The Weekly Scriptures for the 1st Sunday in Advent: “Kitty Kat Wake Up Kall!” (Romans 13:11-14)

Reading: Romans 13:11-14

I love our cats. Daisy and Violet are two of the sweetest cats you will ever meet.

There is one downside to having cats.

You don’t get to sleep in anymore.

Like clockwork, every morning, Violet will start to sniff my eyebrow, and Daisy will head over and play with the blinds on the window.

It is their “loving” way of waking us and make sure we feed them.

I cannot tell you the number of times I wanted to ignore them.

But if I ignored them, they eventually would starve.

If I did not do what I am supposed to do as a cat owner, then the cats would be the ones who suffered.

And that is not fair to them.

It is my job…my call…as a cat owner to get up and do the work that needs to be done.

So now matter how badly I want to sleep in, I have to get up.

I have to get to work.

As Christians, it is our job…our call…to do the work that needs to be done.

We cannot stay in the bed forever.

Eventually, we have to get up, answer God’s alarm clock, and respond.

If we don’t, then it is not we who suffer but the people around us who are starving to see and witness the love of God.

Rather than hitting the snooze alarm, I encourage you to get up.

Stand up.

And get to the work that needs to be done.

The Weekly Scriptures for 1st Sunday of Advent 2013: Isaiah 2:1-5

When we lived in Arizona, we had the chance to visit the Grand Canyon.

In order to get to the Canyon, we had to leave the comfortable and warm confines of Tucson and head north where we confronted cold wind, snow, and ice.

As the one who drove the whole way, I can tell you that as we climbed the mountain the journey became more and more stressful. The roads were slick and the snow made it hard to see.

But once we got there, the view we saw took our breath away. And as I looked at the incredible expanse of the Canyon, I told myself the journey was worth it.

And then I was overcome with a wonderful peace.

And even as we had to travel the same roads to get back home, the peace that I found on top of the mountains stayed with me throughout our return.

In our lesson today, God is giving a new kind of peace to those who are making their own journeys.

For many, those journeys are filled with bad weather, bad memories, or bad feelings.

And the journeys are not the easiest ones to make.

But what is waiting for us on our journeys is so worth it!

God offers a peace that turns enemies into friends, strangers into friends, and the lost into the found.

It is a peace that stays with us.

And that peace will stay with us no matter how smooth or rough our journeys may be. Amen.

TOMORROW: Romans 13:11-14

Weekly Scriptures: “Welcome to Wrestlemania!!!”

Reading: Genesis 32:22-31

My life changed forever in the Fall of 1977.

I can remember the month.

It was September 1977.

That was when I was introduced to professional wrestling.

The show was Mid-Atlantic Wrestling and I was watching it with my dad.

The first wrestlers I ever saw were Ric Flair and Greg Valentine (the “heels” or bad guys) making fun of a wheelchair-bound Wahoo McDaniel.

They showed highlights of a recent match where Valentine won the Mid-Atlantic Championship from Wahoo and in the process broke Wahoo’s leg.

I remember watching Wahoo writhing in pain while Valentine and Flair went to work on the leg.

I remember the good guys, Ricky Steamboat and Paul Jones, making the save.

Then they went back to the interview and you could tell Wahoo was getting mad.

Dad was predicting Wahoo would attack both of the villains with his crutches.

My dad said, “Keep watching. He’s gonna get them!”

And I was captivated.

I have been a fan on pro wrestling ever since.

Now, I know some may laugh, and that’s okay.

I don’t hide from what interests me.

I love wrestling, I love comic books, I love sports of all kinds.

But it is week’s like this that I am SO glad I grew up a wrestling fan because in our reading today we get the original Wrestlemania.

And it’s from the Bible!!!

Take that, mom!

(SIDE NOTE: please don’t tell my mom I said that…)

And the Main Event is Jacob vs. …. Wrestler X.

In one corner you have Jacob, who comes from Canaan.

In a way, Jacob had been a heel most of his life.

Jacob was known for being a trickster.

He literally came out of the womb grasping his brother Esau’s heal.

Later he persuaded Esau to sell him his birthright and then Jacob tricked Isaac (his and Esau’s father) into blessing him instead of Esau.  After that Jacob moved to live with his uncle, Laban , in order to get away from an irate Esau. But he didn’t learn his lesson. Most of Jacob’s adventures in Genesis revolve around swindling somebody out of money and/or property. All his actions brought jealousy among Laban’s sons.

Eventually Jacob had to leave because he had made enough people mad.

So now Jacob has to come back home to Canaan.

He still has a major hurdle.

You see, prior to this reading, Jacob and his caravan have traveled into Esau’s territory.

And Esau is bound to remember all the bad things Jacob has done.

And Jacob is scared that Esau is going to come for revenge.

So Jacob has sent a big-time bribe to Esau to help ease the tension.

But Jacob isn’t sure it’s going to work.

And then comes Jacob’s opponent in this wrestling match: “Wrestler X.”

At first we don’t know anything about this man.

All we know is he appears at a time when Jacob is alone (having dispersed his caravan to difference places in order that Esau can’t kill every one).

Wrestler X wrestles Jacob.

This is not a 30-minute match.

This is a special “No Time Limit- There Must Be A Winner” event.

Jacob was winning so Wrestler X had to resort to breaking Jacob’s hip (or as we can call it “Pulling A Greg Valentine”).

But despite the injury, Jacob refuses to let go of Wrestler X unless he gets a blessing.


OK…Time Out…Why is Jacob wanting a blessing from Wrestler X?

I believe he realized he was wrestling an angel of God.

He knew that if he could beat an angel, he could…once again…swindle something out of it.

And he does get his blessing.

In fact he gets two.


The first blessing is a new name: “Israel.”

The second blessing is he gets to live.


In a way, Wrestler X is unmasked and is revealed to be God himself.


What makes this such a surprise is back then people believed that if you saw God face-to-face you were dead (or going to die).

But that didn’t happen with Jacob.

He lived.

Even after seeing God.

So his match with God actually provided him some courage and perspective.


His wrestling match with God puts Jacob’s mind at ease.

It assures Jacob that God is with him.


At a time when Jacob is scared of what might happen to him at the hands of Esau, Jacob is given a gigantic reminder that he does not face the future alone.


God is with him.

God never leaves him.

And no matter what happens, God will be there.

Even for a trickster like Jacob.


God is not Jacob’s opponent.

God is going to be Jacob’s tag team partner.


For many of us in this journey we call life we can find ourselves in moments where we need to know that someone loves us.

We need to know that when our lives go from good to bad that someone will be in our corner.


For those of you who are Christian, I can tell you that you will find your assurance at the font where you were baptized and given not only the gift of eternal life, but the gift of God’s promise.


A promise of presence and love and grace and forgiveness.


If you need more assurance, look no further than the Table.

As you eat the bread and drink the wine at Holy Communion, remember that God is saying, “I am giving this gift TO YOU.

This gift goes WITH YOU.

I…GOD…will go with you, too.”


For those of you who might be seeking (or non-believing), you have the same wants and needs.

You want to know that you do not go through life alone.

Even the biggest lone-wolves in the world occasionally need a helping hand or a guiding light.


If you feel that there is something lacking in your life and in your heart,

If you feel like you need help,


There is Someone ready to make the save.

This Someone does it out of love.

He will not make you feel guilty.

He will make you feel safe.

He will make you feel loved.


If God can love a trickster like Jacob, God can certainly love someone like you.


And I guarantee he does.


And it is a love you may have never experienced before, but once you do, you will want to hold on for dear life.

And the good thing (for Christians and non-believers) is that God is the one holding on to us!


The Weekly Scriptures: “The Card”

Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-14

My senior year at NC State was an emotional rollercoaster that featured a lot of highs and lows for me.

The lowest moment was when my grandmother, Albertine Oxner, passed away on November 16th.

I remember a lot about that day.

I called my professors and said I would be gone for about a week.

My friends hugged me and wished me well.

And then on the ride home, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” came on the air, and I cried like I never cried before.


In May of 1993, I graduated from college.

My family and I went back to my sister Tina and her family’s house in Garner for a celebration.

I got a lot of presents, hugs and cake.

I also was on the cusp of a new chapter in my life: a career.

I wasn’t sure what life outside of school would look like.

I wasn’t even sure if my first job was going to happen (SIDE NOTE: I had been promised the job, but the opening was not official until later that summer).

So while graduation should have been a time of pure joy, I was feeling a sense of dread.


And then I got a certain card.


As I read the card and saw who gave it to me, I started to cry again.


It was signed by my grandmother.


She must have signed it before she passed.

And she wanted me to know how proud she was of me.

That card made me feel like I had one more conversation with her.

And then I remembered how she fought so long against her illnesses and how she never let her health be an excuse.

My grandmother was a strong woman.

And her strength gave me strength.


When Paul writes Timothy a second letter, Timothy is just out on his own as a church planter/developer.

Timothy is being challenged by rivals who want to discredit Paul, Timothy, and the new “church.”

That is a lot for one guy to handle.


But then comes Paul’s letter.

And what makes this letter so powerful is that Paul is close to his own death.

Paul can see the ending.

And he is not afraid.

He knows where his “future residence” will be.

And this letter gives Timothy some much needed comfort and advice on how to handle the ups and downs of ministry.


So for the next few weeks we are going to dig into this letter to read how Paul’s words of encouragement can help us when we face challenges.

Consider the letter like a last correspondence from an old friend.


Or a beloved grandmother.

The Weekly Scriptures: “Who Gives a Habakkuk?!”

Reading: Habakkuk 1-3

When I was in a teenager, my Sunday School class had a computer game called “Bible Hangman.”

Which…looking back…is kind of a morbid game if you think about it…


The game was a favorite of the class.

We played it just like “Wheel of Fortune” where you kept your turn if you made a correct letter guess.

My favorite word was “Habakkuk.”

Because once you had those three “k’s” appear, the game was won.

But even though I knew how to spell Habakkuk, I never knew much about the man the book is named after.

To be honest, we didn’t really cover him in Seminary.

That is not a criticism, it is just a fact.

Habakkuk rarely comes up on any “Favorite Old Testament Prophet” lists.

There is little information about the prophet or when the book was written.

Which is a shame.

Even though the book is only three chapters in length, it packs a powerful and timely question: “Where is God in the middle of violence?”

Habakkuk uses the rare first-person narrative, which makes the book a dialogue between the prophet and God.

And it’s more than a dialogue, it’s a confrontation.

Habakkuk sees his small country of Judah as the meat in a “War sandwich” (Babylon and Egypt being the bread).

He knows trouble is brewing with foreign powers, but there is plenty of corruption from within the country.

The rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer.

And Habakkuk cries out, “Where are you, God?”

What Habakkuk finds out is that God IS there.

God has not (and NEVER will) abandon His people.

In a twist, God admits He is the one sending the foreign armies because the people of Judah have become irresponsible.

They have mistreated the poor in their midst and (most importantly) they have failed to recognize the one true God and have fallen into idolatry.

So God, the Parent, is teaching his children a very painful lesson.

But no matter how angry God is with his children, He still loves them very much.

That will never change.

Because God never changes.

And God never leaves.

Habakkuk’s talk with God gives him the hope he needs to remain faithful to God’s promises.

And the book ends with a beautiful oath.

Face with hardships, Habakkuk vows to rejoice in God, because it is God alone who gives him confidence.

Even though Habakkuk is not a well-known book, it can easily become a well-loved one.

The book is a journey from Crisis to Calm.

The book speaks to us in this time where we are surrounded by war, famine, and political struggles.

Maybe God is trying to get our attention.

Who knows?

But what I do know is that wherever you find yourself on this journey we call life, God is with you.

God is talking to you.

God is listening to you.

Because God DOES give a “Habakkuk.”



The Weekly Scriptures: “CM God”

Exodus 32: (1-6) 7-14

Let me get this out there in the open.

I am still a mark for Pro Wrestling.

Been a fan since I was five years old, and I will always be a fan.

Today, pro wrestlers live and die not only on their work in the ring but their work on the mic.

And wrestlers have a “script” they have to follow.

The “script” is the main talking point the wrestler has to convey.

Sometimes, a wrestler goes “off script” or “shoot.”

A few weeks ago, my favorite wrestler, CM Punk, went WAY off script and addressed a man booing him from the seats.


CM Punk was simply frustrated and he let someone have it.


And Punk is not the only one this happens to.


I can say that everyone has a moment (or moments) when frustrations are taken to the extreme.


And when that happens, we just have to go “off script” and let someone have it.


In most cases, it’s just talk.


Most cases.


Today in our readings we get the story of The Golden Calf.


And in this story, the (recently freed/rescued) people of God make a serious mistake.


They turn their allegiance away from God and to a man-made idol.


Since the end of chapter 24, Moses has been up on the mountain top with God.

And God has been giving Moses instructions and laws on how the people are to live in the Promised Land.

Moses had been gone a long time.

40 days and 40 nights.


That is a long time for a leader to be away from his people.


It’s not like Moses had a iPhone where he could text the people and keep them updated.

Moses did not have a Facebook account where he could say, “Hanging out with the Big G and will be back soon, peeps!”


So the people were getting restless.

And the people have a tendency to get impatient VERY fast.

And so, for some reason, they decide they can’t wait any more, and they need to worship SOMEBODY, so they go to Aaron, Moses’ brother and second-in-command.


They tell (order?) Aaron, “Make gods for us!”

And rather than standing up to the people, Aaron goes all “weak-kneed” and does what they want.

And so the people turn from God towards a “new” god: the calf.


In a way, they go to worship themselves.


But the Lord knows what’s going on.


And he is about to go all “CM Punk” on the people.


He calls the people “stiff-necks.”


And God is not going to just talk a big game, He is going to consume them.


But then Moses steps up.


Moses, who has done everything God has asked of him, now has to stand up to The Boss.

Moses reminds God that it was GOD (not Moses) who saved the people.

And if God destroys the people, the only winners are the Non-Believers.


I hate to say it this way, but Moses tells God that He is going to take a major PR hit.


In a way, Moses is asking/pleading God to repent (turn from his wrath) and change his mind.

“Remember Your promise you made to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.”


God made a promise a long time ago to care for the people.


And God doesn’t break promises.


So God listens.

God calms down.

And God changes His mind.



Crisis averted!


Now some would say this makes God look weak.

Some would ask, “What kind of God do we worship if He changes his mind like that?”


But those people miss the point.


This story tells us that God ACTUALLY LISTENS to us!

God does not just talk TO us, God listens as well.


Now I don’t think for a second God forgot his promise to Abraham.


I believe for that moment He simply regrets seeing what His people have done with his love and care.


But being regretful doesn’t mean God is going to forget what He promised.


Yes, God can get frustrated with us.

In fact, God can get down right mad with the way we act.


But God is never going to stop loving us.


God made a promise that He will keep.


And I think that is Good News for us.


When we know we have disappointed God, we can say, “Lord, we messed up.”


And God will always say, “Yes. Yes you have.

BUT I still love you.

I will ALWAYS love you.”


In a way, God is a mark for us.


And that’s a good thing.

The Weekly Scriptures: “First Day of School”

Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Over the last two weeks, many proud parents have shared on Facebook pictures of their children heading off to school.

And many of those children are heading off to school for the very first time.

And with that first ever day of school comes a very difficult scenario for parents:


Letting their children go.


When my dad dropped me off at kindergarten, I remember we both cried.

I didn’t want to go, and he didn’t want me to go without him.


But he had to let me go.


He had to let me go and start this new phase in my young life.

And that is the same for all parents.

And that it is a very hard thing for parents to do.


But before parents send their children off to school, they will give their children last minute instructions:

“Be nice to your teachers”

“Be nice to other children”

“Don’t forget that I love you!”

“I’ll be right here after school to pick you up!”


The book of Deuteronomy can be seen as one long sermon given by Moses to the Israelites.

It is a sermon about Torah (“law”).

Moses has led the Israelites from slavery to their own land.

However, Moses will not be joining them in this new land.


Moses has to let go.


So before Moses “let’s his people go,” he gives them last minute instructions on how to live in this new land that has been given to them by God.


Which brings us to our reading today from Chapter 30 verses 15-20.


Moses is giving the people two options:

believe in God or

believe in other gods.


If the people believe in God, then God will bless them as they live in the Promised Land.

If they turn away from God and worship other gods…well…things won’t turn out so good.


When Moses gives the people the two options, he is not threatening them.


He is acting like a parent learning to let go.


He is reminding the people of the God who loves them.

He is reminding the people of the God who delivered them from slavery into freedom.

He is encouraging the people of the God who will be with them every step of the way.


He is imploring the people not to turn away from this God.


Just like parents who implore their children to listen and obey their teachers.

The parents are not threatening their precious children.

They are encouraging their children to be the best they can be.


And that is what Moses wants from his people.

He wants them to be the best believers they can be.

And in order to do that, they have to make a decision.


Moses can’t make that decision for them.

Moses can’t make the journey for them.

Parents can’t make the decision for their children.

Parents can’t go to school in place of their children (NOTE: although many kids probably WISH this was an option!)


Moses has done all he could.

It is now up to the people as to who they will serve.


But even if the people make good or bad decisions, there is one bit of Good News they can hold on to:

God’s steadfast love.

The same love that saved them.

The same love that will protect them.

The same love that will provide for them.


It is the same love I see when a parent is standing at the bus stop ready to welcome home his or her child after that first day of school.

It is the same love I saw from my family when they met me at my bus stop and took me to Burger King for a celebration dinner.


It is the love that never lets go.

The Weekly Scriptures: “Goodbye and Good Luck”

Hebrews 13:1-8

Last Friday I had the opportunity to meet my nephew, Josh, in Salisbury, NC.

Josh was in Salisbury for his first interview with the Candidacy Committee of the NC Synod.

He also was leaving right after the meeting to head to Minnesota where he was beginning his serminary education at Luther Seminary.

So this was going to be the last time I would see him for a while.

We got together at the local Starbucks. (SIDENOTE: I fear that I am becoming addicted to the Hot Chocolate).

We talked about so many subjects including his year-long mission work in Jerusalem, his new apartment in Minnesota, and his beloved Clemson Tigers.

As Josh was heading to the Synod office, I gave him some small advice as he was beginning this new phase in his life.

I won’t share that advice here, but it was a small list of things to do and not do.

And I wanted it to be the last thing we talked about so it would resonate with him.

Our reading today comes from the 13th chapter of Hebrews. This is the last chapter in the book (or as I call it “an essay”).

And the writer wraps up his essay with a series of admonition: a list of what to do and what not to do.

And these “do’s” are topics the writer has covered in one form or another throughout his essay.

Love one another,

Serve others,

Remember the tortured & imprisoned,

Keep marriage sacred,

Do not fall in love with money,

Be imitators of those who spoke of Christ


The most important comes in verse 8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”


No matter what happens in our lives, the love of God which we witness in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is always there.

It is always the same.

It is steadfast.

So what that means for us is when our lives are filled with inconsistencies, God is consistent.

When our lives are filled with the unknown, God is the known.

When our lives are crazy, God is the calm.


Whenever you find yourself in a need of God, I would recommend this text.


Let this text be your prayer, your devotion, and your ears so that you can see and hear that God IS in your life, at that moment, watching over you and loving you.


It is the same message I gave Josh before we said goodbye.

I told him how proud I was of him.


And I told him how proud my dad would be of him.


But most importantly I told him that my love for him was constant and that it would always be there for him.

It is the same promise God makes to each of us.


It is the same promise God keeps.

The Weekly Scriptures: “The Dwight Schrute Way”

Proverbs 25:6-7

As we read our text for the day, I can’t help but think of Dwight Schrute.


Dwight Schrute was a character played by Rainn Wilson on the NBC Comedy “The Office.”


According to Wikipedia, Dwight was “notorious for his lack of social skills and common sense, his love for martial arts and the justice system, and his rivalry with fellow salesman Jim Halpert.”


There were times Dwight would rise to the position of Branch Manager, but often he served as a second or third in command as “Assistant Regional Manager.”


And whenever he pronounced this “coveted” title, someone, usually Michael Scott (play by Steve Carrell), had to correct him by saying Dwight was the Assistant TO THE Regional Manager.


There were many times Dwight took himself a little too seriously.


Often Dwight thought he knew how to run things, but later he would find out (usually after a fiasco) that he really had no clue.

To me, there are times when Christians act too much like Dwight Schrute and not enough like Jesus.


There are times when Christians act like they (we) are better than other people (especially those who are non-believers, skeptics, or practice another religion).

There are too many Christians who go around and judge other Christians because they disagree on scripture interpretation.


There are times when we as Christians think that the church cannot survive unless we are a part it.


Sadly, I have seen this in the form of pastors who give themselves too much credit and as a result begin to believe in their own hype that people have to come to see him or her and not to hear about Jesus.


And I have seen this in the form of disgruntled members who have threatened to leave a congregation in hopes that the congregation will simply fold because a member (or family) have left.


When we as Christians act like this, we fool ourselves into thinking we are kings.


Or in this case, THE king.


But there is only one King… AND WE AIN’T HIM!


Jesus calls us into a life of discipleship and service.


That means we are called to be “students” and “servants.”


Those are our roles.



As the Harper Collins study bible says, “It is better to recognize one’s subordinate status than to lose face, a form of shame.”


God calls us into a humble life.

We do not seek credit.

We do not seek accolades.


We only seek to SERVE.

We only seek to make the lives of those around us better.



I guess what I am trying to say is this:


Don’t “Dwight Schrute” your faith.


Don’t be someone you’re not.


Be the person, the Christian, God has called you to be.


Be the person who needs The Light, not “the limelight.”


The Weekly Scriptures: “The Book of Essay”

Hebrews 12:18-29

When I was in school, there was one assignment was number 1 on my “I really don’t like doing this” List.

The Essay.

If I remember, my first essay was around 5th or 6th grade, and it was a page long.

It all went downhill after that.

Each year the teachers seemed to add another page to The Essay.

By the time I was in Seminary, that stinker was over 25 pages in length!


(SIDENOTE: I feel it is important to apologize to all my Seminary professors who had to read my essays. I believe after reading my work, each and every one of them said, “Well, that’s an hour I’ll never get back.”)


I knew that my academic future was in danger when my essays would start with, “Ahem…Well now…Theology…Crazy topic, right?”


What I am getting at is I was never good at writing long-form works.


The person who wrote Hebrew doesn’t have that problem.


Hebrews is a complex piece of work.

Now for years there has been a debate as to who actually wrote Hebrews.

Some say Paul, others say Not-Paul.

Personally, I lean towards Not-Paul.


Whoever wrote it, that person deserves a lot of credit because it is the best essay you can find in the New Testament.


One reason I make that claim is that Hebrews really brings the study of God (what we call “Theology”) to the forefront.


And that makes it a hard book to put into our Sunday readings.

Hebrews is best read as a whole, not in parts.

Because a point that is made in Chapter 11 can be connected to something back in Chapter 2.


That’s how complex the book is.

But it’s also how awesome the book is.


Faith is not always easily explained in a sentence or two.
Sometimes you have to go deep.

And so I am grateful for Hebrews goes deep.


So what does this have to do with our reading today?


“Ahem…Well now…Hebrews…Crazy topic, right?”


The writer is building up to something.

And by Chapter 12, the writer is in the homestretch.

Which is a good thing, since the book ends with the 13th chapter.


And if you, the reader, has not read the book prior to our lesson today, you might be asking yourself, “What in the heck is going on here?”

And I would understand that feeling.


It’s probably the same feeling my professors had after reading my “masterworks.”


So let me focus on one verse: “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…” (12:28).


The writer is talking about Heaven the City, not just Heaven the concept.


And this City is going last forever.



No one can destroy what God has built.


Yes, there are times when things look shaky in the house of the Lord (at least here on earth), but we have to remember that it is still the Lord’s house.

And we have been blessed with living in His house.


So many of us long for shelter.

So many of long for safety.


And God says, “Look! Here is the place you are looking for!”


Don’t think of it as entering into God’s building,


Think of it as entering into God’s Hands.


For once God has a hold on you, God is never letting go.


And all the demons in this world cannot snatch us away from Him.