Thursday, December 31, 2015


Christmas is full of gifts. Many people try to buy just the right gift, the gift that best suits the person they’re buying it for. Yet, it can be quite a challenge to know our friends and family well enough to get that perfect gift.  I am sure some of the gifts you received this year were ones you loved, others you sort-of liked, and perhaps a few you even, shall I say, hated. When that happens, we are faced with another challenge – how to react to those gifts. It seems that the gifts we least expect (maybe even from a person we least expect it from) are the ones that let us know that person really knows us.

This week in church we are celebrating Epiphany. We look to the Magi, often called Wise Men, and ask, “What does their story tell us about Jesus?” One of the most powerful parts of their story was their gifts. Their gifts, at first glance, seem amazing. They are certainly high dollar gifts, but were they fitting for Jesus? The answer is… no they weren’t. Jesus came as a humble king, but their gifts were more fitting for a king concerned about wealth and status. Common gifts, really, that one would give to any king with little thought. In one way, it teaches us that the Magi didn’t realize who this king (Jesus) was, but yet they did recognize Him as a king. They also knew they wanted to see Him, and they recognized the warnings to not play into Herod’s trap.

This week my family takes to time to reflect on the one year anniversary of Maddy’s birth, our daughter who was born after already going to be with Jesus. I remember how the gifts poured out into our house last year. Many of those gifts were flowers. It was what people gave when they didn’t know what else to do – they sent flowers. Our house was full of them, so much so that it smelled like a flower shop. At times we didn’t want to see another bouquet of flowers because it was a harsh reminder of what we were going through. At times we didn’t even know where to put them. And in the end, we had a hard time figuring out which ones to dry out.

This December I started a new tradition. I made sure Mindy always had fresh flowers in the house. What was once a painful reminder of sadness was now a powerful reminder of love. In that season we learned how the people of God surrounded us. We learned how the love of Jesus surrounds His people! We saw how we were taken care of and how God brings amazing stories out of painful moments. Now the gift of flowers is seen as a deeper gift of love, and a reminder that a gift once given as a common gift had a deeper meaning behind it.

This year we could look at the Magi’s common kingly gifts as ones that tell us they didn’t really get who Jesus was, or we could recognize that they knew this was something big. They knew they wanted to meet this king, and that missing it was a bad idea. They knew they wanted to bring something to this king. And as they were warned in a dream not to head back to Herod, they knew this wasn’t just any king. Amazing how common gifts can have a very uncommon meaning!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Come and See Jesus in Brentwood!

I realize my Christmas blogs are stacking up, so I better say this is the Christmas Edition for 2015. That way I can look back on it and remember what 2015 was like for us in Brentwood.

I don’t know about you, but I avoid stores at all costs. I systematically plan when to go to the few places I need to go to hit the least amount of people and traffic. A few days ago Mindy asked me to stop on my way home and pick up this thing we needed to make one of our gifts. I said, “Sure. I am going to try and get it at CVS.” She said,  “Or you could just run into Target.” To which I responded, “There is no just running into Target right now.”

More stores than ever are trying to make sure we can run in, get what we need, and get out. Counting out change has been exchanged for the swiping of cards, and this year the swiping of cards has been exchanged for paying with your smart phone or with the new chipped card. Still, shopping seems like a tedious task that I only do when necessary. I know gifts are important, but I’m much more willing to purchase them from the comfort of my home, phone, or whatever makes it easy. I purchased most of my gifts online this year and they showed up at my door a few days later. I did have to go into Best Buy the other night for a gift I needed right away. It was 9pm so I thought I could get in and get out fairly quickly. Instead I found myself frustrated and annoyed with the staff as we were held up in line waiting on a manger.

Even with these new ways of purchasing gifts to make it the most convenient as possible for us, there is still one gift that makes people behave differently. For this one gift people will fight McKnight traffic, bundle up in cold weather, and brave the crowds. Even if they haven’t been inside a sanctuary in a year (perhaps since last Christmas), people will make the trek out on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to come to church. There is something about the candles lit in the church, the hymns sung by a large group of people, and a message that brings us back to what the real gift is on this day – Jesus.

In the family service the kids will say, “Come to Bethlehem and See,” and they have it perfectly right. Come and see who Jesus is. The story has been told time and time again, but this is one we want to come and see. There is something about coming that always makes the seeing worth it. We see people gathered around the story of the Redeemer that came to save us. All the hustle and bustle of gift buying for 2015 is set aside to see a baby that quietly came to change this world forever. Yes, this gift is one worth enduring crowded parking lots and waiting in line.

Some people who may not have been here in a long time will come to Mt. Calvary to see this story and to worship together. Our job is to be ready. Talk about pressure, right? Mt. Calvary people are welcoming, caring, and intentional about relationships. This is a moment to remember that they are coming to see the greatest gift ever. How can we make that more special for them? Perhaps by taking a moment to share a friendly smile, asking about their Christmas traditions, or just showing joy that they are here. One of the first places that they will see the greatest gift ever this Christmas is living inside of you! 

Monday, December 21, 2015


The Christmas season means football, right? Well, of course! College and NFL football are wrapping up, and so with Christmas comes the final weeks of these seasons. It is undeniable that Jacob, my oldest, loves football. He is seen often diving around my house for pretend balls. Last Friday we went out back and ran some routes in the back yard. The boys so desperately wanted to do it again on Saturday, but with Abby sick we had to stay inside. Sometimes Jacob will even ask to watch the first few minutes of Monday night football. A couple weeks ago when I let him do that, I sat back and watched him copy the moves during the opening scenes. I flashed back to when I loved football like that. I remember being a kid with such energy and all the potential of what was ahead of me. Everything with the boys can be a tackling match here or there, but sometimes I feel like my job as a dad is not to stomp that kind of passion and enthusiasm. It is the way God made us and wanted us to be. It is sad that we can see how that enthusiasm, energy and passion fades after years of being tainted by the world and sin.

Last week we jumped forward and spent time talking about John the Baptist at the end of his ministry. It was a time that he needed to be reminded that Jesus was the one, especially while he sat in jail. The challenges John the Baptist faced in preparing the way for the Lord were endless, and his ending seemed bitter. This week, however, we flashback to see the energy John had in the very beginning. He was jumping in the womb because he knew Jesus was on the way. That flashback shows us his passion, a passion that got him through some pretty tough days.

I have seen a lot of babies moving in the womb, and though I hate to admit it, at times the amazement of God’s creation was not that strong. This year with this new baby, the amazement is stronger than ever. As Mindy and I begin to watch our new little girl move in the womb we have so much joy. This story of John the Baptist jumping in the womb holds a deeper meaning this year, reminding me of all of God’s potential waiting to come into this world.

A flashback is all we need sometimes to remind us of the great things God has given us. All too often, even at Christmastime, we have lost the excitement of God’s potential in our lives because we have been tainted by the bitter pains of the world. Christmas brings us back to the true promise that God will (and does) renew all the potential we have by giving us forgiveness so we can live to be His light in this world. John the Baptist was not only preparing for the potential he already had as a baby in the womb soon to come into the world, but the renewed potential of Christ’s coming. In our final Sunday of preparation we ask ourselves where have we lost vision and excitement for the potential God has for us, and how do we prepare for the renewed potential of the coming of our Savior?

Is this the One?

How many days until Christmas?  I hear that a lot right now. This year I think Mindy and I are beginning to know what it will feel like for us at Christmas time for the next 10+ years. The questions come at us like cars passing on the highway. One after another, question after question. How many days until Christmas? Does that count today? How many days until we are off of school? How many days are we going to be at Grandma’s house? With each Christmas event we attend leading up to Christmas, we get asked, “Is this the day?” It can be daunting and challenging to field all those questions. I am supposed to be more joyful this time of year, and yet I feel more stressed having to answer so many questions. I find myself in prayer at night asking God for the patience to respond to their questions, and to prepare them for the season. A tiny part of me just expects them to know.

During Advent we spend time preparing for Jesus to come. That is why we have extra services and talk about the preparation involved with the coming of our Savior. The people of God in the Old Testament had been doing this for hundreds of years. We cram it all into four weeks! We touch on a few actual events leading up to Jesus’ birth that deal with Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and John the Baptist, and then hit a few other things like in our reading for this week.

Luke 7:18-35 (our reading this week) shows Jesus already as an adult, and John the Baptist sending two of his followers to question Jesus to see if He is the one they have been waiting for. Wait – Jesus as an adult? Aren’t we just preparing for His birth?  Yes.  This week of preparation is about John the Baptist making the connection for himself and his disciples, and many others, that Jesus is the Savior of the world. During the years of waiting, I am sure that there were a lot of questions, similar to my kids as they wait for Christmas day. The difference is that they weren’t worried about presents under the tree, but rather about the fulfillment of the prophecy. Yet their expectations were just as grand.  They caught glimpses of Christmas, like being freed from captivity and judges being sent to rescue them, but were still waiting for the real thing. All these false alarms created a lack of patience among the Old Testament people. However, what they saw as false alarms, were actually pointed plans of God.

This week may seem odd to jump to an older Jesus, but there is a great connection in how they had to process that the Savior was finally here. There is much debate on why John the Baptist, who was the one who prepared the way for Jesus, was asking these questions, but we will get into that this weekend. For now, it leaves us to ponder what questions we would have had trying to understand if Jesus was truly the Savior? How would we have asked those questions?  How would God have responded? What questions do we have this year of God’s fulfillment to save and rescue us? What areas do we need the presence of Jesus more than ever?

Is your Nativity Showing?

Last year Mindy found this amazing table and wine bar/cabinet (I don’t the name of these kinds of things) on Craig’s list. It was just what we needed to display a nativity that Mindy’s mom had purchased for us. The nativity is totally breakable, and while my kids have gotten better at handling things gently, it is not one that you want to risk kids touching. It looked beautiful on the wine bar last Christmas, so instead of packing it away and chance breaking it, I left it out all year. Every time people came over to eat with us at our dinning room table, there was our nativity. Mindy said a couple of times that I should put it away, but I left it out. To me it was my way of saying I am always preparing for Jesus to come.

You’ll hear me say time and time again, Advent is a time of preparation. It is a time to prepare for the coming of Jesus. In many ways we have lost that in church, and certainly in society, because we rush to Christmas. We miss the preparation part. Part of the preparation is the dirty work, dragging in the tree or breaking out the boxes and putting it all together. It is hanging up the stockings. (Every day my kids remind me that one of ours is missing a hook.) It is cleaning up the broken ornaments. Preparation is work, and it takes time and effort. We often want to move right into the good stuff and forget all about the preparation. Yet the preparation is very important.

John the Baptist was sent with the message to prepare the way. So what did he do? He showed up and started cleaning up all the broken stuff. He walked in talking about the sin in people’s lives and what they needed to fix. He baptized many as they came to realize they couldn’t clean up their broken stuff without Jesus. Their preparation was acknowledging the brokenness in their lives, and coming to Jesus.

The beauty of this season brings us back to the fact that we cannot live up to Christmas. We can’t live up to its awe and wonder. Time and time again we need to prepare our lives by acknowledging that we are broken, and prepare our hearts and mind by repenting and hearing the forgiveness given.

Maybe there is another reason I don’t want to put that nativity away. I know putting it away could lead to me having to clean up broken pieces the next year. I don’t want to have to clean up the broken pieces, and therefore I leave it out, figuring this way it can’t break. The reality is, even with it up all year, it still may break.  In life, plenty of things break, which makes the Advent preparation season a very necessary and wonderful season each year. This year, is your nativity showing? What areas of your life need preparation for that breathtaking moment intended for you – the moment of Jesus’ birth?

Concerning Thanks

Abby, my daughter, often holds my face when she talks to me. She will be so close that I almost go cross-eyed.  A few weeks ago when I carried her out of church like normal, she kissed me on the forehead. Sometimes she will come sit on my lap and lay back onto my shoulder. Last week when I got a flu shot, Abby kept laying on my sore arm. Yes, it hurt. She often comes to steal my spot in bed. At naptime, she will ask me to pet her face to help her sleep. Abby calls for me to come help her all the time. When I am getting ready in the morning she has to be in my room so she knows I am close. At bedtime, she seems to call me every five seconds. (That can be annoying.) The point is, Abby stole my heart a long time ago and things that would typically bother me don’t with her. I have a very strong German bubble and very rarely is it invaded. Yet, Abby pops it every time, and she does it as much as she can. Mindy has asked, “Doesn’t that bother you?” I say, “Well, not with Abby.” When I see Abby I am thankful for what God has given me in her, and some of my normal annoyances fade away.

There are times when you don’t want people to see you. Perhaps you are going through something that you are afraid will change others perception of you if they found out. You would rather keep a protective bubble around you, which keeps you far enough away that you can have your moment of pain, sadness, or just loneliness. This year was one of those years for me. God taught me so much this year. I felt really challenged. It was so hard. My family will never be the same after 2015. Although, I guess we could all say that every year, but this year for me seemed like more learning and more struggles than ever before. Mt. Calvary, so many of you were there to see the great days and the hard days this year. My bubble was broken and my protective layer cracked. Some of you got a glimpse of something that, had it been my way, you would have never seen. Yet, all I can say is that I am thankful. I am thankful to serve you. You showed me, time and time again, your great potential of extraordinary servanthood.

Thanksgiving is a time we gather together and show God thanks. So often Thanksgiving is also the time we gather with family and have all of our bubbles invaded. Family can be like that, knowing the ins and outs of one another. This year as we celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to rejoice over the people of God that He has surrounded me with, the type of thanksgiving Paul expressed for the people of God in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4. Mt. Calvary, thanks for breaking my bubble this year and giving me strength. I am so thankful to be here and worship with you. Thanksgiving is the end of the year for our church, and I am thankful to end my year with the family of God and excited to see what God has for us in the new church year.

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers.”
1 Thessalonians 1:2