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6 Steps to Simplify Christmas

Holidays can get complicated. If we don’t pay attention our debt grows, our peace shrinks and our stress expands. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 6 ways you can make Christmas a simpler, more beautiful season.

1. Heighten your gratitude.
Paul reminds us that anxiety and gratitude don’t mix:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7.

Once you enter the festival of generosity, an amazing sense of peace flows into your soul.

2. Lower your expectations.
Christmas is hard for people because they set their expectations too high when they reunite with extended family members. Very few people have perfectly healthy memories with their family. Family is hard work and so lower your expectations that everyone will behave over the few days. You’ll be glad you did. We can’t judge our extended family relationships using the scale of a Hallmark Movie where everything is resolved in two hours. We must remember that we are all works in progress.

3. Check your wallet.
You can’t spend your way into reconciliation. I know this will come as a blow to the credit card companies but it’s true. Physical, tangible presents will not change a life, but your forgiveness and unconditional love will.

Jesus knew this about mankind: How you spend your money reveals the priorities of your heart.

4. Slow your pace.
 Find the Power Button.
Every remote has one. Enjoy real people- not just the ones on TV. “No” is a complete sentence.
You’ve heard it before but it’s worth remembering. You don’t have to attend every party or do everything you did last year. Slow down. Breathe. Rest.
 Be aware of what you consume.
Have a brownie. But not the whole pan.

5. Slim down the STUFF.

Most people spend an outrageous amount of time adding to the stuff they already own. Take time to spend less on material goods, give away what you don’t need, and add breathing room in your home.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul.
Psalm 131:1-2

This is a promise to God’s people that less of the unnecessary will quiet your soul.

6. Don’t Miss Jesus.

The arrival of Jesus will change everything if we prepare. He will come to give us something money could never buy.

May we not seek satisfaction in the things we touch. He will come to teach us how to live in dangerous surrender.
May we not seek safety in this life. The good stuff always involves risk.
May we live our lives by the measuring stick of how well we love each other.
May we be the Body of Christ.
May we live with each other in the land of grace.

Don’t miss Jesus as we celebrate His advent with simplicity and love.

We Get What We’ve Got: A Lament

When the church has disolved into fear and unrest,
When mercy and love are no longer the test.
When debaters use words from a seamy bordello
When justice is gone and our backbone is jello.
When the enemy wins without firing a shot
And we lose all our scruples, then we get what we’ve got.

When we pick circus sideshows and tag them as leaders
When we cheer the unmerciful, crass bottom-feeders
When we worship the altars of gossip and fame
It’s clear that we’ve only ourselves we can blame.
When tweets are the apex of critical thought-
It’s a supreme indication that we get what we’ve got.

When the blood of the unborn cries out from the ground
And the band plays along without hearing a sound.
When the kids of Aleppo are battered and killed
Our cowardly hearts are plainly revealed.
When the simple can see each nefarious plot
It’s a sure indication–We get what we’ve got.

When racism severs our nation in two
And guns are the gods, and they’re pointed at you.
When nothing is sacred, praiseworthy and pure
When we trash godly wisdom, our destiny’s sure.
In days of decision this choice says a lot.
It’s just our comeuppance: We get what we’ve got.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer of a Messy Follower

Thank You Jesus…
You’ve been so faithful to this messed-up follower.
You restore my sanity on a weekly basis.
You reach into the nothingness and give me everything I need.
You’ve been far greater and more powerful than everything I’ve faced.
If I did anything good, it was because of You.
You have never given up on me even though I’ve given you plenty of opportunities.
I can’t begin to know the number of times you have overlooked my weaknesses.
I can’t think of a time when You haven’t been there for me.
I wish I had the words to express how You bring me such peace.
I can only say, You have been so good to me.
I love you, Jesus.
If I didn’t take another breath, every step I’ve walked with You has been worth it.
I love the promise of Heaven, but if this life was all there was, I wouldn’t change a thing.
You deserve so much more of me, Jesus.
So tomorrow I’m going to try to hand more of my life over to You.
I just know I’ve got more to give and I can learn how to love You better than I did today.
So I’ll see You in the morning.

Five Survival Sayings (Read, Believe, Repeat… Constantly)

Theological elitists, keep moving along. There’s nothing that will interest you here.

Jacked-up sinners, like me, pay careful attention.

We all need a few easy-to-remember axioms that get us through the day. As a man of habit who has struggled with self- condemnation through the years, I’ve white-knuckled these truths in the middle of my own messiness. You may have heard them before but they are worth reviewing:

The depth of God’s love for me has nothing to do with my performance.

It has never been about earning His love. There’s nothing I could do that will make God love me more than He already does. (nothing) God is love, love, love all the time, regardless of my behavior.

 

Jesus came for messy people (like me).

He walked into my personal hurt locker. The last few days of Jesus earthly ministry are a statement: “I can be hurt just like you.” He didn’t run away from the pain. He walked into it with purpose. He didn’t create the struggle bus. He doesn’t drive the struggle bus. He’s on the struggle bus and He’s sitting right there with you. If you grieve because you don’t have it all together, remember this: Everybody– even (insert name of the holiest person you know) struggles.

The Gospel means Good News.

Jesus came to save, not to condemn. If you are feeling the weight of overwhelming condemnation, know that this is not from Jesus. Jesus was never into condemnation, except when it came to name-calling, angry, judgmental professional religionists.

I can never out-grace God.

He doesn’t create torture. That is not in His nature. The stubborn nature of humanity is to figure out how to justify one’s self in two ways: revealing our righteousness or someone else’s unrighteousness. This is not what Christianity is all about.

We pay good money and attention to radio hosts, bloggers, TV pundits, and investigative reporters to root out the scandals around us. Something inside us draws us in to listen and to analyze it with friends. Perhaps we do this so that we can hear that whispering voice within us saying, “I’m better that that guy. Right God?” While the truth is this: Uh… no. Jesus loves the ones caught in the act of adultery, idolatry, and addiction. It is the beautiful scandalous truth of Jesus’ nature.

Love is the theme.

Ultimately, it all deconstructs into one simple gigantic word: love. It’s not about how much money I give, how many good deeds I perform, how many verses I know, how many awards I garner. Love is the ultimate tester. It is about love and it always will be about love.

Important:

If the church you go to doesn’t sound like this, you might want to reconsider what keeps you there. Because the message of Christianity is so often hijacked by legalism,
perfectionism,
authoritarianism,
politics,
elitism,
showmanship,
personality worship,
serial guilt-mongering,
racism,
behavior-modification idolatry,
brow-beating,
shame-casting,
theological hairsplitting,
apoplectic apologetics,
righteous sarcasm,
appearance management,
and a thousand other slings and arrows disguising themselves as orthodoxy.

Orthodox Christianity says, “Come, weary one. Find rest.” If you’ve been wounded by the church and find yourself disconnected, I want to challenge you to find a community of grace. Reengage with the truth of Jesus. You need it like I need it. Because when it comes right down to it, without that kind of love, grace and connection the world is a dark and lonely place.

7 Pastor Traps on Mother’s Day

Beware of the trap game. In sports, the trap game is a game played against an opponent generally deemed to be easy to defeat. As a result, a person or team may not prepare as they are looking ahead to next Sunday.

For pastors, Mother’s Days are often trap Sundays. But there are a few traps we can avoid on this very important and highly attended Sunday.

Trap #1: Publicly honoring the youngest mother. What is the distinctive achievement here?

I’m young. I had a baby.

After 52 years on this earth, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not a goal implied in Scripture. Go figure. It says be fruitful and multiply but it doesn’t tell you to begin before you’re 17. All mothers should be honored and singling out the youngest mother feels bad in so many ways. And it could be mortifying for some in your church, including the youngest mother.

Trap #2: Forgetting that there are women in your church that wish they were mothers. Imagine going through the hardest struggle you’ve ever experienced in your life and watching all your dreams vanish. Then imagine that someone creates a Sunday where they place of your greatest pain is the theme of a worship service. Of course you’ll want to honor mothers. Just honor them with a keen sensitivity toward infertility and the wounds of others.

Trap #3: Stretching, squeezing, twisting and prodding a scripture or a sermon series to make it fit Mother’s Day.

Especially if you are going through a series on the 7 deadly sins, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or The Bad Girls of the Bible.

Your people don’t need you to gracefully pirouette across the hermeneutical landscape and seamlessly land on the perfectly deft Mother’s Day sermon text at the just the right time. You’ll be more impressed than they will, Rev. Fancypants.

Trap #4: Honoring Mothers in contrast with those Nutty Dads. Notice the two most used, most implied topics of these 2 traditional days.

  • Mother’s Day Sermon Thesis Statement: Mothers, you are honored and cherished.
  • Father’s Day Sermon Thesis Statement: Fathers, get with the program.

Trap #5: The “Mother Worship” Trap. When planning your worship service, make sure the songs are about the Trinity not the quatrinity. (I know… Not a word.) The point is this: Our mothers, no matter how awesome they are, (and they are awesome) didn’t die for our sins. Worship every Sunday must be about God.

Trap #6: Not mentioning that it’s Mother’s Day. There are some that are so “non-seasonal” they decide to not even mention it. By doing that you are only magnifying the oversight in people’s minds. You have to do or say something whether you are making it the primary context of your message or you’re simply wishing mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. Not mentioning it is like asking people to not think of pink elephants. And now, please understand. Pink Elephants have nothing whatsoever to do with mothers. It is merely a common analogy that people use. Mothers and pink elephants have NOTHING to do with anything about each other. Am I clear on this point? Thank you.

Trap #7: This final trap is the most important one for pastors. Don’t forget to call your mother.

 

4 Prayers I Wish I Didn’t Hear in Worship

Public prayer is an awkward experience in most churches. It’s really a strange set of circumstances. Someone comes up to the microphone and is speaking to God and we are praying along. Hopefully. Sometimes, if you think about it, it would sound a little weird from God’s perspective. Prayer should be the ultimate spiritual communion between God and man, but like most things we have a tendency to make the sacred things seem rather human. So I submit to you these lower forms of public prayers along with their scientific classifications.

  • The Sidebar Info-Prayer: Someone forgets to make an announcement but suddenly discovers that if they announce it to God in prayer everybody will overhear it. (Check that puppy off the list!)

“Dear God, we pray that many will come to the church bake sale where there will be an innumerable array of baked goods- all selling for under ten dollars in the Activity Center at 5 PM tonight. And I pray that we will all remember that the proceeds are going to the YouthMania Super Spiritual Conference in Panama City.”

  • The Intercessory Argumentative Indignation Prayer: A person prays in worship while simultaneously commenting his or her own opinion.

“Lord, thank you for the gift of music. We pray that our leaders will do more Hymns and less songs about Oceans and the like. We long to worship with the inspiration of the hymns from the hymn books that we donated so long ago and pray that the drums that are placed on our stage will not damage the ears of the listeners.”

  • The Ditto Prayer: The ditto prayer can only be recognized after hearing someone pray more than three times in a worship service. It’s basically the prayer that the speaker prays every time he is called on to pray. It can usually be said in one breath and by now I think God has gotten the message.

“Dear Lord, thank you for this day. We pray that you will take this offering, bless the gift and the giver, use it for thy glory. Go with us now as we seek to do thy will, and forgive us of our many sins.”

(This is the Baptist “Hail Mary”.)

  • The Prayer of Our Lady of Too Much Information: We think it’s important to pray for everything but there are some prayers that we need to trust that God knows the details already.

“And help Laura who is struggling with whether to get a divorce or not because they are just so incompatible in their communication skills. And we pray for Frank who has a cyst right behind his ear and the fluid is…” (I will go no further.)

When I hear people praying these prayers to God, I sometimes fantasize about being Episcopalian but the form and theology is foreign to me and I don’t want to have to wear a robe. Also, I like our music. The modern songs and the hymns… And my son plays the drums. So there’s that.

 

I am Constantly Amazed

I am constantly amazed by the faithful love of Jesus. He champions the threshold of my beginnings and endings. He initiated the relationship and never lets go. I am still overwhelmed, surprised, consumed by His love. He is trustworthy, when I am sick. When I struggle with sin, he refuses to write me off. He is the friend of sinners.

He is faithfully consistent. Truly there is no shifting shadow in the deep love of Jesus. When I cast my gaze across the horizon… the October breeze that refreshes the land after the long summer, I know that every falling leaf, every blade of grass, every bird and cloud is a reminder of His creative hand. They all were conceived first in the imagination of the Artisan of the cosmos. 

And as I reflect on the life I’ve lived here, mostly fearful of everything, I realize that I never, EVER had anything to fear. He has been and always will be, relentlessly faithful, continuously sufficient, and absolutely available. I am still captivated by this lowly carpenter and faithful redeemer- I’m still struggling awkwardly to construct the right syntax and composition of words to describe the One who is truly indescribable. I will continue to try until the book is closed and my time comes.

King Jesus, your presence is palpable and your depth is dependable.

April Fools Day

I was thinking this morning, (April Fools’ Day) how wonderful this day would be if Donald Trump held a press conference and said two words: “April Fools’!”

Wow, Donald. You really got us. You got us good! We actually thought you were going to desire and win the office of President. You so funny.

But alas the day has passed and I guess he’s really serious.

I was also hoping that those fearful, angry evangelicals would also join the chorus and say, “April Fools’!”

But they didn’t either. This is really happening. The emperor has no clothes. Fear and anger have replaced love and mercy. We are divided and we will get what we are asking for: lots of countries mad at us, no character, angry shaming, name calling, bad interpretations of the Bible, sucker-punches, twitter wars, and childish rants that promote torture, revenge, pride, and excess. (All that stuff Jesus warned the church against.)

So onward we go.

(This would be a great time to pray for our country and the Church.)

He was 5′ 135″

My grandfather was 5 feet & 135 inches tall. Actually he was well under 6 feet but he was a giant, legendary figure. I grew up during my preschool days in Los Angeles. As a knee-high kid, my brother and I would fly for a number of weeks to live in Dry Prong Louisiana. Dry Prong is near Tioga. Don’t know Tioga? Let’s just say that Dry Prong built the boondocks located in Tioga. Dry Prong couldn’t afford boondocks. Talk about culture shock! We loved our time out in the sticks learning about possums, grasshoppers, cow pies, mosquito nets, feather beds and fireflies.

We learned a new dialect. Far was pronounced fur. Cool Whip™ was “Cool Werp.” And “tar” could mean anything from, “I’ve got a flat tar” to “Doesn’t our town have a great looking water tar?”

We called my grandfather Goodbuddy. He had an 8th grade education and a small farm in the sticks of rural central Louisiana. I still have old reel-to-reel recordings he would mail to Mom and Dad during our longer visits. I love hearing him say my name on those tapes. “Matthew’s a good little boy. Got him trained to the outside and the hose.” Interpretation: He taught me that I didn’t need to come inside to use the bathroom or get a drink.

He was introverted but he had plenty of stories. Funny ones. Most involved the usual suspects: his oil field bunkhouse mates, my dad, my grandmother and the 10 or so dogs that he programed to hate raccoons with the fire of a thousand suns.

He was country but he hated country music or as he called it– “Honky-tonkin” music. He said it like he was cussing. In fact, I was around thirteen before that I realized you could say “honky-tonk” in public.

He wasn’t the best at formal, public prayer but he did pray. There are more than a few stories of him laying face-down in the middle of his pasture praying before the dawn. This made him taller than most.

He taught me how to eat sardines with saltine crackers, how and when to spit, how to shake a hand firmly, how to make a lady feel important, and how to keep my mouth shut when I didn’t know what I was talking about. And to have the temperament of a pit bull when it came to defending children.

He was the kind of man that loved everybody but grandkids were in a class by themselves. I don’t have grandkids. I’m praying I’ll get to have some in the future. I will be an awesome grandfather. I was trained by the best.

I Am in a Hurry

I have more days behind me than I do in front of me so I am in a hurry.
I can’t afford to be cynical, satisfied or slow.
I don’t want to do anything halfway for You.

I don’t want to be pulled away by self interest, pride, or opposition.
I don’t have the time to live on the treadmills of accomplishment and notoriety  while the world around me starves from lack of grace, drifting away from the mystery of the Divine.

Commandeer my life for Your glory.

Open my hands, sharpen my focus and steady my aim.
Make short work of the claptrap meanderings of my own voice. I am weary of it.

I say, “Away with the litter of self-serving endeavors that I valued and held close to my heart.”
I am not satisfied with teaspoon-sized, halfhearted, unbroken, lifeless worship.
I will not sing anything that I am not willing to live.
I refuse to accept meaningless prayers for temporal things in my conversations with You.
I refuse to look at others and judge what they are doing or how I am doing.
I refuse to hold back anything from You no matter what the cost is.
There’s no way to do anything but love with even the slightest and most fleeting glimpse of the cross.
So, I want to run as fast as I can, pray with the constancy of angels and love everyone I encounter, even if it means pain. And I will make the most of this day in all of its paradoxical, mysterious glory.

There’s just not enough time to do anything else.

 

 

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