december 16

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Today is my mom’s 60th birthday. If you know my mom she neither looks nor acts her age. That is one of the things that makes her so amazing.

Today, she posted this message on her Facebook wall…

Well, I was gonna give an exact quote, but to find It, I would have to sift through 6 billion happy birthday messages from people all over the world that have been impacted by her life.

It said something like this…

“I turn 60 years old today, and as I look at my life, there are so many things I still want to become…”

The rest was great too, but it was this first sentence that struck me.

Most of us reach a point in our lives where we are done learning, and done growing. We have accomplished what we intended to, we know enough to continue to succeed in the areas we need to, and the task of continuing to grow and change is simply too exhausting to even consider. So we settle into our way of life, settle into our thinking, and narrow the scope of our vision so as to keep influences that might reveal our flawed thinking out, so that we can continue doing life the way we want to, with very little resistance.

Sure, we all talk like we want to get better. We all say we want to be challenged, but when push comes to shove, comfort always wins the day.

Not my mother. She has always, and continues to do things different than nearly every human being on this planet. The truth is, this is just one example of that…

At 60, you would think that she would be ready to settle in, make herself as comfortable as possible and just enjoy her grand kids. Believe me, her love for her grand kids is as significant as any other influence in her life… ask them. Well, its almost as significant.

Living for what matters most… people, is the engine that drives every decision she makes in this life. Not just the people that she loves… not just the people that love her. All people. If you think I am exagerting go to the corner of McAllister and Divisidero, in San Francisco, CA, and ask her friend Donald… the homeless man who works that corner. He will tell you.

If anyone has earned the right to settle in, and take it easy, it is her…

Problem is, it simply isn’t in her DNA.

She is the kind of person who’s drive for continued growth, a larger view of the world, and an ever increasing sensitivity to the people around her is only slightly smaller than her unbelievable drive to know the heart of God, and live it out with every fabric of her existence.

She has never settled. She has never stopped growing. And the result?

Her words, thoughts, pursuits, relationships, hopes, goals, dreams, fears, worries, concerns, I could go on and on… HER LIFE… is more aligned with the steps of Jesus than any human being I have ever known. And her impact shows it.

Her ability to live this way, comes from a choice she made early on to believe something about life.

It is a process. We never arrive. We are never complete. God is never done shaping us.

On this side of heaven, we will always be broken, and in need of the careful hands of the Father, to continue to conform us to the image of His son.

Which leads me to Advent gift #16…

The Gift of process.

Throughout history, God’s interactions with man kind have screamed this truth.

God has never been interested in man’s perfection, but has always been interested in our direction. When God chose to fix the problem of sin in this world, He could have just erased the mistakes, and started over. He could have blotted out the ugly and immediately made it into something beautiful. At the same time, he could have rewired the human heart to never want to sin again, and protect us from the consequences of failure for good.

He could have just made us behaviorally perfect and saved a lot of mess.

But He didn’t… why? Because there is something He cares about more. He cares about real, genuine, heart-level transformation. This kind of thing doesn’t happen over night. At least not with broken human beings.

When God decided to allow us to live in this world with choice, He was choosing to embrace process over perfection.

Jesus, being born on the very first Christmas, was the culmination of that process. More than that, it is what satisfied the holiness of God, and at the same time, made process possible.

We don’t have to be perfect. We can’t anyway, but the presence of Jesus in the world, means we get to stop trying. We get to take a heart first approach to relating with the Holy One. Because of Jesus.

I pray this Christmas you can embrace process in your life…

Philippians 1:6
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Thank you Judy Brower, for showing me what it looks like to live the heart of Jesus in every way, including the context of your own personal failure. I love you. Happy 60th Birthday.

december 15

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The gift of confusion

Wait, what?

Just consider something for a moment…

You are engaged. You probably shouldn’t be engaged, because you barely know your fiance. One day she comes to you, and nervously says…

“yeah, so, I need to talk to you.”

You can hear the tone of voice can’t you? You know what it feels like when someone you care about comes to you, and says these words, with this cadence. It’s not good. Do you feel the pit in your stomach?

She continues…

“So, here’s the thing, I am pregnant.”

The moment those words leave her mouth, a whirlwind of emotions attack your senses. Anger, fear, frustration, confusion, pain. You name it, you are feeling it. How could she… what did she… who is the…?

Before you can muster a word, she jumps back in with the only words that could make you feel worse about an already awful situation.

“But don’t worry, God came to me in a dream and told me the baby is His. God is the father, and the baby, is the savior of the world.”

Just sit there for a moment. Close your eyes, try to imagine the gamete of emotions running through your heart and mind. I will give you a moment…

If you know the Christmas story at all, you know I am telling the story of Christmas through the lens of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Of all the people in the first advent narrative, Joseph’s role was the strangest. And for him, this actual interaction, was only the beginning.

If you know the story, what happens next is pretty cool… I will let the Bible tell it, from Matthew chapter 1

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

I gotta get right to the point, or this will be a really long blog post. So here are the facts related to this situation…

  • In the ancient near east, if a woman commits adultery, the going punishment was death by stoning… this would have been a perfectly logical outcome from this situation.
  • Any man, in this context would have felt justified, even righteous in ensuring this punishment was administered
  • The text above clearly separates the interaction between Mary and Joseph and the interaction between Joseph and the angel. We have no idea how long, but it was long enough for him to consider the situation and make some decisions.
  • Prior to the angel coming to Joseph, he had already decided to show Mary an epic amount of mercy. (Go back and read it again)
  • The angel shows up and clarifies things, and Joseph is rewarded for his faithfulness.

So, I don’t know about you, but a closer look at this story creates all kinds of questions for me… for example…

Why the HELL didn’t God just tell Mary and Joseph about her pregnancy at the same time? (Sorry, I was gonna edit that, but it just felt like the right word given the situation).

How in the world did Joseph have the character to choose kindness in the face of the most demoralizing violation a man in the ancient near east could ever experience?

This, is what I want to hone in on…

What was God doing in the life of Joseph between the moment when Mary TOLD HIM, to the moment the angel clarified things?

We don’t know how long it was. It could have been 5 minutes, or 5 weeks. Regardless of the time, one thing I am sure of… it was the longest, and hardest season of Joseph’s life.

Do I kill her? Do I forgive her? Do I still marry her? Do I shame her? Do I just walk away? Is there anything I am responsible to do in this situation?

All really good questions right?

It is spaces like these, that God’s shaping hands are most potent. It is seasons like these, when we are at the end of our rope, unsure about how to move forward, and fairly convinced that no matter what happens, our lives will never be the same, that God’s transformational grace is at it’s best.

My wife, Anne Marie, has lived in this kind of space for the the entirety of 2016. For a number of different reasons. She has experienced a sense of rejection like no human ever should, then slivers of hope followed my more heart ache. She has felt alone, misunderstood, and cast aside. She has spent most of the year entirely confused. Her confusion led to anger, and her anger to a greater sense of her own weakness, providing her with a choice. She could either let pride take over and drive a wedge between her and her Savior, or embrace the confusion, and be driven to dependency, trusting that He would reveal His purpose for her, in His timing. Which ultimately leads to a depth of intimacy with God most can only dream of experiencing.

She chose dependency at every turn. And the result? All her circumstances are easy now? Not even close. No, it hasn’t gotten easier, but it has produced the greatest season of growth she has ever experienced, and I have been lucky to have a front row seat.

The Apostle Paul says it like this…

“When I am weak, THEN… I am strong.” Not because I am strong, but because embracing my weakness allows the power of God to flow freely.

It is when we are lost, hopeless and CONFUSED, that we are most primed to be conformed to the image of Jesus. It is when we are utterly aware of our painfully glaring weakness that the shaping hand of the creator can do His finest work.

When we are hurting, beaten and bruised.

Clueless, tired and empty.

Confused.

A proper posture before our gracious God allows moments of confusion and pain to produce clarity and healing. Why? Because they force us to our knees in total dependency on the one who holds it all together. Nothing happens outside of His loving gaze.

When we are at our lowest, this is when His grace is at it’s finest.

Tapping into that reality is as simple as throwing our hands up, and saying… I can’t do it on my own.

I am convinced it was Joseph’s willingness to embrace the gift of confusion, and step into the unknown, that God chose him to be the father of the Messiah.

What incredible realities might you be missing out on because you are afraid to admit you don’t and can’t have everything figured out… under control.

We don’t change when life is easy, we change when life pushes us to the end of ourselves, and we have no other option but to embrace the madness of confusion, and rest in the process God has for us.

It is in this context that confusion becomes a powerful, beautiful, even transformational gift.

december 14

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The mainstream Christmas story, told in most churches once a year, across America, follows a pretty standard script.

A virgin, a carpenter, a barn, manger, baby, cloths, shepherds, angels, bright star and wise men… That about sums it up right? Simple, to the point, easy.

Then there are a couple of outliers, or the go-to, “mix it up,” stories that pastors use every couple of years just to keep things fresh…

John the baptist, Elizabeth, Herod, Anna and Simeon… Haven’t heard of them? That’s ok, most people have never heard of them, or even if they have heard of them, there isn’t much clarity on the role the play in the Christmas story.

I was one of those a few years ago, when I first read the stories of Anna and Simeon. Yep, I was being that pastor, trying to mix it up and keep it fresh, and I discovered something really profound in the midst of it.

The stories of Anna and Simeon are much more than an after thought. These two characters were the first to find a sense of purpose in the story of Christmas. Which brings me to advent gift #14.

The gift of purpose.

Mary, Joseph, the inn keeper, all had something in common. The events of the first Christmas were all kind of happening to them. They didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. The result in the narrative is that we get raw, natural responses that invoke a ton of emotion and allow us to connect our hearts to the story.

But Anna and Simeon were different.

Both of these characters were aware of the events of the Christmas story before they happened and as a result were waiting expectantly for it’s arrival. Their life purpose had become wrapped up in this Advent miracle.

Simeon’s moment sounded like this…

“And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

Pretty amazing purpose right?

Then there is Anna…She didn’t know in advance about the coming Messiah, like Simeon did, but she recognized Him when she saw him, and her response was perfect…

“And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

She found her purpose in the coming of Jesus…

So what right? What does this have to do with us?

This past week, as I was just minutes from going out on the stage to preach in our “Christmas Eve” gathering, I was struck by a simple, yet significant truth.

The Christmas story was not meant to be observed, it was meant to be experienced.

For 4 weeks in December every year, across America, people pile into rows and aisles of churches anticipating the opportunity to observe the Christmas story. Unfortunately, most of us pastors, tend to give people exactly what they are looking for. A few carols, the story as usual, and a nice feel good, observable, safe message, that will allow us to feel a measure of connection to the story, but also allow us to get right back to our egg nog, shopping, family agenda’s and holiday traditions.

This is not the reason God put on human flesh.

He came to give you purpose.

The Christmas story is meant to be, and can be, starting right now, catalytic in every aspect of your life. It is meant to give you purpose, to move you to action, to fill your heart with so much humility that you feel driven into a lifestyle that reflects the heart and values of the savior who was born that silent night.

Hope
Joy
Peace
Reconciliation
Faith
Freedom
Grace
Love

Your purpose in the Christmas story is to become an agent of those values. A Life-giver.

Engaging with the Christmas story is not an option, it is the only way to experience it the way it was intended to be experienced. If you choose not to, you are simply acknowledging a folklore. You are embracing a tradition that is about as empty, and lifeless as the dying tree in your living room, or the socks hanging from your mantle.

The Christmas story is only as powerful as you choose to let it be. Not just in your life, but in the lives of all you come in contact with.

It was meant to set our hearts on fire, with a passion to go live the heart of Jesus, in every situation we find ourselves in… all year long.

So… what are you waiting for?!

december 13

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I fail a lot.

If you don’t believe me, ask my wife. She has taken the brunt of it over the past 16 years. I have spent much of this night trying to think of a good story I could tell, about my own personal failure that would be just bad enough to give you the sense that I am being uber authentic, but not bad enough that you would lose all respect for me…

The problem is, I have more stories to tell that seem to fall into the second category, so instead of making this read an awkward one, I am just going to go with…

I fail a lot.

Sorry that is so ambiguous, but it will have to suffice for now, and it does for my 13th gift of advent…

The gift of second chances…

When it comes to earthly relationships, second chances, when we fail in the worst ways, gives us a little taste of the power of forgiveness. When we do something that forces us to a place where we become acutely aware of how little we deserve, something happens in our hearts. We learn the power of second chances.

Whether we receive a second chance in that moment, or not, we still sense the power of it. But nothing is as freeing and life-giving as being granted another chance, when we deserve to be cast aside, given up on and dismissed from the privileges of “Good standing.”

This is the power of advent.

The birth of Jesus, was the choice of a perfect God, to reach out to a fallen people. But it wasn’t the first reaching out. In fact, the entire history of God’s relationship to mankind is littered with Man’s failure in the face of God’s faithfulness. Over and over, God reaches out, says, “I love you,” says, “I forgive you,” and over and over, mankind says, “Nah, I would rather do it my own way.”

The birth of Jesus then, is not just a second chance, it is the final second chance, in a long line of second chances. It is the exclamation point on these words from Hebrews 8:12…

“For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.”

The birth of Jesus, reveals this aspect of God’s character that simply does not align with anything we, as human beings understand about relationships.

As much as I have touted my wife’s willingness to forgive my failures, and give me second chances, I know full well that there is a point that her tolerance for my perpetual failure would find its end. There is a point where she would walk away… and she should. This reality is what make’s God’s patience so incredibly life changing…

Humans don’t hang on this long
Humans don’t forgive this much
Humans give up
Humans let go
Humans move on.

God does not. Ever.

The last thing I want to do with this post is give you some kind of “get out of jail free card.” To see God’s grace and forgiveness as such would be the greatest of all tragedies, and would miss the point of it entirely.

But, if your heart can connect with the reality of God’s willingness to give you limitless second chances, and not allow it to create in you a sense of entitlement, or a license to just go sinning your brains out, it could be the most life-changing reality you ever experience.

You cannot mess up so bad that God would give up on you.
There is no end to God’s patience with your brokenness.
There is nothing you can do, to be too far gone, that the grace of God cannot find you.

There is no limit to how far He will go, so that you might actually embrace and walk in this powerful reality.

He came to earth. He came on the first Christmas, over 2,000 years ago. He became one of us. He left all His positional authority in heaven, to chase down your freedom. Because He loves you that much. Because He won’t ever quit on you.

It brings extra meaning for me this advent season, to some words I have often heard, even quoted, and maybe never fully embraced…

“There is now, NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

It’s true. Our God, is the God of second chances. As many as you are willing to take.

We are, a people of the Second Chance, and HE is the God of second chances.

december 12

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The gift of life.

Jesus said, in the latter half of John 10:10…

“I came so that they might have life… to the fullest.”

These are words that have so often been taken out of context, and used to sensationalize the idea of God’s favor being connected to how many earthly blessings one might possess.

To be honest, I am fairly certain I don’t understand all the theological underpinnings of these words, but I am going to make an attempt to explain their impact on us, and the role of the Christmas story in bringing us, “Life to the fullest.”

“I came… so that they might have LIFE.”

LIFE.

What did He mean? Really?

I know what I want out of life. I know how I would describe, “Life to the full,” but something tells me it might be a little different than what Jesus meant.

I want comfort, control, and clarity. I want to know the answer to question, “why,” in every aspect of my life. I don’t want any surprises, and I want to understand. I want the path of least resistance to all things that I want, and I want it now. To me, life to the full, begins and ends with control, with comfort, and with clarity.

None of which is offered by Jesus to mankind, when He calls us to himself. In fact, When Jesus called His first disciples into this, “Life to the full,” here is how he described it…

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

How does that verse, coincide with the idea of “Life to the full,” and make any sense to us whatsoever?

The answer, I think, lies in the meaning of the word LIFE.

Both of these verses use it, and although they seem to be talking about different things, they are in fact using the exact same definition of the word. I know, I know, that seems crazy, but it’s true.

The kind of life, Jesus came, to this earth, on the first Christmas, to give you and me, can’t be quantified by how much stuff we own, or how big our Roth IRA’s are. It can’t be defined by our level of happiness or our lack of hardship. No, the kind of life Jesus was born onto this earth to invite us into is something so much better, so much truer, so much more reliable.

Deep down, we all know that Comfort is fleeting, and happiness is a pretty useless pursuit, because those things are circumstance dependent, and whether we want to admit it or not, none of us are really in control of all our circumstances…

The LIFE, Jesus came to give us, this full life that He speaks of, has zero connection to circumstances, which is why, once it is bestowed upon a human life, it is founded on bedrock. Its the kind that a “Thief, cannot not come and steal or destroy (That’s the first half of John 10:10), It is not fleeting, nor is it prone to wander. This kind of LIFE is what Jesus meant, when he said He came to give us Life to the full.

The best part of this LIFE…

It’s yours to embrace… it comes with no strings attached, it comes with no prerequisites. It is yours, today…

If you want it.

The only thing you have to do, is let go of yours.

I will leave you with a story.

In the African Jungle, scientists, study monkeys. In order to study the patterns of monkeys and the way they do life, a scientist has to get an up close look at them. So they must get them into captivity so they can observe them closer. Here’s the thing, monkeys don’t just jump into your lap. So how do they catch them…

It is surprisingly easy actually.

They put a cage out on the jungle floor, and place a piece of food that will attract a monkey. On this cage is a hole, just big enough for a monkey to slip their hand inside, and grab hold of the food. The genius of this device is that the hole, while big enough for the empty hand of a monkey, is not big enough for a monkey’s hand full of food. So, when the monkey takes hold of the food they are after, their hand is stuck, unless they are willing to release the food from their grasp, and retract their hand.

The problem for the monkey is this…

There is something hard wired into them, that won’t allow them to release the food, and escape to freedom. These monkeys will grip so tightly to the thing that is ultimately going to lead to their captivity. They have determined that this single piece of food, is worth their enslavement.

This is what Jesus meant, when he said,

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

Listen… I have no idea if this story is true… or based on actual science. What I do know is that it is a vivid picture of the human experience.

We want to save our lives… so much so that we clutch the very things that exclude us from having real hope, real freedom, real LIFE.

So the question for each of us this advent is simple.

Are you trying to save your LIFE?

Are you willing to let go of the LIFE you think you need, and let God show you why He sent Jesus?

To give you real Life?

I would love nothing more than for you to experience real LIFE this Christmas.

LIFE to the full.

december 11

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The gift of ordinary

I want to be extraordinary… there I said it.

As hard as it is for me to admit that, there is something deep down inside of me, and I think all of us, to be special, to stand out, to be “extraordinary.”

But what really makes a person extra-ordinary? What makes a person different, what makes them stand out in a crowd? We spend most of our lives doing as much as we can to fit in, go with the flow, and live to a standard that is acceptable to the people around us. That standard tends to be set by the “extraordinary” people in our world right? The star athletes, the up and coming movie stars, and those in charge of deciding what is, “in style,” right now. We are supposed to fit in, but also maintain an element of originality that sets us apart. If you are just ordinary that is safe, but boring, but if you are too different, that could be even worse, too much originality could lead to over all rejection.

This tug and pull is a constant battle for everyone who lives life on this earth. Some choose to give up trying to fit in and just simply find themselves embracing the fringes. Some give all they have to the pursuit of getting the combination exactly right. Others, most of us, simply resign ourselves to the reality we will always be ordinary. Lost in a sea of faces, nameless, faceless and meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Accepting our role as ordinary people really begins and ends in understanding what we were created for.

Ultimately I have found the pursuit Of being extraordinary exhausting, frustrating and deflating. I find myself looking around and deciding if I am better than enough other people to feel good about who I am. I end up judging others, playing games with myself, and ultimately still end up disappointed with the reality that I am just not that special.

Bottom line, being ordinary just might be the greatest gift we have ever been given.

During this advent season, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on Mary, the mother of Jesus.

I am taking a bit of risk in saying this, but Mary’s extraordinary role in the story of history was dependent on her acceptance of the God-given role of ordinary.

Mary is a person who has historically been seen by so many as extraordinary. We want her to be different, special, holy and Godly. As human beings we have even stretched that desire for her to be extraordinary to the point of making her into some kind of super human. We know she is not god… right? But we want her to be something more don’t we?

To see Mary as extraordinary in her own right is to miss the point of her life altogether.

In Luke chapter 1, Mary’s simple, meaningless, obscure, young life is bombarded by the creator of the universe with a call to live out something ordinary. Why did God choose her? Why did God decide she was the right one to be the mother of Jesus? Because she was special? Because she was popular, rich and well-liked?

Its because she was ordinary.

Mary was insecure, full of fear, doubt and worry. She was young, unmarried and just plain regular.

What was extraordinary about Mary wasn’t her position in life, her staggering talent or her earthly wealth. It was about her humility, faith and choice to surrender.

When the angel of the lord comes to Mary and tells her the great news about her new role in the landscape of history the angel calls her, “favored one.” Meaning she had found favor with God, meaning, God decided to use her even though she was nobody. The New Living Translation of the Bible actually replaces the word grace, with favor. Because of God’s graciousness he chose to use a broken vessel like Mary to be the mother of His son Jesus. It wasn’t her resume or rap sheet, it was by God’s grace, and favor. God chose her because she was humble, not because she was extraordinary.

In Luke chapter one, Mary responds to the angel of the Lord saying,

 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “ The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

Do you see it?

Why did God use her? Because she was willing to let the power of the most high “over-shadow her.” She was willing to become less… to become used up, beaten and worn out. She saw her life as worthless in compared to the amazing opportunity to be part of God’s plan in this unique way. She didn’t say, wait a minute, this doesn’t work out with my life, she just submitted to the work God wanted to do in her life.

Do you want to live an extraordinary life? Then, like Mary, you have to be willing to embrace the ordinary so that God gets the glory, you have to be ready to have every aspect of your life taken away, folded into the character of God. You must simply be over shadowed. As long as you and I strive to stand out, be special, take hold of our own lives and be extraordinary, we will simply never be in contention for God’s work. He will simply pass us by for someone a little more ordinary and a lot more humble.

I wonder at times if Mary, who gave her life, was ridiculed no doubt for obeying God, in the name of humility, would be grossly disappointed by what we have made her legacy into.

Today, choose humility, choose to be over-shadowed, choose to give instead of receive.

Choose ORDINARY, and God will make your life into something Extraordinary.

december 10

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It’s late… I have been on my feet all day, and I am absurdly exhausted. I am lacking any, even the tiniest sense of inspiration. Until…

My wife, Anne Marie, turned on the TV, and Mary Poppins is on. This is a childhood favorite of mine. In fact, my wife and I dressed up like Burt and Mary for Halloween last year (See photo below).

When she turned it on, it was at the scene where Burt and Mary, and the kids, are in a dream of sorts. They have jumped into a street painting, and are experiencing all kinds of crazy things. Immediately, I turned to her and said, “Well, this is certain to give me some inspiration… and it has.

The scene opens with all of them on a carousel. Mary says to Burt…

“This is dIMG_5176-4.PNGelightful.”

To which Burt replies, only slightly sarcastically…

“Yeah, it’s great if you don’t wanna go no where.”

Mary gives a slight grin, and at once, the horses on the carousel, unhinge from their place, and begin galloping into the open fields. The adventure begins.

As I sit here, watching this children’s movie with my wife, on a Saturday night at 8:30, yes we are very cool, I am struck by the way my heart is drawn to something so wrought with fantasy, and imagination. I love the faith that is required to dream, and the vision necessary to wonder. I love seeing humans, even if they are just following a script, chasing something that is impossible, even ridiculous…

Which leads me to advent gift # 10…

The gift of chasing.

I know, it’s outside the box, but come on, I am only on day 10, of a 25 day commitment… and I am following the inspiration of Mary Poppins…

At any rate, I find myself on this 10th day of December considering what it means to chase, or be chased…

A chase requires a dream, a desire, an ability to imagine. A chase means you have sold out, given everything, pushed all in. A chase, in a lot of ways, is the choice to unleash all a human heart can conjure for the purpose of grasping something that seems worth it, even if just for a moment.

I think there is something truly divine about a chase…

In Matthew chapter 2, there is an incredible story of chasing. 3 men, from a far off place, who, somehow heard about a pregnancy, a mother, a baby.

But not just any baby… The messiah. Jesus Christ. The savior of the world.

So they set out on a journey. A chase…

I think at times this story is completely ruined by our nativity scenes (I know, I have already ripped on nativity scenes once… I just really hate them. Sorry). We assume that Jesus was born, and the wisemen followed the star next door, to give Him their gifts.

In reality, scholars estimate that the 3 wisemen, may have traveled up to 1,000 miles, taking from 25-30 days to reach the new born king. Consider that for a moment. You and I think twice about leaving the house to drive 15 minutes to the grocery store because we have no eggs for tomorrow’s breakfast.

1,000 miles… 30 days… are you kidding me?!
 For a baby?!

Here’s the thing… they knew they were chasing more than a baby. They were chasing the God of the universe. They were chasing the only thing that really matters in life. The opportunity to worship the King. They were chasing the opportunity to be face to face with the maker of the stars… in the flesh. This chase was worth every mile, it was worth every moment.

Why? Because they knew what mattered most. They believed they would get to experience the most historic moment in the history of the world. The birth of the one who would right all the wrongs, mend all the broken, and heal all the sick.

It was worth every painstaking step.

So my question for you this 10th day of December 2016, is this…

What are you chasing? Is it worth it? Is it eternal?

I pray it is.

december 9

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The gift of surrender

My favorite character in the Christmas story, maybe even the entire bible is Mary, the mother of Jesus. I know, I know, choosing Mary as your favorite Bible character is like choosing Kermit as your favorite Muppet, or pizza as your favorite food. You aren’t surprised by the fact that I like Mary, she’s easy to like.

In the advent story, Mary is the one everything seems to be, “happening to,” right? If the Christmas story was a movie, she would be the the one everyone would be rooting for.

15 year old girl, pregnant, not married, has to go on a trip on a donkey, even though she is ready to pop. Just the basic facts of the story are nuts, but then you add in the way the events came about.

Just imagine for a minute that you are a 15 year old girl…

You are engaged to a man you barely know (That’s kinda how it was back then). You are fast asleep, when you get woke up by a blinding light. As you shield your face, and attempt to get a glimpse of this thing that has taken over your room, it begins to speak. The first words out of its mouth are…

“Mary, don’t be afraid.”

Huh? Don’t be afraid? I don’t know about you, but if something woke me up, that I couldn’t see because it was so bright and started talking to me in the middle of the night, “afraid,” would be a conservative way to describe what I would be feeling.

The angel continues…

“You are pregnant Mary, oh yeah, and the baby’s daddy, is God.”

As Mary collects herself, she musters the courage to ask…

What? How is this possible?

As the interaction continues, Mary learns that God has chosen her, to mother the savior of the world.

At this point there has to be a million things going through her head right?

When you get pregnant by God, does the pregnancy still last 9 months?
What is the son of God going to look like?
Is it going to hurt?
I’m not ready to be a mother am I?
How do you raise the savior of the world?
What is Joseph gonna think?

With these things, and certainly a lot of others swirling in her head, she is in shock. It’s one of those moments that is sure to reveal the heart of Mary. Whatever words come out next are, certain to be the most real, raw, and unfiltered response she has ever given…

What did she say?

“Behold, the bond servant of the Lord. May it be done to me, according to your word.”

Huh? Seriously?

These words are the perfect words, but Mary didn’t have a script. These words sound as though they should be coming from the mouth of someone who understands, who has it figured out, who has the ability to manage.

Mary is staring down the barrel of one of the most difficult life situations anyone, anywhere throughout all of history has ever and will ever be asked to walk through.

And this is her response.

“Whatever you say, whatever you want. I am your servant.”

This response was pure and unadulterated. It was default, even knee jerk. Her willingness to surrender in this moment, seemingly without even a thought, reveals the very reason why God chose her to begin with.

Mary lived a life of default surrender.

This response, when we consider it’s context, is the most incredible display of faith this world has ever seen.

Mary lived a regular, typical, even boring life. She wasn’t extra special, or radically different. Accept for this one thing…

Her heart, her life, her entire existences was postured for the worship of her heavenly Father. She saw her life not as her own, but as a tool for glorifying and elevating the almighty. The result was, a willingness to lay everything down, at the drop of a hat, for the chance to be part of something bigger than herself.

This choice, this posture, this surrender, allowed her to experience something no human being would ever or could ever know.

She got to feel the gentle kick of the unborn savior inside her belly.
She got to hold the Messiah as He took His first earthly breath.
She got to clean the wound of an adolescent Jesus when he fell and skinned knees.
She got to watch Him teach. She got to watch Him heal.
She got see Him change the social structure of a nation.
She got to see Him look into the face of the broken, heal them, and make them whole

She got to see Him give His life for the sins of the entire world, both past and present.

Why?

Because she chose to embrace the advent gift of SURRENDER.

december 8

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The gift of mystery.

For those of you reading this post that know me well, it is no secret that I live much of my life with my head in the clouds. I am the consummate dreamer. I love to look on the horizon and imagine what could be that isn’t. The result of that tends to be a relative contentment with chaos. I’m ok with not knowing all the details. In fact, for me, there is a measure of comfort in the mystery of the unknown and unknowable.

All human beings are finite in nature, which naturally gives way to the simple reality, we can’t know everything.

Mystery is part of the human experience.

Some of us handle that better than others, but all of us, at some point or another come face to face with something we don’t know, and have to figure out how we are going to deal with the mystery.

The story of advent invites us to not only accept our nature as limited, but to, in an ultimate sense embrace the mystery that comes with it, and marvel in the wonder it offers.

The sheer volume of unexplainable events within the Christmas narrative, forces us to a place of wonder.

Son of God? Virgin birth? A magic star? Angels filling the sky?

Friends, these things don’t make sense…

I am convinced that the commercialization of Christmas has stolen the mystery from it all. We put out manger scenes, that look like they are set on a farm somewhere in the middle of Iowa. Naturally, they are complete with a pale skinned, blonde hair, blue eyed baby Jesus, that somehow brings him down to a level we can understand. We put angels or stars on the top of Christmas trees, in an attempt to paint for ourselves a picture of the first Christmas that fits within the framework of life as we know it, all the while, unknowingly de-mystifying the events surrounding the first Christmas.

So what right? Anything that might help us better understand the story?

I’m not convinced.

I believe that God desires that we regularly bump up against our human limitations, leading us to a place of wonder. The problem is, we hate not knowing, because we hate not feeling in control. Somewhere in human history, we decided that the words, “I don’t know,” are a sign of weakness… so we refuse to put ourselves in a position to every feel it.

I fear, the unintended consequences of seeking to “understand everything,” steals the mystery this story was intended inspire within our hearts.

Mystery makes us wonder, and wonder is the gateway to genuine worship.

The first people to hear about the birth of the saving Lord, understood this well…

The shepherds… out in the fields, keeping their flocks that night. When the sky, suddenly filled with angles, proclaiming the birth of the King. Their response to this unexplainable event? Wonder. That led them to the place where Jesus lay.

“Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see!”

Their willingness to embrace the mystery, even become captive to it, allowed them to experience the impossible in a way most of us only dream.

They were willing to wonder. They were willing to be amazed, they were willing to embrace the mystery that this night was intended to gift to us.

Have you lost the freedom to wonder? Are you allowing, “What’s possible,” to steal the mystery of advent?

Every time we are faced with something we don’t know, we are invited into the advent story. We are invited to push away the desire to figure it out, and embrace the gift of mystery, that moves our hearts to a place of worship.

May your hearts be filled with wonder this Christmas as you embrace the mystery of the Advent season.

december 7

compass

A few years ago, I did a teaching series at Finding Life for the month of December, called, “Found.”

As I was reading some of the messages from that series this morning, I was once again overwhelmed with a simple reality that screams off the pages of the Christmas Narrative.

Jesus came to find me.

The 7th gift I am re-discovering in the story of advent, is the gift of being FOUND.

From the time I was a little kid, until I moved out of my parents home, every Easter, my dad would create for my siblings and I, a hunt. A treasure hunt. Like any good treasure hunt, we began with a single clue that led us to the next clue, and the next, and then next, until we found the final clue that would lead us to the treasure. The treasure was always fun to find, but really what created a sense of excitement for this every year was the hunt itself.

It was always really challenging, so every year, as we got older, smarter, and more physically capable, the physical, mental and emotional challenge to find each clue became more demanding as well.

It was like a game of Chess.

We would spend hours and hours hunting, and the barriers to the treasure were real, and far from simple. I think my dad enjoyed watching us struggle. From hilltop hikes, to digging through restaurant pies to find our next clue,  there was virtually no limit to the hurdles we would find in our path.

The struggle was real.

But, the beauty was found in the struggle. The harder it was, the more gratifying the final uncovering of the treasure became.

The struggle made the entire thing worth it.

The story of Advent was the most epic treasure hunt that anyone has ever gone on.

The hunter in this scenario, was the God of the universe, and the treasure… well,

the treasure was…

YOU.

In this treasure hunt, the power was found in the barriers God blew through to find you, and the beauty was in the reality that the God of the universe sees you as a treasure worth hunting down.

Sit there for a moment… consider that…

You, are valuable enough to the creator of the starts, that He was willing to embark on a journey, a treasure hunt after your life, your freedom, your hope. He chose to come find you. This is true about every single human life. Bottom line… If the only thing God had to gain by coming to this earth, was your life, He would have done it a million times over. That is how valuable your life is to your creator.

What’s even crazier is that,

When He went looking, you weren’t asking to be found.
When He found you, you told Him to get lost.
When you told Him to get lost, He said,

Sorry, there is nothing you can do to keep me from coming after your heart, every day, for the rest of your life.

You are the treasure in the greatest treasure hunt anyone has ever embarked upon. That hunt began when Jesus entered the world as a tiny infant over 2,000 years ago, and it continues to this day.

Believe this…

Your God will not rest, until you are found.  In Him… healed and whole, forgiven, and free.

May the power of His pursuit, fill you with hope this Advent season.