Showing posts from November, 2016

A More Meaningful Advent

Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Happy New Year! I know 2017 doesn't start until January 1, but the church's calendar turns over today, the first Sunday of Advent. The word advent means "coming," and during this four week season we prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus. As we begin a new church year, you'll notice that our gospel readings each week are different. Last year we read from Luke; this year we'll read from Matthew.

Waiting is a key practice during Advent. Nobody likes waiting. I waited sixteen years for a new Star Wars movie, then after three duds I waited another ten years for a good one. A new Star Wars movie opens in... 19 days. As much as I would love to rush to cinema to see it today, I know I have to wait. We have not decorated the church for Christmas yet-- we want to encourage waiting. We will not forget Christmas, I promise. But first, we wait.

Advent has a sort of dual focus: now that Thanksgiving is over we are excited for Christmas, …

We Did Not Forget Advent.

The other night I drove to church for a meeting and this caught my attention:

Now, this was 40 days before Christmas, and a week before Thanksgiving. But this house in our neighborhood was ready to go. My first reaction was shock, but it quickly turned to a sense of warmth. I thought perhaps this family was sending the rest of us a message: Let's move on from all the tough feelings after the exhausting election. Let's experience some joy instead. Right on.

But you'll notice this Sunday that Grace isn't quite ready for Christmas. November 27 is the first Sunday of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, but the season of Christmas does not begin until December 25 (or 24th). It then continues for twelve days. Advent and Christmas are not the same thing-- they don't even have the same liturgical colors (purple and white, respectively). But many, probably most, churches blend them together. In our worship planning team a few months ago, we decided to wait a cou…

King of Kings, Lord of Lords

Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-44

In the days leading up to the election, on Election Day, and especially the day after the election, I kept seeing the same post show up on social media from liberals or conservatives, depending on the day: "Remember, if nothing else, Jesus is still on the throne!" I actually went to Twitter just now and did a quick search, and there were hundreds of posts between late October and last week. Lots of people find comfort in Jesus' authority, as well they should. But there's just one thing:

Jesus is on that throne forever. That's not going to change. Let's be careful that being on the throne doesn't give us an excuse to abdicate our Christian responsibility. Jesus was on the throne September 11, 2001 and September 12. Jesus was on the throne before the Berlin wall was built, and was on the throne when it was torn down. Jesus will be on the throne whether or not we care for the poor and those who need God's justice. Jesus will…

Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday

I've spent two days this week at SMU Perkins School of Theology. It's Ministers Week, and the guest presenter is NT Wright, a theologian and retired Anglican priest. Dr Wright's final post before retirement was Bishop at Durham Cathedral (sidenote: Christy and I visited many cathedrals when we lived in England nearly two decades ago; Durham was my favorite). I mean, check it out:

How can you even work in that place? I am sure there are many amazing hiding places in there! Anyway, Bishop Wright now teaches theology at St Andrews University in Scotland. He's written a couple of books I've enjoyed: Simply Christianand Surprised by Hope. He is a prolific author. I've enjoyed listening to him.

Returning to Perkins always warms my soul (hey, it's hot today already-- a new DFW record!). When I arrived here to study, in 1995, I had very little training and scarcely any biblical knowledge. Perkins shaped me in a profound way. I remember this seminary as a holy place…

Time Bandits

Christy and I saw a couple of movies recently: last week Dr Strange, which I saw again with James the other day, and yesterday Arrival. I'll offer some general thoughts on each movie and expound upon a key theme in both-- the manipulation of time. Spoilers ahead.

Dr Strange is a Marvel movie about a surgeon who suffers a horrific car accident in which his seemingly all-powerful hands are destroyed. After undergoing many surgeries and physical therapy, Dr Strange gives up on Western medicine and travels to the East, seeking spiritual ways of healing. He learns the mystic arts and becomes a great sorcerer. The movie is funny and brilliant to watch. I saw it in 2D twice, but I can imagine 3D would be amazing and worth the extra cost and annoyance (I'm not a big fan but go for it). If you dug The Matrixand Inception, you'll like this.

Dr Strange's go-to spell choice manipulates time. There's a fun sequence when he is first learning the spell involving an apple. He turns…

Life Together After the Election

Last Wednesday, “the day after,” as it will be called for decades to come (probably not), I overheard someone say, “Did your candidate win?” “Yes,” the person responded. “But I hope I don’t regret it.” Then a couple of hours later I picked up some lunch and the woman asked me the same question: “Did your candidate win?” I was sort of taken aback-- literally the same question, word for word. “No she did not,” I said. “I’m sorry,” the woman said. “I felt sorry for her.” I didn’t ask if her candidate had won, but I appreciated her sentiment.
Unlike many of my colleagues in the ministry, I didn’t have any comforting, unifying words to offer on Facebook Wednesday. I needed some space to process my own feelings, always being aware that as a pastor I have to love and care for people with varied opinions, and that I represent all of you. That being said, I’ve never been afraid to address spiritual issues in the broader society in sermons. It’s clear to me that our reactions to the election ha…

That One Thing

Several years ago when Christy and I served in England I attended a workshop for ministers in training. The presenter said pastoral ministry can be very tricky. Every pastor, especially those with small or no support staff, is ultimately responsible for a myriad of tasks in the local church. Trying to do everything with the same level of energy or expertise will lead to burnout. Instead, we should focus on one thing we do well, and do it even better. Everything else will take care of itself. It reminded me of one of my favorite movies, City Slickers, where Billy Crystal's character asks Jack Palance's character, Curly, what the secret of life is. Curly responds just like this:

"Your finger?" Billy Crystal asks. Curly rides off. Later he finally breaks down and says the secret of life is to do the one thing you love best. Good advice, from cowboys or workshop leaders.

Every pastor has certain gifts-- particular areas he or she enjoys the most in ministry. Some are mor…

Election Day 2016

I found this liturgy four years ago, and we offered it as a special worship service for Election Day. Then came Election 2016; we need these prayers more than ever.

The psalmist declares: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”
We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, so that we might proclaim the mighty acts of the one who called us out of darkness and into the marvelous light!
We are no longer Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, but we are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God!
We are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. 

Prayers From the UM Book of Worship

Lord Jesus Christ, you are the way of peace. Come into the brokenness of our land with your healing love. Help us to be willing to bow before you in true repentance, and to bow to one another in true forgiveness. By the fire of your Holy Spirit, melt our hard hearts and …

All Saints Sunday, 2016

Luke 6:21-30
Ephesians 1:11-23

Beginnings are important. How a story begins can dictate how well a book or screenplay will hold our attention. There is that moment in a baseball game right before the first pitch is thrown-- anticipation, excitement is tangible-- then as the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand the announcer says, “We are under way.” Listen to how one of my favorite books of the Bible, Hebrews, begins:
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Or the Gospel of John:
In the beginning was the W…