Monthly Archives: December 2012

Hannah Grace: A Christmas Miracle

Eden holds Hannah for 1st time
Eden holds Hannah for 1st time

“God makes babies, because God loves stories.” – Elie Wiesel

So yesterday afternoon at 1:14, Leslie gave birth to our 3rd baby. She’s a girl, named Hannah Grace, despite my coworkers‘ suggestion to name her Hannahkuh.  Actually, at the time she wasn’t named Hannah, we decided to wait until we actually met the new little girl before naming her.

We didn’t want to give her a name,  and then have her come out looking like a Barbara. However, we now think that might be a mistake. Mainly because we forgot that all babies come out looking like Winston Churchill.

I also forgot how crazy being in the labor and delivery room is. It is very much like being in a war zone. The nurses heard all the  crying and moaning and were concerned for a while, but eventually I pulled myself together (Leslie barely broke a sweat). Each time we go through this I’m reminded how  incredibly tough she is. I don’t even handle paper cuts well…so I’m very glad that my role is just to do jazz hands and have the nurses sedate me.

G.K. Chesterton once said that he learned more about God from watching children than from all the books in his library. And each time I hold a new born baby I get a glimpse into what he  meant by that. Especially when you get to have a baby on Christmas Day. the sheer vulnerability of this little 6lb bundle of skin, makes the Christmas story seem all the more impossible.

She’s so fragile and wonderful, and so dependent. She depends on others just to stay alive, and for every Christmas after this one, I’ll have a better reminder of how far the trip was for the Word to become flesh.Hannah getting her foot printed

But this Christmas birth was especially powerful for Leslie and I, because it was exactly a year ago at this time that we were in the same Hospital for very different reasons. Last year we had a later term miscarriage that was difficult, and as we were holding our new little girl today it dawned on us that we wouldn’t have her, if we wouldn’t have gone through that.

Last year one of my good ministry friends told me about something a delivery doctor at his church had said.

She had told him that the more she found out about the reproduction systems, and the biology of the human body, she was not surprised by the occasional tragedies, she was shocked that they didn’t happen so much more. Because millions of things have to line up just right for a human baby to enter the world without major problems. It is, in her words, a miracle.That’s exactly how we feel today.

And while we know that Hannah Grace will grow up to be her own person, with her own personality, Leslie and I want to say this to her.

Hannah, I want you to know how much your family already loves you. You’ve got grandparents and aunts and uncles that are on pins and needles to meet you. You’ve got a big brother and sister who have prayed for you for the last 9 months, and will for the next 90. But I also want you to know about your mommy. She’s got the biggest heart in the world, and you’ve already stolen it. She’s tough and smart and funny, and if you turn out anything like her, you’re going to be just fine.Samuel holding Hannah for the first time Continue reading Hannah Grace: A Christmas Miracle

Something Is Missing #3: The End of The World

End of the World pictureSo tomorrow is the day that the world is supposed to end. For over a thousand years, the Mayans have scheduled every day on their calendar.

And today is the last one.

I remember the first time I heard about this passive-aggressive prediction. It was eerie and freaky, and I totally believed it. I had all these images from the movies I’ve seen about the end of the world flash through my mind. There were volcanoes and lava or earthquakes and asteroids (there’s always an asteroid isn’t there?), and then finally at the last minute Will Smith comes in and saves the world.

Those are the images we’ve been handed for how to think about the end of the world.

And I think they’re wrong.

So it’s Christmas time. And for a lot of us that means shopping and parties and eggnog. But if you’re afraid of the end of the world tomorrow, than I think Christmas can really bless you today. Another word for the Christmas season is Advent. And Advent is just the Latin word for “Coming” It’s the idea that Jesus came into the world, and that he will one day soon come into the world again.

Advent is about the longing that is in every human heart, a desire, an ache that we all share for things to be different, for there to be no more cancer, or school shootings. It’s a hope for the world to be made new.

At the heart of Advent is the recognition that something is missing.

And Christmas reminds us that this something is really a someone.

I’m preaching this Sunday on a text from 1st Peter that has really captured my imagination the past few weeks. I rarely blog about what I’m about to preach on, but since enough people think that the end of the world just might happen tomorrow, I wanted to share a word of hope that might bless you this Christmas.

When Jesus first met Peter, he was a rough-around-the-edges fisherman. He was impulsive. He was a racist, he was a self-promoting, fearful bigot. In other words, he was a human. And Jesus found Peter, trained him and taught him for years. Peter betrayed, annoyed, and refused Jesus. And Jesus just kept pushing into Peter’s life. Jesus forgives again and again, he piles grace upon grace for Peter.

But when Jesus’ life comes to it’s most critical moment, when Jesus is headed to the cross, and needs a friend the most, Peter doesn’t show up for Jesus. And so after Jesus dies, Peter goes back to fishing. Then Jesus is raised from the dead, he shows up to all the disciples, and Peter just keeps on fishing. Because Peter now knows that he is a total failure.

But at least he knows how to fish.

Now up until this point, the Prodigal Son was just a story that Jesus had told. But in John 21 it’s a story that Jesus acts out. Jesus runs to Peter. Jesus hasn’t given up on him. And it’s here that Peter learns that no failure is too big for Jesus to overcome. Continue reading Something Is Missing #3: The End of The World

Names #6: Changing Names

CT PreachingThis is the last post in this short series about names in the book of Genesis. I know that whole idea might sound strange, but it’s something I’ve been rolling around in my mind for a while, because I’m convinced that our names matter more than we think they do. I think our language to describe the world and ourselves matter a lot to God.

That why Genesis talks a lot about names. Because a name is a story, and if we don’t name well, we might not tell the story we are wanting to tell.

For example…

Did you ever wonder why God changes people’s names?  Does this strike anybody else as bizarre? And it happens all the time in the Bible, especially in Genesis. Like when God comes to Abram and Sarai, these people who’ve had their names for 70 years, and he’s like “Let’s add an H” in there.

Or what about Jacob? God comes to this guy who is one of the worst heroes in ancient literature (He’s kind of a jerk, he’s selfish and he’s always trying to get ahead) and God tells him that he’s going to change his name to Israel.

To which I would say, can’t we go with something that sounds more normal like…Gary or Robert?

But I’ll come back to this.

One of my very good preaching friends is a guy named Charlton. Charlton is a young preacher and one of the best ministers I know. He and his family are some dear friends of ours, and I trust him implicitly. A year and a half ago, Charlton was serving at a large church that we both care about, when he had a moral failure that hurt him, his family, and the church that he was serving.

It’s something that we all know we are very capable of, but Charlton had the misfortune of being a very public figure when his life imploded. Meet my friend Charlton:

My name is Charlton. I spent most of my life investing in, upgrading, and polishing my name. In high school, my efforts were awarded with the title, “Mr. Integrity.” I continued to build on my reputation in college with the “Mr. LCU” crown. A few years later, my alma mater invited me back for the cherry on top: the “Young Alumni Award.” The constant attention I paid to my name was paying off, so no one was surprised when I devoted my life to full-time ministry. I was the “type” of person you would expect to do ministry. I could hear them in my head, “Charlton is perfect for ministry!” I had worked hard to be.

As my years in ministry increased, people became more aware of the cracks in my name, so I worked harder to seal them – an exhausting and futile exercise. Eventually I gave up and let all the secret dark places of my heart rise to the surface. I made a series of sinful choices with a blast radius that affected hundreds of good people. The explosion left those closest to me emotionally dismembered. In that moment the “Charlton brand” went bankrupt.  All the effort, energy, time…meaningless. This launched me on a three-month journey to utter brokenness. I had shattered my life and was helpless to put the pieces back together. Continue reading Names #6: Changing Names

Christmas in Connecticut: Touching the Pain of the World

When the original Christmas story happened, three magi, or magicians came to help tell the story. Which is interesting, because the Israelites disdained magicians. They were evil and wrong, but God used them in ways that no one could have predicted.

And so in that spirit, I’d like you to watch the above video.

Whatever you think about Stephen Colbert, I think you should watch this clip. It was from this past Thursday night episode of the Colbert Report, Stephen is interviewing the Catholic Nun Simone Campbell…and it’s incredible.

For those of you who don’t know Stephen Colbert is actually a devout Catholic who teaches Sunday school every week at his local church. I know the character he plays can be incredibly offensive and off-putting, but he’s speaking the very specific language of satire, and satire is not for everyone.

But I don’t want to defend Mr. Colbert here, I just want to show you (in case you missed it) what aired on the cable network of Comedy Central this last week, the day before the tragic school shooting in Connecticut. This Sister is pushing against the modern conceptions of American Christmas and trying to reframe what the real Christmas story means.

And if you don’t watch the video, here is what I want you to hear her say, “Christmas is touching the pain of the world, experiencing it as real…and then choosing to have hope.”

That’s what Christmas was.

That’s what Christmas is.

So for our brothers and sisters in Connecticut trying to explain this evil to their children.

To the husband holding his wife’s hand as she slips away into the age to come.

To the senior saint who’s sitting at at a table for one this Christmas eve.

To the woman in the Sudan who prays for someone to send her children food.

Christmas doesn’t turn a blind eye to you.

Jesus entered the world in a time when Herod was committing genocide on children. Christmas doesn’t skip this tragedy, or any tragedy, it runs into it.

Christmas calls Christians everywhere to touch the pain of the world, experience it as real, and then to hope.

Or in the words of Mrs. Campbell, “Jesus invites you to the manger.”

Something is Missing #2: Black Friday

“It doesn’t feel like Christmas until someone gets pepper sprayed at Target.” -Jon Stewart

I’ll get back to this video.

For over a thousand years Christians have observed this time of year as a season called “Advent.” Now I grew up in a church that was suspect of all things Catholic (I wasn’t allowed to be friends with girls named Mary). But this is not just a Catholic idea, Christians from all the traditions have celebrated Advent, and even if it is new to you,  I think that Advent might have a word to bless you.

Advent is just the Latin word for “Coming” It’s the idea that Jesus came into the world, and that he will one day soon come into the world again.

Advent is about the longing that is in every human heart, a desire, an ache that we all share for things to be different…to be better. The season of Advent is where we name the brokenness in our own hearts, and in the world.

At the heart of Advent is the recognition that something is missing.

And this is the difference between what Americans call Christmas and the Advent season. Every year for Christmas we wait and anticipate for Christmas morning and family gatherings and gifts.

And every December 26th we tend to feel a little let down, because we realize what we should have known all along.

Something is missing that can’t be wrapped up with a bow.

And Advent says that something isn’t a thing. It’s a Someone. Jesus is coming to the world.

I read an article the other day about how American’s new religion, despite what any survey says, really isn’t “none’s” or Mormonism or Evangelicalism. It’s shopping. The article points out that the dominant activity for this “Holiday season” really isn’t visiting a church or temple for worship or prayer. It’s standing in lines and camping out at stores for their doorbuster deals.

Each year we hear about people being killed by the stampede as Wal-Mart opens their doors for the waiting masses. And I think it’s important to remember that unlike stampedes in other parts of the world, these are all people who aren’t rushing for food for their starving children. We don’t really need anything…except more. Continue reading Something is Missing #2: Black Friday

Names #5: The Towers We Build

In the 18th century, there was a Spanish philosopher named Miguel de Unamuno who came up with one of the best questions to illustrate the human condition. This was the question: If you had to choose between creating amazing works of art that would last forever and would make the world a better place, but you would remain anonymous; or you could become a famous, world renown artist and painter but your works would be totally forgotten. Which would you choose?

Insignificant fame or Anonymous blessing?

So this is a series on a small theme in the book of Genesis. Namely, that Genesis cares a lot about names. Apparently the Bible cares a lot about the language we use to describe the world and each other.

Last week I talked about how after the fall in Genesis, Adam and Eve try to find their own names, independent of God. But what happens when that stops just being a problem for a couple of people and starts to be the way the whole world operates?

Just eight chapters later, Genesis tells us about how the how the whole world was speaking the same language. And they all got together because they wanted to build a tower. Which actually sounds like a pretty good idea. I mean we build towers all the time. But Genesis is telling us something here. They are trying to exceed the limitations of being human. They are trying to be gods.

The real reason they wanted to build a tower was because they wanted to “make a name for themselves.” (The actual Hebrew here is Donald Trump).

Now think about this for a second. They aren’t actually concerned about the project they are building. Their real goal is to be important. Their real goal isn’t the tower, but to justify their existence.

And God doesn’t like that goal at all.

So God comes down, and confuses their language, in a little project called “Let’s Stop Talking” God takes back their ability to name each other…Not because God is cruel but because only God can make a name great.

But what’s fascinating about this story to me, is that just a few verses later, God is going to approach an elderly, barren couple and ask them to leave their home and family and scatter (the very thing that people of Babel were afraid of). And then God tells them this:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

The very thing that the people of Babel wanted, God was going to give Abraham and Sarah as an act of grace.

Most of the time when I hear people talking about the Tower of Babel, they are talking about whether it really happened or not. The truth is, the Tower of Babel is a story that happens all the time. Continue reading Names #5: The Towers We Build

Something is Missing #1: The War Of Christmas

Today I want to start a series for the next few weeks leading up to Christmas. We are in a season that Christians have, for over a thousand years, called “Advent.” And I’d like to start this Advent series with a blog about war.

I’m obviously way too sentimental.

I don’t know what my favorite Christmas tradition is. Maybe it’s putting up the tree with the family, or maybe it’s reading the Christmas stories to the kids at bedtime. But I know what it’s not. Every year, around this time almost like clockwork, we start hearing the pundits on television talking about the war on Christmas. It’s normally about how some nativity scene in some city was forced to move away from a public park next door to some land owned by a church.

And we call that war.

I’m tired of culture wars in general, but I’m specifically tired of this piece of it. And not for the reasons you might think. Sometimes the ways that Jesus followers get involved in the public sphere hurt the reputation of Churches. I don’t think that’s true here. I just think it hurts the Churches.

I think it hurts Christmas.

Because if we think that moving our nativity scenes is the equivalent of war, then we should go back and read the Christmas story. Do you remember why Mary has the child in a stable? Remember why God has to send some coded message to some wise men with stars? It’s because Herod, the King of the day, heard the rumors of a this new baby king, and as the sitting ruler, he didn’t like Christmas either. So he tricks some wise men to go fetch Jesus for him so that he might “worship” the baby. And when the wise men see Jesus, when they realize that God is doing something through this little baby, they sneak off and never return to Herod. And when the sitting King realizes this, we finally understand what he meant by “worship.”

Herod commits infanticide on hundreds or thousands of baby boys.

That’s what a war on Christmas looks like.

The Christmas story starts off with a first century Hitler on the throne. Who’s so afraid of losing his political power that he’s willing to wipe out an entire generation of Jewish boys just to kill one of them. Joseph and Mary and Jesus all have to flee the country, Joseph goes from this devout Jewish man, to Jack Bauer overnight.

And Herod does this all, not because he doesn’t understand what’s going on, he does it, because he does understand Christmas.

Did you know that right now, all over the world there are people who gather together in secret to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Just by gathering together they are breaking the law, and it’s not because the national governments of the places they live in don’t understand Christmas, it’s because they do! Christmas is the arrival of a King, and if you are a political leader or king of any stripe then Christmas is going to be hard to accept.

Because the truth is that there isn’t so much a war on Christmas as there is the War of Christmas.  Continue reading Something is Missing #1: The War Of Christmas

Names #4: Curses and Poetry

So this is a short series about names in Genesis, and more specifically about why the Bible seems to make such a big deal about names and the language we use. It’s why names matter more than we think they do.

The other day I was talking with another preacher friend of mine, who is a minster in another state, and we were talking about church work and about the different ways that church volunteers serve.  And ultimately the conversation turned to how bad preachers are at getting people to volunteer. Not that we can’t get people to volunteer, that part is easy, but that preachers aren’t that good at getting people to volunteer in ways that help the volunteers just as much as the people they are serving.

The temptation of preachers, or bosses, or anyone who cares about a certain project is to use people. 

I’m going to let you in on a dirty little church leadership secret.  If you have pride…I can get you do almost anything. But it will almost never turn out well.

Let me explain:

One of the more interesting things about the book of Genesis is how it starts. If you’re familiar with the Bible at all, then you probably know that Genesis chapter 1 is the story of God creating the world. But what you might not know is that Genesis 1 is written as a poem. It’s got a rhythm, it’s got beat and a cadence.

Genesis 1 is about God doing the work of creation, but he does it with a song.

He makes the universe like he’s writing a poem.

And then the crescendo, the climax of this song is when he makes Adam and Eve. God passes on to them things that he doesn’t give the other parts of his creation, he asks them to name and create with him. In other words, he let’s them sing along.

Now if you are familiar with this story, you know that this doesn’t last long. Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden and they are given permission to do anything they want, the only prohibition God gives them is that they can’t eat from one tree. They can do anything, and remember they’re naked at this point, it’s like God is making it easy on them to think about other stuff. But they do the one thing we probably all would do, they disobey, they fail to trust God.

And this is the story that we’ve been living out ever since.

But what’s really interesting about this chapter, is that after Adam and Eve disobey God comes to them and curses them. But some of the Rabbi’s don’t refer to this section as curses, they say that God is now observing the way that reality has now changed. If you haven’t read this chapter recently go back and take a look. Because it’s pretty fascinating what God actually tells Eve and Adam.

To Eve, he tells her that her desire will be for her husband.  A few years ago, I had someone point out to me that this word desire is the same word we might translate as “lust.” Which changes that sentence I think. Because to lust is to want something out of someone that they can’t give you. And now Eve will want something from Adam that he isn’t able to give her.

This is the Rabbi’s point. Adam and Eve used to know who they were. They were, after all, actually named by God in just the previous chapter. In other words, He used to tell them who they were. They used to get their identity from the one who made them. But now that the relationship has been broken, they’re just naturally going to look somewhere else. And Eve is going to look to her relationships.

God isn’t cursing them…he’s just telling them where they are going to try and get their names. Continue reading Names #4: Curses and Poetry