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Monthly Archives: December 2009

Happy New Year, Blog Break & Request for Help

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I hope everyone had a wonderful and blessed Christmas and that you have a great new year!

2009 has been quite a year for me… and I am ready to move on to 2010, praying that it is a year filled with blessing, shalom, and reconciliation!

I have been chronicling 2009 (or at least the last 7 months of it) on this blog with almost daily posts.  I appreciate all of you who read it regularly and especially those of you who comment and/or email me directly with your thoughts, encouragement and friendship.  It has been quite a journey so far and I am thankful that you all are on it with me.

Three quick notes…

First, I am going to take a blog break from today through the first week of January.  I am going to be unplugging, spending time with family, and just relaxing a bit.  I will start posting again in early January.

Second, in the meantime, I would love some help.  I would love to hear from you as to questions you have for me, issues you would like to see addressed on this blog, etc.  I will try to address and answer everything and nothing is off limits.  You can leave a comment here or use the “Ask Me” link above.

Third, if you are a regular (or semi-regular) reader here at FaithAutopsy.com, and you have your own blog, I would love to be reading it.  Please leave your blog address in the comments — and feel free to leave your Twitter or Facebook info as well.

Thanks and Happy New Year!

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

The Christmas Story

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Christmas Means

Christmas means… 

Second Chances.

And that

is

Good News.

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

A Sermon for Christmas Day

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I love good preaching.  More than anything else, it points me towards Jesus, encourages me to worship, and disciples me.  This is one of the best Christmas sermons I have ever heard.  It was delivered by my friend Vince Gierer, who is now Lead Pastor at St. Paul’s Collegiate Church, last year as part of the Imagine Christmas service.

Take some time this Christmas to reflect on the miracle of Christmas… and listen to Vince’s message.  It will bless you!

Merry Christmas everyone!

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Christmas Eve Message: MLK

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Last year, as part of an Advent series, I preached a sermon by Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is one of his most famous sermons which he preached for Christmas.  I delivered it verbatim. It is called “Peace on Earth.”

I think it is a great sermon and King is one of my favorite preachers. On a personal note, preparing for and delivering this message was challenging… and powerful.

Enjoy…

 

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Two Babies in the Manger

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. They relate the following story in their own words:

It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.

Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city. Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel (cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia ), were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.

The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6-years-old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger.

Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately — until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad-lib.

He made up his own ending to the story as he said, 

“And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with Him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give Him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept Him warm, that would be a good gift.” So I asked Jesus, ‘If I keep You warm, will that be a good enough gift?’ And Jesus told me, ‘If you keep Me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave Me.’ So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and He told me I could stay with Him — for always.”

As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him — for always.

Friends, that is what Christmas — and the incarnation — is all about.  That Jesus is with us — forever and always.  Merry Christmas everyone!

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Larry Malaney’s Story

I shared this story a while back at a prayer and reflection night we did at the church I was at.  While a true story, I also think it is a powerful picture and parable of what the can and should be… a place that heals and restores people’s souls. That’s what church should be all about… creating spaces for people encounter God and become fully devoted to following Him!

In his book, “The Furious Longing of God,” Brennan Manning tells the story of Larry Malaney, a student he encountered while teaching at a small university in Ohio in the late 1960’s. He describes Malaney as an outcast whose appearance and demeanor isolated him from fellow students. “In all my days,” Manning writes, “I have never seen anyone with such low self-esteem.”

Malaney was a self-proclaimed agnostic who challenged Manning on matters of faith in their continuing conversations.

One Christmas, however, there was a change in Larry Malaney. He returned home to Providence, Rhode Island to his father with whom he had an estranged relationship.

Manning describes the student’s father as a “typical lace-curtain Irishman,” meaning that he was a prim and proper man who in the midst of the hottest summer day would dress in a suit and tie to come to the dining table in his own home.

His expectations for his son were not being met and their time together often erupted in disagreement. As was their usual pattern, there was conflict and resolution, yielding unsatisfactory results to both men. After a few nights at home, Larry announced to his dad that he would be returning to Ohio the next morning.

The father asked what time the boy was leaving and declared that he would ride the bus with him as far as the father’s office where the son would have to change busses for the last part of his journey to the airport.

They traveled in silence that morning until the bus came to a stop in front of the textile factory where the father worked. Both men got off the bus and expected the kind of good-bye that neither would be fulfilled by.

Before they could speak, however, a group of men across the street began to make fun of Larry’s appearance, calling him all sorts of names that were brutally cruel. Larry had heard them before and expected nothing more than to board the second bus and leave his father behind with the taunts of these men, perhaps a reflection of his own father’s feelings. Then something happened that had never happened before.

The proper, lace -curtain Irish father, embraced his son for the first time in his life, kissed him, and said, “Larry, if your mother and I live to be two hundred years old, that wouldn’t be long enough to thank God for the gift he has given us in you. I am so proud that you are my son.”

It was a different student that Manning encountered upon his return from Christmas break. His demeanor changed, even his appearance as he seemed to have a different outlook on life.

Not long after, Larry Malaney came to Brennan Manning’s office and said, “tell me about this man, Jesus,” Over the next six weeks the two men shared and when their time was completed, Larry said “Okay,” and with that continued a genuine search for an authentic faith.

He was ordained a priest in the Catholic church a few years later and spent more than twenty years as a missionary in South America. “Do you know why (this happened)?” Manning asks. He concludes, “It wasn’t because of the six weeks of sitting in Brennan Manning’s office while I talked about Jesus.

No, it was because of a day long ago, during a Christmas vacation, standing at a bus stop, when his lace-curtain Irish father healed him. Yes his father healed him. He looked deeply into his son’s eyes, saw the good in Larry Malaney that Larry couldn’t see for himself, affirmed him with a furious love, and changed the whole direction of his son’s life.”

 

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Almost

Last night in small group, we were talking about the grace of “almost moments”.

You know the story of the Prodigal Son(s) in Luke 15 (and if not, you should read it here).  This parable speaks to me more than almost any passage of scripture.  It is a passage I go back to again and again, have taught on and preached on dozens of times.  I truly believe if you want to know the heart of your Father, you’ve got to get this passage.

A few verses that have always struck me — and we spent a lot of time talking about tonight — are verses 16 & 17 —

Luke 15:16-17

He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!

Here is the lost younger son… away from his father… having wasted all that he was given… starving and desperate enough that he ALMOST ate pig slop.  Did you notice that he ALMOST ate it?  He longed for it… but no one gave him any.  Instead, this was when he CAME TO HIS SENSES and realized how out of control his life had become.

In a real sense, he was saved by an ALMOST MOMENT.  I think that there can be a lot of GRACE in ALMOST MOMENTS.  I think God uses them to get through to us, when nothing else will.

Have you ever had an ALMOST MOMENT?

I have.  

Sometimes I’ve missed them… or even charged through them.  But other times, I HAVE COME TO MY SENSES and experienced God’s grace.  In the midst of temptation… or anger or resentment or hopelessness… ALMOST.

It is powerful to know that our Father is always waiting for us… always loves us… that there is nothing we can do — either good or bad — that will ever change how much God loves you right now.

This basic truth — what we call grace — is what sustains me.  I hope it sustains you too.  Because it is all any of us really have.  My hope in tomorrow is not based on my ability to keep doing what is right or on my talents or my drive or my plans… it is entirely based on God’s goodness and love and power. 

Where have you experienced ALMOST MOMENTS, and God’s grace in their midst?

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

It’s Time to Name Names

It is time to name names.  I have been hesitant to do so until now because some people might not want to be named.  But sometimes, names must be named… and now is one of those times.

It is Christmas time and it is appropriate during this season to reflect upon and give thanks for the people in our lives who make a difference.  They deserve to have their names named.

Lists of names are popular in the Bible.  We often skim through them or skip over them when reading, but they are there for a reason — someone thought that it was important to name names.  One of the most famous lists is the genealogy of Jesus.  It is fascinating to study — much scandal buried in those names. And much grace.  Think, for example, about Rahab… the prostitute… lots of stories, lots of scandals, lots of grace.

Over the past 7 months there have been many who have walked with me, been for me, and helped me navigate through everything.  I will be forever thankful for you all… more than you will ever know!  As Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Here are some of the names, in no particular order, that I give thanks for… (and in advance, apologies for those I missed):

Sarah, J.R., Di, Bart, Paul, Steve, Chris, Tom, Beth, Bob, Nancy, Joe, Eric, Allison, Brian, Bob, Bryan, Rich, Eric, Vince, Nate, Jeff, Kit, Josh, Evan, and of course, my family.

There are other people I am missing… the list could go on… and know I am thankful for you all.

And there is another list of names too… a less positive list… but those names need not be named for simply put, they are forgiven.

 

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Pastors’ Dirty Little Secret

Rev! Magazine ran a good article about pastors and porn a little while back.  It is worth reading here.

Here is one quote from the article that struck me:

“Very few pastors ever receive adequate education regarding professional and personal boundaries in their training. They experience that it is unsafe to talk about personal stories of struggle regarding their sexual lives. The reality is that it could either cost them their ministry career or brand them as flawed and unworthy of serving in a pastoral role.”

While pastors are ultimately responsible for and accountable for their own actions, I think churches have an obligation to (or at least a serious self interest in) create environments that allow for these issues to be dealt with in a Biblical, healthy, authentic and restorative way.

For me, porn wasn’t the main problem, but it was certainly part of my sexually addictive cycle and behavior.  For several years I have used SafeEyes (or a similar internet filter) as well as X3Watch or Covenant Eyes (or a similar accountability software).  When I did share with people in the church about struggling with porn, the results were on two extremes: (1) some people I shared with pretty much said “no big deal”, “we’re all human”, “we all struggle”; or (2) some people took the opposite extreme of yelling at me and pretty much saying if I ever got caught or didn’t stop I would lose my job.

Let’s just say that neither of these approaches was helpful.

At times, I have been in healthy accountability relationships that really worked.  This was true in college, this was true often with my roommate, and with close friends over the years.  The formula always included (1) absolute honesty, (2) mutual accountability (not 1-way), (3) a focus on encouragement, not judgement, (4) modeled and appropriate grace, (5) good tools (like internet filters, etc), and (6) a focus on general spiritual health and intimacy with Christ as primary over the issue of just “do not”.  The other key ingredients are prayer — together and for each other — and intentionality.  I often had good accountability set-ups that lasted a few months, but then we would become less intentional about it and soon it just wasn’t happening.

I am currently in a really good accountability situation — probably the best I have ever had.  I have a weekly small group where we ask each other very specific questions and also check-in with each other throughout the week. In this group, there is a serious commitment to Jesus, to discipleship, to grace, to encouragement and not judgement.  In the group, accountability is intentional, mutual, and positive.  

In addition, I also have several mentors who know they can ask me anything and who I am in accountability with.  I talk regularly with these guys.  I also know who I am able to call when I am struggling, facing temptation or have slipped/failed.  

I wish I had all of that in place when I was a pastor.

So accountability is essential and important.  And I think it is tricky in the pastoral role.

My Board on a couple of occasions talked about creating pastoral accountability.  This was usually being pushed by 1 or 2 people and the tone was almost always off. For example, it was never mutual or focused on growth and encouragement.  Often it was proposed in a very micro-managerial way that included things like regular weigh-ins (yes, checking my weight) and other things like that.

As a pastor, I appreciated people caring about my general health, but it is easy to cross the line into something that is bizarre, unhealthy, negative and focused more on judgement than encouragement.

I am not sure what the answer is for pastors, but I think churches need to think about these issues and it is a good conversation.

What are your thoughts?  What have you seen work?  What are some of the challenges?

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2009 in Uncategorized

 
 
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