devotion

I don’t belong here.

Public Speaking

Photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph on Unsplash

I don’t belong here.”

I allowed myself to tremble as I stood before all of them. Hundreds of leaders in my church body gathered in convention, and I was tasked to point them to Jesus. The worship that began the convention the day before had a sermon that guided us through Law and Gospel. We had been fed rich food. That morning, a confident man had guided us through the meaning of a particular word, feeding both intellect and faith as he revealed the mysteries of Scripture.

And then here was me.

And as I looked out at that vast sea of leaders, I spoke the truth again: “I don’t belong here.” I couldn’t even pace; the sound system in this rented space didn’t include wireless mics. “Maybe some of you are far more self-assured than I am, but I constantly feel like I don’t belong. I feel like a fake. Like someday someone is going to figure it out, and the district president will show up and pull the plug. ‘We figured you out, Jon. Get out. You don’t belong here.’”

There’s a slight chuckle through the crowd. They think I’m exaggerating.

Of course I’m not. (more…)

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Nobodies

Bored

Photo by Julien-Pier Belanger on Unsplash

Ever try reading the Biblical book of First Chronicles? It can really be a slog. There’s a lot of, “Oh, and this guy had this son, and he had this son, and that first guy had another son, who had these three kids.” Basically lots and lots of lists of names.

And that’s what I’m reading right now for my personal devotions.

Now, I try to get through my Bible roughly every year or two years, so this is hardly my first time through this book. I’ve read it before. And usually it’s just something I skim. I mean, really, why did God see fit to put in so many names of people that aren’t attached to anything we see in history? They apparently don’t have some pivotal role in the history of redemption. They weren’t used by God to preserve Jesus’s line or deliver any new promises or prophecies.

They’re just a bunch of names. A bunch of nobodies, and God wanted to make sure that we saw their names. You know, all the names in the credits at the end of a movie at least have imdb entries! These guys? I suppose a bunch of them probably have some sort of Christian fanfic written about them (sort of like all the Star Wars fanfic out there), but that’s not the same thing.

But as I’ve been reading through this time, I’ve noticed something: (more…)

It’s more than a locker room speech.

I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s. It was a time of amazing sports movies. Mighty Ducks was probably my favorite of them, but you probably know at least some of these great sports movies that have graced the silver screen: Hoosiers. Rudy. Miracle.

I read an illustration in Move Toward the Mess by John Hambrick, and I used it today at a congregational meeting. Shamelessly. (Pastors are the best thieves.)

On Facebook, I asked for the best locker room speech in a sports movie. I got a lot of amazing suggestions. Remember the Titans. The Replacements. Any Given Sunday. Friday Night Lights. A lot of them I couldn’t use because of language or simple time requirements, but then today at the beginning of the congregational meeting, I played this clip:


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Wait — that applies to me, too?!

We’re all good with what God says until we realize what it says.

The couple came to faith recently. They want to get married. I’ve worked with them for a while, teaching them about Jesus, connecting Jesus with their everyday lives and what that means. We’ve struggled together over a good many things. I’ve learned that it’s wise to simply lay out what the Bible says, hear them as they argue, and then give them a few days. Usually the Holy Spirit works in those days, and by the time we get back together, they say that what the Bible says is correct.

After a few weeks of premarital counseling, it was finally time to talk about the wedding ceremony itself. I’ve made it a policy to not talk about the ceremony at all – except to select a date – until the premarital counseling is done. Let’s lay groundwork for a good marriage. The wedding is one day; the marriage will be for the rest of their lives. At least, that’s the plan. (more…)

All that is broken..

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The fire gathered the people together. We sat around the circle, laughing, sharing life. About twenty of us from the church, parents and kids and single folks and older folks, all sitting around, the aroma of burning wood and burning marshmallows filling the night. A couple of the kids patrolled the circle. “Want me to make you a s’mores?” Apparently at some point the fun comes in making them for others.

And then I stepped forward. “Imagine… nothing. There’s nothing. Not just a space with nothing in it. There’s actually nothing there. And then God said… ‘Let’s have some light.’ And bam! There was light! And there was evening and morning, the first day. And God said, ‘This is good!’

Second day. God says that light is good, but it’s gotta shine on something! So he creates waters above and below. Look! A sky! And below, seas! And there was evening and morning, day two. And God said, ‘This is good!’

Third day. God likes the oceans, but there’s gotta be something to break them up. So he raises islands and peninsulas and continents! And the rocks are great, but there’s gotta be something growing on them. Plants! Trees and bushes and grass and –”

And now the kids are paying attention. “Wildflowers!” one calls out.

Moss!” yells another.

That’s right!” I answer. “And God looked around, and what did he say?”

This is good?” one child ventures.

This is good!” I savor the answer. (more…)

Today.

4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

(Galatians 4:4-5)

Now.

The time had fully come. God had waited for just the right moment to send his Son into the world. He had a very specific mission for his Son: to buy back those who had rebelled against him. To buy back those who had chosen shame and fear and guilt over joy.

To buy back us.

God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the same law we’re under. He played by our rules to win us back.

He has taken away your guilt. That baby in Bethlehem grew up. He was on a mission from the moment not just of his birth but his conception. He was thinking of you. He was born to give you the joy he earned.

Your guilt is gone. Your shame has been removed. Your need no longer fear.

God has restored your joy.

But if Jesus came back… if he was born, if he died to take away all these terrible things, if he came back to restore joy… why is there still so much pain? Why do you still hurt?

Because he’s not done yet.

Not yet.

He will return. You will see him coming on the clouds. You will see him, the Child born in Bethlehem, the Child who rules forever… you will see him. He will come, and he will make all things new. He has taken away your guilt… and he will return to take you. And on that day the joy that is already yours will be made greater.

But not yet.

Soon.

Already your guilt is gone.

Already your shame is gone.

Already your fear is gone.

Soon your greatest joy will be restored to you.

Soon.

But not yet.

Now, Part 2

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

(Luke 2:8-20)

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Not Yet, Part 3

26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

(Luke 1:26-38)

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Not Yet, Part 2

2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

(Isaiah 9:2, 6, 7)

(more…)

Happy Hunger Games

We do NOT have movie-style seating available in our teen center, but we do have some very comfy couches.

Teens have such a way of destroying the best laid plans of mice and minsters.

Friday we had a movie night. After some hemming and hawing, we finally selected The Hunger Games as our film du jure.

I had prepared a devotion on self-sacrifice, based on Katniss’s willingness to stand in her sister’s stead for the Games. We’d also touch on her relationship to Rue and Peeta, as she also showed levels of sacrifice there as well. I’d then point to Katniss, and show that she was sacrificing for “good” people – people she loved. People who could or would help her. She’d never sacrifice herself for someone from District One – one of the villains of the film. Ah, but while we were still sinners Christ Jesus died for us. We were not “useful” to him and he certainly didn’t owe us. Yet, he sacrificed himself for us. (more…)