Category Archives: Spirituality

Rooted in Stone

St. Andrews Kirk EPC, Nassau, Bahamas, Established 1810.

St. Andrews Kirk EPC, Nassau, Bahamas, Established 1810.

Saturday morning, I stood in a 203 year old church in Nassau, the capitol city of The Islands of the Bahamas. Along the walls of the historic building are stone memorials commemorating past ministers, members, and city leaders who poured their lives into this church. It’s a startling remembrance that the church of Christ is strong, far-reaching, and rooted.

In January, CityChurch Wilton Manors officially launched public, weekly worship. The journey began as far back as 2011 when we began gathering a launch team. In the last year and half, we have seen many wonderful faces come to be a part of what God is building here in Wilton Manors, with a number of them signing on to commit themselves to helping this new church begin.

Standing in a church born one year after the birth of Abraham Lincoln, I shared with my fellow colleagues about the work God is doing in Wilton Manors. As I spoke, I noticed the stone memorials and their permanence even more, and yet I thought about the “living stones” God has brought together in Wilton Manors. Our church is only a little over a year old. As stones we are green and new. But, our center, our cornerstone, is the same rock that holds together the majestic walls of St. Andrews Kirk and its people. Jesus’ Church, is built upon himself. It’s roots produce fruit of faith, hope, and love, reaching into new parts of God’s earth advancing the kingdom of God.

Two churches. Separated by ocean and time, share the benefits of being built by the master architect and builder. Jesus himself.

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Comfortable Distance

Sycamore Tree

Lent is often described as, “the Lenten Journey.” Many follow Jesus through these weeks as he makes his way to the cross and ultimately the celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Along the journey we’re invited to enter into the story and encounter Jesus in a fresh way. As we walk with him we meet others that have been swept up into the story of Jesus.

Luke 19 tells of the encounter between Jesus and Zaccheus, the tax collector. Many children who have grown up in the church know the story of Zaccheus because of catchy nursery rhymes sung in Sunday school, or the unusual tidbit in the text referencing Zaccheus’ height. Or, lack their of.

Zaccheus was a tax collector. Someone who collected money on behalf of the Romans, and most likely skimmed off the top for his own gain. He, like everyone else, heard of Jesus passing through Jericho and had to see him. With a large crowd surrounding Jesus, Zaccheus couldn’t get through. We are tempted to believe the only reason Zaccheus climbed the tree was due to his being short. Most likely, many in the crowd would have known Zaccheus, and many would have despised him. They would have done their best to show no kindness to him.

In a twist, Jesus moves through the crowd, spots Zaccheus up in the tree and in my favorite part, invites himself over for dinner.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. – Luke 19:5-6

Jesus breaks into Zaccheus’ life in a way no one expected or approved of. Zaccheus was seeking Jesus, while in reality, Jesus was seeking the short little guy in the tree.

As Christians, we enter into many seasons of our lives where we endeavor to seek Jesus more in our lives. Lent is an opportunity to follow Jesus in a new and fresh way. We find however that all the while Jesus is seeking us. While we follow closely behind, Jesus is breaking into our lives in real and uncomfortable ways.

From our perches in the tree, we keep ourselves at a comfortable distance from Jesus. Thankfully, he breaks through the comfortable distance, and invites himself into our lives.

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Disconnect

If you’ve ever tried to write computer software or build a website from scratch, you know the smallest detail out of place can render the entire project a failure. The devil is in the details in many areas of life, particularly where connections need to be strong, sealed, and uncompromising.

I recently heard the story of a race car driver who finished the last half of the race without the precious radio communication between he and his pit crew. Sure you can still race, but to not have anyone helping you through the course, or troubleshooting problems on the fly, can leave you on your own and frankly, dangerous to others.

Believing something in our minds and hearts, and taking action with our words and deeds are two worlds often oceans apart. Over time the circumstances of our lives and the everyday-ness of our days can leave us wondering if anything really lines up. “Do I believe what I say I believe? When’s the last time I’ve actually done something that matters?”

Disconnect.

Sometimes we wake up and realize things aren’t adding up for us. Something is off. There’s a disconnect in our hearts between faith and doubt, hope and disappointment. Lent, can be a season where we spend time examining the disconnect. Where, and why, am I failing to trust in the promise God has made to me in Jesus?

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5

The natural human response usually leads us to try and connect back in easy, practical steps. Instead, Jesus calls us to stop, and remember where we are. In his love.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.
– John 15:9

When do we feel most connected to a loved one? A son, daughter, wife, or friend? When we know their love for us is secured. When their love for us is not in jeopardy. The disconnect between our hearts and our actions is rooted in remaining in the love of Christ.

This Lenten season, remember Christ. Remember his love. Remember the beautiful vine and branches that weave us together as God’s people. There we experience true connection, and true love.

Lent Reading IV:
John 15, 1 Peter 3:18-22

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Making New Friends

We all know people are challenging. Whether it’s the closest to us in our families, our coworkers, or others we have no problem calling an enemy. But, our struggle with others is more subtle than that. Without even realizing, people who believe different things or look slightly different make us uncomfortable. We quickly box ourselves into niches and communities we’re comfortable with. Jesus was always breaking down the everyday lives of his listeners with carefully worded, laser-guided missiles, aimed right at our blind spots.

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? – Matthew 5:46

It’s easy to float in social circles that we are comfortable in. They make us happy and keep us content. Venturing outside of those circles can be an exercise in pain management. Like an engine reaching its breaking point, we often slam the brakes and try to find our way back to what is familiar and safe. Jesus, however, never gives us that option.

And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the pagans do that? – Matthew 5:47

The message of Jesus clearly challenges our basic desires. Who we are friends with, and who we are not. The cross of Christ, literally becomes the bridge between people groups, communities, and personal relationships. Think about the simplicity of this statement from Jesus,“If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?”

As Christians, we are called to reach beyond what is easy relationally to find where the engine is near breaking, and to keep the peddle down. Christians must push through and befriend others.

Yet Jesus knows, we’ll fail most of the time. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48

Though we love only those who love us, God showed his love for us in Christ. He became our truest friend though we were enemies, doing whatever we could to shun him and do things our way. Jesus was perfect for us so that we can be seen as perfect in God’s eyes.

We can freely be imperfect people, befriending and loving other imperfect people. Lent is a season to consider the words of Jesus in a fresh way. Perhaps this is the season for you to greet someone Jesus would have greeted.

Lent Reading III:
Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 126, Matthew 5

Lay it Down

The Grapes of Wrath, film 1940

My family hails from Plant City. A town most known for its world famous Strawberry festival, found smack in the middle of the state of Florida. Like so many families during the depression, work became the destination. Wherever it could be found was wherever you would go. Leaving their home in South-Central Georgia, with 7 kids in tow, my family made the trek southward to Plant City, much like the Joads of Steinbeck’s
The Grapes of Wrath.

I know this… a man got to do what he got to do. – John Steinbeck

There comes a time when laying down your former life is the only choice you have. Whether the dust of Kansas, or the clay of Georgia, the search for something better forces us to lay down old ways, old habits, and old places.

When you lay it down, you let it die.

Out of death, comes the freshness of new life. Ash Wednesday and Lent signal our need to lay certain things down. To let them die, with the promise given us of picking up something far greater. A better life, in a better place. A place much closer to God’s kingdom than where we have come from.

They’s a time of change, an’ when that comes, dyin’ is a piece of all dyin’, and bearin’ is a piece of all bearin’, an’ bearin’ an’ dyin’ is two pieces of the same thing. An’ then things ain’t so lonely anymore. An’ then a hurt don’t hurt so bad. – John Steinbeck

What needs dyin’? Where in our lives do we find the things, the places, the darkness that needs letting go?

Jesus constantly asked his followers to see him as the resting place for their problems, their pain, and their burdens. On Jesus, our sin and brokenness, and all the ways we have tried to find happiness, go to die. We put them on him, and with him, they die.

28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30

In his resurrection the freshness of new life lands in our hearts and gives us true rest. A glimpse of the promised land that all of us, the Joads and the Thompsons alike, are journeying towards this side of the Jordan.

Lay it down. Let it Die.

Lent Reading II :
Psalm 25:1-10, Mark 1:9-15, Acts 2

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Lent: Regaining Balance

Today marks the beginning of Lent. A season of the Christian year devoted to reflection, contemplation, and a reordering of priorities. Lent is often viewed as only for a certain kind of Christian, or the time of year when devout Christians give up things in their lives they really enjoy, to prove their devotion to God. Unfortunately, these depictions of Lent are short-sided and lame.

Lent provides the space for us to reevaluate our lives both spiritually and physically. For the Christian, Lent calls us to renew our devotion to the disciplines of the faith. The daily office of prayer and meditation. The sacrificing of certain practices or activities to better focus our attention on Christ. The discipline of fasting.

Lent is a 40-day preparation for the observance of Christ’s passion and Easter. It gives us an annual opportunity to trace the history of redemption. – Michael Horton

In today’s culture, the need for balance is an ever elusive destination. The ebb and flow of a chaotic year can leave us too busy for family, and too busy for God. Or, perhaps the chaos of life has already over taken and you have resigned yourself to sadness, depression, and resentment. The gospel tells us that Christ breaks into our “out-of-balance” lives and sets things back in order. Lent is about regaining balance. Spiritually and physically.

Lent is not behavior modification… It is most fundamentally about your willingness to surrender to the God who wants to invade your heart with disruptive love, who wants to stifle your exhausting attempts to manufacture love with unfathomable grace.  Lent affords you this unique opportunity, by God’s grace.  The way down is the way up.  Through this Lenten journey, you might find yourself hidden in Christ, and revealed ultimately in the Easter reality of God’s resurrection life, stripped of pretension and falsehood, and revealed as a humble and dependent son or daughter. – Dr. Chuck DeGroat

Instead of giving up something you secretly love, think about a better balance. Instead of diving back into the deep end of your spiritual life after not swimming for months, think about a better balance. What would happen in our daily lives if we made time to listen, without desiring any answers? This is how the season of Lent can become a refreshing time for all who come to the well that is Christ, and drink living water.

God asks us to trust him in a new way, to put aside our natural reactions, to listen humbly for a fresh word and to act on it without knowing exactly how it’s going to work out. That’s what he’s asking all of us to do this Lent. – Bishop N.T. Wright

It is my goal to post as often as I can through the season of Lent, offering some kind of resource, thought, or encouragement that helps us find a better balance in life. On this Ash Wednesday, we first come to recognize our sin and brokenness, and the reality that without the cross of Jesus Christ, we are left “dead in our trespasses.” The Hope of Easter however, lifts us up to drink deeply from the refreshing, living water of Christ.

Lent Reading I ::
Acts 1:1-14 ; Psalm 51:1-17

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The 5 Steps of Linsanity

Jeremy Lin

From the beginning my hope for this blog was to get behind issues, topics, thoughts, and view them from another angle. A different, hopefully better angle.

Over the last two weeks something has happened to America. Linsanity. Even if you are not a sports fan, you have probably seen or read a story about a new person on the New York Stage. Jeremy Lin, point guard for the New York Knicks.

To better understand the power of this story, here, in my opinion, are the five steps of Linsanity:

1)   Basketball – We’re talking about a 6’3”, undrafted, rookie basketball player from Harvard University. Not exactly the basketball factory of Tobacco Road in North Carolina. Lin, passed on by every NBA team in the draft, was already cut this year by his hometown Golden State Warriors, and the Houston Rockets. The desperate New York Knicks took a flyer on him. Due to injury, and the ineptitude of their current players, Lin was given an opportunity.

Here are the facts: The man can play basketball. He can run an offense, distribute the basketball, pull up and shoot long jump shots, and amazingly, consistently drive to the basket and score. These are things that Harvard doesn’t prepare you to do. Many are wondering if Linsanity will last. Can he keep up this level of play? The answer is yes. Because he’s that good of a player.  The first step of Linsanity is to realize what you’re dealing with. Talent.

2)   New York City – The media, and the public are fooling themselves if they don’t believe the second step of Linsanity is the combustive ingredient of New York City. If Lin would have taken off with his home town team in Golden State, it would be a very nice basketball story, maybe the basketball story of the year, but it would NOT be Linsanity.

Just like everything else New York City touches, it turns to gold, or ashes. And this is gold baby. Gold.  Like no other place in the history of world civilization, New York gets its hands on a star and makes it shine brighter than the Sun. The second step of Linsanity is believing that place, location, and timing are equal players in the creation of a phenomenon.

3)   Harvard – While you are fully coming to terms with the importance of step 2, go ahead and mix in the most influential educational institution in our nation’s history. New York + Harvard = step 3 of Linsanity.

The Harvard’s, Yale’s, and Oxford’s of the world do not waste time producing athletes at the highest level. They produce wielders of social and political power. We’re now dealing with an individual who is uniquely gifted. Certain institutions in our nation wield different levels of power. It’s called social capital. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times hold more social capitol in our society, than the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and  Kansas City Star. Harvard holds more social capitol in our society than every school known for their basketball prowess. Skilled, intelligent, smart, and standing atop the mountain of the social heap in America. Step 3 of Linsanity, is a grab for power.

4)   Christian – This is perhaps the most interesting step of Linsanity. There has been much talk surrounding the faith of famous athletes recently, most notably the popularity of Tim Tebow in the Evangelical Christian community. A phenomenon reaches new heights when entire people groups can embrace it. Just like Tebow, Jeremy Lin is someone Christians cheer for and identify with. If you doubt the validity of step 4 of Linsanity, I invite you to read Michael Luo’s recent piece in the New York Times (here) Luo writes,

He grew up, like me, in the United States, speaking English; his Chinese, like mine, could use improvement. He went to my alma mater. And, yes, he is a Christian, too, but with a brand of faith, shaped by his background, that I can relate to much better than many I have seen in the public arena.

It’s that last bit that sticks out. I’ll let you the reader chew on that and decipher what you will, but that last line, is a line tailor made for this blog.

5)   Race – There’s no way around it. The final step. Race, is step five of Linsanity. Many in the media struggle to find the right tact, tone, and words to fully unravel this facet of the Lin story. Talking about race in America can be the stuff of legends, or the revealer of fools. Race is indeed a part of this. Once again I refer to Michael Luo,

The feelings the Lin phenomenon instill in me are orders of magnitude greater because he is an Asian-American, like me, whose parents were immigrants to this country, like mine. He grew up, like me, in the United States, speaking English; his Chinese, like mine, could use improvement.

He looks different than anyone on the court. And that helps our interest.

Couple that interest with eye-popping, out of nowhere untapped talent, the stage of the Big Apple, the social capital of the leading institution in America, and a vibrant faith… Boom. Linsanity.

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Be Decent, People

We are in the midst of an extended, tiresome campaign cycle. Elected officials more than ever before have come under criticism for their continuous campaigning and what seems to be diminished time governing.

Candidates find their voice often by trying to shout louder than the others, even if they are saying much of the same things. But it’s not just the candidates. Try, just try and sit down to have a meaningful, civil, discussion with someone from another point of view, and see if you can do it.

Civility in the public square is gone in America. Whether its politics, elections, religion, spirituality, or even sports, engaging in meaningful debate is as elusive as a photo of Mitt Romney’s hair out of place.  What happened? Is it all the result of “opinion TV”? Cable news networks baiting both sides to argue against each other while a powerless host tries to play referee?

Is it because information can be channeled to us by preferences? “A la Carte information.” Today you can receive emails, Facebook messages, and browse websites from the perspective that you choose, while never having to introduce yourself to an idea from another point of view.

Politics and government are not the only playgrounds for civility loss. As a pastor, I see too often within the church a lack of civility between parishioners. However, the bigger lack of decency is often found in leadership. Leaders who are schooled from one perspective, who read from one perspective, refuse to engage others, and befriend people with whom they may disagree only further the divide. Those leaders stifle civility in the public square.

Perhaps we should define what it means to be civil. Dr. Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California, clarifies civility in his book Uncommon Decency:

Civility is public politeness. It means that we display tact, moderation, refinement and good manners toward people who are different from us. It isn’t enough, though, to make an outward show of politeness. Being civil has an “inner” side as well.

Nothing has challenged the way I as a pastor share my faith than this. How can I effectively engage people radically different than myself if I do not consider them a friend? If I’m not viewed as a friend and a person of peace, then immediately my “outward show of politeness”, is deemed fake, offensive, intrusive, and close-minded.

Mouw further explains:

Many people today think of civility as nothing more than an outward, often hypocritical shell. But this cynical understanding of civility is yet another sign of the decline of real civility. In the past civility was understood in richer terms. To be civil was to genuinely care about the larger society. It required a heartfelt commitment to your fellow citizens. It was a willingness to promote the well being of people who were very different, including people who seriously disagreed with you on important matters. Civility wasn’t merely an external show of politeness. It included an inner politeness as well.

The reality. Most political analysis and Christian thought fail to take into account how much we are shaped by our social networks, familial ties, and church traditions. If you grew up in a Republican family, friends with other Republican families, you’re more than likely a Republican. All of the political analysis, exit polling, and independent swing vote seducing, fail to adequately take this into account. If you’re a Christian, who grew up in a Christian home with other Christian families in networks of Christians, its quite likely difficult to find friends in your life that don’t believe what you believe.

Our social backgrounds and networks influence how we vote, and how (if) we worship.

Unless we break the cycle.

Civility is cultivated when we engage people we seriously disagree with, politely, and lovingly. Political conversations and the exchange of ideas in the public square become MORE civil when we uphold a “heartfelt commitment to our fellow citizens.” The sharing of the Christian faith with others who are seemingly hostile to the message of Jesus Christ changes when we lead with civility. When we lead with love.

This is NOT about the compromise of values, truth, or positions for the sake of civility. It’s about the civil, polite, and loving communication and exchange of those values, truth, and positions.

So, get to know a Republican. A Democrat.

Get to know someone who doesn’t believe the claims of Christianity. Make them your friend.

Get to know a Gay person. A Straight person.

Get to know a NY Jets fan. (Well, maybe not.)

Be decent, people.

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