Unpredictable

For most of my growing up years, I planned on being a meteorologist when I grew up. Living on the Gulf Coast, many of our summer days were spent plotting the courses of whatever storms were out at sea on the free hurricane map that came out every year in the local newspaper. A few came close, and I remember that we “hunkered down” for one that passed nearby. Still, these didn’t scare me away from the study of weather, but stirred my interest in it. Even today, I enjoy keeping tabs on what’s going on in the world and understanding what I can about the science and art of weather planning and forecasting.

Because there is one thing about the weather: it’s always changing. And it rarely changes exactly the way we are told by meteorologists to expect. Now, they’ve gotten pretty good at forecasting sunny or rainy days. And they are really good at knowing pretty much what tomorrow will look like. Some of the major weather events of recent memory have been predicted nearly a week in advance. But just as often as these successes are the things that they get wrong: like the rainy day that was forecasted that turned into a late season snow and sleet storm.

This season of joblessness has been just as unpredictable for me. Now, I’m not longer actually jobless: I’m holding down a part time job that will keep my resume active but won’t pay many bills. What has surprised me has been the changes in my attitude from day to day.

One day, the world is mine to be conquered, full of hope and possibility. It is ready for all of my dreams, which seem tantalizingly attainable. Fatherhood is wonderful. I enjoy the pleasant conversations with my wife. Gardens are planted, with expectations of the bounty they will bring. God is close and working and fully reliable and trustworthy.

Fast forward five minutes, give or take four.

Then, the world is terrible and horrible. There are no rooms for dreams. All seems lost. There are no ways out of our situation. God is distant, too busy with all of my happy friends who are successful in their careers and life goals. Every one I see – 99.9999% of them total strangers – have purpose and plans and intentions that they are accomplishing. Me? Life has no joy. Bitterness, anger, and fear are my constant companions.

Then something happens, and I’m back in the happy-world-is-mine-to-conquer phase. And so the oscillation continues with intensity and speed. And with it goes my faith, and one time fully relying on God, at another knowing at the deepest part of me that it is all up to me.

And so I scream with the helpless father of Mark 9, “I believe, help my unbelief!”

And, you know what? Despite all of my biblical studies training, seminary, worship leading, and preaching? Something I didn’t predict: even in my doubts and lack of faith, God remains faithful. And for that, I am grateful. He continues to guide me, even when I feel that He is absent. He continues to work for my good (Jeremiah 29:11), even when it seems that my life has nothing going for it. And on the darkest, bleakest days, when everything seems lost, you’ll turn a corner. And there God will be, doing something astoundingly amazing.

Go ahead. Try to abandon God. You will find that, unpredictably, God has no interest in abandoning you.

Good News

It is Easter. The highest and holiest day of the Christian year (though Christmas seems to steal the attention of everyone).

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

This is the Good News! This is why we believe. This is our hope. This is our story. This is the Gospel. Without today, Christmas wouldn’t matter. Without today, Pentecost would not have happened. Without today, well, I wouldn’t be writing about Easter.

But it happened. The tomb is empty! He is risen!

Tell everyone.

Liturgy

Liturgy is practice of the church gathered. It is what we do together when we worship as a congregation. It is, “the work of the people.”

I have been going through the last few weeks as a layperson for the first time. Three years ago, I went through the season of Easter anticipating entering my first pastorate. I was called, but not yet installed. So there is a difference this year than there was then.

I have discovered that “the work of the people” is just that: work.

I have been surprised by how difficult it has been for me to be as centered in the events and goings on of Holy Week this year. As a pastor or worship leader, the events of Easter consumed all of my thought from just about Thanksgiving on. How was I going to lead the church or help lead the church? I had the benefit of thinking through everything for weeks and months.

I had been thinking through this year, as well. But this time none of it is coming to fruition. This time, I am following what someone else has planned. I don’t have the benefit of all of the thoughts going ahead of time.

And that makes the worship hard. I have to be intentional. I have to come into the service with some sense of expectation. I have to come ready to give whatever is asked of me, not knowing just what it is I will be asked to give.

Sort of like life with God, come to think of it.

When I come back to leading church again, I hope I do not lose this perspective of the work of the people. I hope I will remember that I will be asking people to do things that they are willing to do (they have come, after all), but they have no preparation, no long thoughts. For them, all of the work is in the moment. Sometimes, work is distracting. Always, work is hard.

It is liturgy. It is worship. God is worth it.

Approaching the Kingdom

Text: Matthew 25

I don’t really fly all that much, especially now with kids. Nevertheless, there is something that always happens every time I do fly. If you have ever flown, you know the routine. You check in and leave whatever bags are being checked at the counter. You maze through security and go to the particular gate listed on your boarding pass. Now, occasionally, the gate will change – even after getting your boarding pass. Therefore, it is imperative to continually check the gate signs to make sure the flight you want is the one that will be serviced at that particular gate.

Occasionally, I’ve had to make a mad dash from one gate to another to get to the plane that I really needed to be on. Those signs are helpful.

After a waiting period that is either always far too short or far too long, but never anywhere in the middle, the gate opens and the attendant starts boarding passengers. They scan my boarding pass, I make my way through the gate onto the plane and down the aisle to my seat. I settle in my seat and get my carry-ons arranged in a satisfactory wait.

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Gospel Approval

Note: This is Part 4 of a series of sermons based on Pastor J.D. Greear’s study, Gospel Revolutions.

Part 1, Gospel Change
Part 2, Gospel Discovery
Part 3, Gospel Acceptance
Part 4, Gospel Approval
Part 5, Gospel Response
Part 6, Gospel Faith (Coming March 11, 2012)
Part 7, Substitute Gospels (Coming March 18, 2012)
Part 8, Gospel Depth (Coming March 25, 2012)

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Text: Mark 10:17-31

I am often amused – or, more accurately, annoyed – by those coupons that come in the mail or in the newspaper that offer a percentage off of everything in a certain store. Sometimes, the coupon even exclaims that there are almost no exclusions. It sounds like a great offer. And it would be a great offer, except for the fact that, nearly always, the things that I would actually be interested in buying are marked off the “everything in the store” list by an asterisk that qualifies the offer and excludes several – or many – items the store carries. In the end, the asterisked qualifiers and limitations make the coupon worth much less than the print would lead us to believe.

Far too often, we approach God in the same way that the stores and advertisers approach us with these offers, the same way the Genie first presented himself to Aladdin. We come to God in response to verses we read or hear, such as Romans 12:1-2 or Matthew 11:28. We respond to God’s pursuit of us by coming to God, just like He desires us to. We come offering ourselves over to God “completely.” Only, we bring ourselves “completely” in such a way where the “completely” is marked by an asterisk.

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