Friday, December 28, 2012

Things to Stop Doing for a Better 2013 and a Better Life

It’s almost a new year. Most of us usually come up with a few things we want to do so that we have a better life: Exercising regularly, spending more time with family, and getting organized. All are noble endeavors. Most of us would do well at doing each of them or something similar. But true transformation happens when we stop doing certain things. Think about the possibilities of what your life would look like if you stopped doing the following:

Stop neglecting your relationship with God. Use God’s wisdom and resources to heal you and become the person God created you to become. 

Stop holding on to your past failures and hurts. You have failed before and you have been hurt. Your past will not define or predict your future unless you let it. Stop letting it. Instead of lamenting over past failures and hurts, learn from them, and do your part to make tomorrow better than yesterday. 

Stop running from problems and dysfunctional behaviors. Avoiding real issues that need to be dealt with are not going to move you forward in life. Prioritize and tackle your problems one at a time. 

Stop pleasing people. It is not possible to fully and continually please another person. So stop trying. Do you really want an imperfect person’s perceptions about you to determine your self-worth? Listen to people. Serve people. Love people. But don’t let others determine your value and happiness. 

Stop being indecisive about what you want. Find your passion and pursue it. Today. There are only so many tomorrows. A year from now, you will wish you had started today. You won’t get to choose when or how you are going to die. But, you can decide how you are going to live today. Define and chase your dreams. 

Stop being afraid to take a few risks. Your greatest regrets in life will not be times you have fallen or not succeeded. Your greatest regrets in life will be the opportunities you didn’t take. You can get up from a fall. You can’t make a shot you don’t take. 

Stop being ungrateful. Envy and jealousy are cruel criminals. They steal today’s blessings like no other. Every moment you spend practicing envy and jealousy, you miss the beauty of life’s many blessings. And you have many of them! You will not experience contentment if you don’t enjoy and if you aren’t intentionally thankful for your current blessings. 

Stop not living in the present. Life’s greatest moments are spontaneous and not planned. We can plan and create environments where great moments happen, but we must live in the present to experience the great moment. We were not created to be spectators in this once-to-be-lived-and-never-to-be-repeated life. We are participants. So participate. Today. 

The best is yet to come (especially if you are able to stop doing these things)... 


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Stories from The Water's Edge

Here is the video we showed at our Christmas Eve worship services on Sunday and Monday nights. It's so cool to see what an extraordinary God can do through ordinary people!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The King and the Humble Maiden

It's Christmas Day. We celebrate the birth of Jesus. Soren Kierkegaard tells a parable about why God came to the world as a human. Fully human and fully God.

There once was a king who loved a humble maiden. This king was of uncommon royal lineage. He was a king above kings, with power and might to make all others humble before him. Statesmen trembled at his pronouncements. None dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all who opposed him. The wealth of his holdings was unfathomable. Tribute arrived on a daily basis from lesser kings who hoped to gain his favor.

And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in the poorest village in his vast kingdom. He longed to go to this maiden and announce his love for her, but here arose the king’s dilemma: how to declare his love? Certainly, he could appear before her resplendent in his royal robes and surrounded with the Royal Guard, ready to carry her away in a carriage inlaid with gold and precious stones. He could bring her to the palace and crown her head with jewels and clothe her in the finest silks. She would surely not resist this type of proposal, for no one dared to resist the king.

But would she love him?

She might say she loved him. She might be awed by his royal splendor and tremble at the thought of being blessed with such an amazing opportunity. She might tell herself that she would be foolish to reject such a marriage proposal. But would she love him, or would she go through the motions all the while living a life of empty duty, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she love him or regret the moment of being face to face with the overwhelming grandure of the king?

Or would she be happy at his side, loving him for himself and not for his title or riches or power?

He did not want a wife who behaved as a subject to his royal decrees, cringing at his word and unwilling to do anything but agree with all he said and did. Instead, he wanted an equal, a queen whose love knew no restrictions or limitations. He wanted an equal whose voice would speak to him at all times without hesitation. Love with his beloved maiden must mean equality with her. He wanted a relationship with the woman that had neither barriers nor walls in which he was not a king and she was not a poor subject of the crown. The love shared between them would cross the chasm that threatened to keep them apart, bringing the king and peasant together and making the unequal equal. In short, he wanted the maiden to love him for himself and not for any other reason.

He had to find a way to win the maiden’s love without overwhelming her and without destroying her free will to choose. The king realized that to win the maiden’s love, he had only one choice. He had to become like her, without power or riches and without the title of king. Only then would she be able to see him simply for who he was and not for what his position made him. He had to become her equal, and to do this he must leave all that he had.

And so one night, after all within the castle were asleep, he laid aside his golden crown and removed his rings of state. He took off his royal robes of silk and linen and redressed himself in the common clothes of the poorest of the kingdom. Leaving by way of the servant’s entrance, the king left his crown, his castle, and his kingdom behind. As the next day’s sun rose in the east, the maiden emerged from her humble cottage to find herself face to face with a stranger, a common man with kindly eyes who requested an opportunity to speak with her and, in time, to court her for her hand in marriage.

And so the courtship continues.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thoughts on Christmas

The automatic piano in the hospital lobby plays and replays the old Christmas songs until their effect is like a child practicing a violin for the first time. Companies have Christmas parties that are like class reunions: people either really like them or really dislike them. People spend money they don’t have buying gifts people don’t need or even want. Fruitcake, lights hanging from roofs, Christmas movies, and Bruce Springsteen’s Santa Claus is Coming to Town all make their annual appearance. But despite culture’s efforts, we haven’t quite ruined Christmas.

John is the most succinct of the biblical writers when it comes to his account about Christmas. He simply says the Word became flesh. Theologians call it incarnation. Luke gives a few more details. Mary gives birth. It wasn’t easy for her. She and Joseph couldn’t afford the Embassy Suites and the Motel 6 was booked, so they found a barn. The local pharmacy was out of epidurals and the midwife was on vacation for the holidays, so Mary and Joseph were on their own. The birth wasn’t as peaceful as most nativity sets indicate. The blood, the pain, the fears, and the tears—they were all present. They had to be. But out of Mary’s agony came a fragile baby and the world hasn’t been the same since.

A worn out Mary looked into the eyes of the baby. She didn’t notice the blue or green or brown eyes. Instead she saw the Light of the World. The wiggly baby she held in her tired arms was the Resurrection and the Life. She fed from her breast the One who one day would defeat and destroy death. She experienced Christmas like nobody else ever has: God coming to be with us. 

It was dark outside that night. They couldn’t find a plug-in for the incubator, so Joseph built a fire to keep the baby warm. A warm flicker of light defeated the cold darkness of the world. It was a sign of things to come. 

The baby became a boy and the boy became a man. At the end of his life the tears, the fears, the pain, and the blood made their return and the world was about to change again. He rested in a wooden manger as a baby. Decades later he hung on a wooded cross as a man. His agony became our life. 

It’s a gift. In Latin it’s gratia. In Greek it’s charis. In English we simply call it grace. We can’t earn it. We don’t deserve it. It is available to all of us no matter how good or how bad we are and thank God for that! Now and in the end, there is nothing quite like the promise of God’s presence: God is with us. That is what Christmas and life is all about. 

Merry Christmas, 


Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Carols: Angels We Have Heard on High

We had over 850 people in worship on Sunday. Here is the message from the 9:00 a.m. worship experience. A DVD of the Christmas musical will be available on Sunday morning.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Give Us Your Peace

Dear God - 

In places like Somalia and Sudan – Connecticut and Korea 
Bullets fly - Children die - Parents cry 
Give us your peace 

Broken hearts 
Lives too short 
Fear of life and fear of death 
Give us your peace

Tears fall down our cheeks like rain from the sky 
Knots in our stomach and sleepless nights 
Worries about tomorrow compete for space in our mind with regrets from the past 
Give us your peace 

Restlessness, impatience, annoyances, intolerance, frustration, and anger 
They fill our lives like melted snow floods a fragile river 
Give us your peace 

Prince of Peace – Take our burdens and give us rest. 
Wonderful Counselor – Show us the way to peace. 

Through the deepest valleys 
In the darkest places 
During the times we are completely alone 
Show us the way to peace 

Peace with You 
Peace with others 
Peace with the world 
And peace with ourselves 
Give us your peace 

Dysfunction, dismay, and despair – They exist in the world. 
But you have overcome the world 
Help us to be overcomers who embrace your peace 

We give you our fears 
We offer you our failures 
Our hearts are no longer troubled because of your peace 

You are God and your peace surpasses all understanding 
Guard our hearts and our minds 
Teach us your presence is greater than our struggles. 
Give us your peace. 


Friday, December 14, 2012


This is Sunday's column. I wrote it a few days ago. Our Children's Christmas Pageant is Sunday morning at 10:30 and the following was written to share how Jesus and Paul use children as a metaphor for an abundant life.

The timing of this post is coincidental to the events of today. The school shooting in Connecticut is heartbreaking. Being the parent of a Kindergartener and hanging around an elementary school for the last seven years, my feelings are anger, fear, confusion, and sympathy. This column doesn't seek to address what happened today as if any column, from me or anybody else, could.

Children. Nothing quite like them. 

Childish. The mess on the family room floor. The loss of appetite when the Brussels sprouts and baked chicken come out of the oven and the simultaneous reemergence of the appetite when the key lime pie comes out of the refrigerator a few minutes later. They can be selfish, egocentric, unreasonable, quarrelsome, and spoiled. People don’t necessarily grow out of such things the way a baby grows out of diapers or the way a young adult grows out of acne. One has to make a concerted effort to put such behaviors behind us. Paul sums it up at the end of his discussion of love when he writes: 

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put my childish ways behind me. – 1 Corinthians 13:11 

Childlike. But it was Jesus who tells us to become like children. 

The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become childlike, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. -Matthew 18:1-4 

Jesus is talking to a group of childish men. They want to know about order of importance, pecking order, and how to get to the top. Their selfishness and egocentric life has emerged like cream rises to the top of a bowl of porridge. Then Jesus tells them they don’t really have a clue and they need to become a lot more like this little guy he just plucked from the crowd. The little boy stands there. All the disciples are looking at him. Jesus is talking about him. He is innocent: unable to wear a mask or be anything other than what he truly is. No point in neurotically comparing and competing against others when one is blissfully being oneself. His eyes are wide-eyed and full of faith when the great teacher summoned him. He is up for an adventure. 

This is what Jesus meant by humility. Not modesty, polite self-deprecation, or thinking ill of yourself. Not saying that you aren’t much of a poker player, when you and everybody else knows you are. It’s more like this: When the chips are down, the boy knew the cards in his hand. He didn’t pretend to be anything other than what he was and trusted in the one who called him. Authentic. Bona fide. Faithful. And that is more than enough. 

If God’s Kingdom is what you are seeking, Jesus says be like a child. It’s not an achievement you accomplish or a box you check-off. Instead, it’s a way of life and a rather splendid one at that. 

The best is yet to come… 


Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Carols: O Come All Ye Faithful

A sermon on how a life with Christ moves us from being doubtful, depressed, and defeated to faithful, joyful, and triumphant.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Prayer on Joy

Dear God, 

Sometimes I feel sad. 
Sometimes I experience regret and remorse. 
Sometimes my life is filled with disappointment, doubt, and despair.

Take away whatever is preventing me from embracing the joy You freely give.
Purify me from my sins. 
Remove the stain of my guilt. 
Make me pure and holy. 
Give me back my joy again. 
          I have been settling for less. Sometimes a lot less. 
Create in me a clean heart, O God. 
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation. 
Make me willing to obey You. (Psalm 51:7-12) 

Help me to find joy in all things: (Philippians 4:4) 
          The trials of life where I can grow and depend fully on You. (James 1:2) 
          The victories and successes because of my growth and Your grace. 
          Times of busyness and boredom. 
          And typical, normal, and ordinary days.

Transform dysfunctional and unhealthy relationships into flourishing friendships. 
Don’t let others steal or diminish my joy! 
Place people in my life who will bring me joy. 
Place people in my life I can share my joy with. 

Teach me to rejoice in hope, 
     be patient in tribulation, 
          and consistent in prayer. (Romans 12:12) 
Empower me to keep on asking for more of You 
     and more joy in my life. (John 16:24) 
Help me to trust in Your unfailing love 
     and not things of the world that will let me down 
          so that my joy depends only on You. (Romans 14:17) 
Lead me from any sorrows I currently am experiencing 
     to an abundant and eternal relationship with You— 
          a relationship filled with joy. (John 16:22) 

I give You my disappointment, doubt, and despair. 
I give You my regret and remorse. 
I give you my sorrows. 
Give me joy and help me receive and embrace it.