Advent Wait, Wait…

I like Advent because it’s rude.

Advent rudely pushes back against our consumer culture.  Advent pulls the reigns back and says “not so fast, pal.”  I need something to slow me down.  Advent is rude enough to do just that, like a peaceful bossypants.

The Christmas we’re surrounded by go, go, go.

The Advent we’re entering into says wait, wait, wait… because the Christmas we’re hoping to engage is one of peace, joy, restoration, hope, and celebration.  I need Advent.  You need Advent.  We need to ponder, like Mary, what it means for the promised Messiah to be born in us today.  We need to tiptoe in, like the Shepherds, to adore the newborn King.  We need to bring our gifts, like the Magi, because a King deserves nothing less.  But this requires the soul to be running at a speed that is counter to the frantic Christmas pace around us.

How does one “reclaim” Christmas?  By living in Advent space.  On purpose.  By submitting to the directive to wait.  By simply choosing one thing over another.

You’d think this would be easy for a pastor.  It’s not.  I was talking with some of our church staff yesterday about how Christmas/Advent is a collection of tasks and deadlines, and not a celebration.  But I’m not off the hook.  I have to choose wait, wait, wait over go, go, go.  I choose it now, especially as we work our way toward the last Sunday of Advent.  I want Christmas Eve to be a relief, a breaking of the tension that naturally builds as we delay Christmas until it’s actually Christmas.

It’s still Advent.  Wait.

Their Part in Pentecost

Today is Pentecost Sunday.  Pentecost has been around for a long time – even longer than the New Testament.  Back in the Ol’ Testament days, worshippers would bring their offering of bread to the Temple in Jerusalem as a way of saying thanks to God.  Thanks for the bread which sustains us physically and thanks for your Word which sustains us spiritually.  All God’s people would hightail it for Jerusalem for this annual feast on the 50th day (Pente = 50) following the Passover.

The truth is that Pentecost was not new.  But God by His Spirit made it astonishingly new in a completely unexpected way. 

Jesus told His followers to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 2:1, we read that they were gathered in one place on the day of Pentecost.  Pretty normal, run-o-the-mill Jewish feast.  But then God does the unexpected in Acts 2:2, which is where the wind, the fire, the tongues, and the power all show up.  The world is forever changed.  3,000 people come to Jesus that day, and a new global and eternal movement is started.  We call it the Church.

But let’s not complicate the process.  Their part in Pentecost was simply to wait, which is exactly what those 120 believers did.

They waited because of a person — Jesus.

They waited because of an event — His life, death, and resurrection.

They waited out of obedience — simply because Jesus told them to wait.

United as one, in one space, in one Name, because of One God who is yet Three.

Mind boggling.  But not complicated.  I wait.  You wait.  We wait for the Holy Spirit.  Poured out once and for all on the church, we don’t need to hang tight until Pentecost 2.0.  Rather, we need to say “purify me and fill me yet more.”  That’s the prayer of the church.  It’s a prayer of waiting.  And that’s our part in Pentecost.

May every day be a day where the Holy Spirit has even greater influence in our lives.  May we yield to the cleansing fire and life-giving wind of the Spirit.  May we put our limitations aside and eagerly await the blessed Trinity to infuse our lives.

Spiritual transformation has many enemies.  People accused these 120 Spirit-filled people of being drunk.  Cynicism is the enemy of transformation in our world and even in the church.  Or maybe mediocrity.  Or pride.  Or spiritual disengagement.  You name it; the Spirit knows it.  Let Him tell you (not me).

Do your part today as you seek the Holy Spirit.  Wait.

Refuge is Quick // Trust Takes Time

[Ps 62:6-8]


It’s raining outside and I’m getting soaked.  “Come in or you’ll catch a cold!” and I do (come in, not catch a cold).  Water evaporates as I switch from wetting to drying.  I’m not getting rained on anymore, but I’m not instantly dry, either.  Refuge is quick but drying off takes time.


We took our kids to a new house to be babysat.  We trusted these people without a doubt and were instantly on our way to our hot date.   The kids were a bit scared as they slowly wandered into the place, finally feeling safe by the time we picked them up.  They cried when we left them; they cried because we were taking them home!

I think about how refuge is quick but trust takes time when I read Psalm 62:6-8.  Whenever a writer quotes a scripture verse, I usually skip over it and jump to the point.  Terrible, right?  You might do it, too.  So, instead of a nice italicized inline textblock for you to skip, let’s break this down.  I’m trying to make a point, here, and you need to be familiar with the verse.  When the Psalmist says that God is his rock and salvation, he’s describing refuge.  He found a good place to stand with no complaint because, well, it beats the alternative!  You would think that this would lead to instant and total trust in God, but it doesn’t.  Ps 62 goes on, saying that we need to trust in him at all times, you people! (I love that).  Trust is the willingness to pour out your hearts to God (verse 8b) because God is our refuge.

Refuge meets the need caused by an impending danger — sin — and is instant.

Trust meets the need caused by our busted up hearts — sin — and takes time.

Can I trust God with everything?  I mean, I’m glad to be safe and all, but can He really handle xyz?  That doubt, expressed by words or by inactivity, is what messes me up.  Refuge is instant, but trusting God all the way is difficult.

Remember when Grandma was looking for something in her purse?  After a minute of unsuccessful archeological dig, she’d exhale loudly and just dump the contents of her purse out on the kitchen table until she found that rogue tic tac?  That’s what it should look like as we pour out our hearts before the Lord.  That kind of vulnerability takes time, even though we’re safe and sound in His fortress of salvation through Christ.

Standing up is much easier than pouring out.  Yes?  Pour out anyway.  What’s to worry about?  You’re safe.

Be grateful for salvation but listen to the Psalm: trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. 

I Got “Emo Longwhisker”! What Kind Of Cat Are YOU??? (Ps 139 Devotional Thoughts)

I love those facebook quizzes that tell everything about ourselves by asking 5 or 6 questions. What kind of cat are you?  Who will you marry?  Which 60 Minutes reporter are you?   These personality tests tell us more about ourselves than they intend.

Meyie couldn't carrrrre less.
Meyie couldn’t carrrrre less.

Psalm 139 — You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.  Truth about humans: we want to be searched and we need to be known.  It’s all in good fun, but, as it turns out, taking quizzes that answer Which Character From Full House Are You?? (I always get Cousin Larry) feeds a deep need inside of us to be known & to understand more about ourselves.

When I go to the airport, my second most stressful part is having to fold myself into an airplane seat (Which In-Flight Snack Describes You Best??).  But the most stressful part is when I’m getting processed to go on the flight. Psalm 139:1 – you have searched me and you know me – might be a good life verse for the TSA, what with their questions and xrays and searches.  Though important, this particular kind of knowledge is not something we long for.  We want to be spiritually known.  Only God can truly know us this way.

So, in application of Psalm 139 and the reminder that we have a human need to be known, I suggest running to God.  He’s already got you hemmed in, anyway (139:5).  In fact, if you try running away, you’ll only find him in the place you eventually stop running (139:8).  Not only will He recognize you, He will love you with an everlasting love as He shapes you, which is what He’s been doing since your humble beginning (139:13).

Today is Epiphany. Care.

Today, January 6th, is Epiphany.

Epiphany observes and celebrates the day that the Magi bowed before King Jesus and gave Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh.   Remember that story about the Wise Men?  Remember the song?

Hey.   Let’s sing it together:

7am wakin’ up in the morning

Gotta be fresh gotta go downstairs

Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal,

Seein’ everything the time is goin’

SORRY.  Wrong song.  I mean:

We Three Kings of Orient Are

Bearing gifts, we traverse afar,

Field and fountain, moor and mountain

Following Yonder Star


It’s Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday

I think we all see what I did there.  I’m not impressed, either.

Couplea fun facts.  First, I discovered that the Greek word for Wise Men (the KJV translation) is actually Magos — or Magi.  Magi were well educated astrologers/astronomers who were experts in all things sky-related.  They knew the stars as well as one could back in the year 0.  (Actually, it was probably somewhere around 2 B.C., but we’ll save that post for another day — maybe Friday).

Gotta get down on Friday.

So, while we usually call them “Wise Men”, they were, in fact, wise in one particular discipline: astronomy.  They were scientists of the sky.  Those banners that we sometimes put up in front of our churches that say “Wise Men Still Seek Him” are much catchier than the more accurate “Ancient Astronomers Who Looked At the Stars Through Cracks Between Their Fingers Still Seek Him.”

And we’re not sure how many Magi there were.  We typically attribute the number three, but that’s only because there are three gifts mentioned.  There may have been only two Magi.  Or 7.    

7am wakin’ up in the morning.

Gold is for a King.  Frankincense is a symbol of deity.  Myrrh is a reminder of His world-changing death and resurrection. Another tradition suggests that the gifts were only medicinal in nature.  Incense and myrrh were as commonly used as Tylenol™ and Motrin™.  Gold was as common then as gift cards at Christmas.  The symbolism has several different interpretations and are all a part of the rich tapestry of church history: enlightening and sometimes a bit strange.

Trivial details aside, let me point out the reason you should care about January 6.  Just as Christmas falls every year on December 25th, marking the arrival of Jesus, Epiphany falls on January 6 every year, and we celebrate the fact that the King of the Jews came for everyone — Jew, Gentile, Rich, Poor, Trafficked, Free, Women, Men, and whoever else you might name.  Emmanuel is with us, and the world is being slowly overwhelmed with Everlasting Light.

Until His Kingdom comes, we revel in the Light.  Finally, when the King returns, it will be a party like no other.

Partyin’, Partyin’.  Fun.  Fun. Fun. Fun. 

Quite frankly, this is all very good news.  Jesus came for you.  The King will go to great lengths to save His subjects — even by subjecting Himself to a tortuous death.   Admission to the party is free, but the cost to throw this party is exhorbitantly high.

At Christmas, we celebrate that Jesus is born.  On Epiphany, we celebrate that Jesus was born for everyone.

As the song (We Three Kings) finishes, so shall we:

Glorious now, behold Him arise

King and God and sacrifice.

Alleluia, alleluia

Sounds through the earth and skies. 

Mary Pondered

Mary wasn’t known for too much before being selected to become the mother of Jesus.  She came from a rough neighborhood and had a pretty typical genealogy.  She was engaged to a man named Joseph, who, besides having some distant royalty in his blood as a descendent of King David, was an average Joe.  I’d like to think that’s where we get the saying “Average Joe”. Joseph, Jesus’ step-dad, is a pretty typical guy from a pretty typical town who will marry, in his eyes, the most wonderful woman in the world.  Every husband to be should think that about their wife.  She’s no ordinary girl — She’s Mary thought Joseph.  Or, at least in our 21st century view, he should’ve.  Who knows.

All I know is that I was shopping for some last minute gifts at Walgreens Macy’s for my wife Emily, and everything I looked at ran through the filter that said “will Emily be happy with this gift?” because, as her husband, I want her to be happy.   Listen: I’m not the perfect husband, but I do know that… you know what?  I’ll just stop there and continue down the main path:

Imagine Joseph’s shock when his nearly-wife Mary told him she was pregnant with the Son of God.  He wanted to divorce her, but an angel came and told him not to, because the child conceived in Mary was truly of the Holy Spirit.  So, they stayed together.  Perhaps amidst ridicule, surprise, and even friends who tried to convince otherwise, they stayed together.

I bet Mary thought about that.

Mary gave birth and they called Him Jesus, which means savior.  The angel told Mary that He would save His people from their sin, that he would be great, that he would reign as king, and that he would have all authority.  Perhaps it crossed Mary’s mind that her son would someday save her. As she changed his swaddling cloths because babies do what babies do, I wonder if she considered who it was she was taking care of.  The Son of God?  Her son, Jesus?  And, as she thought about that, Jesus cried because Jesus was hungry. She’s feeding the Son of God.  What does that even mean?

I bet Mary thought about that.

Years later, her son Jesus would die on a cross, and she would have the horrendous experience of watching it happen.  I wonder if she recalled the words of the angel, or remembered the gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh.  I wonder when she realized that her son was born to die, born to set people free, born for us.  I wonder if His life flashed before her eyes.  I wonder if we could ever understand what it was like to see such a thing.

And I wonder if she was surprised to see just how much her boy — the one she raised with Joseph — would mean life for us tonight.  I wonder what it was like to look back on this night like we are now.  I bet she thought “Oh, Mary — if you only knew how faithful God would be…”  So often I have thought about what it would be like to go back in time and talk to my younger self. Where would I begin?  What would Mary say to… to Mary?

Tonight, we simply rejoice.  We know that Jesus has come.  He was born in a manger, lived a perfect life, died a grizzly death, and rose again to new life.  Like every grownup walking the earth today, Jesus started out as a helpless baby whose cry makes parents jump to their feet.  Every baby is like royalty.  But baby Jesus is a King.

I bet Mary pondered that, too.

Merry Christmas.

There’s Something About Mary (the MOJ)


Just a few questions from a puzzled mind.

Granted, I’m working with a fairly basic document that takes broad strokes.  It’s all inspired, no doubt, and I dare not read between the lines too much.  If you’d be so kind as to let me vent my inquisitive frustration, I’d surely appreciate it.  Once I get these moths of confusion out of my head, I’ll just go on my merry way. Ha!  Get it?  Merry way?? You know what?  Ignore that.  Now — if I may:

What were you doing when Gabriel showed up?  You must’ve been in a calm mood, because there’s no sign that you freaked out.  If an angel appeared in my kitchen between my pouring of the coffee grounds and adding water, saying “Greetings, you who are highly (or moderately) favored!” I would have instinctively punched him in his angely face and then asked who he was.  But you… you weren’t surprised at all.  Chill sista.  So I’m wondering if you realized he was an angel.  Maybe it was as routine as a meter reading or a plate of cookies from the neighbor, both examples of moments not to freak out.  Was Gabriel in disguise?  Were you, as the old saying goes, entertaining angels unaware?

When Gabriel said “the Lord is with you?”, what did that mean to your ears?  We throw that phrase around like it’s as common as a Walgreens pharmacy.  Historically speaking, yous guys didn’t have Emmanuel like we do (nor did you have pharmacies, which explains the lower life expectancy).

Though you weren’t surprised, your face must’ve communicated trouble — what were you afraid of?  Was it holy terror?  Was it that “favored” people always end up paying a high price to obey God?  Were you afraid that you were going to die?  Did an angel wing pop out from under the trench coat?

I noticed that Gabriel gave you a big rundown of the baby, the eternal nature of the throne, the fact that He is the Son of God, and even a name assignment, yet your biggest concern is the conception.  I guess that’s not a question as much as it is a happy observation of your humanity.  Truly.  If someone said to me “You’re going to Chicago for 5 nights and will see all the sites and meet a bunch of people and eat a bunch of pizza”, my first thought would be about the practicality of the schedule and whether or not I will be rolling my clothes into cylinders for easy travel.  The rest comes later, but I need to make sure I have the time and resource to play along with this magical journey.  You too, it seems.

When the angel talked about the Holy Spirit, what crossed your mind?  The greek there is hagios pneuma.  You might have heard it as ruach or something.  Did you make the connection to the creation story, the history of Moses, or something you had heard from a rabbi?  Was it odd to think of the Spirit of God as being part of this?  Were you as confused as we are, when we really think about this and all it means?  I hope so.

Did you feel cheated?  I would guess that you and Joseph probably plotted the rest of your happy family life.  I would also guess that you didn’t plan on a miraculous pregnancy that didn’t involve Joseph.  Though he’s clearly a key part of this (from the line of David), did you or he feel like you were going to miss out on a traditional baby experience?  Kudos to you both, by the way, for being so great about it.

Do you think our modern familiarity with this ancient story create an obstruction?  I know this is a rather leading question, but we talk about this story every year and even put up manger scenes with often creepy and internally lit mannequins.  Sometimes we know it so well that we don’t listen.  Since you were there and all, I just wonder what layers need to be removed from my heart in order to hear this story and be moved?  Oh. I suppose that’s the job of the Holy Spirit, right?  Right.

When you felt the first kick, did your faith deepen?  In other words, did you feel Jesus move and think “this just got real?”

Lastly: when the angel left, did he say “bye!” or just walk away?  Seems like a silly point, but I guess I still can’t get over the fact that you weren’t screaming and hitting him with a frying pan or something.  Oh – I was also wondering if you felt like God was with you.  I bet you appreciate the irony of God being so close that He’s literally in your womb, right?  I mean, I do.  I guess.

Thanks, Mary.  We’ll talk more about this on Sunday.  By the way — I wasn’t praying to you or anything.  Just asking an historical figure a bunch of questions that they can’t answer, like when I ask Abraham Lincoln where he got that cool hat.  He has yet to return an answer, and I expect just as much from you.