40th Day of Lent 2013

Reading: Hebrews 10:16-25

Today on Good Friday, we remember the God who forgets.

When Jesus dies on the cross, our sins are erased.

And they are forgotten.

God wants us to live our lives WITHOUT the burden of sin hanging over our heads.

God wants us to live our lives WITH the knowledge that we are forgiven.

We have been given a clean slate.

While God forgets our sins, He remembers his steadfast love for each of us.

On this “Good Friday,” if you think God cannot love you for what you have done in your life,

I am happy to tell you that you are wrong.

God CAN and DOES love you.

You are His child.

You are His beloved.

And God will never forget that.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being the Forgetter. Amen.

38th Day of Lent 2013

Reading: Hebrews 12:1-3

I have been going to the gym on a regular basis for over two years.

I had gone to gyms practically my whole adult life, but I would usually quit a month or two into a new membership.

Mostly because I felt intimidated.

Whenever I would go to the gym, I would see all these extremely fit people lifting obscene amounts of weights or running outrageous number of miles on the treadmill (while never sweating, I might add).

I just couldn’t keep up.

It was humiliating standing in front of the mirror with Bodybuilders 1 & 2 on either side of me pumping serious iron while I was straining to lift a 5 pound weight over my shoulders.

When I rejoined the gym in 2011, those old feelings came rushing back.

However, thanks to a lot of good people I met at my gym, I came to a realization:

“So what if I never look like these ultra-fit people?”

The purpose for me going to gym was not to look a certain part.

I was going to the gym to be in the best shape I could be for my wife, my family, and my church.

I wasn’t going to the gym to look good. I was going to the gym to be healthy.

Once I came to that conclusion, it didn’t matter anymore if I was sweating so much that children ran away from me (side note: that’s a joke…sort of…)

I didn’t matter if I could only do 15 minutes on a treadmill while the person next to me was doing 40.

What mattered was I was at the gym,

I was doing the work,

and I was starting live a healthier lifestyle.

Now believe me, I still have a lot of work to do.

But I am not scared of the work anymore.

In our reading today, the writer of Hebrews encourages us to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

To “persevere” means “to endure, to be steadfast, and “to not be swerved from a purpose even by the greatest trials and sufferings.”

To “persevere” does not mean “to dominate” or “be the best.”

It means run the race, people!

It doesn’t matter WHERE you finish.

What matters is that you run in the first place!

God does not care where you place.

God is happy that you are IN the race.

And if you need to take a breather, go ahead!

Rest up.

And then get back up and start running again.

Don’t worry about those running beside.

Focus on the God who runs WITH you.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being our Running Mate. Continue to provide us with your presence in our lives. Amen.

37th Day of Lent 2013

Reading: John 12:20-36

We have been cat owners for over three years (or maybe I should say the cats have owned US for three years).

Daisy and Violet have been wonderful additions to our lives.

However, it did take me some time getting used to having them around.

No better example than what would happen at night.

For most of my life, I have been a very good “nightwalker.” On occasions when I would wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or adjust the house temperature, I did not need a light to walk through my house.

But that changed when Daisy and Violet arrived.

The first time I stepped on Daisy, she meowed, I screamed, and I fell flat on my behind.

(I wish I could tell you Daisy quickly came to check on me but…well…she is a cat and she had some paw-licking to do)

After that accident, I was not as confident about walking in the dark.

I just felt like I was going to walk into something or ONTO something.

Now whenever I have to get up I immediately turn on the lamp (and risk waking up my wonderful wife… SHHHH!)

I used to think turning on a lamp was unnecessary and a waste of time, but using a lamp is now a necessity.

In our reading today Jesus plainly says, “If you walk in darkness, you do not know where you are going.”

Too many times in our lives, we walk in darkness.

We THINK we know the way, but we always seem to stub our toes, trip over something, or bump into things that cause us harm or frustration.

But we don’t have to walk like this.

Jesus is saying we don’t have to walk in darkness anymore.

He is offering a special kind of light: Himself.

His light will safely get us to wherever we need to go.

And unlike a flashlight, this Light will never go out.

We don’t have to be scared anymore.

 

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being our Light in the darkness. Continue to shine in our lives now and always. Amen.

 

36th Day of Lent 2013

Isaiah 42:1-9

February 14th, 2006, is a very important day for me.
It was my first official date with Kristen.
I do not always have the best memory, but I remember everything about that date: our dinner, her beautiful dress, the first mixtape CD I ever gave her, our first kiss.
There is one other memory that I remember from that night.
As we were leaving the restaurant, I held her hand for the very first time.
And I haven’t stopped holding it since.
Holding someone’s hand can be a very powerful moment.
Holding someone’s hand can mean:
-Love
-Support
-Sympathy
-Protection
-Companionship
Holding hands means “you are not alone.”
In our passage today, The Lord has taken us by the hand and kept us.
Kept us from what? Danger? Despair?
The answer is yes to both.
It also means that whenever we face those types of dire situations in our lives,
God is RIGHT THERE HOLDING ON TO US,  AND LETTING US KNOW WE ARE NOT ALONE.
Because wherever we go, God goes.
I knew when I held Kristen’s hand for the first time that I had a companion for life.
And I have that same feeling when it comes to God.
The biggest…and awesome…difference is while I was the one who reached out to hold Kristen’s hand,
GOD MAKES THE FIRST MOVE WITH US.
God is reaching out His hand to you.  Now. Tomorrow. And always.
Go ahead and grab His hand!
Because God will never let go.
Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being our Companion in our journey. Amen.

35th Day of Lent 2013

Reading: Luke 21:1-4

Last Sunday, I had one of those moments that make me glad I am a pastor.

During my Children’s Chat, I asked if any one of the kids would give away their most prized possession (toy) to a friend of theirs.

One of them, Ethan, said, “Yes…if it was broken.”

The congregation and I got a big laugh out of that.

I told Ethan I appreciated his honesty.

All of us like to play the “If” game as well.

But we should not play that game when it comes to our relationship with God.

In our reading for today, Jesus commends a poor widow for giving to God “all she had to live on” but he does not do the same for the people who gave to God “out of their abundance.”

The widow gave all.

The others gave to God IF they went over a certain number.

There were no “If’s” in what the widow gave.

I am not much of a poker player (TANGENT: Okay, I am a very bad poker player), but in that game when you think you have the winning hand you likely will go ALL IN on your bid.

Everything goes into the pot.

You are ready to risk everything.

Are you ALL IN when it comes to what you give to God?

Actually, the questions should be what you give BACK to God?

Because all that we have came from God (according to Psalm 24:1, all the earth is the Lord’s. including us)

Everyday I thank God for His gifts in my life such as my family, my wife, my church, my cats, and my friends.

I especially thank God for the gift of His presence when I am going through difficult and painful times.

Because I know God is ALL IN when it comes to our relationship.

Nothing shows that more than the cross.

It was on the cross that Jesus gave ALL he had to save us.

And I don’t recall Him putting any “If” conditions on this act.

Jesus just did it.

The widow just gave.

Today I ask you (especially those of you who are hesitant to go ALL IN):

What do you have to lose if you gave all you had (back) to God?

To those who are hesitant:

Can you really say your life is better by only giving to God when it feels right or when you have the “extra” time?

I do not ask these questions to guilt any of you into a deeper relationship with God.

I ask them to encourage you to take the next step in your relationship with God and go ALL IN (mind and heart and soul).

God does not give us “IF,” He gives us LIFE.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being our Giver. One who gave us all you had. And we thank you for continuing to do so in our lives. Teach how to give back to You. Amen.

 

34th Day of Lent 2013

Reading: Luke 19:1-10

I have a huge mancrush on the actor Peter Dinklage.

He currently plays Tyrion Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones.

However, the first television show I saw him on was Threshold (a 2005 short-lived Science Fiction show on CBS).

Even then I thought he had this certain vibe (or demeanor) about him.

I admire him because he has had to overcome a lot of stereotypes to build his career.

Mr. Dinklage has a condition known as achondroplasia: a common cause of dwarfism.

His size marginalized his movie opportunities, which consisted mostly of bit parts and oddball fringe characters. He found more success on Broadway where height was less of an issue.

But then he appeared in a wonderful movie called The Station Agent in 2003 that earned him praise from the critics and opened the eyes of producers in Hollywood.

In our reading today, Zacchaeus also has a lot to overcome.

He was short in stature (TANGENT: I am not saying he was dwarf but it was obviously enough of a factor to be noted in Luke’s Gospel).

Zacchaeus was also a chief tax collector.

Tax Collectors were very hated back in those days.

They were considered traitors and sinners to their Jewish race because they conspired with the foreign Roman Empire.

Tax Collectors were also known for overcharging the citizens (and we get a hint of that from Zacchaeus in verse 8).

I do not know why Zacchaeus tried so hard to see Jesus.

Perhaps he was tired of being picked on due to his height and career.

Maybe he was just lonely.

Whatever the reason, he risked even more scrutiny by climbing up a tree to get a better look at Jesus.

I bet the people in the crowd just rolled their eyes and said, “that poor sinner, Zacchaeus.”

But notice how Jesus reacts.

He looks up at Zacchaeus and rather than picking on him or calling him names like the crowd, Jesus INVITES HIMSELF to Zacchaeus’ house!

Zacchaeus suddenly goes from the loneliest, most unpopular man to a host.

He has Jesus in his house!

This did not sit well with the crowd. They are shocked that Jesus would stay in the house of a “sinner” and a “traitor”.

They are even more shocked that Jesus would even TALK to Zacchaeus.

My favorite moment of this story is when Jesus gives Zacchaeus a new name.

That’s right. A new name: “Son of Abraham.”

Zacchaeus was no longer to be considered outside the family fold.

Zacchaeus was to be seen in the way God sees him.

Not as a sinner, but as a child. God’s child.

Maybe Jesus’ acceptance of Zacchaeus is what prompted Zacchaeus to change his ways.

I am not sure.

What I am sure about is Jesus created a place for Zacchaeus.

A place that was safe and welcoming.

Jesus does the same for all of us.

He especially does it for those of us who have ever felt small. Or unwanted. Or unloved.

Because God does not act like other people.

God sees us for WHO we are (His children) and WHAT we can be (workers in His kingdom).

When Peter Dinklage won the 2011 Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama, I remember how loud the crowd was in their approval. It was one of the largest cheers of the night.

Isn’t it good to know that we have a God who cheers for us?

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being our Invitation to a new life. Show us how we can be Your workers to make the world a better place. Amen.

 

 

33rd Day of Lent 2013

Reading: Colossians 1:15-20

At the time Jesus came onto the scene, the Jewish people believe meeting God face to face was a bad situation.

They believed that once you saw the face of God you would not be able to live. The power of the moment would be too much to handle.

So rather than this being an “Oh yes” moment it was believed to be an “Oh no” moment.

There was also a belief that the closest one could get to God was in Jerusalem.

That was why it was important for every adult Jewish male to make at least one annual trip to Jerusalem (usually during the holy days like Pentecost).

When you think about these ideas for a moment, they make God sound so….distant and dangerous.

You might even say that there are a lot of people today who feel that same way.

But then Jesus came on the scene.

For many people, Jesus changed their perception of God.

First, Jesus spoke face to face to every one he met.

He would look directly at people like the disciples who he invited to join him on his quest.

And when Jesus would say he was the Messiah or God no one died when they looked at them.

Jesus also did not do his entire ministry within the city limits of Jerusalem.

In fact, all our Gospels have Jesus traveling quite a bit to get to the people.

He even would travel to Gentile country because that was where the people were (NOTE: This was not something a good practicing Jewish leader would do).

While Jesus coming to save us was number one on his “priority list” I believe another mission he had was to rebuild the reputation of God.

God was not scary or distant.

A good example from the scriptures is when Simon Peter realizes that Jesus is on his boat in Luke 5:1-10.

Jesus has just helped Simon Peter (and the other fishermen) catch fish after a long unsuccessful night.

When Simon Peter sees this miracle, he looks at Jesus and realizes just Who is on the board.

Simon Peter’s first reaction is “Go away!”

Simon Peter believes that if Jesus is the Lord and is on that boat, then it must be Simon Peter’s  “So long, world” moment.

Simon Peter is ashamed of his sins and believes he is about to pay for those sins.

But look at what Jesus says: “Do not be afraid.”

God was no longer someone to be afraid of.

God was no longer someone who could be seen from afar.

God …Jesus…was right there in the boat with Simon Peter.

The Image of the Invisible God was right there.

For us this means we have a very personal God.

A God who is not distant but a close as one can be.

But it also means we have an incredible opportunity:

  • To be that Image of the Invisible God to others.
  • To be the ones who get on the boats of those who feel they are not worthy to be loved or forgiven and tell them that there is room in the Kingdom for them.

We can continue Jesus’ mission.

We have a chance to stop making God sound so scary to people.

Let us use the time God has given us to make a positive impact in this world.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being the Image of love and forgiveness. Teach us how to share Your grace with those around us.

 

 

32nd Day of Lent 2013

1 John 1:5-10

Kristen and I enjoy watching television together. We especially like good comedies.

Our favorites are “Modern Family,” “Big Bang Theory,” and “The Middle.”

The Middle features Frances “Frankie” and Mike Heck a working-class, Midwestern wife and husband who reside in the small fictional town of Orson, Indiana. They are the parents of three children, Axl, Sue, and Brick.

All the characters are great but my favorite is the youngest son, Brick.

Brick  loves to read and has a habit of repeating words from his previous sentence to himself in a whisper.

Another trait Brick has is his inability to lie.

If Frankie asks if Brick has done his homework, he will say, “Yes I did” but then will immediately whisper, “I’m lying.”

No matter how hard Brick tries he just cannot tell a lie.

Wouldn’t it be neat if we all had that “problem”?

But the reality is we all lie. From small lies to great big whoppers.

It’s in our nature.

And despite our lying tendencies, God wants to be in relationship with us.

And what is amazing about God is He already knows if we are lying or not.

God shines a light onto our darkness. God can find the lies in our hearts.

If God knows we are lying, why do we even try to lie? What is the purpose?

And in the end, the main people we hurt with our lies the most end up being ourselves.

The time we spend lying to God (and to others) could be spent better.

What if I were to tell you that you could pour out your heart to God at this moment, reveal (admit) your darkest secrets, and God would STILL forgive you?

What if I were to tell you that God has His eraser out and is ready to wipe away all the bad you have ever done?

My friends, there are no “IFS” to those last two scenarios.

God DOES forgive and forgets our sins.

God is ready to give us a clean slate.

And that’s the truth.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being our Eraser. Thank you for giving us the chance to start again. And again. And again. Amen.

31st Day of Lent 2013

Reading: Psalm 31: 9-16

I apologize for this being posted so late but something happened this afternoon that moved me to do a re-write.

I was at my gym for a training session with my awesome trainer, Tray, when all of a sudden the lights went out.

The whole gym fell in darkness.

I tried to continue my session (hey, I was in the middle of some serious planks!) but the managers came around informing everyone that no one could work out due to the blackout.

So the only thing we could do was to wait out the dark.

As I read our Psalm today, I get the picture of a writer who’s in the middle of his own blackout.

It sounds to me that he has spent a lifetime in darkness: physical pain, threats, and social isolation.

At the gym, we could not work out in the dark.

For this writer, he could not live because of the dark.

He could not move. He was stuck.

All he needs is a little light.

And that light comes from God.

But here is the point I want to make today:

While I was in the dark at the gym, I was not alone.

I was surrounded by friends and workout buffs.

And whenever we find ourselves in the dark (like the Psalm writer) GOD IS IN THE DARKNESS WITH US!

Because God’s love is “steadfast” (31:16).

According to Merriam-Webster, “steadfast” means “firmly fixed in place: immovable

So when the darkness surrounds us, God does not leave us!

God is there to go through the darkness with us.

And I find a lot of comfort and trust in that thought.

I hope you do too.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being our Companion in the dark and our Light that guides to safety. Amen.