Silent Night – a Father’s lullaby


This song has always baffled me. I have always felt the writer of this song clearly lacked two pivotal experiential points of reference prior to writing this candle lit hymn: being in a barn full of animals and attending a birth. In my experience, I haven’t come close to using “silent” as a. This song must then simple be fictional idealization of a birth to further portray Jesus’ life as “sunshine & roses” even from the moment he entered this world. There had to be chaos, noise, stink, panic, worry, and poop. Lots of poop! Honestly people, there were barn animals and a newborn, poop would haven a central decor piece. To believe it was actually a “silent night” is either outright naive or a staunch defense of adding poop to the nativity scene on your mantel.

What if, though, this isn’t a historical retelling of Jesus’ birth? What if this is lullaby? What if? We know Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, didn’t write this song, but if we listen closely, it sure does sound like the words of a proud papa. Let’s look at a few phrases from this divine love song.

Round yon virgin, mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace.” The moment Joseph would have seen Mary getting her first chance at sleep with his son in her arms, yes…there must have been a deep sense of heavenly peace!

Shepherds quake at the sight…” Joseph would remember that raggedy gang of misfits and outcasts approach the stable, full of mixed emotion…mostly fear! He remembers what they had told him about their encounter with more angels than any human had seen prior and now were in the presence of Israel’s Messiah and a baby to boot! That’s enough to rattle even the bravest and most callous night dwellers.

Silent night, all is calm, all is bright…” In a literal sense, was the night of Jesus’ birth silent, calm, and bright, surely not. I imagine though, Joseph, in his core, needed to believe that in the midst of so much unmet expectation, there was something beautiful taking place. There are times when we must harken our deepest trust in God’s plan, look into the heart of chaos, and with a brave holy imagination, use words to create room for a present reality that seemingly doesn’t fit in the moment we find ourselves. There was a season where on of my daughters would awake in the middle of the night crying almost every night for a couple months. I did not whisper in her ear, “This is terrifying, dark, and hopeless. I am fearful with you and am uncertain there will be resolution.” Rather I take a deep breath and began dreaming a new dream aloud, “Sweet girl, all is good. Jesus is here and stronger than your fear. There is great light in this room and angels abound. Shhh, all is well. I love you and there is not place I would rather be than here, with you.” I needed these words as much or more than my sweet girl did, I needed to see a brighter, holier, and more silent night than the one I was experiencing.

Jesus, Lord at they birth…Christ, the Savior is born” Joseph, the step-father of a boy whose identity would be question for the entirety of his life, refrains who he knows his son to be. There is power in a father speaking specific words of identity over his children.

To all the fathers who may be reading this, Christmas is a crazy season full of insane expectations to live up to and manage. Bank accounts, family members, vacations, traditions, Christmas lists, Christmas parties, and end of the year charity write-offs bring us to a place where we are strangely akin to the feeling of raising a family in a chaotic barn. Fathers, let’s take moments to sing songs, tell stories, and imagine adventure with our children and wives that create space for the realities of God. In this season, may we speak words that strengthen our children’s identity and have our attitudes and actions be marked by gentleness. I’m grateful for this song and reminder this Christmas season.

O Come O Come Emmanuel


Christmas music is the best music. Period. Done and done. With its merry music and cheerful chimes, I play it year round, shamelessly overshadowing Halloween, Thanksgiving, and even yes, Flag Day. My hope this advent is to spend time reflecting on a few of the Christmas songs we will be hearing so often this Christmas season that we forget the joy and hope of the words they bring. So many of these songs tell great stories of one of the most unprecedented events in the history of the world. The event where our Creator God, whom we long desire, would become part of his own creation so that we may find him! I pray this will be a fruitful journey.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel is far and away my favorite song of the Christmas season. I feel this song is the most transcendent of all songs we regulate to a short five-week playlist. What other song more beautifully articulates the daily friction between the present suffering and anguish of so many of us while in the same breath calling out the present hope of the promised coming of our Lord?! Let’s remember the backdrop for the first Christmas, when Jesus was born. Israel was an occupied people who hadn’t heard from their God in nearly 400 years. All tangible reason for hope was surely lost, leaving this small nation little to hold on to but its steadfast belief in the promise of God passed down to them from their fathers and mothers. We see all this hauntingly and poetically portrayed in the first verse & then the chorus of the song.

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel…” We begin singing with a desperate plea. You can almost hear the tears behind the first refrain. After years, generations, even centuries of feeling a silent absence of the God of your forefathers and presently living as an occupied people, mourning in exile. There is no longer time to politely wait. “We have done wrong, we are being held captive by the tyranny of sin, oppression, and the nations who occupy us. Be our ransom! Come, God With Us!”

“Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!”I had always figured this to be a cheerful chorus to a Christmas song talking about baby Jesus in a manger. Yet this refrain is a bold and courageously defiant proclamation of hope! In spite of circumstance, feeling, oppression, and death, we WILL rejoice because “God with Us” is making his way!

A lot of times we find ourselves in a dark world, filled with violence, manipulation, deceit, slavery, and betrayal. Regardless of our belief systems, religion, or nationality, perception or reality, we can at times, or in totality, feel like an oppressed people drowning in a divine absence of tangible hope. We are left wondering, will our Savior, our King, our Lord ever come to ransom us, to fill us with hope, to restore us? We shout, “O COME, O COME, YOU WHO CALL YOURSELF GOD WITH US!”

Then, and only then, once the noise, fear, anger, and worry of our heart has been vacated through our authentically raw confession are we able to remember the whispered promise. The promise from our covenantal God that he has indeed come as Christ our Lord and given us victory over the grave! To which we sing in individual and corporate defiance to the darkness of our feelings and the world around us, the refrain, “REJOICE, REJOICE! God with us shall come!” This is a song of anticipation, expectation, and defiant hope. This is a Christmas song warranting faithful, joyful, and hopeful voice by all people seeking the presence of God at all times of the year. May this carol build within us the anticipation, expectation, and defiant hope, which begins to find its culmination in a babe born in a stable.

Let’s Talk! What are the things you most anticipate during the Christmas season What do you do with all that anticipation?Whose version of this song is your all-time favorite?

 

Jesus Followers In Disguise


2014-07-27 11There’s something tragically terrifying and abundantly liberating about embracing a single identity for who you are that transcends all roles, occupations, success, and failures you’ve collected over the years. It’s terrifying because it eliminates our boxes. The boxes we work so hard to form to protect ourselves and at the same time work so dismantle for fear of being pigeon-holed into a single role.

Yet I believe that when Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow him and invites us to take his yoke upon shoulders, it’s a call to view ourselves through a single identifying lens that significantly changes who we are, how we life, and the world around us. Instead of viewing ourselves as, say, Americans who are also Christian, or a high school freshman who is also a Christian, or a single mom who goes to church – I believe that because of Jesus we are now Followers of Jesus disguised as whatever gift, talent, role, or sphere of influence we’ve been given. For me – here’s how I would fill in that blank of “I am a Follower of Jesus Disguised as a ____________”

  • I am a Follower of Jesus Disguised as a father.
  • I am a Follower of Jesus Disguised as a youth pastor.
  • I am a Follower of Jesus Disguised as a husband.
  • I am a Follower of Jesus Disguised as a neighbor. 

There’s a dozen more. Yesterday I was able to speak about this during worship with my church. As a response, I asked everyone to share with us their disguise(s). If you’d like to download the paper and share your disguise, you can download the here or a postcard here.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • “Jesus Followers In Disguise” is a phrase that I originally heard from Gary Gaddini,  Senior Pastor at Peninsula Covenant Church.
  • At one point during my sermon I said, “your talents and your gifts are not your calling.” This is an inspired truth I heard from Terrance Richmond, who I have met through Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).

Is it possible Jesus was a bit insecure?


It’s been so long since I last wrote a post and so much has taken place over the past eight months that I won’t even begin to try to catch up. So instead, let me share with you one of the exciting moments from this past week. I was given the privilege of teaching our whole church family this past Sunday morning as we were honoring our graduating seniors. I spoke on how we navigate transitions and introduced the idea of developing the skill of “Transitional Decisiveness” based out of Ephesians 4:1. If you’d like to listen to what God had to say through me, you can hear it HERE.

You must understand how gracious my family at Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church is towards my family and I, as well as hundreds of others within our community. It is something I am most proud of when I think of our church. In this light I have received numerous emails, text and Facebook messages, etc. about how people were moved and/or hear God speak to them through me on Sunday. It’s been a bit of a surreal experience as even last night, three days later, people still felt compelled to compliment me or share how it impacted their view/outlook on their current circumstance.

Before you think this is some sort of desperate plea for more affirmation or desire for the ambiguous internet to lavish anonymous praise upon me, I realized something when I was reading my Bible this morning. I realized that Jesus may have been bit insecure!

Luke 5:15-16 says, “News of [Jesus] spread more and huge crowds gathered to listen…but Jesus would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” I rarely see among those with raising popularity or fame withdraw from their fans, roadies, groupies, congregants to places where there is nobody around to further strengthen their budding popularity and fame. These types of people are often considered aloof, out of touch, insecure, or not ready for the spotlight of influential leadership. Not to mention, as a pastor who spends 70 percent of my time with self-consumed adolescents (a characteristic I’ve grown to appreciate & understand because of this TED Talk), moments of recognition of my strengths is not something that I feel naturally inclined to retreat from.

But the more I’ve prayed through and reflected on these verses I realized that there’s no way a man who called the Pharisees to righteousness, over turned temple tables, and stood quietly in the midst of Roman interrogation could be categorized as insecure. Jesus’ withdrawal from the crowds was a great testament to the confidence He had in who He is and what He was called to.

The praise and affirmation of the crowd can be as addictive as any drug and can blind us faster than staring at the sun. One of Satan’s first attempts to derail the mission of Jesus was with the allure of popularity and fame. If God’s enemy could simply shift Jesus’ focus from listening to the voice of God and begin chasing the adoration of the crowd, the whole of God’s plan would have been lost. Jesus would not let this happen – He was too passionate about the voice of His Father for it to be lost in the noise of the crowd.

The crowd’s affirmations (or fans, groupies, congregants) are what hinders the mission of God. It is my own brokenness that can be exploited amidst the feelings of raising fame or popularity on any scale. Pastors, for our churches sakes, may we be leaders who regularly withdraw from the crowds and congregants so the voice we hear the loudest and most clearly is the voice of the One who as been speaking to us long before anyone knew us for what we could do, bring, or offer.

I love my church. For their sake and mine, I will work hard to find at times to confidently withdraw so I may abide with the One who knew and loved me before I had done, brought, or offered anything of worth to anyone.

The Secret Behind Becoming a Radical Christian


Longevity.

There it is. I wish it was something that was deeper and more profound. I wish I had some witty antidote or could break new theological ground in it’s unveiling or even wish that I came to me in a vision that I can now share with the world. But truth be told – I’ve learned the secret behind becoming the Radical Christian that is so hotly talked about and debated these days simply by sticking around.

Why did we start listening to some southern white boy with dreads, dawned in clothes he made himself, living in the ghettos of Philadelphia? Because it was crazy. Why do we keep listening to Shane Claiborne? Because he’s still living there. He’s still making his own clothes. His still championing the poor, the Gospel, the messages he was espousing since day one. He’s still there.

Why did I read some book that challenged everyone’s understanding of God’s crazy love, written by another Southern California mega-church pastor? Because it was a New York Times Bestseller and I like edgy things. Why do I keep listening to Francis Chan for wisdom and council? Because he’s continued to press further and further into the vision that Christ has placed in his heart and the message on placed in his mouth.

Why do I heed every word about faith and church that comes from my 93 year old grandfather who does little by way of today’s “radical faith” definition? Because he’s shown a dedication to his community of faith that is unmatched and unseen any where else in my life. He’s been a bedrock voice, support, challenger, and encourager in his family of faith for more years than I can imagine.

What is it about my grandmother’s life that humbles my greatest theologies, paradigms, programs, and experiences in ministry? Her 50 years of teaching Sunday at the same church. If I’m conservative and say she had 6 kids every year she taught Sunday school, that’s 300 kids the spent an entire year with! Judging by the attendance at her funeral a few years back, she had well more than 6 kids each of those years.

We debate what makes radical faith. We die on hills we call social justice, faith alone, modernity, post-modernity, depth in tradition, life in relevancy, and a thousand more hills with a thousand more names. Here’s the deal: We worship a God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He’s sovereign over that which makes your soul burn deep and bright and hot for the Gospel of Christ and his Kingdom come. Yet, whatever it is that is burning deep in your soul leading you to make great sacrifices, go on great adventures, invest deeply, and submit continually here’s my plea: STAY WITH IT!

In four years, my parents will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. In a country where approximately half of all marriages end in divorce, 40 years of faithful marriage is radical. In a country of church shopping, splitting, and reinventing 50 years of faithful attendance, service, and membership is radical. In a country where everyone wants to be the change in every #trending cause, 20 years of dedication to serving the homeless, advocating the end of human trafficking, or raising generations whose faith sticks past adolescence is radical. If we set out to be a radical Christian today. We can call myself radical today. If we set out to have longevity in our faith, mission, and call in Christ, we’ll be remembered as a Christians who undeniably lived radically.

My Life has plenty of regrets


A conversation I had with a high school senior last school year is sticking with me, rattling around in my heart. Really it isn’t even the whole conversation itself. What lingers was really just a passing footnote to her larger point, but after it was said, it was all I could think about. She said in the midst of her thought:

…I know you’re not suppose to have any regrets in life…

I think this is popular culture worldview that sounds like it should be Biblical but isn’t necessarily so. Often times our “life without regrets” is rooted in “Hall of Fame” verses such as Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We read this and say, “Well, if I could do it all over again…I wouldn’t change anything because I can see now how God used it to make me the person I am today.”

To that person I would say this: I am thankful for the ways that God has used the good and the bad in my life to shape me into the person I am today…but there is plenty that I wouldn’t do again if I had the chance. I have plenty of regrets.

The way I treated my brother in middle school, the way I treated my parents in high school and the ways I viewed girls, sex, and dating in college. The friends I gave up on. The faith I lost hope in. The ambition I failed to cultivate. The people, politics, and issues I never cared for. The time I allowed to pass by. There are so many things that I look back on and regret either doing or not doing. And guess what, I feel these regrets are worth remembering and talking about.

I don’t believe that Jesus takes away my regrets. I don’t think Jesus wants us to forget the things that we’ve done or didn’t do that caused us to miss the fullness of life He intended for us. Here’s what I do believe Jesus does with and to my regrets. He removes the chains and crippling effects of shame, embarrassment, and worthlessness that come hand-in-hand with the brokenness of our past.

To say I have no regrets is basically the same as me bringing my own Get Out Of Jail Free card to authentic Christian community. It gives me a pass from being honest, vulnerable, and broken before you. The truth is, in my marriage, I still have to work and make sacrifices because of poor choices I made before I vowed my heart, life, and eyes to Christina. I wish I had more freedom from the detrimental relational habits and tendencies that I established before I met my wife. But because of the death and resurrected life I share with Jesus’ I am free from the shame of these habits. Together with my wife we can talk about the realties of my past brokenness in a way that pushes us toward Jesus as opposed to avoiding the topics for fear of shackling me to my past.

I have plenty of regrets in my life. What makes my regrets different is that in Jesus, they’ve become pillars of wisdom and discernment for my future, not chains of shame that keep me bound or ignorant of my past.

The act of reconciliation requires muscle memory


I love playing and watching both golf and baseball yet I’d be hard pressed to find any commonalities in how these two games are played. I played baseball from ages 5-13, until I realized that you really need to be able to hit the baseball to have any future success in the game. Then in my early 20’s I began picking up golf. Basically in both games you’re swinging a stick at a ball and trying to hit it as far as possible. Yet it didn’t take long to discover that the swinging motions that are skillfully, or in my case clumsily, exerted are fundamentally opposite. The difference between the two swinging motions are subtle but paramount. It’s the difference between keeping your weight forward on your front leg or keeping your weight back on your back leg. Take a look at two of the greatest hitters golf and baseball have ever seen. Tiger Woods on the left, Ken Griffey Jr. on the right. Image

As I was learning how to hit a golf ball I kept using my “baseball swing” and was missing the golf ball. As I was approaching the tee box my mind knew I was going to be swinging a stick to hit a ball, so it defaulted to the only motion it knew. This is called muscle memory. By keeping my weight on my back leg, instead of moving it forward to my front leg I was essentially pulling myself away from ball I was swinging at. This wrecked havoc on my scorecard as well as the landscape!. For me – I had to stop playing baseball, stop swinging a bat, and teach myself a new swing and create a new muscle memory so I could (more) successfully hit a golf ball. It was amazing how these two sports that I thought had very little to do with each other greatly impacted my ability to play either one well.

In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus offers one of the most inconvenient, and I’d say overlooked, elements of worship. The element of reconciliation.

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” (NLT)

It’s easy to give lip service to the idea that we give our whole selves to Jesus yet too often we live as though our spiritual lives and social lives have no connection. When we gather with the church for worship, we are proclaiming our gratitude or need for prior, present, and future reconciliation to God through Christ. All worship truly finds its roots here. Yet, when live our social lives without any efforts to pursue reconciliation (personally, communally, and globally) it is no different than using our best baseball swing to hit a golf ball. Right as we throw our self forward into worship we are simultaneously pulling ourselves away from Christ. Sounds like a pretty serious recipe for a stint on the disabled list…swinging forward while pulling yourself backwards.

We can’t fully move forward in our worship or relationship with Jesus if we aren’t willing to fully move forward in reconciling our relationships with the people we can see, touch, speak to, work with, and share our planet with. Why? Because the Jesus is at work and pursing reconciliation in a might way with the same person(s) I am withholding relational peace from. See, I can walk forward with Jesus as he’s reconciling all people when I’m walking away from people who I need to be reconciled with. They are two opposite motions.

Reconciliation must be at the heart of our worship. This way, the more we prioritize healing broken relationships the sooner reconciliation will become our new relational default during the other 6 1/2 days of our week. We’ll have created a new muscle memory through our relational conditioning, made possible by the Holy Spirit.

So, the time I approach the tee box (worship) and I know there’s something off on my swing (relational conflict), my best bet is to step off the tee box, take a few practice swings (go be reconciled), and step back up to the ball (come back to worship) ready keep my weight on my front leg (Christ as first in all things) all the way through my swing (my act of worship).