morning prayer: 25

A prayer for the church today:

God, we come before you this morning in prayer – we humble our hearts and minds, place them at your feet. We say that word, God, and we pause to ask – who are you? In our world, we say “God” so many times – but who are you, God? You are the one who has revealed yourself to your people – the Lord Almighty. You are Father, Son, Spirit. You are the only wise God. Your creation declares your wisdom, power, and beauty. Your salvation shines with beauty, justice, and holiness. You hold eternity in your hand and are Lord of All. And over all of it you are good. Yes – you are God.

Humble our minds and hearts in worship today as we open your word together to see you in the light of your glorious truth. Shows us your strong power. Show us your great love. Expose the dark corners of our heart that we hide from you. Melt our rebellious wills that would rather run from you than be folded into your embrace. Make us today like the younger son who you draw home with a Father’s love. And when that first word of confession of our sin is on our lips, remind us that you dress us in righteousness of your son Jesus Christ.

We would see you this morning, Jesus. Open the eyes of our hearts that we might see by the gift of faith. Accept all our worship today in the name of your son, Jesus the Christ. We offer these gifts of prayer and praise, giving and going, glorifying you. I pray this on behalf of all this brothers and sisters of mine, Jesus, in your name – You who reign forever with the father and Spirit, one God forever more.

Amen.

10 things I (re)learned in the wilderness

looking SW over Lake Tahoe

looking SW over Lake Tahoe

Ten days ago was I was exhausted and near the end of a 6-day route to complete the whole Tahoe Rim Trail. The trail itself snaked through state parks, national forests, and federal wilderness areas and covered a remarkable variety of terrain.

As awesome as the outward journey was (and we will write it up soon), the inward journey was just as interesting and fostered plenty of reflection.

So here goes – 10 things I (re)learned in the wilderness:

  1. You could go it alone, but go with a good friend. Adam and planned this for months and committed to doing it together. I probably would have quit after day 3 if I didn’t have a friend who believed in me and was calmly urging both of us on. We shared the work, the load, the struggle, the long conversations, and the joy. It was a richer and deeper experience as a result.
  2. Signposts matter. Not so much for route-finding, but for situational awareness; signposts and trail makers give confirmation that you are on the right road … or warnings that you’re off-route. The complete lack of them gets frustrating.
  3. What goes up must come down. And what goes down will (frustratingly) eventually go up again. It’s unrealistic to expect a level path. The net elevation change doesn’t matter near as much. It’s the gross total that gets you. Day 4 was over 5000’ of climbing. The good news? I was ready for it.
  4. It gets better. Hurting is often the beginning of the story, not the end – endure and it gets better. (Or at least, something else will start hurting more and make you forget your current problem).
  5. Not all pain is a sign of damage or genuine hurt. Some is simply your body protesting: “you are making me seriously uncomfortable here!” Discomfort, aches, and stress are not in themselves always bad things.
  6. The wilderness and the trail give you a “new normal.” I ran with a friend who’s a veteran of many long endurance races, and each time I encountered new difficulties (this or that foot or leg issue) he calmly assured me “that’s normal.” Broadly speaking, there are realities you encounter out there that you simply must accept and embrace. You can’t keep comparing your experience to life as you know it. You adjust to a new normal.
  7. You are capable of more than you dream and far more than you usually think. Part of the reason to go to the wilderness is to push your limits, to eliminate distractions, to test your resources, to be forced to dig deep. Day 4 was a dig deep, 34-mile push to a prize: sunset camping at Lake Velma.
  8. Attend to the fundamentals. When the stuff hits the fan, necessities of food, water, shelter, warmth take priority. Getting down is more important than getting ahead. Sharing the load with another person helps you consider each other’s needs and not miss warning signs.
  9. Fear and adrenaline make you do things you normally wouldn’t or couldn’t do. Our last (late!) 14 miles of day 3 came trying (unsuccessfully) to outrun a thunderstorm. Instead we ran our fastest miles of the trip through hail and cold rain to get off the mountain. Awful? yes. Exhilarating? Without a doubt.
  10. Patient, matter-of-fact truth-telling is ten times better (and more compassionate) than any false praise. Being willing to give a truthful analysis of a situation (or hear one) is necessary before you can take that imaginative breath to see the way forward.

While these come directly from the trail, I trust there are some pretty keen parallels to ordinary life. Use your imagination, and never stop exploring.

One more: Don’t try out there what you haven’t first tried at home. That goes for equipment, food, nutrition, etc. I never should have bought that buffalo jerky bar last-minute…

a prayer for Maundy Thursday

In those seasons of the church year that we often think of as high and holy times, I enjoy digging back through the ages and seek how the church has prayed. Sometimes you find words from another century or another culture that become your own and give you what to say when you heart feels like it is fumbling around. Here is a prayer that I wrote today for Maundy Thursday: some of its phrases have been inspired by earlier words from Bede, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, 1 John, and The Gelasian Sacramentary. Make it your own!

A prayer of Thanksgiving for Maundy Thursday

Our Good and Gracious Father,

You have brought us in safety again to this precious week and this new day. This truly is a day that you have created and we are glad and rejoice in it. For on this day not only do we have the chance to live, to love, and to lift our voices to you in prayer and praise – but we also come face to face with the astounding love of your son – our Lord, our Redeemer – Jesus Christ.

Tonight we remember his shocking and saving love for us: that while we were sinners, Jesus loved us, Jesus came for us, embraced us, and died for us. That when we were about to despair because we were faced with our sin-sickness, Jesus appeared … as the almighty doctor who can deliver us. And he did so by taking our sickness upon himself, sharing our death that he might administer life to us!

Lord, tonight we gather as a people who depend on your compassion and mercy. We stand on this side of the cross and praise you for freeing us from sin and for life with you. Let us remember our need for your mercy to cover our sin. Let us find grace in the gift of your body and your blood. Let us hear in a fresh way your word to love one another even as you have loved us – a humble, sacrificial love.

So come Holy Spirit: fill the hearts of your faithful people with your grace. Kindle in us the fire of your love. Make the flame of that love first take hold among each other – our brothers and sisters here – and then spread to all those who are far off. Give us the grace that might seek order all our thoughts and actions after your commandment to love. And may we be found fit to enter into Your everlasting joy. Amen.

why lent

ash-wednesdayWhy Lent? Have you ever had to prepare for a big trip? You faced the truth about where you were going and what needed to happen to make the trip. You made your plans, packed your bags, got ready, etc. You went through a “Season” of “preparing” for what you were about to experience.

“Lent” is like that. Lent isn’t that junk in your pocket of your jeans – or the fuzz you pick out of your belly button after wearing a new shirt. Lent is the season of the church’s celebration of 40 days before Easter (FYI: “Lent” comes from an old word for “spring”). It’s a time of gracious preparation and truth-telling. It starts with today, called “ASH WEDNESDAY,” and rolls on the next 6 weeks.

So what is this ancient and dusty tradition for? I’ve come to think of it as a wake up call. Most of us wake up to some kind of an alarm (whether you pop up to need 5 snoozes), and lent rings two notes of alarm to us – saying “get up! Life is here! Wake up and move on out!”

  1. We remember our incredible need for God – the reason that Jesus came to rescue us. That you and I are made in God’s image, but our sin has harmed every relationship we know: with self, others, our world, and – especially – with God. I need God. You need God. We each need him. To live apart from God is to be dying in the way you live.
  2. And here’s the second incredible truth – in our incredible need, we have an incredible Savior – Jesus Christ. You and I cannot save ourselves. The good news is our God has revealed himself to be our Savior in Jesus Christ. He offers forgiveness of your sin through his own death on the cross, and new life through his own resurrection from the grave. He reigns now as Lord of all lords. We need forgiveness. We need life. Thank God that both of those are freely offered to us in Jesus Christ.

Here’s the thing about Jesus – he stood in your shoes. He lived your life. He was obedient to God in every way and yet he took on himself all your sin and suffered for it, was judged for it, died for it, and put it all right so that you – by faith – can stand in his shoes and hear his words: YOU ARE FORGIVEN. You are my beloved.

Hear that again. YOU ARE FORGIVEN. Jesus has made things right with you and God and restored you to the place of love, fellowship, and following him in this world.

So this Lent, don’t think you are going all super-spiritual and finally getting yourself in shape. You can’t make it right. You don’t HAVE TO make it right. You are – we are – actually admitting the reverse: we can’t. But by God’s grace, Jesus has done it, did it for you, and calls you back to share in his perfect response to the Father.

Tonight we gather together and start that journey by having a time of worship. At the end, we all come forward (if you choose) to face the truth – you say “I am a sinner” and we remind you that “we have a great Savior: in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.” And you get a mark – on your forehead, or on your hand – of ashes.

Why ashes? It’s an ancient tradition that when you hurt, or when you were full of sorrow, or when you were ashamed of your actions, or when you wanted show that you’d reversed your wrong course and were heading down the right road – you put dust on yourself. Maybe on your head, shoulders, or hands.

In the church today, we mark you with ashes as a reminder that you came from dust and you are going back to dust. A reminder that your life here is temporary. A reminder that none of us is Lord of our own lives: each of us will face death and be accountable to God. We mark each other with ashes tonight to remember that first alarm bell (we are sinners).

But we mark you with ashes in the sign of the cross because it’s in the cross of Jesus Christ that we meet an incredible savior who cleanses us from our sin, gives us new life by his Spirit, and leads us in the way of love for God and love for others.

So tonight – we invite you to wake up and walk with us on that journey. Pack your bags, make some preparations. There is life to do this season as we wake up to the call of God on our lives.

Find an Ash Wednesday service tonight. If you are local to Chattanooga, join us in the sanctuary at Signal Mountain Pres at 6:30pm. May your own heart sense the call of Christ to leave life as you know it and follow him in the fire of love with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

25 thoughts on #Advent

Driving back from Thanksgiving, I had in mind the idea to write “25  Thoughts on Advent” (since that season this year fit Dec. 1-25) and tweet one each day. I got through half of them before falling off the wagon and succumbing to the schedule. But here they are, in draft form – some unfinished, some promising more to think about, some probably needing revision – but may they help you in your journey.

1 Those in ministry often find #advent to be a time of waiting …  for it all to be over. Resolved: not to let the pace or stress paper over the true waiting, but intensify the longing and remembering God’s deliverance.

2. #Advent spurns hurrying for waiting (its near opposite). Hurrying makes you deaf;  waiting (anticipation!) makes you hear. @davidjburke

3. #Advent is “coming:” what has been (& is now) is not all that will be. But: what exactly are you waiting for? Who are you waiting for?

4. #Advent in the church means a “time change:” a shift and adjustment to the shape of the Story behind our stories. All is not as it seems.

5. #Advent drops you into the messy middle of the big Story. Though we reach back and live forward, we live in the middle.

6. The waiting of #Advent means “making ready:” God gives a sign that he is up to something new in the world (Luke 1:18)

7. #Advent makes us remember that our story starts in goodness: calling on the God who has been God and faithful to his people.

8. #Advent also makes us remember our collective guilt. We are makers of mess, workers of woe. But it is into THIS world our Redeemer came.

9. #Advent reminds us that God picked a people for his purpose for the world and promised to be with them.

10. #Advent reminds us that God purpose prevailed though God’s people became part of the problem. The promise was yet to come.

11. #Advent the wait is over in the advent of Jesus: God with us, the desire of nations.  His question: who do you say that I am?

12. In #Advent, when God narrows the scope of his work (Israel – line of David – family of Jesus) is it for the sake of (and blessing to) the whole world.

13. #Advent then makes you think: what is God doing in me/us now (promised, given) that prepares for me/us for what’s not yet?

14. #Advent is a time of tension with the promise of fulfillment. God worked at just the right time. (Lk 1:5, Hb 1:1-2, Gal 4:4 Rom 5:6)

15. In #Advent then there is space for both lamenting &rejoicing: where we see weal and woe, God sees a work toward redemption. “My deliverer is coming.”

16. We lament “now” in #Advent because all is not as it should be: we rejoice “now” because of what (and who!) has happened. Joy to the World …

17. Similarly, #Advent looks ahead: we lament all that is “not yet” – we still wait and anticipate – but rejoice because He who promises is faithful. O Come, O Come Immanuel…

18. As a season, #Advent exposes our “always on” feeling and mode of operating in this world. Waiting is counter-cultural act.

19. But our worldly waiting often takes the pain of now and substitutes it for the promise of not yet. #Advent fixes us on the promise in order to fuel patience.

20. #Advent keep us from projecting and posing, pointing us to proper appreciation of now (taste! savor! see!) in light of not yet.

21. Feeling “always on” reveals that we don’t know how to rest. #Advent is a chance to renounce that constant pre-occupation.

22. #Advent is ultimately a rediscovery of nothing less that the true goal of our lives: a deep rest in the life of the Lord himself.

23. The rest of #Advent is not simply a “marking time” or “ceasing activity:” it is an active remembrance that I participate by playing a part in the grandest Story.

24. #Advent reminds me that I do not know the whole plot and haven’t seen the finished play, but I have enough for faithful obedience: “I am the Lord’s servant.”

25. #Advent reveals that we can’t comprehend God and all his work, but we can live at the  particular point where the story has apprehended us. “May it be to us as you have said.”

on dating: the youthworker talks to the parent

Dear Andy,

You’ve been in youth ministry for (gasp!) over 15 years now. You’ve been a parent for almost as long, and now have a teenager of your own (and two close on the heels). You’re about to enter a decades’ worth (at least) of dating and relationships in your own home. Since working with teenagers and having your own can be two different things and since in tense moments emotions tend to run high – here are some things I’ve learned from other wise guides that I hope you can hold on to in the short form of “Do and Don’t.” Call them “what the youthworker in me wants the parent in you to remember” as you and Robin forge ahead.

  • Don’t bait your kids, mock their dating, or make fun of their desires or choices. Every word and look and joke from you teaches: and all that kind teaches them is to shut down and not trust you. You may not get that trust back for a long time.
  • Don’t live vicariously through their dating relationships. Don’t go all “helicopter parent” over the relationship, its ups, downs, status, etc. I get that you’ll have the desire to want to know what’s going on, to know the other person, be part of it. That’s fine and good to a point. But don’t smother it, own it, and don’t let it feed or starve your own self-image. What puffs up one moment can devestate the next. It’s not about you. It’s not the verdict on you. That last word belongs only to Jesus: rest in that. (And do help them understand this as well).
  • Don’t leave it all to them to figure out and deal with. Everyone but marketers abandons teenagers, and let your own home be the first line of defense here. Worried about what forms them? Practice wise counter-formation. God gave you a responsibility here and a community to help you – engage!

 

  • Do lovingly respect them and listen to them. That means paying close attention to their thoughts/feelings/desires/experiences. You have something to learn here: their world is both like yours and unlike it, but more off your radar and closed to your access. Ask, seek, knock: let them be the guides for once.
  • Do lead and “be awkward so they don’t have to” (HT: the awesome guide here by the Youth Cartel folks). Initiate, use real words, engage, provoke, point out. They will learn with or without you, so take the initiative and go first: lead with your thoughts on what’s true, right, pure, good, beautiful, excellent, praiseworthy. Then listen, learn, and adjust accordingly.
  • Do be honest about your expectations, boundaries, and be firm. Life’s too short to be mealy-mouthed here: boundaries are there to keep us on the path, and guardrails keep mini-accidents from becoming major ones. There might be no “once-for-all rules” on this subject, but that shouldn’t keep you from laying down a wise track. 1 Thessalonians 4 should help you here. Think of yourself as one of the adults who are spotters on the balance beam: you’re giving (him or her) freedom to risk with the knowledge that you’re there for them. (And by all means, when you coolly allow consequences, stay with them).

And above all, remember the story you want to tell. Since we’re Christians, all our stories begin with goodness and end with grace, no matter how messy, screwed up, and sinful they get in the middle. Don’t ever take sin more seriously than grace. Remember that those kids are full human beings learning to take up the task of being a wise representative of God in his world. There are bound to be failures and victories along the way as they learn to reflect their King. Don’t forget that it’s your job to reflect his goodness and grace as well.

grace and peace
Andy

how I wanted it to end

Another week, another Wednesday, but no teaching this time. Since we wrapped up our “Made in 3D” series last week at Signal Pres, there’s no teaching prep for me this week. But I thought I would leave you with “how I wanted it to end.” As usual, I had too much to say and did not quite get to land the series as I wanted to. So here is the longer version of some of my closing comments, in rough form, to our 3-week long extended discussions on relationships, sexuality, dating, and friendship.

But let me leave you with one last thought. Everything we’ve talked about – relationships, sexuality, dating, friendship – in the end it is never simply about those things. It has always been about something else: a deeper longing, a deeper restlessness. The “this” of any of your desires has always been about “that” deeper longing. (1)

There’s a bright, clear line that leads from any of our desires here and now to the infinite joy you were made for. The desires we so often settle for here and now are flatter, 1- or 2- dimensional images of the full-orbed life ahead! As Lewis said in the marvelous Weight of Glory,

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy [Life to the full!] is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (2)

It’s so easy to look at your basic desire right now and to unthinkingly grab for it. But pause a moment and ask the question: am I settling for the easy pleasure? the little win?Go ahead and ask the harder question – really ask it, sit with it, explore it: down deep, what am I thirsty for? What am I really longing for? What do I really want? What desires are in me right now, boiling up – whether for good or bad, things that frighten or excite? Do you not know that down deep, your desire is for God himself? And will you take that longing to Jesus and say – I am thirsty: let me drink!

Deep down, all our desire points to God himself. All our restless longing is meant to rest in God himself. Yes, of course we experience a rush of conflicting desires, some rightly-ordered by love, some dis-ordered by sin, but the design of God on your life is to revel in the difference that comes as you live a full life in clear-eyed obedience to Him. The giant difference available to all who live according to God’s grace is that God himself is present with you in the midst of every relationship. I cannot promise you a happy marriage one day, or your dreams come true in dating, or a fulfilled sexuality or a circle of best friends. But the promise on offer is God himself, with you, through His Son and by his Spirit. Over and over, that is the anchor in Scripture.

And it comes with this command: do not be afraid. I am with you. “Made in 3D” was never really just about relationships, sex, dating, and friendship – it was always about God and you and y’all and the flourishing of human life that you were meant to enjoy and show to the world. The glory of God is being fully alive to God, to self, to others, and to His entire creation. May you shine in that way.

(1) For a marvelous and witty layout of that truth, see the section in Rob Bell’s book, “Sex God.”
(2) C.S. Lewis in his essay “The Weight of Glory.”

a morning prayer

Father God –

Lord, we find you here in the morning. We find you when we seek you. You promised us that – that when we seek you with all our heart, there you will be. You made us that way – you made us to know you, to love you, and to rejoice before you. You are a God that delights in being found and bringing rest to restless hearts.

… because we have them, Lord; we have hearts that run circles around worries for the day. We have anxious thoughts about our place in things, our relationships, our mistakes, our lingering regrets, our foolish rebellions. We have minds that crawl with fears for ourself, or others, or the future.

We need your nearness, Lord – we need the blazing beauty of your presence to come to us, to stand us on our feet, and to lift our eyes. We need the nearness of your perfect love that casts out all fear, that calms anxiety, that banishes worry.

Meet us today, Jesus, in all your radiant glory. Melt our hearts at your grace to us your cross, but which God has reconciled all things. Make our hearts sing with the shining beauty of your love. And may every word, every thought, every action be to the praise of your glory.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Easter Sunrise

photo: Robin Gale Cornett, 31 March 2013

Yesterday was our Easter Sunday service on the brow at Signal Mountain. Here’s an excerpt from the end of my short message. It’s title was rise, and mostly consisted of a working-through of 1 Corinthians 15:3-6, 50-58 and our freedom from sin, death, evil/devil – and referencing the lyrics of “Because He Lives (sung at the service).

There is a name for rising up to this kind of life: FREEDOM. The glorious freedom of the children of God who know the mystery of faith: that Christ Jesus died, that Christ is risen, that Christ will come again.

This life is worth everything because he lives.

Some days I am standing near this road, waiting at the bus stop with my daughters – and I see the sun come up. Some days on my way to church, early in the morning, I will drive over here, stand on this wall, and look to the east – and watch a new day dawn over this city and community.

And as the sun rises, I see everything else – this whole valley spread before us. And I am reminded of the great quote by CS Lewis who said “I believe in the risen Christ like I believe in the sun – not because I can look at him directly, but because by his light I see everything else.”

And then I get to work. And I remember vs. 58 – the verse Paul uses to end this section. We work as fathers or mothers, husbands or wives, students or teachers, business or home, friends and family. And we work hard serving Jesus in His new creation, but we don’t carry the load. As Paul says – we give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord because we know that our labor isn’t in vain. We’re not trying to receive God’s grace as if we can earn it – other way around! We’ve received the grace of the risen Jesus so that we can get to work! This life matters in every exquisite detail.

We are working in the light of day because the Son us up, because Jesus the Son has lived, died, risen, and is coming again, and by His light we see everything. That’s what it means to rise up. That’s what it means to be part of God’s uprising in our little corner of the world. People are dying to see a life that rises up in freedom because the Past is forgiven, the Present is lived with no fear, and the Future is secure. I don’t just want to buried with my feet facing the East – I want to live facing Jesus, rising up because of the new life he has planted in my heart by faith.

on dust and ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent. For a long time I discarded that tradition and went without celebrating Lent in any real way, but in recent years I have come back to do some thinking about it and recover a sense of worshipping with the whole church.

The season of Lent is an opportunity for reflecting, for remembering, for repenting as we recall the death and resurrection of Jesus. Lent isn’t for navel-gazing or moping: it’s for a clear-headed and far-sighted facing our own condition in light of the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. We never repent thinking we could justify God’s forgiveness, but we always repent because of his staggering love for us that has wrecked and remade our very selves.

I don’t have much to add here, so here are two wiser voices that each offer a powerful mediation: one on Lent, and one on Ash Wednesday.

Sin ravages God’s Shalom in my life and in the world around me. I tell the truth about myself with the ashes on my forehead. I’m a sinner in need of grace. But friends, remember also, the ashes are placed on our foreheads in the sign of a cross. We are not without hope. We take our sins seriously with the ashes, we take God’s grace seriously by receiving them in the sign of the cross, because in the cross is the promise of resurrection, and new life in Christ right now.

Read all of Fred Harrell’s marvelous 2012 post “A Season, A Discipline, A Sign.”

I’m thankful that the ashes are about more than my own death. They’re about the death of the God whose brokenness and ultimate restoration heals my failure, who brings purpose to a life that could easily be written off as ordinary.

Read the full version of Micha Boyett’s 2011 personal “Ash Wednesday” post.

Find an Ash Wednesday service tonight and remember that you, too, are dust and ashes. You, too, have a faithful Savior – Jesus Christ. If you are local to Chattanooga, join us at Signal Mountain Presbyterian at 6:30pm. May your own heart sense the call of Jesus to leave life as you know it and follow him in the fire of love with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.