A young couple sat in my office a few months ago. They asked, "If you were at our stage in life, would you bring a child into this world?" They were looking at what the future held, and it didn't seem to be very hopeful. That's one of life's big questions: "What does the future hold?" Unfortunately, the cultural narrative can't answer it, but the Biblical story can, and it's a story that begins at the most significant moment in human history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus rose from the dead, then we are IMMORTAL. We never die. Not only that, but His resurrection points us to our future when we will live in our glorified bodies on a restored earth that also becomes the dwelling place of God. (Rev 21) THAT is the future, and like a child anticipating Christmas day, our knowledge of what is to come impacts how we live today. We become the instruments and agents of the life God has promised. We live each day as a foretaste of the life that is to come. When people bump into us, they don't get the entire meal, but a taste, of that marvelous gift, called hope. There IS a future, and it's glorious! And on those days when life is hard, our understanding of the future becomes the strength we need to endure. As Victor Frankl said after his time in a WWII prison camp, "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how." The Bible, the story of Jesus, gives us the why, so we can bear up under the challenges of this life. As the great hymn states, "Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow."Read More
Imagine you are living in the 16th century. For hundreds of years, people had believed that the earth was the center of the universe, but a guy named Copernicus shows up and mathematically proves that the earth was NOT the center, but the sun. Talk about a game changer. What's more, with the core premise now correct, other discoveries began to happen. For the first time, the math worked and new understandings of the world began to explode. Here's the deal: the same thing is true in our spiritual lives. If we don't get the center right – the core premise – then we'll never be able to answer the big questions in life. The math will never work. However, when we get that right, then true life opens to us. The Biblical story reveals that the center is Jesus Christ. From the Old Testament to the gospels to the rest of the New Testament, the story points to Jesus as its foundational main character. Everything revolves around him. Naturally, people today don't care much to hear that. We want to be the center. (Copernicus spent a lot of time in jail because people didn't like it then, either.) However, our call and that of the church is to continue to proclaim the apex of human history – its cornerstone – is Jesus. When we get that right, the rest falls into place.Read More
Money is often one of the biggest challenges in life. (1 Timothy 6:10) The cultural narrative we tend to believe says we form our identity based on consumption, and consumption is costly. We have been led to believe that our identity is defined by what we eat, where we live, what we drive, our hair style, our shoes, our laptop, our phone, our sunglasses and on it goes. With culture rapidly changing, we constantly have to consume to keep our identity trendy, cool, and therefore, worthy. Thus, money drives us or we lose our sense of self. The Biblical story is completely different. Our money, stuff, and things are gifts of God. We function as the stewards of His gifts to provide for ourselves while helping extend and grow His Kingdom, the primary instrument of which is His Church. Our identity is grounded in what God has done for us in Christ, so we are never in an existential crisis regardless of cultural trends or world events. We find this wonderful gift called security. Plus, we find freedom from having to always "keep up" or live up to the expectations of others. There's a reason Scripture talks about money more than any other subject: we NEED to hear it.Read More
- If you jump into a story in the middle, you will always be frustrated in trying to understand what is happening and why. You simply don't have all the information you need to answer the big questions. The same is true in life. The story of your life begins at God's creation in the beginning – and NOT in the middle – when you were born. However, when you go back to Creation and the Fall (Genesis 1-3), you will find the truth necessary to learn where you came from (a good and ordered God), why you are here (to be a co-creator in HIs ongoing Kingdom work), why the world is a mess (we want to be our own gods which break our relationship with God and others), and what God is actually doing to redeem and restore the world we see (empowering His Church by the Spirit to fulfill His purpose). What Adam and Eve failed to achieve in the original plan, the church is now fulfilling, being fruitful and multiplying His Kingdom. We work to restore the lost Shalom of Genesis 3 knowing that the story ends in the ultimate victory of Christ. It is a security-enriching truth that remains unknown… unless we go ALL the way back to the beginning.
As we struggle to live out of our true identity as the sons and daughter's of God, we face enormous cultural pressure to conform to a different pattern. In Romans 12:2, Paul acknowledges the challenge of NOT being pressed into the cultural model. It literally means that we are being crushed into a model that no longer resembles what we once were, no longer reflecting who God wants us to be. I wonder for me and for all of us, in what ways have we been pressed into the culture's form, a form we didn't necessarily want but have taken on nonetheless? It's a sobering thought, but Paul also gives us the key to transformation: in order to live out of our true identity (identity is not something we create, it is something given to us by God through Christ), we offer ourselves wholly to God as "living sacrifices", and then we use our minds to understand the full nature of that story. We are transformed by the "renewal of our minds." The more we know of God, the more we can ask questions of the culture that it cannot answer, the more we are able to internalize the depth of God's love for us. Our identity is located in the story of God's redemptive purpose in Christ, not the cultural house of cards that so often attracts us.Read More
As you think about your life, what is the story or narrative that you are living out of, the "context" that you use to explain what you see happening around you as well as your circumstances? As Alastair MacIntyre said, "You cannot answer the question 'What should I do?' Until I answer the question which precedes it: What story am I part of?" The problem is the our culture is feeding us numerous false stories, and when you live out of a false story, you have an incorrect understanding of life which leads to an avalanche of poor choices and unnecessary fears. The disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 were in exactly that place. Their lives were crumbling because they had started living out of the wrong story. They thought the story of Jesus was over, yet Jesus handles it beautifully. Verse 27 tells us, "Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." He patiently takes them aside and shows them once again how the Bible is God's story, the story of His plan to redeem and save it - and us – through Christ. Transformation happens when we reframe our stories into His story, one that explains who we are, why the world is a mess, the purpose of our lives, and what awaits us in the future.Read More
Today, we remember the life and legacy of a man whose dream for our country's future inspired us and moved us, a mesmerizing dream that became etched on our collective soul. King's vision was not merely about black and white, but his dream was about the coming Kingdom of God, a day when all would be drawn together as one. King's vision compelled us to action because of his willingness to OWN his vision. His speech became more than words because he laid down his life to achieve their content. Any compelling vision with the power to transform people can be achieved only as those who champion it's cause are willing to do the same. Such is the model of Christ. John 10:11–12 describes how Jesus has loved us as our shepherd, one who "owns" the sheep. The hired hand takes off because he's only in it for himself. The good shepherd, however, "lays down his life for the sheep." Jesus then calls us to love one another as He has loved us, which means we love one another sacrificially. We OWN His vision for the church, and for those of us at FPCO, that means we live into that vision not as hired hands, but loving and caring for each other and His Bride sacrificially and generously. That's the story we live in, the story of the Kingdom – not the story of "me."Read More
As the year turns to 2017, as we contend with more and more things that are false and phony, from photoshopped magazine covers to fake news, we crave what is real and authentic. This actually spills over into Christian faith because, let's face it, it's not that hard to fake. In this culture, you can go through the motions and learn the lingo and people will assume your faith is deep and rich when it's not. In my own life, I have found a good plumb line is my prayer life. When I am walking with God closely, when my heart is in the right place and I am living in tune with His will, my prayer life is solid. When I'm distant and worried about "me", it stinks. In Colossians 4:12, Epaphras was described as one who "wrestled in prayer" for the Colossian church so that they would be able to "stand firm, mature and be fully assured." Wow, do we ever need those three things, but we fail to pray because either we're not totally convinced it works, or we just don't care. You see, I think prayer is an act of love. Think about it . When do you pray intensely? When someone you love is in trouble. Yet Jesus says, "As I have loved you, so love one another." One of the ways we love the Church and love the community and love our city is to pray - and we pray out of love, adding to the authentic and deep expressions of our faith. Let's stop going through the motions. Let's love each other well and do more than just talk about prayer. Let's actually pray, one for another. #tryit #itworksRead More
"In Dante's 14th-century epic poem "Inferno," he embarks on a journey through hell guided by the Roman poet Virgil. At one point in his descent, he writes "Midway along the journey of our life I woke to find myself in a dark wood. ... the wood of wilderness, savage and stubborn." Reflecting on this past year in Central Florida as well as the United States, his words resonate in all of us. Collectively, it feels as if we have awakened in a dark wilderness, a place of hatred and inexplicable violence, a place of penetrating grief and profound sadness, a place of political bombast and racial division, a place that hardly reflects the "peace on Earth, good will towards all" message so commonly heard this time of year."
"While it may seem more out of reach than ever, peace is still what every human heart yearns for, peace that is not merely the "absence of war." We yearn for the Hebrew concept of shalom, a word which means "the overall well-being of a people or community; unity, harmony, wholeness."
"Standing in the dark abyss of grief during the Pulse remembrance gathering just weeks ago, the desire for shalom seemed to be the unspoken longing of those gathered. Every heart seemed to beat with the question, "Will we ever be whole again?"Read More
Perhaps the biggest question that people contend with in life is: What is my purpose? What am I doing here and is there anything I can take part in that will transcend the limited number of days I spend on this planet? The answer is given beautifully in the opening verses of John's gospel when he dispenses with the birth narratives of the other three gospels and gets to the heart of Jesus' identity as The Christ. He calls John the Baptist as his first "witness." John was "sent" on a mission to bear witness to the light of Life. That's it. There it is. Our purpose is not to be a great husband or mother or friend or businessperson or whatever – it is to bear witness to the Light of Christ as we engage in those things. Unfortunately, it seems the American Church of the 21st century has become so apathetic and self-absorbed that we are not living into the purpose for which God made us. It's no wonder we feel restless and discontent. We're not fulfilling our purpose! It's not about us; it's about Jesus – and as we courageously and faithfully serve our culture at the point of her need, we bear witness to that truth.Read More
"Non-complementary" behavior refers to what happens when we do not "mirror" the behavior we are expecting or receiving. Typically, if you are nice to me, I'll be nice to you and so on. When you break that pattern, psychologists say it shakes up the situation, often changing the outcome. This is the essence of Christian faith – and of Advent. God shakes up the world by coming not in cultural power but in absolute vulnerability. He also breaks the pattern in that EVERYONE (Gentiles in Luke 2 is literally "ethnos" in Greek – meaning every "ethnicity" is included in God's redemptive plan) is included, and they are included in something substantive. (Today, the notion of inclusivity is false. You can't be included in nothing. Our culture has removed everything that could be offensive to anyone, leaving nothing. The inclusivity of Christian faith is an invitation to what is concrete and substantive, grounded in the person and work of Jesus.). Further, let's remember Jesus was not a white guy. He was a middle-eastern man who lived as an ethnic minority, a Jew under the oppressive Roman rule. That ought to "shake up" how we see one another not as "separate from" based on worldly barriers, but "united with" based on Christ, our Lord. Love, not hate. Forgiveness, not condemnation. Generosity, not greed. Inclusion, not exclusion. It's the pattern-busting nature of Jesus, revealed at Advent.Read More
In life, certain statements demand our attention and require our response. Things like "code blue" in a hospital or when your wife says, "you're doing to be a Daddy." There are hundreds of statements like that, but they all pale in comparison to the one God made it all its various Biblical forms: "This is my Son, Jesus, the savior of the world." God speaks with unique clarity through the prophetic fulfillments of Advent. From hundreds of years ago, the prophets described exactly how history would unfold, all pointing to Jesus, and it did. Thus, we should be filled with confidence, even in uncertain times, knowing we worship the Author of human history. Further, as in Matthew 2, when different statements all point to the same conclusion, it creates anticipation. Repeatedly, and through all manner of forms, God makes the declaration of Jesus' messiahship; therefore, we should be filled with anticipation over what God will do in and through our lives. If Jesus is Lord and Savior, then no matter our current situation or challenge, we anticipate the good gifts of God in the future as He writes His story in us for HIs greater glory.Read More
For those new to this, I started writing a few years back with "Monday morning musings...a few thoughts and observations on the issues of the day." It's not a great name, but MMM stuck, so that's what it stands for.
All of us have things in life that tend to control or enslave us. We make idols out of these things because like the serpent in the garden, they whipser to us: "This will give you life! You'll have power and control now!" This, of course, is a lie for our idols don't give us life; they take it from us. Further, these "controlling" elements are not necessarily bad things. They can be good things that we try to make ultimate things, and without question, the one that seems to control us the most is money. We falsely believe it will give us life and security, so we segregate it away from our faith. In Acts 20, Paul says no. The gospel and financial generosity are LINKED. The latter is an expression of the former. When we give, we actually heal our hearts from our greed. Paul says "It is more blessed to give than to receive." That was his secret, but not only does it heal our hearts, it heals the world (Keller). When we partner with the church to meet the needs of the poor, the alien, the orphan, the weak, we are restoring "shalom" - the original peace and order of God's world. Our "blessing" comes when we see that restoration take place, even for a moment. Heal your heart and heal the world - not bad for a simple little thing like giving. #tryit #tightlyclenchedhandscannotreceiveRead More
The Church. Maligned as an "institution", slammed for leadership failures, called irrelevant for being out of touch, she is none of those things. The Church, in God's perfect design, is His divinely created "reunion of the rescued;" those redeemed from the pit of sin by the grace of God who are then called into a community that becomes an "anamnesis" – the "lived memory" of God's redemptive purpose in the world. By our common rescue, we become a "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation," a bond of unity that transcends every other human construct that would threaten to divide – social, political, racial, economic. As such, we have not only been saved from something but FOR something. We have been called to be that "lived memory," those called out of darkness (1 Peter 2) to declare His excellencies to all the world. That's our purpose, and until we take part in His Church, in our local "reunions of the rescued," we will never know that transcendent purpose for which we were made. It is as Paul declares: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:20)Read More
"We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it." Hans Balthasar. Sobering words that I find to be increasingly true. In our busyness, in our rush to record everything on a smartphone, unable to live in the moment, we are losing our ability to "behold" the beauty that God puts before us every day. To "behold" is "to contemplate with pleasure." King David knew of its importance in Psalm 27 when he expressed his sole desire to "behold the beauty of the Lord." Part of God's common grace, beauty calls out to every human soul, gently drawing, beckoning, declaring "there is more! There is He who made this!"Read More
The human mind is a creative, intellectual marvel. Science is only beginning to understand it's depth and capacity. For example, there are more neuronal connections in our minds than stars in our galaxy. There's a universe in our heads! Even so, we seem to pay it less attention than we should, especially as it relates to our faith. Paul says we are transformed by the "renewal of our minds." (Romans 12:2). In other words, our spiritual transformation happens as we cultivate our minds – as we explore the wonder of both God and the world He has made – the world in which He has called us to live and serve. The more we know, the more we come to know both the wonder of God AND His good, perfect, and pleasing will for our lives – a will we know to be His call to live as Christ – as those poured out for the life of the world. One of the ways we love our neighbor well is when we turn our knowledge into service for the greater good of our human family.Read More
I recently had the opportunity to share with documentary filmmaker James Lilywhite from the International Business Times in London about grieving with our city, as Orlando heals from the Pulse nightclub shooting.Read More
- In the interest of full disclosure, I spent the past week attending a conference at Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan and then staying the weekend to celebrate Leigh's 34th-ish birthday. So while everyone in Central Florida was emptying local grocery stores and gas stations prepping for Matthew, I was touring The Met (wonderful exhibit on art from Jerusalem 1000–1400 when all three major faith traditions clashed in and around that city), walking Central Park, enjoying a cruise around the island (the Statue of Liberty still gives chills), and eating half of what was available.
"Our current cultural practice seems to demand that we fit into neatly defined categories. We must be either for or against. Little room is left for complexity or nuance.
"While I am decidedly pro-life, sometimes more must be said. Such is the case when discussing the tragic death of Jerika Bolen, who at age 14 and with the support of her mother, chose to stop treatment and end her life following years of painful struggle with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2."Read More
- People often wonder what Jesus did in the 18 years between age 12, when he returned to Nazareth with his parents, and age 30 when his ministry began. We know at least part of the answer: he worked. We know this because when he arrived back in his hometown after his ministry began (Mark 6), the people identified him by his trade. It is a stunning thought: Jesus spent three years in ministry, yet at least 15 years working. Why? We who are made in the image of the Creator are hard-wired to create and produce – to work. Thus, work was part of Jesus' nature as "fully human." Further, the Bible tells us that Jesus grew "in wisdom and stature" during the years he worked. Just as Jesus learned and grew through the dynamics of His work, so can we. Yes, work has been corrupted by sin, but when properly understood, we realize It is God's gift to us, allowing us to find purpose in this life by creating those things that lift both people and cultures. Therefore, whatever we do, we do with excellence for our work is a reflection of the Father.