Thursday, December 22, 2011

Love All 5 (Matthew 1:18-25)

Matthew 1:18-25

Can you imagine being Joseph in this scenario? A respected, hard worker known by everyone in town to be engaged to a young woman who everyone believes is pregnant with some other man's child. I suspect Joseph and Mary were the subject of much discussion in their small corner of the world. I suspect everyone called Mary nasty names and considered Joseph to be a patsy to still be marrying her.

Everyone knew the child Mary was carrying was not Joseph's. As they were officially betrothed, it was legal for Joseph to have Mary stoned because under the law of the time she was considered to be an adulteress. Yet Joseph decided to call off the wedding quietly and not try to recoup any pride he might have lost in this seemingly calamitous situation.

Joseph truly had to feel God calling him to this marriage to go through with it. There is no other explanation for why he would go forward with the wedding. Joseph showed true love for God when he showed compassion and love to Mary. Joseph's demonstration of love allowed God's love to come into the world.

Christmas comes in two days. No matter where you are in your Christmas preparations, it will arrive. Whether or not you have found ways to worship fully, spend less, give more, or love all, Christmas will come.

Christmas comes because God has made it come, not because we have made it come. Christmas comes because God’s love poured out upon his creation. If Joseph had refused to show love to Mary or if Mary had refused to be God's vessel, God would have found another way to bring Christ into the world.

If you have gotten nothing else out of this Advent devotional, get this: God loves YOU so much that He was willing to do anything to make a way to save YOU.

That is what Christmas is about. If we see Christmas for what it truly is - the celebration of God's amazing love for us - how can we do anything but give grace and mercy to everyone, just as we have received grace and mercy?

Father God, bless this Christmas. Bless our families, our homes, our comings and our goings. Give us an internal understanding of your love for us and let it permeate our hearts and our lives. Help us to be so filled with your love, that we can do nothing but pass it on to others.



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Love All 4 - Isaiah 9:2-7

Isaiah 9:2-7

This is a familiar passage of scripture that we often hear this time of year. It foretold the birth of the Messiah and gave great hope to the people of Isreal.

God loves his creation so much that He was willing to go to drastic measures and sacrifice for our good. God knew from the beginning of time that Jesus would be necessary to save us from our sins because we are unable to help ourselves.

No matter what we have done, are doing, or will do, God still loves us and wants to redeem us. God in His infinite love for us is willing to do whatever it takes to give us an eternity with Him.

What are we willing to do to show our appreciation for an eternity with God? Are we willing to try to follow His command to love all people? We know that we will fail - but are we willing to try and keep trying? Are we willing to be that strange person who refuses to build ourselves up at anothers expense? Are we willing to show care and compassion to people who others refuse to go near?

The love of God for all people which is exemplified by Jesus' birth, life and death promise an end to war, fear, and defeat. Are we willing to take the love that we have been given and share it with the world instead of hoarding it for ourselves?


Heavenly Father, Thank you for your love of us in the middle of our unlovliness. Give us the courage and the character to pass on your love to others who have need of it. Amen.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Love All 3 - Luke 6:27-36

Luke 6:27-36

Are we people who are ready for the truth? Not just the truth that the world gives to us, but the Truth that Jesus gives to us....

When I read the words that Jesus speaks in Luke today, it does not surprise me that the people cried out for Jesus to be crucified. Anyone with an ounce of self-righteousness (which would include 99% of humanity) would be offended by His words. All of those 'good' things that we do and pat ourselves on the back for doing are thrown out the window with today's passage.

How often do we truly do something 'good', for nothing? How often do we help other people we hate? Or remain anonymous when we donate goods, services, or money? Have any of us been struck down by words or fists and stuck around to offer our attacker another shot without trying to defend ourselves?

When we are attacked, we usually fight back or run away. When we do something positive, we usually want some kind of recognition.

I don't want to say that these reactions are completely bad. We train our children to do the right thing by giving them positive affirmation. Most of the time, avoiding physical or hurtful verbal conflict would certainly seem to be the prudent thing to do.

We have to be careful, however, not to equate being 'safe' with being 'right'.

Jesus didn't call us to be safe or right. He called us to love, just as He loved.

Father God, help us to feel truly loved by you and to share that love with others whether they return it to us or not. Amen.



Monday, December 19, 2011

Love All 2 - Mark 12:28-34

Mark 12:28-34

The Golden Rule - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a 'rule' that all of us learned in grade school. It is something that parents and teachers use in a variety of ways to help our children develop empathy and kindness.

Despite the way we use the "Golden Rule" for others, we don't always follow it ourselves. I like to be given the benefit of the doubt. I like to be respected. I like to be treated with compassion. Yet all too often, I find myself assuming others set out to hurt my feelings. I lose my temper and am disrespectful to my husband and son. I don't always feel compassion for the various losses and wounds that others have received in this life.

Jesus is reminding us to move beyond our egocentric viewpoint in this passage. Our human nature is to focus on ourselves: our victories and our losses, our real or imagined hurts, our joys and our disappointments. It is so easy for us to live for ourselves instead of others.

Jesus was born for us, not for himself. Jesus lived for us, not for himself. Jesus died for us, not for himself.

How can we honor the one whose name we bear unless we, too, live for others?
When you show love today to someone you find unlovely (either in the moment or most of the time) try to see life from their point of view and try to see yourself through their eyes.

Almighty God, help us to treat everyone the way we want to be treated, no matter how provoking or disgusting we find them. Help us remember that we are all your children and therefore loved and valued equally by You. Amen.



Sunday, December 18, 2011

Love All 1 - Matthew 5:13-16

Matthew 5:13-16

The phrases "salt of the earth" and "don't hide your light under a bushel basket" are commonly used phrases in the English vernacular that came from this passage of Scripture. We might be inured to their meaning because they have been used so often but the message behind them is very important.

In the time of Jesus, salt and light were two very precious things. Light came from oil lamps, and oil was not to be squandered. Salt used to be such a precious commodity that Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in it instead of in coin.

When Jesus is talking about Christians being the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world", this is a big deal. Food without salt is bland and in the time of Jesus, more often than not, rotten. Our world without light is a dark and frightening place.

Jesus is trying to say that the world needs His disciples. Christians help to make Earth a better place IF we live our lives the way Jesus taught us to live. If we are the people who Jesus calls us to be, we can make a tremendous difference in this world, just as salt makes a tremendous difference in our food and light makes a tremendous difference in the darkness.

Just like salt and light spread to flavor and illuminate the whole, rather than the part, we are called to share God's love with everyone - not just those whom we like.

This is the last week of Advent. It is the last week we have to prepare for the coming celebration of the birth of Christ. My challenge to each of us this week is to share the love of Jesus with someone we find unlovely. That might mean getting coffee for a co-worker you don't like. It might mean having loving kindness for a family member who is causing you aggravation. It might mean treating the person on the corner of the intersection with dignity by looking them in the eye as you drive by - even if you don't give them anything.

Whatever it is, find a way each day to show love to someone in some way that is not easy for you.

Heavenly Father, help us to love others as you love us. Remind us that without the cover of your grace and mercy we are as unlovely to you, as others sometimes are to us. Give us an measure of your grace and mercy as we strive to be the salt and light of this world for you. Amen.



Thursday, December 15, 2011

Give More 5 (Matthew 5: 43-48)

Matthew 5: 43-48

It is hard to love and it is hard to forgive. It is even hard to love and forgive the people in our own families sometimes let alone those people we don't even like.

When was the last time you offered love and grace to someone who really makes you clench your teeth? It's really hard.

Praying for people who irritate me is usually the last thing I think of doing. I tend to want to dwell on my anger or frustration. I talk to my friends to get confirmation about how annoying and inappropriate a person or their comments are. I completely do the opposite of what Jesus is telling us to do in this passage. Instead of forgiving and loving the people who hurt me, I hold my bitterness close and feed it.

I sometimes even find myself disliking those whom I usually love when their behavior is unattractive or hurtful towards me or others. I read recently that the moment we are "...most repelled by [our] child's behavior, that is [our] sign to draw the very closest to that child." I suspect that directive could be applied almost anywhere in our lives and interactions with others.

Giving more love is never a mistake.

The love we offer might be rejected, but it is never a mistake to offer it. If we stand in the amazing and infinite love that God gives to us, then we can stand to be rejected or hurt by others in this life.

Who in your life can you be more available to emotionally and mentally? It might be someone you love or it might be someone you hate. When you reach that point with another person where you want to throw your hands up and walk away, stop. Ask God to help you reach down deep within yourself and into His love to give more to that person than you thought was possible.

Father God, you give us more than we can receive or reciprocate. Help us to find the well deep within us that is filled by you. Help us to reach into that well of love for those we consider unlovable and unforgivable. Amen.



Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Give More 4 (Luke 6:37-38)

Luke 6:37-38

How much better off would most of us be if we gave and received more grace? Judgement and condemnation don't lead to good feelings and miraculous change or improved disposition. They lead to shame, guilt, feelings of unworthiness and usually an increase in the behaviors that caused the condemnation and judgement in the first place.

This is a very difficult cycle for us to stop because it is in our nature to condemn and judge. Think of how often little children tattle on one another. We naturally tend to give bad behavior much more attention than good behavior.

If you look at how Jesus handled misbehavior (sin) in the Gospels it should come as no surprise that his response was in direct contrast to how the people around him responded. With the woman caught in adultery, Jesus didn't pick up a stone even though stoning was the penalty for her crime under the Law. Rather he helped the angry mob to realize that all of them were guilty of sin and deserving of punishment. At this realization, the mob disbursed. Then Jesus told the woman that he did not condemn her but that she should go and change the direction of her life. He offered her grace and an opportunity to make better choices.

When we sin, make bad decisions, and hurt others we already feel bad. To have others compound those feelings isn't helpful. It also isn't helpful to pretend that the bad choices were not made. Simply acknowledging that the error is there and giving an opportunity for grace is a much better way to deal with each other's sin than emphasizing how bad the other person is for whatever action they did or didn't do.

This week try giving more grace - to yourself as well as to everyone around you whether you know and love them, dislike them, or know them not at all. See if it doesn't change your small corner of the world in a radical way.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the grace you give us. Thank you for the coming of Jesus that gives us freedom from condemnation. Help us to follow His example and give grace rather than judgement. Amen.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Give More 3 (Matthew 5:3-12)

Matthew 5:3-12

Giving more can be painful. It can be painful financially, it can be painful emotionally, and it can be painful mentally - but giving more will never be painful spiritually. In fact, it will be the opposite. The more you give, the more you will be spiritually fulfilled because when we give more, we make more room for God in our lives.

Jesus gives voice to so many paradoxical statements like those found in The Beattitudes because His kingdom is in direct conflict with the 'kingdom's' in this world. We lust after power but through his sacrificial life and death, Jesus scorned it. We chase after earthly happiness but Jesus sought joy in eternity. We look for immediate gratification but Jesus sees the fullness of time.

I truly believe that the ability to give more is simply a matter of perspective: like being able to shift your focus so that you see the vase instead of the profile in the picture. If we can keep our hearts focused on Christ, we will naturally desire to give more. Here are some good ways to re-shift your focus on a daily basis:
-Set your alarm during the day to remind you to pray or read the Bible.
-Tape a note or picture to the bathroom mirror that reminds you that the eternal is more important than the temporal.
-Have someone check in with you to keep you accountable for the way you are spending your resources of time, money, and natural talents.

God, we want to honor you in our daily lives and we are sorry that so often our good intentions are left behind us in the morning hours. Forgive us and help us be the people you designed us to be. Amen.



Monday, December 12, 2011

Give More 2 (Mark 10:17-31)

Mark 10:17-31

Without God, it is impossible for us to give as much as we are able. If we rely on our own generosity and good-will, we will constantly be disappointed in ourselves and those around us.

As the rich young man in the scripture story this morning discovered, the more we have, the harder it is to let it go. It is part of our human nature that the more worldly goods we accumulate the tighter we hold on to them. It is also part of our nature to think that just a little more money, love, or stuff will make us happier. This lie makes it very hard for us to let go of anything or give anything to the point of sacrifice.

But it is to sacrificial giving that God calls us.

We are to imitate God, our beloved Heavenly Father, just as our children imitate us and we imitate our beloved, earthly parents. God gave us the biggest sacrifice of all - Himself. God subjected Himself to all that comes with the human condition- temptation, physical pain and weakness, death and seperation from Himself - in order to save us from ourselves.

We can all give more than we do, we just choose not to. What we have to keep in mind is that what we choose today, is also a choice for or against eternity. On our own we might not be able to choose to give more, but God can help us to do so.

Almighty God, help us to give more than we think we can. Give us courage and bravery to do what we know we should do even when we don't want to do it. Give us a strong sense of the eternal that overwhelms our knowledge of the material and temporary. Help us to give our all to you and to what you call us to do for you in this world. Amen.



Sunday, December 11, 2011

Give More 1 (Matthew 4:18-22)

Matthew 4:18-22

It is ironic, but the person the whole Advent season revolves around usually isn't included on our gift lists. When we make out our Christmas gift lists we include family members, friends, and co-workers but we don't usually put Jesus on that list.

This year, maybe we should spend more time thinking about what we can give to the child who was born in a stable and placed in a manger to sleep.

When Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew, and then James and John to follow Him, these four men did not hesitate. They put down their nets and followed Jesus. This may not sound like a life-altering decision. In our minds we might think an equivalent action might be to stop washing the car or the dishes to go do something with our church for the day. The action of these four men, however, was much bigger than this. These men gave their lives to Jesus when they put down their nets and walked away from their boats and father. These men and their families lived day to day depending on the day's catch. A loss of a day's work would have tremendous consequences for them yet they chose Jesus over the safety of their regular routine.

Have we really chosen to gift our lives to Jesus? Are we mindful of how our daily actions honor or dishonor God?

If we choose to gift Jesus with our lives this Christmas it will change everything. It will change the way we think about others. It will change the way we interact with strangers and those we love. It will change the way we use the resources God has given to us. This Christmas, let's think about how we can spend less and yet give more.

Father God, help us to give our hearts to you. Help us to know that in your hands, our lives are in the safest place they could possibly be. Give us the ability to be generous with all the gifts you have given to us instead of keeping them for ourselves. Amen.



Thursday, December 8, 2011

Spend Less 5 - Matthew 6:25-35

Matthew 6:28-35

In 2010, the United States ranked 18th in Global World Income per capita. According to this study, the average American makes $47,000.00 annually. The average income per capita annually worldwide, however, is $9097.00. This is because between Libya (#71 on the list) and Burundi (#215 on the list) the annual income per capita drops from $12,020.00 to $160.00.

Can you imagine trying to keep your family fed, sheltered, and clothed on that average amount of money? For most of us reading this blog today, that is an idea that is absolutely ridiculous. And yet the majority of the world lives in just such a way. 23% of the children in Texas live in poverty while over half of the kids in Texas live in low-income families. That means that half of the families in Texas make less than $38,314.00 for a family of four. Think of how these families live and how hard it is for them to make ends meet and then think of those outside of America who live in even more desperate poverty.

Most of us reading this today are rich by most people's standards. We have computers and access to the internet. All of our children have access to education for free. We have cars and jobs. We have a TV, video games, and MP3 players. We have to actually exercise to stay at a healthy weight because of our abundance. We all have more than enough.

We don't need to worry about tomorrow - but there are people who do. God has placed us in the positions we are in to care for those who are in need. Let's spend less on ourselves so that we can give more to those who really need it.

Heavenly Father, thank you for putting us in a place of abundance. Help us to remember that with abundance comes the responsibility to share with others. Help us to always keep in our hearts the attitude of giving and humbleness that Jesus exemplified for us while he was on Earth. Amen



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Spend Less 4 - Luke 16:19-31

Luke 16: 19-31

Depending on where you live in the Greater Austin area you may see more of less of the multitude of homeless and poverty stricken men and women begging at the street corners. I drive through the intersections of several of the main roads in Austin every day and it is not unusual for me to see 3-4 men and women at every intersection.

I see men and women sitting under the overpasses with all their worldly possessions at their sides. I have seen pregnant women, old women, young women. I have seen men holding up signs begging for money to pay for their medical care so that they don't orphan their children. I have seen veterans with obvious wounds from the war. I have seen men and women of different ages, races, and educational levels standing on the street corners asking for the help of those passing by.

Sometimes I see people and I give them something. But more often than not I drive on by without making eye contact because I am ashamed to not be sharing my abundance with them. What makes me so ashamed when I willfully drive by those who have less than me is that I recognize my greed. I don't ignore them because I can't afford to share money or food with them. I drive by them because I would rather spend the money on myself and my family. I would rather buy that $4 holiday latte from Starbucks or go meet my girlfriends for lunch than give the 'out of work Dad' $10 or a bag of groceries. I would rather go buy something for myself or my family at that great BOGO sale than provide a warm shirt or a sleeping bag for someone who sleeps under the bridge at night.

My greed is fueled partly by my desire to fit in and partly by laziness. I want fit in and not stand out because I am wearing something that is a little worn or not as fashionable as it was last year. I don't want to spend hours clipping coupons or making sure I go to the grocery store with the best sales that week.

The parable Jesus tells us today is a little shocking. Do we really choose whether we get our reward on earth or in heaven by the choices we make in this transient lifetime?

I don't know for sure. What I do know, however, is that Jesus calls us to share what he gives us. If he has given to us abundantly, we have a greater responsibility to share that abundance with those who have lack.

If we spend less on ourselves and our families so that we could give more to those who are truly in need we might be surprised at how little we feel deprived. Maybe by sharing what we have with others, we can find joy in our salvation rather than joy in the transitory feeling of acquisition.

Father God, forgive us for passing by all those who are living such desperate lives of poverty. Help us to want and need less so that we can share with others out of the abundance you have graciously given to us. Amen.



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Spend Less 3 - Matthew 6:19-24

Matthew 6:19-24

Have you ever felt a moment of complete contentment? If you have, it probably had nothing to do with anything you bought or were given or achieved. It probably had to do with an internal feeling of wholeness that had something to do with God. Earthly things alone can't give us contentment. It is just a part of how we are created. St. Augustine wrote in the 4th century that "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord."

The imprint of the divine that we have deep within us seeks out God. We try to calm that restlessness with all sorts of other things our entire lives - earthly succesess, material goods, mind altering substances, even trying to control our bodies through unhealthy methods. All of these things that we find ourselves obsessing over are ways we try to seek contentment. But we will never really find contentment until we seek it in God.

If we are constantly chasing after things of this world, we cannnot chase after God. It is like a person who has an affair outside of their marriage. You cannot be committed and faithful to two people at the same time no matter how hard you try.

God wants us to choose Him. Not because it is good for him, but because it is good for us. When we make a conscious choice to choose God every day, we have less of a need to run in the rat race or keep up with the neighbors because we realize that our value doesn't lie in what we posess or in what others think of us. Our value lies in the fact that God loves us, totally and completely.

Almighty God, help us to choose you over the world. Help us learn how to focus more on you so that the world we live in becomes a place for us to improve life for others, rather than a place where we compete with others. Amen.



Monday, December 5, 2011

Spend Less 2 - Luke 3:1-14

Luke 3:1-14

John the Baptist speaks his prophetic wisdom to a culture that has become greedy. He warns those who come to him that claiming their faith as protection will not work on its own. When asked what they should do to remain faithful to God, John advises practicing contenment and generosity. He tells the people to share what material goods they have with those who have less and to be content with having 'enough'.

The question for us today, as people who also live in a culture of greed and excess, is what constitutes 'enough'? It is hard for us to stop accumulating things. We like to have the newest iPhone and computer. We like to be fashionable. We like to go to Starbucks and out to eat.

We tend to compare our lifestyles to those people we see on TV or read about in magazines. Most of these people live lifestyles that spend an outrageous amount of money. Would it be fun to live like that? Sure. But as Christians, would we feel good about it? I don't know.

What I do know is that we tend to want a lot more than we actually need. What if we stopped buying everything we wanted and for the most part, only bought those things that we needed? Would your life look and feel differently? Would you feel deprived? Or would you be surprised that you don't miss what you don't have? Would you be embarrassed in front of others at leaving the race to collect 'stuff'? Or would you find a new contentment in your life?

Why don't we try it and see?

Heavenly Father, help us to be content with our lives. Help us to see the world through your eyes instead of our own. Give us the strength and committment to share what we have with others and to learn how to want less. Amen.



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Spend Less 1 - Luke 2:1-7

Luke 2:1-7

When we think about Christmas what first comes to mind isn't necessarily the Christ-child. Rather, we often think about presents wrapped and waiting under a decorated tree and stockings filled to the brim with goodies and surprises.

How did we get from the first Christmas when the Savior of the world was born in a barn and placed in a trough for his bed to where we are today where it is common to take out a loan from the bank or rack up debt on a credit card in order to buy mountains of presents for people in our lives?

When did Christmas become less a reason to celebrate God's incarnation into our world and lives to save us and more a reason to go out and spend money on things we don't really need?

Think of all the need in the world and all the money that we spend on our families at Christmas. Wouldn't some of that money be better spent helping strangers who are hungry, cold, and uneducated? People who can't turn on a faucet to get water that won't make them or their children ill? People who have curable diseases and sicknesses who can't afford to get the medicine to save themselves or their family members?

What if we all spent less on ourselves and our loved ones this Christmas and gave more to people who really need what we can provide for them?

It seems to me that if we all chose to give at least one less gift to people we know and used that money to help someone in need, that would truly be honoring the meaning of Christmas: the celebration of God's gift of life to each of us through the birth of Jesus.

Father God, forgive us for not remembering what Christmas is really about. Help us to know the true meaning of Christmas and to orient ourselves towards you in this Advent season. Amen.



Thursday, December 1, 2011

Worship Fully - Day 5 (Luke 2:8-20)

Luke 2:8-20

Have you ever noticed that when an angel appears in the Bible with a message the first thing the angel says is 'Do not be afraid!'. The shepherds were having a quiet night in the fields when all of a sudden and magnificent light appeared in the air before them and began to speak! It's amazing to me that the shelters wee able to follow the directions given to them!

Can you imagine the scene? One angel appears and tells you about the birth of the messiah. He has come to you! A person who is not very important in the world scene. A person with no political influence or wealth. And yet, God has come to you to announce the birth of the long awaited Savior! Not only has this news been given to you, but you have also been commanded to go and see and worship the Christ child. What an amazing honor! You have no gifts worthy to give this child. You have no ability to keep him or his family safe in this world filled with fear and darkness. Yet, you have been invited into the Holy presence of God to worship.

This is not an invitation to be taken lightly.

Each year, we are each given the opportunity to come before the Christ child and worship the Almighty who came as a helpless child in order to save the world. Jesus came to be with you and save you.

Will you come and worship? Or will you stay where you are and miss the miracle of God breaking into our world to meet us on our level?

Heavenly Father, draw close to us that we
might draw close to you. Help us to worship you with all of our heart, mind, and soul this Christmas. Amen.



Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Worship Fully - Day 4 (Luke 1:67-79)

Luke 1:67-79

Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were very old before they conceived the child who would become John the Baptist. God gave them a great miracle for which they were both very thankful. Zechariah, however, lost his ability to speak until after the birth of John because he did not believe the angel who brought the news that Elizabeth would bear a child.

Today's scripture records the first words that Zechariah speaks after John's birth. Zechariah has had at least nine months to think of all the things he should have said when God's graciousness was announced to him. At the very first opportunity he has to speak, Zechariah's words are solely in praise of God.

How do we respond when God does amazing things for us? Do we turn to praise Him only momentarily and then move on to complain about the next 'problem' in our lives? Are we thankful that He has taken notice of us at all or are we filled with a sense of entitlement and expect God to fix everything for us and turn away from Him if he doesn't?

We are more loved than we can ever know by the Most High God- the Creator of everything. We should worship Him with unending praise simply because He is our creator. The fact that He cares for us should astound and overwhelm us.

Take time today to worship our God and our King. Even if it is for just a few minutes. Give our magnificent, steadfast, loving God the worship that is His due.


Father God, forgive us for inflating our importance and being so self- involved. Help us to reach outside of ourselves to truly worship and honor you today and every day. Amen


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Worship Fully - Day 3 (Luke 1:45-55)

Luke 1:45-55

Mary sang this wonderful song of worship and praise to God when it was confirmed by her cousin Elizabeth that she was truly pregnant with the long awaited messiah. Instead of being filled with fear at the situation she found herself in (as an unmarried, pregnant teenager with an uncertain future), Mary turned to God and worshipped Him.

Instead of complaining to God about the difficult situation He had put her in, Mary praised God for His care of those who are small and poor in the world's eyes. Rather than asking God to make Joseph marry her and secure her earthly position, Mary gave thanks to God for choosing her as His servant. Instead of asking God to make sure her life was easy because she was bearing the Christ child, Mary praised God for fulfilling his promise to deliver his people.

Mary knew that worship is about God, not her. When Mary praised God for His actions, the praise was all about God and not about Mary. Worship is participating in something outside of ourselves, for something other than our own need. To fully worship God is to recognize God's greatness and our smallness and yet be truly aware of His great love for us.

When we open ourselves to God's greatness and holiness, we can not help but truly worship.

Almighty God, you come to us as a small, helpless baby. Help us to see your greatness shining out of that manger throne in Bethlehem and open our own hearts to fully worship you and you alone. Amen.CS


Monday, November 28, 2011

Worship Fully - Day 2 (Matthew 2:1-12)

The Magi (or wise men as we traditionally call them) traveled from a far country to worship the baby king of the Jews that had been foretold through their reading of astrological signs. They caused quite an uproar among the leaders in Jerusalem as they vocally searched for the child.

A baby that would become the King of the Jews was quite a threat to the established political and religious regimes. No one seemed to think that maybe they should also go with the Magi in order to truly worship this child who had come to save them; Holding onto their power seemed to be the more important objective.

While the wise men seek to worship and are willing to listen to God, Herod plots to kill this child who might usurp his power.

In this story, who would you be? Would you be the one who is willing to travel great distances to worship an unlikely savior? Or would you be the one who is threatened by the power this child might hold over you and do everything possible to keep him out of your life?

Father God, open our hearts to your son. Forgive us for failing to see how much we need you. Give us the opportunity and desire to worship at the feet of the Christ child this Christmas. Amen.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Worship Fully - Day 1 (Isaiah 40:1-5)

Today we begin our Advent journey together. A journey during which we will be working towards worshipping more fully, spending less on ourselves, giving more to others, and loving all people.

That sounds to me like a pretty good way to prepare for the birth of our Lord and Savior over the next four weeks.

Our God speaks through the prophet Isaiah in today's scripture to tell us that he has never and will never forget us. No matter what we do, how often we turn away or deny Him, God will never forsake us.

Jesus is coming. He is coming for us and to be with us. Jesus is coming because of God's great love for us.

How will we respond to this amazing love?

Will we ignore it? Cheapen it by acknowledging it only when we need it? Use it as a convenient crutch when we mess up?

Or will we fall down and worship the God of the universe who has condescended to love us so fully that he is willing to become one of us and die for us?

This Christmas, who or what are you going to worship? Will you worship the One who created you? Or will you worship the things that He has created?

Heavenly Father, give us a sense of awe and wonder towards you this Advent season. Open our eyes to your holiness and profound love for us. Let us see each morning as a new opportunity to worship you and do your will. Amen.



Monday, November 21, 2011

The Story - endings

If you missed Caz' sermon on the Book of the Revelation yesterday, I highly recommend you listen to it. It's great!

As my computer is in for repairs and I am blogging from my phone, today's entry is going to be short and sweet.

We finished up our 'Story' series yesterday. A quick, four week tour of the New Testament. Hopefully, that quick overview has whetted your appetite for more and you are ready to dive into the Bible a little deeper. If so, we have just the thing for you!

Next Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent. The season in the church year where we prepare for the birth of Christ. Most stories have an ending, but the story of God's love for His people goes on infinitely through time. God constantly calls us to him in new ways. Every year, we have the opportunity to re-visit the birth of Christ and remember or possibly understand for the first time how God came to us in the form of a helpless baby who would give up his life for ours.

It is a story that is full of wonder and new beginnings. Starting next Monday, I will be writing a daily blog Monday - Friday of The Advent season. I hope that you will find these daily blogs a way to renew your acquaintance with Scripture and find the true meaning of Christmas that lies outside of the hustle and bustle of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the rest of the Holiday gift buying frenzy. To go along with our 'unplugging' of Christmas this year, Live Oak will have an opportunity each week of Advent to sere the community here in central Texas. From providing needed items and gifts for kids and families in the Leander School District, to caroling in a nursing home, to passing out food with CAFB's mobile Wheels of Sharing program, we will have plenty of opportunities for you and your entire family to serve this Advent Season.

Please come join us as we remember why we celebrate Christmas and put the focus back on Christ.



Monday, November 14, 2011

Story - The Letters

When was the last time you received a great letter from someone?

My Dad was a great letter writer. He wasn't very good at putting his emotions into words in person but if he took the time to write down his thoughts about something, you knew it was going to be special.

I suspect that whenever Christians around the Mediterranean received a letter from the Apostle Paul, they were pretty excited because they knew that whatever he had written, it was going to be something special. Out of the 27 books of the New Testament, 21 are letters written by early church leaders to congregations or individuals scattered around the Mediterranean. 13 of those 21 letters, were written by the Apostle Paul.

These are letters that were written to encourage, teach, build up and strengthen the early Christian Church and its members. These letters were so life-changing that they were copied and passed between congregations, eventually making it into what we now know as "The Holy Bible".

These letters are not just about 2,000 year old dead people and the issues that they were having. These letters are words that God continues to use to touch us today and change us into the people He is calling us to be.

You might not think that anyone has taken the time to write you a special letter lately, but you just haven't looked in the right place. God, working through his earthly servants, has written you very special letters. Open your Bible this week and read anything between Romans and Jude and see what God has to tell you this week.


Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:4-9


Monday, November 7, 2011

Story - Acts

The book of Acts gives us an overview of the early Christian church. It was written by Luke (the author of the Gospel of the same name) and picks up where that book left off.

It is a story about God's Holy Spirit working through humans to create the new Christian Church by spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

If you haven't read it before, pick it up this week and read it. It's important.
It's important because it is the story of our history and how the Church came to be. It is the story of our church 'family'. It tells us about the bad times and the good times in the lives of the first Christians. It tells us about their faith in God and the ways that God worked through them and was faithful to them. It's important because, if we take it seriously, their story informs our story. It gives us faith, hope, and guidance.

Pick it up and read about your family this week.


That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person's need was met
. - Acts 2:43-45


Monday, October 31, 2011

Story - New Testament Gospels

We've started a new sermon series this week on the New Testment books. A "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants" review of the New Testament in four weeks. It will be just enough info to hopefully wet your appetite and get you interested in pulling out the Bible while you are at home!

There are Four "gospels' in the New Testament. The word "gospel" is taken from the Anglo-Saxon word "godspel" which means a 'good story'. This in turn was substituted for the original Greek word euaggelion which came to mean 'good news'. Using the word "gospel" was short hand for describing the first four books of the New Testament as good news for our lives.

I have always been glad that there are Four gospels because they give us a different perspective on the same events. Just as two bystanders will give different accounts of the same event, so did the four gospel writers give us slightly different accounts of Jesus' ministry. The Gospel of John, is the only gospel that is different in any major way from the other three. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic gospels because they 'see (optic) together (syn)'.

Having four different gospels gives us the author's unique perspective on Jesus and his ministry, allowing us to view Jesus from four slightly different points of view.

If you have never ready any of the Gospels all the way through, I encourage you to just pick one and read it this week. Reading it the whole way through will give you a very different perspective and understanding of Jesus than the bits and pieces you hear read in church on Sunday morning.

Don't forget to incorporate BELLS into your week this week:
Bless 3 people (do something nice for someone in your church, outside your church, one extra)
Eat with people at 3 meals (or a coffee meet) that you go to looking for ways to be positive and share the love and joy of Christ.
Learn - Take time to read anything that is uplifting or edifying (doesn't have to be specifically Christian )
Listen - Spend one hour in silence listening for God's direction in your life.
Sent - review each day looking for where God sent/used you or where God tried to send/use you but you refused His call.


This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person's failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him. - John 3:16-18 (The Message)


Monday, October 17, 2011

The Photo-shopped Family

Try as we might, we can't ever seem to get away from the need to gloss over the less than perfect areas in our lives.

Since this is the third week in this series, I am pretty sure you have at least an inkling of your area(s) of imperfection. This week, I want all of us to lift those areas up to God on a daily basis. Ask Him to help you let them go. Ask Him to help you heal. Ask Him to help you become a person who sees through the lens of grace rather than through the lens of judgement.

If you need helping getting started try this:

Father God, thank you for the care you put into creating me. Help me to be the person you desire for me to become. Help me to let go of those worldly things that keep my focus on competition rather than consolation. Help me to love myself, my family, and those around me with a love that is limitless, that is patient, and that is kind. Give me the ability to show your love not only to the world but to myself. Amen.


Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. - Luke 6:31-33


Monday, October 10, 2011

The Photo-shopped Family - The art of fighting well

No one has a perfect relationship and everyone fights. I once had someone tell me that the secret to a good marriage is to never stop talking to one another - even if that means you are yelling at each other from across the room.

That might be the best marriage advice I have ever been given. As someone who people come to when their marriages are in trouble I have found that once a couple's relationship becomes silent, it is extremely hard to get it back on track. The silence that might seem like a relief to the screaming that came before, really just heralds the fact that both parties are withdrawing deeper into themselves and away from the relationship.

So how do we fight well, when fighting is an inevitable part of marriage (or any close relationship for that matter)? One thing that is essential is to know that there is a rock solid commitment. If you are not sure that your partner will stick around when you share your feelings about an issue, how can you begin to resolve it? If this is a problem in your relationship, then this is what you need to work on first. Before you even begin to discuss the issues in the relationship, both parties (whether it is your spouse or your child) need to know and believe that you are both in it for the long haul.

Once there is trust and committment, then you can begin to resolve issues within the relationship. Caz gave 11 rules for fighting well in his sermon yesterday ( ) that are worth going back and listening to again or for the first time. The main goal of all of these 'rules' however, is to move towards resolution, not winning. If your goal in fighting with your spouse or child is simply to 'win', then you will never fight well and you will most likely repeat the fight ad naseum because you are not trying to resolve it. You are just trying to score points. If the main goal is to resolve the conflict so that you can move forward, you need great discipline and some help from God. You need to be kind (Not sarcastic, not bringing up previous wrongs). You need to be loving. (Knowing that you and the person you are arguing with love each other and want the best for eachother.). You need to be respectful. (Listen to their point of view and pay attention to what they are saying. Don't just wait for a pause in the conversation so you can jump in with your side.)

Fighting well is hard. But so is loving well. We all need God's help to do it in a way that builds up, rather than tearing down. Read 1 Corinthians 13, not as a passage that is read at weddings, but as an instruction manual for our lives in relationship with one another. These are not easy words, but they are life-giving ones.


If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

- 1 Corinthians 13: 1-8


Monday, October 3, 2011

The Photo-shopped Family - Image Control

We all camoflage the not so perfect areas in our lives the same way we try to photoshop the imperfections in our family pictures. We wait to fight with our spouse until we are in the privacy of our own home. We try to get our kids in the car before they self-destruct in public. We tell others that everything is "great" when our lives are falling apart.

It is human nature to try to cover up the flaws in ourselves and our lives. It was the first thing Adam and Eve did after they gained knowledge by eating the forbidden fruit: they immediately hid from God and covered their bodies.

All the energy we put into projecting a life that is perfect however, is a waste of time and effort that brings no resolution to the problems we are hiding. If we were less concerned about what strangers and people who don't care about us think, we would have a lot more freedom to deal with the less than perfect aspects of our lives and perhaps actually come to a place of peace or discern a way to deal with those issues.

God wants us to live a life of authenticity. How can we show how God has saved us from ourselves and worked in our lives if we pretend that everything is perfect all the time? How can we expect others to allow us to minister to them if we pretend that we have no problems? I know that I don't want to share my problems with someone who seems to have none....

No one is perfect. All of our lives are filled with brokeness and sin because we are broken and sinful people. None of us can do it perfectly.

What would our Church and world look like if we were brave enough to drop the facade of perfection that we mask ourselves in and had authenitic, life changing relationships with God and those around us?

I think this world would be a much better place.


For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
- Ephesians 2:8-9


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I Love My Church - part 4

The 'church' isn't supposed to be a place where we come to rest and then leave to go about our own business. It is a place where we come to find rest and renewal and then go out to do God's work in the world.

At Live Oak, we want to be a place where people can come to worship, pray, have fellowship and then be sent out into the world to be the hands and feet of Christ. We want to live out our call as God's people on a daily basis, not just a few times a year or once a week. To that end, we are encouraging folks to see themselves as people who are 'sent' by God into the world. It is not just the 'pastors' who are called and sent by God but everyone who believes in God. Everyone who professes themselves to be a Christian is called and sent by God into the world to do ministry.

We will talk more in depth about it but for now, look over the following acronym (BELLS) and start praying that God will help you incorporate it into your daily life. These practices will help you intentionally bring the grace of God into your life and the lives of those around you.

Bless - bless someone three times during the week through a phone call, note, or a kind word. One person in the Christian community, one non-believer, and a spare.

Eat - Go intentionally into three meals this week to share some aspect of God's redemptive love. Your family dinners might be a good place to start for one of them. Again, one person within the Christian community, one non-believer, and a spare.

Listen - Spend one hour a week listening for God's call on your life.

Learn - Read and learn during the week about something that will enrich your life and your walk with Christ.

Sent - Remember that you are sent by God. Each day ask yourself these questions: "Where did I see God working and join with Him today?" "Where did I see God working and ignore Him today?"

I am looking forward to seeing how BELLS changes me and the way I interact with people in my life. If you have a great experience with this, please let me know!



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Love My Church - part 2

What exactly is the Church anyway? Is it a building where people go to hang out on Sunday morning? Is it a group of people who care for each other and try to help those in need? Is it a place where you can get a quick nap in during the sermon?

It is all and none of these things at the same time. The physical church building you walk into, whether it is a cathedral or a portable building, is just a building. Yes, it is a place that was built in the hope that we would meet God there, but God isn't just in our self-titled churches. God is present throughout his creation. Our job as His "Church" is to meet Him and engage with Him.

When we gather together for worship (no matter where or when) God is present in our midst but we have to choose to engage. We have to pray that God would open us to His message for us. We have to do more than make our to-do list in our head during the sermon. You might make excuses by saying the sermon doesn't speak to your situation or the preacher is boring, but it is God who is using that sermon and preacher to speak to His people. This is not something to blow off - there is something that God wants to tell us in every worship service we attend and we should be attentive to that belief.

The Church is also the 'body of Christ'. We are here on earth to do God's work for Him. The local church we belong to gives us the strength and energy to do that. The fellowship of believers renews our hope and strengthens our call to help those in need. From the energy we gain in worship and study with other believers, we are then sent forth as the "Church" to be God's hands and feet in his world.

Again this requires engagement. Being a member of a church isn't something you just add to your resume and then walk away. Being a member of a Christian church means you belong to something that is bigger than yourself and that you are led by the God who created you and everything else in the cosmos. Being a Christian means that you engage in the word (Scripture) and use that knowledge to engage the world.

Our churches are places where we go for clarity and wisdom, to be strengthened in our faith, and to hear and follow the call God places up on our private and public lives.

The church building is an important symbol, but the people who gather within it make it live and give it relevance.



Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I Love My Church - part 1

The world is full of sadness, despair, violence, and tragedy. It is just a part of being in the midst of a world that has fallen into sin.

When disaster strikes who helps? When your family is falling apart, who do you call? More often than not, it is the Church and its members who respond in times of crises.

In the recent wildfires in Central Texas, it is the local churches who have been providing food, cothing, and shelter to those who have been displaced. In the midst of the cultural challenges we currently face, it is the local churches who offer parenting classes, support groups,clothes closets, school supply drives, after school tutoring for at-risk kids, and places for organizations such as Alcholics Anonymous to meet.

Yes, other non-profit organizations help meet these needs as well. But even most of those were founded by Christians who wanted to make a difference in this world.

The Church offers hope to a world that is torn. The Church is a place of sanctuary for those who are displaced, abused, addicted, and hurt. The Church is a place of safety and peace for those whose homes are filled with conflict. Where, other than the Church, are people hired full time for the sole purpose of providing physical and spiritual care for free to anyone who has need of it?

Our churches do great things every day and can do still greater things tomorrow and in the future. Our churches need us to love and support them with our time, our God-given talents, and our finances.

The church is not just a social club where we go to see and be seen, perhaps getting a spiritual shot while we are there. The Church is a place where people come to be healed and made whole through the redeeming power of Jesus Christ. Never forget that your local church is bigger than you and the people who make up its congregation. The Church is God's physical presence on earth and it is through the Church and its members that God's love is shared and His healing power is manifested.

Love your church! Care for it (it's staff, members, and missions) as if lives depend on its continuing presence - because they do.


Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
- Ephesians 3:20-21


Monday, September 5, 2011

Dirty Church Words - Judgement

When we think of judgement in relation to Christianity, most of us think of hellfire and brimstone. But what about the idea that when God judges the world, he will set all things right? Instead of just thinking about the negative side of judgement, what if we thought about the positive side? The side in which God's judgement of something sets in motion the ability for things to be made new and whole?

We are not supposed to 'judge' each other. We can point out actions that might be leading our loved ones astray (sin), in order to set them on a path back towards God (repentance), but it is not our place to condemn another person. Neither is it within our power to change that person and set them on the right path. That is God's job. He might use us in that change, but we are not the ones causing the change.

How would the earthly face of Christianity change if we stopped 'judging' each other? What if we simply loved one another as Jesus loved? It doesn't mean that we condone everything. It doesn't mean that we agree with everyone. But it does mean that we share the grace and forgiveness that has been given to each one of us, with each other.


-For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:2

-He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[a] with your God. Micha 6:8


Monday, August 29, 2011

Dirty Church Words - Repent

"Repent" is one of those words that makes us think about street preachers yelling at us as we walk down a busy street or people who become obsessed with Apocalyptic themes. It is not a word that we tend to hear a lot in other situations, even if we are "regular" church-goers.

The word "repent" however is actually a great word. It means to 'turn around'. As in 'turn around" and move away from those things that are taking you away from your relationship with God. Last week we talked about how sin is really anything that takes us off the path that we are on towards God. When we 'repent', we get back on the path. It is more than just asking for forgiveness. It is making a move to not only admit that you are sinning, but to take measures to move away from things that lead you to that particular sin. When we repent, we admit we are doing something that is wrong and make changes in our lives to avoid that sin again.

Many of us have 'secret sins'. Sins that we are too ashamed of to admit to others and sometimes that we are too ashamed of to confess even to God. God, already knows what things we do in our hearts or in secret. We are not hiding anything from Him. Often, those closest to us know those things that tempt us away from God as well. Trying to complete the full cycle of repentance alone - not just asking forgiveness but taking action to avoid that sin in the future - can be very difficult.

Without repentance, however, we cannot be fully healed from our sin. We need to turn around and get back on our journey with God. Finding people who you can trust to help you do this is important. We don't take the journey alone - that is why the Church is so important. We have been given companions on our journey to help us along the way. Ask for God to show you who you can trust to help you. Ask them to check in with you to help keep you accountable.

God does not want us to be so aware of our sinfulness that we are despondant. He wants us to be so aware of his grace and mercy that we are joyful in our response to Him. God wants us to let go of those things that separate us from Him on our journeys - not hang onto them and wallow.

Let them go. Turn around and face God and start walking on the path He has laid before you once again.


18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.
19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

- Micah 7:18-19


Monday, August 22, 2011

Dirty Church Words - Sin

Sin. Sinner. Words that make us feel ashamed, resentful, angry. Words that we use to accuse others. Words that describe our fallen state and position in relation to God.

We are sinners. Period. Every single one of us. We have no room to judge anyone else because we, ourselves, fall short of God's standard every day. It doesn't matter if in worldy terms one person's sin is judged to be worse than another. In the eyes of God, all of our sins are equal - from the cutting remark made to one's spouse this morning to the murders committed by someone on death row. All of us are guilty of turning away from Jesus and breaking the relationship between ourselves and God and between ourselves and those around us.

Many of us find this offensive because we believe that, overall, we are 'good' people. Well - it is okay that it is offensive. The concept of sin is supposed to be a little jarring in order for us to realize that we are not as good as we claim to be. We have to recognize that we need Jesus' help before we can ask for and accept the grace and forgiveness that is offered to us through his death on the cross.

Rather than looking at sin and forgiveness as a balance sheet, we should think about how sin affects our relationships. Sin breaks the relationship between ourselves and God. Jesus died to restore that relationship. We don't need to make a checklist everyday of the sins we've committed and the forgiveness we've asked for and received. We won't be able to keep the spreadsheet balanced. What we need to do everyday is walk with Jesus. We will step off the path, lose our way, and have to backtrack - it is inevitable - but we have to get back on the path and keep going toward Jesus. By focusing on our relationship with Christ, we will be much more likely to recognize sin when we do it and change our behavior to avoid it in the future.


Praise the LORD, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. - Psalm 103: 1-5


Monday, August 15, 2011

Ephesians Part 4 (chapter 6:10-20)

Paul closes out his letter to the Ephesians with some last words on how to stay united as a community of Christians.

He reminds us that there is more to this world than what we see with our eyes. There are spiritual forces (good and bad) at work in the world and Paul wants us to be vigilant lest we become complacent and and allow ourselves to be led astray. Paul is not telling us to become hyper fixated on the idea of the "devil" or demonic forces, but he is telling us to be aware that they are out there. If we don't know these forces exist or if we ignore them, it is much easier for us to forget there is an enemy of God that we are standing against. Paul tells us to 'put on the full armor of God" that we may have truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, and salvation.

Even when we are in the presence of evil, when we fail, when we grieve, or when we are mistreated, God is always standing with us. The promise of the gospel is that we will never be alone. In addition to the support of God, we also have the support of our fellow Christians who stand by us. As a Church we are to stand side by side with our fellow Christians and remain connected to God and to each other through all things.

In this way, we can withstand anything that happens to us individually or corporately.

Throughout the book of Ephesians, Paul has told us ways we are to behave as individuals and as the Church in order remain unified as the body of Christ. We are to do these things not only to share the Gospel with the world but also to protect and nurture the Church and the individuals within it. The Church and its members are to not only be a light to those who do not know Jesus, but also a line of defense against the forces of evil that are at work in the world. If we do not remain unified, working together as one body and one mind, the light of Christ cannot shine as brightly in the world as it otherwise might. As you go about your life this week, pray for unity within the Church that the purposes of God might be fulfilled in this world.


And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. - Ephesians 6: 18-20


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ephesians Part 3 (Chapter 5:21-33)

The passage that tells wives to submit to their husbands is one of the most misused verses in all of scripture. It has been used to justify subordination and abuse throughout the centuries and is not at all what Paul intended when he wrote it.

At the time of Jesus, women were considered the property of their fathers and then their husbands. Unless they had very lenient fathers, women were uneducated, sequestered, and not allowed to speak in mixed groups. Jesus and Christianity changed all this. Women were encouraged to speak openly in front of men, they were given leadership positions in the church, and groups of men and women met together for worship, prayer, and communion.

This was a sudden and confusing change for many in the culture. Paul wrote these guidelines for marriage to help, not hinder, equality in the marriage and between the genders and to make marital life more peaceful.

The word 'submit' in Ephesians 5:21-24 is better translated as a 'voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”. Women are to yield the leadership of the household to their husbands; not because they are unable to lead or not equal in value to their husbands, but because someone has to yield and God has asked that it be women. No system of authority works if there are two people struggling to be on top. Even Jesus yielded his will to the will of God the Father.

Men are to love their wives as Jesus loved the church. Meaning that men are to love their wives sacrificially. If a husband thinks his wife is of less value than himself, this is impossible to do. Who is going to sacrifice for someone that is not as or more valuable than himself?

The key to Christian marriage is putting God first in your life. If both the husband and the wife stay connected to God, first, and to each other, second, then the wife will be able to yield to her husband's (wise and Godly) leadership and the husband will be able to love his wife sacrificially, which automatically rules out bullying and micromanaging.

Christian marriage is not an arrangement in which one person is pushed down so that another can be raised up. It is a covenantal promise in which both people desire the good of the other before themselves. If one person fails to do this, the marriage falls apart.

As husbands and wives we are to put the needs of the other before our own. It is the model of how Christianity is supposed to work in the world. The family unit is a model of Christ's relationship to the church and Christian's relationship to the world.


"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." -Ephesians 5:21


Monday, August 1, 2011

Ephesians Part 2 (chapter 4)

The book of Ephesians is all about Christians being united. Jesus, through his life and death united everyone who believes in him. The Church (universal) is the earthly vehicle through which all believers are united and held together.

Paul believed it was very important that Christians be united in the faith. Jesus had stated in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 12, that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”(Matthew 12:25) In order for the Church to have the full power of Jesus’ name, unity is of paramount importance. A divided church cannot help the world or even the people within its walls as effectively as a united one. Paul was adamant that Christians put aside their differences for the greater good of spreading the gospel of Jesus.

In the Fourth Chapter of Ephesians, Paul discusess how Christians stay unified in practical ways. He reminds us that Christians should live very different lives from non-Christians because we are called to new lives reflecting the holiness and righteousness of God as those who have been adopted as children of God. Because of this we are to live lives that are marked by kindness, compassion, generosity, humility, equality, and truthfulness.

Living in this way is not easy and in our culture where so much 'slides' it is easy to let our own values and standards slide, as well. Paul is adamant that we not let this happen because it is through our lives that the gospel is shared. If we live lives that are unworthy of that gift, how can we spread the love of Jesus?

Through worship, prayer, study, and fellowship with other Christians, we can continue to make progress on our spiritual journey, recognizing and repenting of those sins we commit on a regular basis. While the Church strengthens us for our mission, we are not to live our lives barricaded behind its walls. We are to go into the world as those who are different and changed by our faith, not as those who mimic secular culture. This is a distinction that is uncomfortable for most Christians. We don't mind divisions in almost any other part of our lives, but we don't want to be seen as different when it comes to the division between Christian and non-Christian. This division, however, is unavoidable if you truly want to live a Christ-centered life. It doesn't mean you cannot be friends with non-Christians, it just means that you have to realize there will most likely be differences that you cannot pretend away.

As Christians, we are called to live lives that reflect Jesus - something that requires a lot of prayer and support from the Christian community (i.e. - The Church). It is hard and it is sometimes offensive - but Jesus never said it was easy.


- For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. Ephesians 5:8-13


Monday, July 25, 2011

Ephesians Part 1

We started a new sermon series on Paul's letter to the Ephesians this past Sunday which will run four weeks. If you missed it, here is a great video that introducess you to the book:

Ephesians is all about unity: Unity in Christ, unity in the Church, and unity among believers. The Apostle Paul (author of Ephesians) tells us that through our faith in Christ we have all been adopted as children of God. Through our adoption, Jesus unifies us all into one body. The Church (worldwide) is the expression of our unity as well as the way we continue to be unified.

Sort of makes you wonder about how we ended up with all these different expressions of the Church, doesn't it?

Read through Ephesians with us over the next month. Let's see how we can do a better job of truly being the people of God, working together through our individual weaknesses, using the strength that God gives us as a unified body of Christ to make this world a better place.


"For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen"
-Ephesians 3:14-21


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Life Apps - Part 4 (fasting)

Most people have heard of fasting - the practice of denying yourself something as a spiritual practice. Most people fast from food but you can also "fast" from other things - technology (not a bad idea in our current culture) or other specific things or habits that fill up your life and leave little room for God. The point of fasting is to have physical or mental reminder to spend more time with God and be more dependent on Him. If you are fasting from techonology, you will have a lot more time in your day to pray and consider what God is calling you to do. If you are hungry, you will have to lean upon God more to get through the day. The rumblings of your stomach are a sort of call to prayer and meditation.

Fasting is a great way to clear our minds of all the things that clutter up life and open ourselves to God's leading. It must be done, however, in a thoughtful and deliberate way.

For example, I cannot fast from food. I had an eating disorder for many years when I was younger and no matter how many years pass between me and that time, fasting from good causes me to focus on weight loss not God. For me, a fast from techonology or books other than the Bible would be a much better choice if my end goal is to draw closer to God.

For you, a fast from food might work perfectly well, but a technological fast might cause you so much anxiety that you cannot focus on God.

We all have to pick and choose what is the best way to fast in order to really have the time and space to focus on God.

Fasting is a real, tangible way to draw closer to God. It is a great spiritual practice for times when discernment is needed, when you or a loved one is in great distress, or whenever you feel that your focus on God has slipped. Fasting can draw you closer to God and enable you to speak to Him more clearly as well as to hear His voice more clearly.

Here a few more guidelines for fasting:
-Fasting is a private affair between you and God. It is not something to 'brag' to others about.
-You never Fast on Sunday because that is the day we remember Jesus' resurrection. Sunday is a day of celebration
-If you are doing a fast from food, make sure you are doing it in a healthful way. Always drink plenty of liquids.
-Try to fast at least once a year. It is a great way spiritual practice to put into your life's routine.


“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

- Matthew 6:16-18


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Life Apps - part 3 (Prayer)

I am so tired by the time I get into bed at night that my traditional time of talking to God is pretty much worthless. I usually fall asleep somewhere around the opener of "God, thank you for...." It is pretty pathetic - especially for someone who is a pastor.

I know people who get up at 5:45am in order to have time to pray and listen to God, but that doesn't work for me either. So I have had to resort to some sneaky ways to carve out time to talk to God. One way I do it is to randomly send up prayers whenever I think of something. They aren't long and involved - just little short thoughts on things I am thankful for or things that I need to ask God to help me or someone else with - and I do this all day long. Another way I find prayer time is by using the times in my schedule that I have carved out for me. I am pretty diligent about my exercise schedule and if I listen to the contemporary Christian music I have on my iPod, then it reminds me to spend part of that exercise time talking to God and thinking about what He might be wanting me to do with my life and time.

I don't think it is great that I have to remind myself to talk to God, but I do think for many of us, that is just how it is. We have so many other things in our life to distract us from what is important that we have to give ourselve reminders to pull us back to the core of what matters.

Lucky for us, God is ready to listen to us at any time. I know he would love to have a 2 hour chat with us everyday but most of us aren't that disciplined and focused. So start small if you don't talk to him everday - give him 1-2 minutes of your time a couple times a day when you can actually focus on God. Gradually, figure out what times in your daily routine can be carved out as times for you to talk to God. The time you are getting ready in the morning? The 10-15 minutes during the day that you take a break and just sit? The commute to or from work? There are times in our schedule that we can all dedicate to God simply by choosing to turn off the news or put down our phone or iPad or by decided to talk to God instead of mulling over other things of the day to ourselves.

If you don't listen to Christian music, I also encourage you to find some that you like (iTunes has lot and you can also get a soundbyte before you buy) or listen to Contemporary Christian music on the radio or via the internet. It makes a huge difference in the day to a lot of people by refocusing their thoughts on God instead of the world.

And remember - God is always ready to listen.


"pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." - 1 Thessolonians 5: 17-18


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Life Apps - part 2

Since everyone did so well trying Lectio Divina last week, I thought I'd give you another chance to try this week.

Don't forget - you need 10-15 minutes of uninterrupted quiet time to do this. Empty your mind of your 'to do' list, the noise of the day, and be ready to fill yourself with God's spirit.

Here's how you do it:
1) Get in a comfortable, quiet place where you won't be interupted for 10-15 minutes. Pray for God to be present with you.
2) Read the chosen scripture passage (2-3 verses) once. Think about which word or phrase catches your attention
3) Read the passage again. Think about how that word or phrase applies to your life currently.
4) Read the passage a third time. Listen for what God might be calling you to realize, change, or act upon in your life.

Use the following passage from Romans and have a great encounter with the Living God!

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[m] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

- Romans 8:35-39



Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Life Apps - part 1

We've started a new sermon series called "Life Apps". For four Sunday's we will be looking at ways we can become better at listening to and talking with God. This past Sunday, Caz talked about Lectio Divina, or 'divine reading'. This is a way of reading the Bible and letting God speak to you through the scripture passage.

Here's how you do it:
1) Get in a comfortable, quiet place where you won't be interupted for 10-15 minutes. Pray for God to be present with you.
2) Read the chosen scripture passage (2-3 verses) once. Think about which word or phrase catches your attention
3) Read the passage again. Think about how that word or phrase applies to your life currently.
4) Read the passage a third time. Listen for what God might be calling you to realize, change, or act upon in your life.

Pretty easy, huh? It can also be pretty profound. I have yet to do this and not feel God speaking to me through the verses.

Today, I want you to practice Lectio Divina. If a certain passage pops out at you when you open your Bible, great, do it with that verse. If it doesn't, try this one.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

Have a great conversation with God!



Monday, June 20, 2011

Dad's as heroes

In honor of the recent Father's Day weekend, I thought I would write my last "hero" blog on Dads.

Dads, just like moms, are human and flawed, but they are essential to our lives. God, himself, the perfect father, sets the example - and it is a hard one to follow. God not only created the world, but sustains and upholds it. God doesn't just love those he created, he sacrificed himself for us. God doesn't just give us directives, but he guides us and allows us to make and learn from our own mistakes. All of these things are a model for our earthly fathers to follow and it is not easy.

On Mother's Day, kids and dads are often told to love and do nice things for the moms in their life. On Father's Day, though, dads are most often told how important their role is and that, in so many words, they need to "step it up". I am not saying that a dad's role is more important than a mom's - it is just different. It is true that biblically speaking, men hold a greater amount of responsibility than women - something that I know is not a popular idea in our modern world of gender equality. God did create all humans equal - male and female. Gender equality, however, doesn't mean role equality. In our modern society, we often scoff at the idea of the father as 'head of the household' but this is a very important position in the Christian life.

In the Christian model of marriage, the man takes on the same role for the family as Jesus does for the Church. That is nothing to sneeze at. The man is responsible for leading his household in a manner that reflects well upon a follower of Jesus. This doesn't mean the dad gets to subjugate his wife and children and be bossy - it actually means that the dad has to 1) be an incredible example of leadership, integrity and faithfulness, 2) nurture and love his family in a sacrificial way, and 3) be accountable for the family's general well-being.

That is a job description that I don't think many people would voluntarily sign-up for, but it is the role that God has given to the husbands and fathers of this world. Every man who takes these responsibilities seriously is a hero.

And now for the part about what the women and children in the lives of these dads should do for them: Those of us who are lucky enough to be married to men of faith who try to seriously fulfill the role that God has given to them should pray everyday to be a person who loves a supporting role. We should love, respect, and honor our husbands and fathers because of the simple fact that they are living their lives out as a sacrifice for us - to love, care, and nurture us. Just as we honor, love, and respect God, our perfect father, we should also work towards honoring, loving, and respecting our husbands and fathers. This doesn't mean that we never have our own opinions or disagree with them - human fathers are not infallible - but it does mean that they deserve our respect.

Love and honor the husbands and fathers in your life - they have a seriously tough job to do every day.


"Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged." -Colossians 3:18-21


Monday, June 13, 2011

What makes a hero?

I think one of the main characteristics of a hero is that of bravery. I have a very clear memory of my mother telling me as a child that being brave didn't mean doing something that was easy - it meant doing something that wasn't easy for you. Bravery was when you did what was necessary even when whatever needed to be done scared you.

Bravery is not a characteristic that is overabundant in our world and culture. We like to think that we are brave, but being brave is really a very difficult thing to do. Being brave means taking some personal risk - whether it is a physical, emotional, or social risk that is involved.

I think of the bravery displayed by those who risked their lives to help end slavery. Or those who risked their social standing (as well as their lives and the lives of their families) to speak out against Hitler and his political party. Many of these people were Christians who, following the example of Jesus, were willing to put their own lives at risk to do what they believed God wanted them to do in those situations.

Christianity is not a meek and quiet faith. Christianity is a strong and outspoken faith. A faith to which people have devoted their entire life in order to protect and proclaim it to the world.

It seems to me that from a biblical perspective, heroism begins with the quality of bravery - the ability to act even when scared. God has called all sorts of people throughout history to stand up and do brave acts that would change the course of God's history in this world. Look at the myriad of people He called in the bible - Noah, David, Esther, Mary, and Paul just to name a few. None of these people were 'ready' for what God called them to do but they did it because they knew it was the right thing and they somehow found it within themselves to follow God's leading no matter what might happen to them personally.

Hero's and heroine's in the Bible all have one thing in common - they listen for God.

I think God calls all of us to commit acts of bravery in his name - all we have to do is listen. The things that God calls us to be brave for might not be things that change the history of the world, but they are things that will change someone's history for the better.


" Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” - Joshua 1:9


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

There's Giants out there!

We all have our own giants to face. Sometimes they are things that seem silly and small to others but to us are enormously intimidating. Sometimes they are challenges that we have to face and overcome in order to become the people we want to be. In any case, giants are a subject that we can understand.

The subject of giants is not foreign to the Bible, either. We all know the story of David and Goliath in which a young boy conquors the mighty warrior of the opposing army. David is told that he cannot face Goliath - that he is too young, too small, too everything. He is told that he will lose. But David doesn't have faith in the those who tell him these things, he has faith in God. He goes to fight Goliath and says (in the words of my son's Bible): "You come to me with a spear and a sword, but I come to you in the name of the Lord!"

There is also the story of the 12 "spies" who were sent out by the Israelites to do a little reconnoitering in the Promised Land (Numbers 13). They came back and reported that the land promised to them by God was indeed a wonderful and fertile land but it was occupied by giants. The people became fearful and wanted to turn back but two of those who had gone to look at the land, Caleb and Joshua, told the people "...the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them." (Numbers 14:9)

God is with us at all times and with God we can accomplish anything. The only 'trick' is to make sure that we are pursuing the right course. That can only be known through prayer. Sometimes the only way we know we are on the right course is because we keep being able to move forward. (Conversely, if you are on the wrong course, often it is like banging your head against the wall!)

David, Caleb, and Joshua did not have super strength, wealth, power, or anything else. What they had was faith that God was leading them where they were supposed to go and they believed He would give them what they needed to do the tasks He set before them.

God will help you to overcome the giants in your life blocking your path, if it is truly the path God wants you to follow. Pray daily for his guidance in your life to help you choose the right path.


"The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” - 1 Samuel 17:37


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Who does the Bible say a Hero is?

When I was little I would pretend to be Wonder Woman. I had a Wonder Woman underoos outfit (remember those!:) ) and I would dress up in it with white knee socks (for her knee high boots), my mother's braclets shoved up on my arms (for my magic wrist bands) and a gold chain from my mother's evening purse as my golden lasso.

I am pretty sure pretending to be a super hero is a common childhood experience. It is a way for kids to feel powerful and big like the grown-ups around them. My son went through the "super hero" phase but tended to make up his own character and powers. It was really cute the way he would say he was going to be a Super Hero when he grew up. The only problem was that his belief in this tended to make him think he could handle situations that were beyond his age.

Whenever we discussed 'stranger danger' he would always say that he could "handle it himself because he was a super hero". I finally had to resort to telling him that he was a "super hero in training" and until he actually grew up and turned into one, there were certain situations he needed to get a grown up's help to handle.

As adults, we all want to be super heroes, too. We want to be able to handle anything that comes our way. Life however, isn't always manageable on our own. We need others to help us. Most important of all, we need Jesus to help us.

Jesus is the one, true superhero. Jesus used his Godly super powers to perform miracles and heal people. He used his power to transform peoples lives. Most important of all, Jesus used his power to take away all of our sin and shame by dying on a cross for each of us.

Just like my son, who believed himself to be a super hero, really needed my help, we need Jesus' help.

So talk to Jesus. Read about him in your Bible. Get to know this real super hero the way that he already knows you. He is just waiting for you to acknowledge that he is right beside you.


"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:7-8


Monday, May 23, 2011

So be it

I didn't know what "amen" meant, or even really thought much about it, until I was in French class as an undergrad at UT. I don't remember why it came up but the professor mentioned that at the end of a prayer, you say, "Ainsi soit-il". I translated the French to English and figured out that ainsi soit-il means "so be it". (That, by the way, is what amen also means in English.)

I found it interesting that everytime we pray, we end by saying "so be it". We are affirming that this really is what we want.

Prayer is a very powerful tool for Christians. In Luke, chapter 11, Jesus tells us to ask for what we want or need and says we will receive. Now, I don't think we always get exactly what we pray for - the other part of that section from the 11th chapter of Luke states this: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

God isn't going to give us things that are bad for us, just like we don't give our children things that are bad for them, even if they really, really want them.

So, while we pray for all sorts of things (from a cure for a dying family member to a parking space at the mall), are there things that we should be praying for?

I think the Lord's Prayer, as taught by Jesus to his disciples, is a good template for us. Jesus tells us we are to do the following:
1) See God as a heavenly father who cares for us
2) Desire God's will to be done above our own
3) Ask God to take care of our earthly needs (not wants - needs!)
4) Ask God for forgiveness and take care to forgive others
5) Ask God to protect us and give us the wisdom to make good choices
6) Remember that the world and everything in it belongs to God

When we pray like that, I think we can definitely say 'so be it' at the end of our prayers.


“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened." - Luke 11: 9-10