it’d likely have been “nerd”, since I did well in school and took honors classes, and many of my school friends would likely have fit under the “nerd” banner. But I was also around cheerleaders and athletes (popular people), stoners and “ropers” (cowboys), though I didn’t fit cleanly into their groups either. And let’s face it, I was probably odder than I realized. Didn’t know how to dress right (nor did I have the money to), didn’t grow up with most of my classmates, so I didn’t have a shared history with them. I remember during homeroom my freshman year, I sketched a plan for a bank robbery that I showed to the girl behind me (Barrett). Who does that? I wasn’t a criminal, anti-social type, I was just bored. But seriously. My mind could be a strange place back then. If I had to pick a word to describe who I was to my high school, it’d probably be a Nobody.

But then we graduated and the future was so expansive- we could become anything! Something! Somebody! For me, high school became a fixed memory because I moved from Texas to Arizona the day after graduation. I did get to take a memorable road trip with two friends later that summer (great memories, Randy and Robby), but quickly lost contact with everyone from those years. High school became more than a fading memory, though. It became a source of wistful regret. As the “Grown Up Me (a very loose term, I assure you) emerged, with slightly more clarity about who I am and my place in the world, I looked back and wanted a do-over. I wanted to try again, with a slightly improved sense of self and a much greater interest in and curiosity about others. I wanted to have made better friends, to have lived more fully, taken more risks. I guess you could say I have longed for redemption.

In the occasional daydream, I’ve imagined what it would be like to make some sort of triumphant return. After all, I’m married to a beautiful and amazing wife and we have 3 incredible kids. I’ve been able to do more, travel more, “accomplish” more than I could have imagined. My life has been so much better than I deserve. But these daydreams are all so silly, because who would I be returning to try to impress? I imagine few folks from those days would even remember me, so there’s not much of a before and after “reveal” thing to pull off. And the truth is, though I am more at peace with Grown Up Me than I used to be, I’m really not all that impressive. Seriously.

So what to make of this odd combination of nostalgia and regret mixed with gratitude and frankly, amazement at the goodness of my life? I don’t know. I’ve been told (and believe) it’s important to “feel the feelings” and not try to stuff it down somewhere. Writing this is part of that for me. And I know I can’t go back and rewrite the past. As much as I’d like a time machine to step into, I’m pretty sure Marty McFly’s not coming around the corner in the Delorean anytime soon.

I think what I’m wanting to lean towards is greater compassion. Compassion for that insecure, nerdy kid from 30 years ago who was just trying to find his way and not make a fool of himself all the time. Compassion for others from those years who were trying to figure things out too, perhaps almost as unsure and uncertain as I was. Compassion for others who struggle to reconcile the gap between Who I Used To Be and Who I Am Now. Compassion for those who have made mistakes that have taken them away from who they wanted to become, but are trying to find their way back home. Compassion for us all.

And I suppose that’s probably enough emotional gooiness for now. Before you know it, I’ll be grabbing hands with someone and trying to sing “We Are the World” together. Because that song came out my during my senior year. Really. Man, I do feel old.

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Meditation in Nicene Marks

Ripples, tumbling and gurgling,creek

spinning and spitting,

the pleasing, magical, hypnotic song

that is a flowing creek.

Shallow flow amidst accommodating stones

brings the babbling chorus to life

and nature sings it’s laughter

without ceasing.

Ranging shadows flit among trees,

earth and rock.

Reflections of flowing, dancing

water flirt with fallen logs

and precious few eyes take in the dance.

For they are Yours, all these,

all this,

all things.

Your limitless imagination

and endless delight

drinks in the undying beauty

of a broken but beautiful creation.

From meandering creek to

raging sea,

all flows to your glorious end.

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

On faith and doubt

Believe.Believe

What an interesting word.

I say I believe—that God is real, that He’s not just “up there and interested” but actually Here and Now. I really do believe God is real. And loving. And powerful. And purposeful. Not just in the whole big world but in my life, too.

I do believe these things, because they’re in the Bible and I believe the Bible is true. And I’ve experienced God’s nearness and faithfulness in so many ways, again and again.

And when I teach the Bible, I believe deeply and passionately what I’m saying is fully true and right and good.

But I also wonder sometimes. I do. I wonder how it’s all going to work out- in the world, yes, but also in my life. I wonder if God is up to really good things in my life or just hard things that will lead to good eventually, someday.

I believe God can and does heal people- I’ve seen supernatural healings and I’ve seen “natural” healings that God also provided. But I’ve also seen lots of people not get healed, in this life anyway, even some who believed they would, even some that were sure God had told them they would.

I wonder about my own belief. I see some people who possess a seemingly unshakeable confidence, who don’t seem to wonder or wrestle with doubts or uncertainties. I’m not one of those people.
I see others whose doubts escalate to the point of crisis and despair. Whose doubts end up crowding out faith and eventually they just check out on God. Sometimes they walk away from church and God. Sometimes they keep going to church but really don’t believe it anymore. I’m not one of those people either.

I guess I’m like a lot of people who identify with the desperate father in Mark 9 who says to Jesus, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!” I get it. I believe, but I struggle. I want to believe more, though. I want to act in a way that demonstrates belief and trust, regardless of my emotions, which rise and fall so easily.

And the truth is, I want my faith to grow. I want to be like one of those many people in the gospels who believed Jesus could and would do what they needed most. I want to be the kind of person who believes Jesus more, who believes Jesus for more.

Who believes not only that Jesus is good, but that He’s good to me, always.

Who believes not only that Jesus is real and the Bible is true, but that He’s real to me, in every situation, right here and now. Especially now.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Make a Better Resolution this Year

I love the Bible. Not a shocker, I suppose, coming from a pastor. But there is nothing like the Scripture. No other book that even makes the claims that this one does: “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)bible1

The Bible teaches us, corrects us, encourages, rebukes, directs, guides, and helps us. We find both examples to live by (Jesus) as well as cautionary tales in abundance (Samson, Solomon, and Saul, for starters). Stunning narratives. Gorgeous poetry. Timely wisdom. World-altering biography.

And yet, for all of this, we struggle to read this book. Yes, we’re a post-literate culture. And the Bible is an ancient text written to people long ago and far away.   But come on. Multiple, reader-friendly translations abound. You can listen to audio in your car and on your phone, tablet, or computer. Tools and reading plans abound- even devotionals written by your favorite pastor or personality. It’s all there.

So what’s missing? For some, it’s having a purposeful plan and others to encourage them to stick with it. For others, making the effort to learn how to understand and apply what they’ve read is a missing key. But mostly, I think it’s about what we believe will happen when we open God’s Word. Reading nice thoughts and interesting stories isn’t enough, even from this sacred text. No, I believe we need to revise our expectations- to believe that we will actually encounter the Living God in His Word. That as we soak in these words (yep, I’m talking about biblical meditation), something powerful occurs. The Spirit and our spirits meet. Our soul enlarges. Our lives change.

Yes, it’s that time again- a new year. Why not make this year different? Choose to do more than just make a better effort to get into the Bible. Instead, let the Bible get into you.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Advent Devotion for 12-24-14

Here’s my last one for this year’s Advent Devotions- hope that you enjoyed them!

December 24, 2014Advent-Candles2

Matthew 1:18-25

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Joseph is my “silent hero” of the Christmas drama. Without a word of his being recorded in Scripture, his actions alone speak. They tell us that, as a man of both character and compassion, he chose not to humiliate Mary for a pregnancy that he knew was not his. Imagine his confusion and heartbreak before the angel’s visit! We see him safeguarding Mary through the difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. His obedience to the law in dedicating Jesus at the temple. His protection of his family during a sojourn in Egypt where they lived as refugees. Yes, Joseph was entrusted with a difficult calling. A quiet, comfortable life gave way to a suspenseful, demanding saga.   We don’t know how Joseph felt about his mission, but we do know what he did. He obeyed. Like his wife, Mary, Joseph modeled an attitude that said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” And look at what God can do with that simple posture. Just imagine what He might want to do with you.

How willing are you to adopt an attitude like that of Joseph and Mary? What might get in the way?

For Families

What do you like most about Joseph and Mary? What would you want to imitate about them?

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Advent Devotion for 12-23-14

December 23, 2014

Isaiah 9:2-7Advent-Candles2

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.

4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.

5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
 will accomplish this.

This passage contains what may be my favorite verse in all Scripture. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” Let those words linger in your heart for a moment. To us a child is born. Jesus was born in the most humble circumstances, among weary, hope-starved people.   His birth attended by cattle and perhaps a curious sheep or two. To us a son is given. The Hope of all the world spent His first night in a feeding trough. To us a child. All-powerful God clothed in the helplessness of fragile infancy. Entrusted to teenagers. To us a son. The Prince of Peace became a refugee before his second birthday. To us. The King of Kings in the most unusual disguise—like one of us. To us.

Jesus entered humanity and came near, the steepest descent ever recorded. From heaven to earth. Why did the Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Prince, and Wonderful Counselor come? He came to us and He came for us. Because we need Him– to be our King. Our Savior. Our Peace. Wonder of all wonders: Unto us a child is born.

What surprises you about the way that Jesus came to earth? Spend a few moments thanking Jesus for coming near to us.

 

For Families

Imagine if you were God- how would you have come to earth? Why do you think that Jesus came the way He did?

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Advent Devotion for 12-22-14

Can you believe there are only 3 days left until Christmas?  Wow!

December 22, 2013Advent-Candles2

Luke 1:26-35

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

Have you ever wondered why God chose Mary? Consider her responsibility-give birth to and bring up the one and only Son of God! Just for starters, how do you discipline a child who is perfect? Let’s look at Mary’s credentials for such a job: a teenager (13-15 years old), quite poor, most likely illiterate, from a non-descript family and backwater village. Not exactly a head-turner. So what qualified her? One clear factor stands out: she was willing to say yes to God. She didn’t understand how it would work or see herself as “up to it”. She didn’t possess a “can do” attitude or mountains of self-assurance. She simply made herself available. Mary seemed to possess that rarest of qualities: the capacity to not make her life all about herself. She belonged to God and was eager to do what He asked. And for our God, who specializes in displaying His power through the “nobody specials”, that is more than enough.

How willing are you to say “Yes” to God these days? What do you sense Him asking of you?

For Families

Talk about what it might have been like to be Mary and to be asked by God to raise up baby Jesus. Why did God choose Mary?

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Advent Devotion for 12-21-14

Welcome to the 4th Week of Advent!

December 21, 2014

Isaiah 7:10-14candle

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

We like signs.   Give us clear indicators of what lies ahead, an unambiguous portent of things to come. I remember trying to make a decision years ago about what college to attend- and I was looking anywhere for a sign: handwriting in the sky, a sign on the side of a bus, anything. Just tell me what to do, God, and I’ll do it! Except… I may not. Zechariah was visited by a real-life angel- and still didn’t believe. Ahaz, in this passage, was given a neon-bright, vivid sign, and still he didn’t trust God. The people of Israel were guided daily by a cloud and pillar of fire- and still they doubted. Just give us a sign, God, and we’re all yours. No more questions.

In His graciousness and His unquenchable desire to be known, God still gives signs. Like a virgin having a baby. Or Jesus making blind eyes see and lifeless limbs move. Or Christ Himself nailed to a cross and walking out of a grave 3 days later. And God is still giving us signs that point to Himself: each sunrise, every rotation of the planet speaks of His glory and faithfulness. Every loving word and gracious act in the name of Jesus points back to Him. The best part is this: You can be a sign. A real one. Your life, if you’re willing, can be a signpost, aiming attention right at Jesus. Through word and deed, you can point the way. What are you saying with your life?

What signs has God given you of His faithfulness and love for you?

For Families

Discuss ways that God shows Himself to us in everyday ways. Talk about how we can be signs to point people to Jesus.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Advent Devotion for 12-20-14

Well, I missed posting yesterday and I’m late today, but here you go, if you’re reading these.

December 20, 2014

Luke 1:67-80candle

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us— to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

God always keeps His promises. While this might sound like a pithy, even cliché declaration, it is still truth. Important truth. But consider how long people waited for many of God’s promises to be realized. God told Abraham that he would have a child- and he waited for 25 years before a baby arrived. David was promised the throne of Israel- and waited 15+ terrifying, running-for-his-life years before that promise came through. Even the night of Jesus’ birth announced a promise- “Good news of great joy for all the people”. 33 years would pass before that promise reached it’s fulfillment through a cross—and an and empty tomb.

So whatever you’re waiting for- and we’re all waiting for something- know that you’re in good company. Advent is a poignant reminder of the place longing occupies in the life of God’s people.   Waiting requires patient trust, robust hope, dogged anticipation. And choosing to remember— God always keeps His promises.

What are you waiting on God for these days? What might God be doing in you as you wait?

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2014 in Uncategorized