Thursday, January 26, 2017

Jesus' Inauguration Speech

I have been around speeches my whole life. In sixth grade my class had a competition to see who gave the best speech. I didn’t get to participate with the rest of the class because I had to go to Florida for my grandpa’s funeral, but I gave my speech when I got back. I ended up in the final running for who would be in the speech competition. Thus began my journey of public speaking. In Seminary I began to define my speaking further, as soon I would be doing a lot of preaching. Sure, I would be asked to speak other places as well, but preaching was going to be my primary mode of public speaking. I have had the blessing of working with great pastors who speak & preach very well. I have watched their gifts and uniqueness’. At times I have been tempted to critique those who are speaking, but as I have matured, I am able to just appreciate public speaking for what it is.

Weddings are one of those places where we see public speaking by people who are usually not used to doing it. Most of the time, the pastor leading the ceremony has a good handle on things, but at the reception things get a little nuts. I have story after story of speeches that I remember, mostly because of their oddness combined with nervousness. I have very few that are memorable because of the great delivery and preparation.

This past Saturday, Mindy and I attended the wedding of a shy couple. Everyone knows they are shy, and knowing this about themselves, the couple limited the number of guests they invited. Not surprisingly, many of those around them are shy too. Because of his shyness, the best man had his wife read his speech. When it came time for the man of honor (a male “maid of honor”) to do his speech, we had no clue what was coming.

Let me tell you a little of the backstory so you get a deeper appreciation of what I mean. The man of honor was the bride’s brother. A few weeks before the wedding he had a stroke. He is a young guy, so a stroke was very unexpected. For awhile He couldn’t talk, and there were questions about whether he was even going to be able to attend the wedding. He went through physical therapy and, thankfully, he was able to attend. When he got up to speak, there were questions about how challenging this would be for him. The room grew silent, and he laid out a heartfelt tearjerker! He transported the audience back to his childhood and that of his sister, where he would ask her, “Do you want to talk, listen, or just go to sleep?” He told everyone about the secret language the two of them share, which only they know. He went on to say that his sister was “his person,” and he doesn’t have many people in this world. My eyes welled up listening to the heartfelt connection he was communicating. I could see how deep this relationship was, and being a relational guy, I was caught up in his words. The delivery didn’t matter. As I listened, I wondered how he was going to connect this to the groom, who was hearing the story of a brother and sister and their deep relationship. But before I could think too long about it, he flawlessly spoke about how great the groom was, how thrilled he was to watch the relationship between him and his sister develop, and how happy he was for his sister that she had found “her person” to be with forever.

In those few minutes, every wedding speech I had ever heard was trumped. Mindy and I made sure to tell him how great his words were. I, knowing that public speaking is challenging for many people, wanted him to leave that night knowing he had done a magnificent job. He had no clue who I was or that I preach every week, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to be the unknown in the crowd who told him his words were powerful.

No matter how technological we become as a generation, technology will never take away from public speaking. The words of a person can immediately transport us into a different place, thought, or emotion. They also can leave us desperate or bored. When you speak publicly often, you know that you can fall into any one of these categories, if not all of them, even in the same speech! That is why it is so scary for people to do. Some would rather die than to speak publicly.

I can’t imagine what it was like to hear Jesus speaking for the first time. Those that understood the words He was saying understood the power of proclamation. Jesus was the only person able to fulfill everything He said, while at the same time fully meaning every word that came out of His mouth. The Scripture lesson for today is called the Beatitudes. It is often hard to explain to people. The words are a powerful proclamation of what Jesus came to do. At first you might think He is talking to specific groups, but He is really talking to all groups. Jesus was proclaiming to us a promise to fill the hole of emptiness we feel in our lives. We take time today to look at this powerful speech from Jesus, given to people that needed to hear words of promise. Nothing has changed for us today, as we hear God’s Word for us as well.

A Great Light

You might have noticed that I never turn on the florescent lights in my office. I despise those kinds of lights. I do whatever I can to avoid them. I have lamps all over my office, including new little lights that look like security cameras. They serve a dual purpose; helps fend off bad guys, and keeps my office bright enough at night for meetings so that I don’t have to turn on the fluorescent overhead lights. The other day I was sitting in the dentist chair and I noticed they have fluorescent lights, but theirs are covered with these cool light covers. The covers are blue with clouds on them. It takes the ridiculous intense light and transitions it into a beautiful sunny day. For a moment I felt like I was at the beach, but then someone started working on my teeth and I was quickly brought back to the reality that I was in a dentist’s chair, not a beach chair.

My point is, those lights at the dentist office are great lights. I have been walking around hating fluorescent lights, convinced I will never find a solution for them, and then I see these awesome covers that transformed my hatred into a love. I want some for my office now. I have visions of people immediately feeling like they are on the beach, or living in the beautiful blue skies of southern California as they enter my office. When I lived in southern California I was truly floored that we had blue skies almost every day. I loved it! I’d drive around with the top off of my Jeep.  At times I’d be frozen at a stoplight because I was starring up with eyes closed into the blue skies. Ahh…  Oh sorry. See what I mean, these are great lights that can take me to new places within seconds.

Make no mistake about it—Jesus was a great light. He immediately reshaped the dark version of this life with His great light. I could use a million stories about it being pitch black, but the truth is, half the time we are starring into the light and we don’t even know how great it can be! Sometimes our mind has human blinders on us, which creates the darkness. But in one moment, one dental chair, everything can change.

Jesus walked around, and person-by-person introduced each of them to the great light—Himself. Most of them were not literally in darkness, by any means, but they could not see what true light was. They were confused about the purpose of life and what hope could look like in this life. The disciples were some of the first to see the great light. They were pulled from their normal day jobs, brought to the great light, and followed it.  A light so great it would cause them to do what they never saw coming. They would walk away from the only lives they have ever known to follow this great light. What will this great light reshape for you? Where are the places you are still living in darkness even though you think you are living in the light?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Living in the Moment!

There have been many surreal moments in my life. You know those moments, when you are in the middle of something and all of the sudden recognize it is really happening. I could count my ordination this way, my first call, and having children, but the day that truly stands out the most is my wedding day. I know I am the sappy, lovey-dovey husband. Anyone that knows me knows I wanted to be married very badly. When that day finally came, it was truly hard to believe it was happening. Now, after almost a decade of being married, the surreal feeling from that day has turned into a foundation of walking with each other on the journey of life. While the wedding day is long gone, I will never forget what happened and how it felt.

This past weekend at the Epiphany party, they took time to go around the room and ask how long couples had been married. It was cool to hear how many years of marriage were in that room. I can only imagine the surreal moments that began their marriage and the foundations of those marriages today. Recently one of the people who has had a long marriage said, “Those of you who are married – always work it out!”

In a world with sin, those surreal moments quickly fade and we are faced with the tough realities of the challenges we face in life. Whatever your surreal moment is, your wedding day or something else, I’m sure you’ve experienced the fade. So how do we make it through the challenges?

This week in our reading when John the Baptist saw Jesus publically, he had a very surreal reaction. While they had been connected along the way, we don’t know how much they interacted. That day we know that John the Baptist was baptizing and doing his thing preparing the way for Jesus, and then – bang – Jesus was there! It had to be so surreal. Good thing John didn’t know how intense the journey for Jesus and him was going to be. Right then John was living in the moment, treasuring the fact that Jesus was there. He was pumped! The journey was about to take off!

All too often the bitterness of life can get us to miss the moments Jesus has us in right now. While there was so much to come (with Jesus going to the cross and redeeming all people), John didn’t want to miss what was happening when Jesus first showed up on the scene. The new year will bring lots of moments, some great and some tough, but Jesus will always show up in the midst of it. How will you prepare for the tough ones and treasure the surreal moments? Are you ready to live in the moment with Jesus every day?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Unexpected Visitors

Well my male readers may all revoke me after this blog, but maybe I will get a huge female following.  Most importantly, my wife will be happy, which is how I got here in the first place. Last year my brother-in-laws and I were attempting to slam the Bachelor. We were making remarks about the different guys that had been on the show. Then one brother piped up, “This is exactly what they want. Our wives want us talking about this.” Well, I guess they got me again, since now I’m talking about it after only one episode of the new show. But in my defense, there is a new fantasy bachelor section in my ESPN fantasy sports app, so it is not just me who is getting gotten. It’s funny that I am teaching my wife and sister-in-law how to log into a fantasy sports app for the bachelor.

The new bachelor isn’t new at all, but has appeared four different times in three different versions of the show. He has had his heart broken repeatedly, yet he’s often painted as the villain rather than the victim, for some of the criticism he deserves. Nick, the bachelor, knew there would be questions about him coming back on the show - again. Already last year people thought it was a joke that he was going to be returning. But there he was Monday night at the show’s debut. What stood out to me this time is that there was a reason he was chosen. Yes, I know producers are behind all of this, and they can depict him how they want, but I noticed something significant. First, he had to take criticism. There were ladies showing up saying, “My friends think you are a jerk.” There were ladies trying to make him feel better about being a runner up, and there were many jokes about his familiarity with the show. And yet, Nick took all of it in stride, like a champ. This is what you call character, to publically stand up and take the hits and not let it phase you too much. Secondly, his toast was all about trying to help the ladies to have genuine, authentic conversations in a fake world. Nick was immediately trying to take the show out of the show. And he did it; some of his opening conversations were authentic and real. He was having normal conversations about the families they grew up in and making real connections with the ladies. His first impression rose went to the person I thought he had the most real conversation with, a conversation about their families and their favorite uncle or aunt. Nick came into the show being one of the most unexpected bachelors, and yet there was a reason for his coming. He may keep trying to bring more genuine relationships to the show, and may even end up with a marriage that just might last. Few have left the show with working relationships or marriages, but this might just be a true bachelor connection.

Now, many of you never expected me to talk about the Bachelor. I certainly didn’t expect my wife, sister, and sisters-in-laws to invade my ESPN fantasy sports app. And yet, all of that unexpected stuff swirling around brings us back to the Magi. They were unexpected. They weren’t three kings or three wisemen, but unexpected bachelors on a journey to see a king they had no clue about. This told the Jews, the people of God, one very important thing—Jesus had come for all people!

The Magi were unexpected visitors. Their history, occupations, and lifestyles spoke that they were the most unexpected people to visit Jesus, and yet they play an important role in story of Jesus’ birth. They bring the powerful truth that Jesus came to restore the relationship with all people. Who are the unexpected people in your life that could come to see Jesus through you? Who is the person you least expect to come to faith? Are you ready to share faith even with those you might not expect?  

Pondering Christmas

This weekend I will take time to unpack the phrase – Pondering Christmas. Scripture says, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)  I ask, what was she pondering? Was she thinking about the fact that her baby was Jesus, the King of the world? Was she thinking about the unique group of people who stood around her as she held the Christ child? Was she pondering that the Messiah had finally arrived after years of prophecy and waiting?

There is always something to ponder at Christmas. What is new in your life that was unexpected? What is a huge blessing that God has given you this year? What is the prayer you are waiting on Jesus to answer? Like Mary, we are all pondering something this year.

Christmas brings us back to the moment the world changed, with the birth of this one child. In “On The Move” this week we took time to ponder Christ’s humanity. His humanity is what made this a reality. He came to this earth as a human to fulfill what we could not do. There is a lot to ponder about how He balanced being a 100% God and 100% man. As we reflected last week, we cannot understand the wisdom of God. Joseph certainly learned that all human logic could not explain what was about to happen – what God had in store for him.

Every week I take time to ponder Scripture. I ponder it personally, and then I ponder it for the congregation. I ponder what I will blog about and how to communicate this week’s Word through a sermon. Usually in this blog I lead you down my pondering path, but Christmas has so much to ponder. Each of you are in a different place than you were last year. The same story can hit you much differently this year. Take time to ponder this Christmas. Ponder your relationships. Ponder your family. Ponder what is going on around you. Ponder our world, and come back to ponder the Christ child in a manger. As a kid, I waited and waited for Christmas, as an adult it moves all too fast. Mary was pondering what God was doing. Nothing has changed. Jesus is still working in each of our lives. Take time to ponder the work of Jesus in your life, and ponder what is next for you.

Merry Christmas!

Setting the Stage for the Story!

I recently got to hang out with a friend I haven’t seen in awhile. The conversation was great. There was a lot to catch up on from his new job, to things happening at church, and with our kids & spouses. I love those moments when I get to catch up with a friend I haven’t heard from in a long time. It is great to rekindle a friendship, and also see what God has done in the time I’ve missed.

I would have loved to be Joseph’s friend. Can you imagine our dialogue? Joseph might have said to me, “Hey, Will, we need to go to lunch. I have to tell you something that is super hard to believe.” This would have ended up being a two-part story. At our first lunch, Joseph and I would have talked about what is going on with Mary, during which, by the end of the conversation, he would have decided to divorce her quietly. But then there would have been a second lunch, where he tells me he had a dream that an angel told him Mary’s baby was Jesus. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been for me to believe all this. What kind of human wisdom would I have tried to share?

Our human minds struggle with this story. At times it can feel so unreal and disconnected from our daily life. As our world becomes a reality TV world, it is easier to disconnect with the written words of Scripture. The details in the Bible may not be as specific as we are used to, making it easier to believe the story is not real. Make no mistake; this story was real and true! It did happen.  Imagine if you had been Mary’s friend? What would that have looked like? What would you have said to her over lunch?

As the world tries to distract us with its current reality, we come back to focus on the reason or purpose behind the story. God was shaping the lives of two people to usher in the Savior of the world. Their realities were hard. They were going to face people who thought they were crazy, and yet they had a very clear purpose. It is so important to bring this story back to its purpose.

Today we set the stage for the greatest story ever told. We bring to life the story of Mary and Joseph. We take time to reflect on how God shaped and formed them for His purpose.  We seek out not only what this story means to us, but also learn how Jesus shapes and forms us for a purpose. Mary and Joseph were two people like you and I. They had their own plan for their lives, a plan that was drastically changed in one day. We are so thankful for that! How does the story about the days leading up the birth of Jesus help guide you to think about what is in your story this year? In what ways is Jesus shaping and forming you for what’s next? Mary and Joseph couldn’t see everything that was coming, but they knew Jesus was going to be right there with them, literally!

How many times do I have to tell you?

Abby just will not stop picking up Audrey. She is constantly finding a reason to bother her. “I am reading her a book, Daddy,” or “She is so sad, Daddy” Abby tells me. It is hard to keep calm when I watch in horror as my 9-month-old is drug across the floor by her four-year-old sister. I can’t get Abby to understand the concept of death! I tell her she is going to kill her sister. I know she is watching her big brother and us, and she wants to do what we do, but she needs lessons of caution and care first. That is what I am trying to teach her. I am just guessing, but I am pretty sure she doesn’t want to drag her future kids around by their necks. Every parent out there can understand this stress. It is never-ending, and annoying. If it isn’t Abby, it’s the boys wondering why they can’t jump on each other’s heads. When one of them gets hurt, they find out why. I wonder if John the Baptist ever felt like a dad?

Advent is funny because we get all these readings with John the Baptist as an adult, when really he was just a baby as we wait for Jesus to arrive. A big complaint about this season is that we often focus on Christmas every week instead of preparation, expectation, and coming.  It is hard to stay focused on Jesus’ coming when many of our Bible readings take place after Jesus is already here. Our dilemma is that we don’t have many readings about His coming. The stories leading up to the birth of Jesus are few and far between. This week that happens again. We have a reading from Matthew 11, when John the Baptist is in prison and some people wrestling with why Jesus came.

Our text has John the Baptist sending his disciples to Jesus to ask if He is the one or if they should expect another. Why would John the Baptist, who leapt in his mother’s womb when he heard Jesus was to be born, question if Jesus was the Messiah? That doesn’t make any sense. Did John the Baptist backslide because he was in prison? A few verses later, Jesus commends John the Baptist saying there is no one greater born of a woman. Certainly, this clarifies John’s unwavering faithfulness to Jesus and the Gospel. So why send these disciples to ask Jesus these questions?

Perhaps John was acting like a parent who had had enough of his disciples not listening or understanding. Perhaps he thought those same words so many parents think, “How many times do I have to tell you?” John finally just sent them to the source, to Jesus, to ask for themselves. And being good disciples, they went. John, doing what many parents do, sent his disciples to hear the truth, the same truth that had been confirmed in him since he was a baby.

Speaking personally now, I have been a Christian since I was in the womb, and probably many of you have also. I have had people praying for me even before I was born. I have celebrated Advent every year since I was a baby. I have watched and learned this season inside and out. I am spoiled because I have known Jesus my whole life. I never had to experience a world without a Savior. I have had an answer for sin, pain, and suffering. Sometimes I want the same for others so badly that I get frustrated when they don’t listen. Could that be what John the Baptist felt too?

I know Abby doesn’t understand that she can hurt her sister. Abby has no true intentions of trying to hurt Audrey. She is trying to be helpful and doesn’t have the knowledge I have as a parent. I want to help guide her to the place where she is able to show love to her sister, but in a caring and safe way. Could that guidance and teaching be what John the Baptist was doing for his disciples too?

John the Baptist’ story reminds us, as we prepare this Advent season, to treasure what we know is coming, but also to prepare for those who don’t know. They don’t understand.  They haven’t been prepared. At times we might feel like they are so close to knowing about their Savior, but then they take a step back. It can be frustrating. Every time we relive this season, we are preparing our hearts to know the richness of this journey, but also preparing how to help someone else understand this journey that we have known for a long time. Regardless if you are an Advent veteran or a newbie, it is amazing to see what the coming of this little baby means for you and me. Get ready! Jesus is coming!

Unexpected Introductions

Imagine the most important moment of your life. (You might have to speculate what that moment might be.) For sports fans, it could be when you are inducted into the Hall of Fame. For music fans, it could be winning a Grammy. For those who have no passion for sports or music, let’s just say you are being presented with an award. Here is the question, who would be the person you’d pick to introduce you?

Who is coming to mind? Is it someone who is a good speaker? Is it someone who knows you well and thus would able to speak well of you? What about a person that is highly respected and would give a good impression even before you got up to the microphone?

Introductions are important, no matter how much or how little fame you have. An introduction can truly set an opinion in place. Right or wrong, there are many people I have formed opinions of just from our introduction. Probably most of us aren’t going to claim an award anytime in the near future where we would need someone to introduce us, but I wanted you to think about introductions in light of our human thought.

Now, think about how Jesus was introduced. He was introduced by the John the Baptist. Is that who you would have picked to introduce Jesus? To make matters even more unique, Matthew describes John the Baptist’s odd behaviors. Seriously, even if I did do some weird stuff, I know for a fact I wouldn’t want that to be the first thing someone writes about me in their book.

When an engaged couple comes to me to do their wedding, I sit down with them and ask, “Ok, who is the crazy one?” The couple, usually confused, responds, “What?” I then say, “You know, who is the crazy one we’ll have to watch out for on the wedding day?” Who has the crazy cousin who eats bugs and only wears clothes made out of animal hair?  I mean no disrespect, but it sounds like the Scriptures are trying to tell us that John is crazy. He is Jesus’ crazy cousin. Yet he has a very, very important role in the beginning of Jesus’ life. So why did God pick the crazy cousin to introduce Jesus? Before you tell me this is sacrilegious, ask yourself why this is important? If this was our situation, and we could pick anyone to introduce us to the world, wouldn’t we take the time to pick someone who would represent us well?

It is Advent, the season of preparation, expectation, and the fulfillment of the greatest promise ever. John the Baptist was chosen as the one to introduce Jesus for a reason. Will we understand God’s reasons?  Maybe not.  Our human minds are often blown away by the choices our Lord makes. We know our first inclinations are often not in line with His. The person we would choose to introduce us, is not the same Jesus would choose. In preparation for the coming of Jesus, we take time to see what our Lord teaches us as He alters what the world expects. It is in taking time to meditate on His Word and listen through prayer that we see the beauty of our God and get a glimpse of His unique ways. His unique ways are not our ways, and in the person of John the Baptist, He sees the perfect person to usher His Son in even though we see crazy. In preparation for that little baby, we take time to see the unique story of Jesus. With each telling of this story, time after time, the uniqueness of God’s ways clash against our ways and help guide our minds to see how Jesus changes all of humanity. This introduction was the most important introduction the world will ever see, and it was done by a person the world would never expect.