Posted in advent, Advent devotions, Devotions

2020 Advent devotion: The shepherds went to see

“Live and in person” Advent devotion for December 20, 2020. Read Luke 2:15-16 and Psalm 90.

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger” (Luke 2:15-16).

The shepherds have heard the announcement that a Savior has been born. They’ve gotten directions on where to find him. And they have heard the praises of the armies of God. Now what? “Let’s go and see.” If the Savior has come, let’s go see him – live and in person.

In a pre-CoVid-19 world, I wouldn’t miss the chance to go and visit a mom, dad and newborn in the hospital. Don’t drag your feet, though! Mother and child might only stay a couple of days for a normal birth and perhaps one day more after a C-section. So when I heard the news of a birth, I’d hustle over to see this miracle of new life. I jump at the chance to hold the newborn, never tiring of being one of the first to welcome a new little person into the world.

I guess when you’re a shepherd, not much exciting happens on a typical night watching the sheep. Unless you’ve got a wolf to fight off or a lamb that gets lost, I imagine it to be a boring job. Not this night, though! But what a contrast. They’ve witnessed both the glory of the Lord and the humility of the Christ. Theirs was a unique view of the glory that Jesus gave up and the human form he took on. It was a visual of the journey he has just taken, from heaven to earth.

They didn’t doubt for a moment what the Lord had made known to them. Remember Zechariah? He had a tough time believing that he and Elizabeth would have a son. Mary wondered, “How will this be?” when Gabriel came to her. The shepherds jumped at the chance to be one of the first to welcome this new little person into the world.

If you grew up in the church like I did, chances are you got to play the part of a shepherd at least once in the Sunday School Christmas program. The lines are pretty simple: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see what the angels just told us about.” It’s a story we can easily insert ourselves into. We so much want to see the baby! Just remember: because he came here, died here and came back to life here, one day you will!

Thank you, Lord, for the shepherds of the Christmas story, who just like me can’t wait to see you face to face. Amen.

Posted in advent, Advent devotions, Devotions

2020 Advent devotion: Been there done that

“Live and in person” Advent devotion for December 9, 2020. Read Hebrews 4:14-16 and Psalm 51.

The author of Hebrews writes, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

In other words, “Been there. Done that.”

One of the amazing things about Jesus is that He was here, live and in person. He knows what it’s like to be loved and hated, adored and persecuted, welcomed and rejected, praised and damned, nurtured and killed. No matter what we are going through, He’s been there. He’s experienced it. He knows exactly what you are going through. He gets it. He understands.

Like a CEO who was hired for the mailroom, or an officer who started out as a private, or a concert-master violinist who played last chair third violin for years, Jesus knows exactly what it’s like to be born, grow up, be hated and die on planet earth. When we pray, we are never talking to an entity who is removed from reality. He was here, live and in person.

Are you a doctor or nurse? He was a healer. Are you a teacher? He taught so many. Are you a chef? He knows how to feed a crowd. Are you a leader? He was a king. Are you a scientist? He not only knows how the universe works, He created it! He knows how to fish, make wine, climb a mountain, ride a donkey and work with wood.

It makes such a difference to talk to someone who did the same kind of work you did. They know the lingo. They understand the disappointments. They appreciate the successes. They’ve learned from the mistakes. They have sound advice.

Jesus was born. He lived. He died. He gets it. He was here. And that leads to some great conversations that we call prayer. When you ask, “What do I say?” “What do I do?” “How do I deal with this?” He has an answer. After all, He’s been there and done it.

More importantly, He knows about temptation. He’s felt the pressure. He’s heard the lies. He’s struggled with His fears. He knows how hard it is to pray, “Not my will but Your’s be done.”

Do you know what the best part of this reality is? When we come to Him, we receive mercy and grace when we need it. No condemnation, no “You should have known better,” or “Too bad!” At the feet of our high priest, at the foot of the cross, we encounter our biggest cheerleader. We find grace, strength, and encouragement to be like Him, for He has been there and done that!

Lord, thanks for understanding. It’s hard. It’s hard to resist temptation. It’s hard to obey. It’s so hard to stay on the path. Thank you for the mercy and grace I need right now – as well as every day. Amen.

Posted in Advent devotions

The Cast of Advent: December 16 – Jesus

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

In a dream the angel spoke to Joseph about both Mary and her son. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

It’s hard to know which devotional slot to give Jesus since the whole story is about him. This seems like a good moment, since this is the first time his name is mentioned.

The name Jesus means “Savior.” It is the same as the Old Testament name Joshua which is derived from a Hebrew word meaning “to deliver or rescue.” It is a name which describes exactly what he will do: “save his people from their sins.”

Many names originated with occupations. “Smith” was the blacksmith who worked iron. “Cooper” made the barrels. “Carpenter” worked with wood. You call the people in your community with a word that described their work: Baker, Brewer, Potter, Fisher, Weaver, and Judge would be just a few good examples.

But how in the world can you save someone from their sins? How can you make it so that a person doesn’t have to suffer the consequences for their actions? I suppose you could suffer those consequences for them, sparing them from that experience. Which is exactly what Jesus does for each and every sin of every person.

For much of his life, I’m sure no one had a clue how Jesus would save his people from their sins. It wasn’t until much later, after the resurrection, that Jesus could give them that understanding. Until then, they would just have to take his name and his occupation by faith.

Thank you, Lord, for saving me from my sins. Amen.

Posted in preaching


Second worship service is over, it’s hot and I’m walking out to my car. When I get in, turn the key and fire up the AC, I quickly check my email, just to see if there’s anyone I need to get in touch with that afternoon. There is an email from someone I don’t know that begins, “My family and I worshiped with you this morning at your 8:15 service.” Hmm. I don’t remember meeting any guests this morning. In my mind survey the morning crowd and no one stands out.

The email continued, “How refreshing it was to hear the Gospel this morning.” I can’t think of any other sentence someone could write to me that would touch my heart in such a powerful way. The words of Paul to Christians in Corinth popped into my mind: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16)

There are far too many afternoons when I wonder if I preached the gospel clearly enough. Did I take my listeners to the cross? Did I get them to the empty tomb? Did I faithfully proclaim the death and resurrection of my Lord? Is that what people heard?

When someone comes out of church and says, “Thank you for preaching the gospel,” I am relieved, affirmed, encouraged and thankful. That’s my task. That’s my goal. In fact, That’s all I’ve got. I can’t convince people to trust God. I can’t move them to change their behavior. I can’t answer all their questions or objections. All I have is the gospel, filled with the power of God to inspire faith, create new hearts in us, and calm our worried souls. All I can do is tell them about Jesus.

I wasn’t especially thrilled about my sermon this morning. I think I tried too hard to say too many things. I think I could have done better. Most of the people coming out of church wanted me to have a safe trip to Israel this week or offered consolation because my father died three weeks ago. But this one little bit of feedback reminded me that God can work through someone like me to bring the best news of all to people like me who need to hear it early and often.

Posted in children, Grace


Photo by Christiana Rivers on Unsplash

I never, ever get tired of reading or hearing the story of when people wanted to bring their kids to Jesus and the disciples tried to stop them (Mark 10:13-16). I can just hear the disciples saying, “Get those kids out of here.” And then Jesus says, “Don’t you dare send those kids away. Let them come to me. That’s what this is all about!”

This account resonates on a number of levels. First of all, I think that deep down, we just all want to be kids. We want to be free of all the responsibilities of being adults, to just play and imagine and color. And that’s OK. You get a much better handle on Jesus when you are a kid. You’re not trying to prove yourself or justify yourself. You just look at him with wonder and know that he’s not like any grown up you’ve ever met before. He wants you to hang around, not just go off and play (and be quiet).

I also believe we want to feel his embrace. After Jesus rebuked his disciples and told them to let the children come to him, he took them in his arms and blessed them. With all the uncertainty, violence, politics, prejudice, hatred, jealousy and evil in our world, we just want someone to hold us. We long for someone who can make us feel safe. Who better than Jesus, who loves without boundaries, who provides a refuge from everything that threatens, whose arms can reach and embrace anyone, no matter the distance?

Don’t ever grow up so much that you no longer yearn for the feel of his arms around you. Always embrace your inner child, for that is one of the places where you will best get to know your Savior!



Posted in prayer

You want to pray? Pray like Jesus.

Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

How many times have you heard those words lately? These are the words shared by many in response to the mass shooting at First Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, TX. We read them tweeted by the president and we repeated by countless others. Many express such sentiment in the aftermath of tragedy.

But what does that mean?

What does that mean coming from the lips of those who rarely attend and have little connection with the church? What does that mean coming from the mouth of someone who may or may not pray all that often? What does that mean when it echoes across social media, TV journalism and political rhetoric?

What does it mean to you?

When a disaster flattens a community, when a tragedy occurs, when numerous lives are taken, how do you pray? What do you say? What words do you use?

I’ll bet you’re intention to pray far exceeds your actual prayers. I know that sounds harsh. But reflect on that statement for a moment. Am I wrong?

What do you say to God when bullets fly, bombs explode, blood is shed and communities are devastated?

Do you ask God to help people feel better? Do you pray for the pastors who will be conducting funerals for all those who died? Do you pray that God would spare people from future tragedy? Do you ask what you should do to help?

What do you say?

It’s a tough question. Prayer is tough, because it deals with tough issues. Prayer is hard, because it rips open our hearts and releases our emotions in the presence of the one who created us. Prayer pleads for mercy, cries out for help, lashes out in anger, and gets in the face of the God who is infinitely more powerful than us.

If your prayers aren’t filled with pleas, tears, rage and fear, then why bother? Why bother simply saying what you think God wants to hear, rather than what’s going on in your heart? Why try to talk God out of a blessing or convince him your are right (and he’s wrong)? Are you afraid you’ll hurt his feelings? Or that he’ll shut you up — for good?

I believe he wants you to let it out. Release your wrath. Scream in terror. Demand that he listen and respond. Read the psalms. What? Yes, read the psalms. They do all this and more. They get in God’s face and challenge him to do something!

And you know what? He does. He comes and experiences it all. Then Jesus went away to pray. Do you think his prayers were calm, cool and collected? In the face of all he would go through? I doubt it. Go back to the gospels and read about Jesus’ prayers from the cross — filled with pleas, tears, rage and fear.

You tell me you’ll pray? Let me hear you pray like Jesus.


Posted in Life

Nativities are alive and well

nativity collageAs I wandered through a Ten Thousand Villages store in Harrisonburg, VA, I was struck by the number of nativities for sale, crafted by artisans from all over the world. Some were made of rocks, others had been formed from clay, and yet others crocheted. Some were tiny, no bigger than a golf ball. Others hang from mobiles. Some were designed to be Christmas tree ornaments. Others were meant to be handled and played with.

I was struck by the reality that in what is called a post-modern, post-Christian world, where we are told nones, atheists and the de-churched comprise a larger and larger portion of our nation, nativities are still in demand. There is still plenty of room among snowmen and Santas for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, shepherds with sheep, and wise men with gifts. I was fascinated and delighted to see that this form of the sacred has not been pushed out of view by the secular.

I believe we can learn something from this. While it’s rarely productive to ram Jesus down people’s throats with threats of eternal damnation, it’s not so hard to slip him into craft fairs, holiday displays, and winter festivals. This is probably why Jesus didn’t come on the clouds with power the first time around. He came as a baby, slipped into the world virtually unnoticed, and found a place in a hostile environment.

That’s the seed we plant and water at this time of the year. God handles the growth.




Posted in Life, Ministry

“I didn’t know that.”

At asuhyeon-choi-184102 recent regional pastor’s conference, the guest speaker, Mark Wood, made me aware of a segment of the population who identify as Christian, but know little if anything about the faith.

Mark shared a story of an airplane conversation with someone who identified as a Christian, but was surprised and even shocked by what Jesus had to say on a number of issues. Someone had witnessed to them, they said a prayer that asked Jesus to be their Savior, but that was it. They weren’t baptized, didn’t go to church, and were functionally biblically illiterate.

I’ll bet they aren’t alone. I’ll bet there are plenty of people attending church who know little of what God says in His Word. In fact, I’ll bet a good percentage of the church fits this profile.

I’m glad they’re saved. But there is so much more! Not only do we have something to look forward to in the next life, but we’ve been transformed to live new lives now. Lives of mercy, forgiveness, and truth.

Wouldn’t that be different than some of the usual suspicion, fear and lies that fill our news and conversation?

How’s your biblical literacy? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

Posted in Life, Ministry

Scary stuff

A few months ago, a woman who somehow knew I was a pastor came up to me and asked if I had ever helped people who had spirits in their homes. Immediately I could feel the hair go up on the back of my neck as I replied, “Not really. Why?” She explained that they had built their home a few years ago, so no one else had ever lived there but their family. Still, she had eleven pages of notes recording all the strange phenomena she had observed in her house. Interesting, huh? Yes, but scary, too. While we can explain away a lot of things scientifically and medically, there are still things going on that defy explanation and suggest that spirits and demons may still be alive and well like they were when Jesus was on the earth.

In this week’s gospel lesson, which I’ll be preaching on, Jesus and his disciples come meet a man possessed by multiple demons (Luke 8:26-39). Pretty scary stuff. But then Jesus shows that he has complete command of unclean spirits. Even scarier, right? For some, yes!

Now, with that truth in our mind, how will we deal with the demons we encounter? We may not encounter anyone completely possessed by demons, but I’ll bet you’ve met people who in some way seemed to be under their influence. Addiction, abuse, self-destructive behavior and hateful words could all be the product of our depraved, fallen state. But perhaps someone or something drives those behaviors in some. If that’s true, then you better take good notes when Jesus exhibits complete and total authority over those someones or somethings. You better not go out there without your armor, either.