Category Archives: hope

A Season of Watching and Waiting

pregnant belly copyIt seems I am surrounded by pregnant women on all sides – which is not a bad thing. Women in our family – both my family and my wife’s family – are expecting in 2014. A young lady in our congregation along with another who is connected to and a regular visitor with our congregation just put out the news that they are awaiting the arrival of a baby in May. Then there are the ones connected to the families in our church, which means we have grandparents who anxiously await a newborn – including one set of grandparents-to-be headed to the hospital the morning this blog was written.

Pregnancy is a great image for this season in the life of the church – the season of Advent. During this time before Christmas we might think this image of expectant mothers points toward Mary who was at this time awaiting the birth of her first child (yes, assuming December 25th was the day – that debate is another blog for another day). It is partially what Advent has become for us – the waiting for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. And yet, it really is more than that. It is truly a season of expectancy – a time of waiting and watching for the dawn of new life, but it is about more than the birth of the Christ-child.

You see, pregnant families are not the only ones living through a time of waiting and watching. I know others who are facing the diagnosis of some form of cancer or about to enter into another round of cancer treatment (and for the record, I hate cancer). They wait to hear results. They wait to see if the treatment works. They wait and watch and wonder what the future holds.

Still others are waiting to find out other aspects of their future – what school will I go to when I move past high school? Will my job be one of the ones eliminated in the latest cutbacks? Will we have enough money to buy our children presents for Christmas? Will we have enough food to feed our families this week?

There is much waiting and watching and hoping in the face of unknown futures – some are waiting with exceedingly great joy. Some are waiting while holding their breath. And for those of us who know the truth behind the season of Advent, we encourage one another to wait and watch in faith.

The word Advent means “coming.” The Church celebrates this season not just as a pre-Christmas ritual, but as a reminder that Christ will come – again. Yes, Jesus Christ was born to Mary, humbly among the animals. But, our faith is not just based on this belief that God came near to us. Our faith is that this child would live courageously, and boldly declare that God has a bigger plan. He would go to the cross and become the sacrifice for all our sins as a way to show that the grace of God is at work to reconcile us back to our heavenly Father and restore our true life. And he promised that he would come again, that he would bring about the Kingdom of God in its fullness – a Kingdom of joy and peace where issues like cancer no longer haunt us in our nightmares.

That’s the joy we celebrate this season. That’s the reason we wait and watch. Just as a pregnant woman knows there is a day coming when the physical challenge of nurturing her child will result in the birth of new life, so we, the ones who believe in God’s promises revealed to us in Jesus Christ, await the birth of God’s Kingdom in all its glory.

So we wait and we watch and we say – “Come Lord Jesus, come.”

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

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Sometimes we really need a drink

DSC00667The other day I ran my first 5k race (for all those who have been reading my Facebook posts and listening to my sermons, I won’t keep harping on this forever, I promise!). It wasn’t too bad of a run. As a matter of fact, I think I may do it again some day. I was glad to learn a little about myself during that race. I was also glad God has used that run to help me remember something about His grace and love for me.

A 5k race is 3.1 miles long – so not even close to a long race. But, for the uninitiated runners like myself, it’s a fair distance. The organizers of the race did a great job. They had things set up and got us all moving along without any hiccups. One of the preparations they made included having drink stations at the 1 and 2 mile marks, as well as at the finish of the 5k (or the middle of the 10k for others). Honestly, I was not in need of the drink, though I took one at mile 2. What I did need was the reminder God gave me the next day. It was one that connected my every day life to that 30 minute run.

cup of waterThe reminder came on Sunday evening when I was visiting with a couple I consider to be spiritual mentors. They have logged many spiritual miles through their years and I appreciate their words of encouragement and their deeply felt prayers for me. It was in that conversation that it dawned on me, these folks were just one example of the people in my life who manned the “drink stations” along the way. On that 5k run, at mile 1 and 2, people held out cups of water that we could grab as we ran by. They were glad to help us run our race well and stay strong. And so it is with the people of God who are put in our lives and who man our drink stations. Like those friends who spoke words of encouragement to me and were glad to help me run the race of life with Jesus and to help me stay strong.

As that thought came to me that night I realized that there had been many other drink stations along the way in my life. There were many who held out a cup of cold water as I ran by. Cups of cold water that looked like an invitation to lunch, a hug and a smile, a word of encouragement or appreciation, sometimes even a prayer before worship.

Then it dawned on me that Jesus had one time mentioned these people. He knew how important they are. It’s in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 10:

And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded. (Matthew 10:42 NLT)

I was glad to remember that verse. I am glad to know God will reward those people, for they have done a great thing for me. Now, just like in that race, there are times the drink is life-enhancing but not life-saving. But, there are other times – life-on-the-edge times – when we really need a drink. So, I am grateful for those who make the offer, grateful for those who hold out a cup as I run by, grateful for the ones who offer a spiritual drink for at times I am weary and close to giving up. Those who man the drink stations have no way of knowing how badly it’s needed, but if it is, they are ready. And for that i give thanks to God.

I guess there are two questions to consider:

  1. Who are the people in your life who man the drink stations, and have you given thanks to God for them?
  2. Whose drink station is God asking you to tend to? Who is God asking you to bless with a word of encouragement, a hug, a prayer, a smile, or a lunch invitation?

Those are the questions I’m pondering today. Maybe you will as well.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

In This Together

Rocks were flying, men were moving at a rapid pace and words were being said that I cannot repeat here. Okay, I can’t repeat the words because they were speaking Spanish of which I know very little and therefore I have no idea what they were saying. This all took place in a village outside of Living+Water+Nicaragua-2312-2807663323-OLeon, Nicaragua where I was serving on a Living Water International well-drilling team. The men in the story were loading rocks inside the form that would hold the concrete that would serve as the base of the pump for the well.

The village is called “Veintiocho de Mayo” and it’s not much to look at. The homes are rudimentary and made with corrugated metal and plastic sheeting. The people are beautiful and some of the best I have met in any country. What struck me most was the way they worked together to make this water well happen. They seem to have a great camaraderie as a community. And that may be because it’s necessary. They don’t have Living+Water+Nicaragua-2074-2807629205-Omuch and the life they live depends on having the support of one another.

Spending time among the people of Veintiocho de Mayo was inspiring and it made me realize how problematic it is to be self-sufficient. Here in the U.S. we admire the “self-made man” (or woman). We take pride in being able to make it on our own, to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. But, I begin to wonder if that attitude isn’t detrimental to our overall well-being and health as people. Certainly as followers of Jesus we know that being united together as “the body of Christ” is an essential part of our calling. And yet, how often do we fail to live as a true community of love and grace and interdependence? And when I say “we” I mean “me” – and possibly you, but definitely me.

I’m not sure if God needs to bring my life to a greater sense of poverty in order for me to learn this lesson. My hope is that He does not. However, if that’s what it takes for me to connect better with others and to live more interdependently, well then, I guess God has to do what God has to do. But, maybe, if I begin to live more and more with the idea that we are “in this together” maybe that will give God room to change my life. It’s at least a good place to start.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

“Do-over” or “Big push”

Well, it’s football season again and a blog post like this was inevitable for me. I love watching football (and from her Facebook post, my wife is entertained by watching ME as I watch football). It is, therefore, a natural progression for me to equate my own life situations to said game. ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Today I’m talking about 3rd down and the decisions we face – BUT DON’T STOP READING YET! It really is something I think we can all relate to.

Here’s what I mean from a life perspective. There are times when we hit a wall or come to place where we can just get bogged down. It might be an ongoing issue in our family or in our relationships. It might be struggles at work or even in the church. The question is, what do we do in those moments? What’s the best thing to do – do we push ahead with a final burst of energy? Or, do we reset, step back and start over?

In football terms it’s the issue of a 3rd down play (you only get 4 tries to make 10 yards, so on 3rd down you have one more try to make it to the ‘line’ that gives you a new set of downs – 4 more).  So, if the football team has 3rd down and 3 yards to go they have a choice to make. They can “go for it” and try to bring forth a great burst of energy, or, they can punt the ball sending it down field and hope for a new chance to begin again later. It’s the choice between a “big push” and a “do-over.”

I find myself facing similar decisions in life. The reality is that sometimes life gets tough and things begin to stack up against you. There’s turmoil and things aren’t really moving forward well. In those cases we end up with two choices – either reach down deep and come up with a burst of energy that helps us break through the wall, or back up, reset our thinking and try going a new direction.

You can actually find both examples in Scripture. For the “big push” look to the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). The Israelites and Philistines are at a standstill. The people of God can’t seem to get past this “problem” until David comes with a great burst of energy and an even greater burst of faith. He helps break through the obstacle. For the “do-over” you could turn to Matthew 10:5-14. Jesus sends out his disciples and tells them that it’s okay to “shake the dust off your feet and move on” when you can’t make any headway with the people you encounter. He doesn’t tell them to try harder, he just says, “move on and keep going.”

So, Pastor Mike, what do you suggest I do if I’m facing 3rd and a long 3 right now (i.e., you’re up against a real challenge)? Well, honestly, I don’t know. You and God will have to work through that. It’s one of those times when you may need to call a time out and confer with the coach. It may be one of those times when you need to spend time with God in prayer and listening.

The point I want to make right now is this – either way is biblical. Whichever way you prayerfully choose to go, God goes with you. Sure, there my be some Monday morning quarterbacks who would second guess you, but your heavenly coach will back you 100%. Have no fear. Make your move. God will get you through it. I am willing to bet you might even win the game.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

Gratitude fosters trust

word cloud thanks romans 8In some earlier blog posts I have readily confessed to my inability to trust God – not always, but often enough. Recently, God, through others, revealed to me something that now seems quite obvious. Simply put, I learned that gratitude fosters trust.

Here’s the dilemma I have faced. Our church has had to face some big challenges lately. A tough summer of spotty attendance, which leads to challenges of tight finances, both of which lead to a pastor struggling to lead while leaning into the challenge. It’s true. I have been having a rough bout lately. I probably shouldn’t say that out loud on my blog, but that’s what I do. I figure truth is truth.

Now, I think from God’s perspective the problem is not the attendance or the money. In regard to God’s concern for me, the problem is my lack of trust in Him. While God is all for His leaders working to make things move in positive directions, the internal posture of those leaders is God’s greater concern (and I would say rightly so). God has to be wondering why a man (me) who claims to believe in Romans 8:28 would have such difficulty trusting. In Romans 8:28 Paul writes this:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
(Romans 8:28 NRSV)

You see, I have claimed that verse. I believe in that verse. But at the same time, I don’t always live into that verse.

That began to change recently. A person I consider a spiritual mentor and friend gave me another verse:

…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:18 NRSV)

Give thanks in ALL circumstances. We’re instructed to do this not because we can find reason to be thankful. We’re just instructed to give thanks. And as I lived into this verse and I began to give thanks to God in ALL situations and in ALL challenges and in ALL joys, I began to live into the truth of Romans 8:28. I found myself believing that no matter what was before me, God would work for my good and the good of his ultimate will in this world.

It doesn’t mean good things are bound to happen right away. God’s work could take a long time – after all, a thousands years are like a day to Him. I just found myself trusting God more no matter what. I discovered that gratitude fosters trust. The more I give thanks in all circumstances, the more I trust God with those circumstances. And, ironically, that frees me to work harder and better to change those circumstances. It seems that the more I trust the more the Holy Spirit can move in me and around me. 

The lesson I learned is that a verse from the Bible that seems like a crazy call to be obediently thankful in times when I don’t feel thankful is actually a key to unlocking the prison of self-pity, self-doubt, and fuzzy thinking. And that was a lesson worth learning.

So my encouragement to you, my friends, is simply this – give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus, and in doing so you will be able to claim fully the promise that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. It is a lesson that will serve you well all the days of your life.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

What HOPE looks like to me

hope w cross and flame copy

At Asbury United Methodist Church, where I serve as pastor, we have a mission statement – or mission driver, as one friend likes to call it. The statement which drives our work is this:

Helping people experience the HOPE of Jesus Christ.

I like that phrase. I think it captures the truth of who God would call us to be as the church, as disciples of Jesus Christ. But I also realize it can be a bit nebulous – difficult to grasp what is meant by the word “hope.” So, I figured it might help if I were to give my thoughts on what hope looks like to me. I at least figure it can’t hurt.

The first thing that comes to mind for me is that hope looks like non-hopelessness. I know, I should not define a word simply by its negative. But here’s what I mean: hope is about being able to get up in the morning and believe that it could be a good day. It’s not “hoping” it will be a good day, it’s believing it could be. The reality is it might not be so good, but if a person can begin their day believing it could be a good day, well to me, that’s hope. That encompasses a lot of different life-situations: struggling marriages, financial uncertainties, issues of having food to eat, etc. If in any of those circumstances a person can get out of bed and believe it could be a good day, then that’s hope.

Hope also looks like the hand of a neighbor. I mean neighbor in the sense Jesus used the term – one who shows mercy to another person. When we reach out to offer a hand up or a shoulder to lean on we act as a sign and symbol of hope to others. When we invite a hungry family to eat with us, when we take a co-worker to lunch and offer a willing ear to listen to their struggles and help them think through their next steps, when we go to a school and help mentor students and love them in simple ways – in those times we help paint a brighter future and we offer hope.

For me, hope mostly looks like a quiet moment of prayer with others who know Jesus. Hope is knowing the truth of God so deep within me that even the worst of days cannot take away the belief that this is not all there is. Hope is deeply spiritual work. It seeps down into the core of my being and never lets the burdens of life take hold of me. Hope is the presence of God so rich within us that it brings with it a nagging desire to give up what we have because maybe by doing so we can help others know what we know.

Hope is realizing that the unwavering peace I have found in Jesus Christ is the greatest treasure I have ever known and if I keep it to myself it will melt away. Hope cannot be deeply personal without being broadly distributed. And hope cannot be adequately shared unless it is deeply embedded.

My hope is found in the knowledge that in Jesus Christ I am more fully alive than I could ever be on my own. My hope comes from knowing you can’t hurt me so much I cannot forgive you. My hope comes from realizing that if I were to lose all my worldly possessions this very day I would still be a rich man. My hope comes from the belief that even though I messed up yesterday, or even if I mess up today, all is not lost and I can be a source of hope to others.

What does hope look like to you?

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

The Christian work of counter-terrorism

pfia kidsIt was this picture that made it click. Two young girls helping to paint a house on a community-wide multi-denominational work day. I realized that this was the answer and we’ve had it all along. It’s not flashy. It’s not something any government contractor will be able to monetize. But, it is the most effective weapon we have to counter the work of terrorists and people intent on making statements via mass destruction, mayhem, and death.

It’s not painting that will solve the problem. It’s not even children who will save the day or the future – well not per se. The weapon we have is HOPE. Those young girls were involved in a HOPE attack executed through careful planning and undertaken by people dedicated to operating on the fringes of society.

The churches of our area made a concerted effort to blanket the city with acts of love and kindness. They painted houses and they rebuilt porches. They made access to homes safer and took down tree limbs that threatened to take out the roof in the not-too-distant future. These young girls in the picture were part of a force of people who made others believe that love is alive and that generosity and kindness can rule the day. That’s what is otherwise known as HOPE.

Our church has a recently adopted mission statement that at first blush seems nebulous and abstract. But, as you let it sink in, as you begin to imagine how you can live into this statement, when you put it against the backdrop of bombings and devastating industrial accidents, it becomes the evident solution for the world we live in. The statement?

Helping people experience the HOPE of Jesus Christ

It happens when people give up their Saturday to cut down a big dead tree in the front yard of their neighbors. It happens as people replace siding and shingles and repaint a house. It happens when we take our children along with us and show them what it means to love our neighbors – even the ones we have not yet met. The more we can help others experience the hope of Jesus Christ through the followers of Jesus Christ, the less impact the terrorists have. When the people who say they love God and seek to love others go and truly love with their hands and feet, they paint a picture that begins to cast a shadow over the pictures of the tragedies. We don’t want people to ignore or forget what happened. But neither do we want people to believe all is lost.

The counter move to terrorism is kindness. To counter acts of violence we must fill the world with acts of love. To change fear into hope we must continue to blanket our community. We must begin to know our neighbors – across the street, across town, and across racial, ethnic, economic, and religious lines.

Two young girls and many others, led by parents and pastors and friends, fired a warning shot across the bow of the ship of fear and terror. Don’t bother trying. You can’t win. Hope is our weapon of mass rejuvenation. And the leader we follow has already taken out your threat of death and destruction. We will not bow down and we will not stop.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike