Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Christmas Forget List

If we aren’t careful, Christmas can become all about remembering. Excessively so. List makers have already started prioritizing the ‘to dos.’

Here’s just a partial list of lists.
  • Remember everyone on the gift list
  • Remember all the correct times and dates of the Christmas parties
  • Remember uncle Joe's birthday that is the week before Christmas
  • Remember to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Christmas Vacation, Charlie Brown Christmas, A Christmas Story, and Miracle on 34th Street. (And remember not to fall asleep or it doesn’t count).
  • Remember to bring a dish to share at the Church dinner
  • Remember to put cookies out for Santa and hang the stocking.

The pressure at Christmastime to remember is real.  So at this Advent season, I’m going to suggest we forget something.

Forget trying to make it perfect. Aim for meaningful.
Christmas started out so simple.  Now when you hear simple, don’t think simple in the sense of tastefully perfect. No Jesus’ birth was simply…chaotic! We can’t forget this.
Now I not advocating for chaos. However, what I’m about to share with you may be the best news you’re going to hear this Christmas. Fact: the birth of Jesus was total chaos.

Our Chaos times Three
Kristy and I have had three children (well, Kristy had them, I just chauffeured and cheered). And in each case when it was time for delivery, it ushered in an intense period of chaos.

First child when the time of delivery was near we were at JC Penney’s on a Friday night browsing through menswear. “Terry it’s time to go,” Kristy said.  Naively I responded, “But I want to try this shirt on.” “No,” she said “it’s time to go!” Chaos. Running, Wheel Chairs. Hazard lights. Speeding. Squealing tires.

Second child. Middle of January. There’s a snow storm outside and the whole family has the flu,. I’m laying comatose on the coach. Kristy comes down stairs with the verdict, “Terry it’s time to go.” “But I’m sick and it’s snowing,” I whimpered. “You want to deliver this baby?, she retorted.  Out the door. 4x4. Balled up Klenex. Sliding. Mucinex. Freezing. Chaos.

Third child. Its 11 O’clock at night. Kristy and I are both just falling asleep. “It’s time to go.” When? “Right now!” Call the emergency baby sitter. Grab the bag. Out the door. Hazard lights. Speeding. Chaos.

Jesus’ birth was chaotic too. Let’s briefly recount the story. A pregnant Mary forced to take an involuntary journey. Unfamiliar surroundings. In an inn. Exposed to the elements with limited shelter. In a hectic overstuffed town. Exhausted from travel.  Mary says, “It’s time!” Joseph asks, “Right now?”  In a feeding trough. With the animals. God is born. A miracle set in chaos.

So my friend don’t fret when your Christmas doesn’t feel perfect. In those moments of Christmas chaos, remember you’re closer to how it was the night of Jesus’ birth.

Forget perfection and just remember Jesus. The whole thing is about him. If we forget Jesus we’ve forgotten everything. Even if we remember everything else! Christmas is not about how well the ham or turkey turns out. It’s not about getting this gift or giving that gizmo. It’s not even about having every chair at the table filled. Christmas is about God loving us perfectly by sending us His Son.

The coming of Jesus was the ultimate expression of God’s love for us because it’s one thing to be told something it’s quite a bit better to see it in action. In Scripture, the Old Testament prophets and writers told us that God loved us. That He had a special affection for you and me. And the righteous believed it without ever having seen God. But even they wondered. They must have wondered and doubted. Does God really loved us? Christmas (and Good Friday) is God’s answer; an answer that we could see.

The infant in the manger grew into the man who lived a perfect life and laid it down freely for you and me. All the while teaching us also how to love one another.

Praying a Merry Christmas for each of You!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Tigers and Gators

Its college football season and I’m a big fan! Being a Louisiana native, I’ve always rooted for the Purple and Gold; The Louisiana State University Tigers.  My family and friends all know how passionate I am about the Tigers. For those of you that have worshiped on a Sunday at Bayside after a Tiger loss, all I can say is I’m sorry. I’ve heard of kids that warn their parents about my sermons when (on rare occasions) LSU loses.
This very public knowledge of my deep affection for LSU was the reason many became concerned when a few months ago, orange and blue started showing up at my house. University of Florida colors started cropping up, and even more alarming to some were the pictures on social media that clearly showed me donning UF gear. You must know that this was of grave concern to my mother, who bleeds purple and gold. If these pictures were true she was sure I was sick and in immediate need of a mental health professional. Or perhaps her son (that was practically brought home from the hospital as a baby in a LSU onesie) was the victim of some hoax, a joke, and cruel prank.  No son of hers would be caught wearing any other colors, than that of the Bayou Bengals, right? Even some of my friends seemed puzzled.

So folks are looking for answers. Or as Ricky Ricardo would say on the “I Love Lucy Show,” I’ve got some splainin’ to do.  As several of you know my oldest daughter is a college freshman at the University of Florida.  And this has had a strange effect on me, in terms of team allegiance.  Now I will always be a Tigers fan, and I still am the most passionate about LSU football. But I began to notice about 6 months ago a strange warming to the Gators. As I saw the desire in her to go to UF, and then to eventually get accepted there, to now living in Gainesville a fondness rapidly began to grow. Now it was a process. It took me a few months to get the nerve to buy an orange and blue shirt. It took me a few more months before I could actually wear it. But now it’s good. And certainly after we started paying tuition payments it got really easy! Chomp!

Jesus once said that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Our heart follows our treasure, and our treasure follows our heart. This is true when it comes to giving financially to the church. If we love the Kingdom of God, if our heart is to advance the Kingdom’s cause, if our heart is to see more people become more like Jesus, then our deposits will follow our heart. We will tithe and make giving to the church a priority. The connection between treasure and heart is also the reason why those that invest deeply in the church love the church so deeply.

This principle is illustrated in my new affection for UF. A person I treasure dearly is there (my daughter) so my heart follows. My support follows my heart. So now I have two college teams. I’m still passionate about the Tigers, but now I publicly support the Gators as well. What you might want to know is, what about when they play each other. Mom will be happy about this… Geaux Tigers!

“Lord, you have designed us so that our affections follow our treasures. And you have blessed us with an ability to invest in things that matter to us. So please help us to invest wisely, in people, in your Kingdom and in our church family. Ultimately, it’s your church that we want to cheer on and empower to win. Amen” 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

College Move In Day

Last week we moved our oldest daughter into her college dorm room. Ok, yes we cried. But before the good-byes the day consisted of going toe to toe with 5000 other highly emotional and over-protective parents for dibs on command strips, extension cords, and reading lamps for our babies!  Grappling for supplies was part of the task, the other work was getting all the stuff up to the 4th floor of her dormitory.

At one point during the move in, I found myself waiting in line for the elevator; a line that stretched from Gainesville to Wesley Chapel. It has reminded me of a time when the same daughter was just a toddler and then too, I waited in the same type of massive line, twice for her.  It was back when the Toy Story 2 Movie was coming out on…ahhh… VHS! The autumn of 2000, Toys R Us was allowing parents to pre-order the video to ensure that our little darlings would have the videotape by Christmas.  The holiday was just weeks away and the line was long! In terms of popularity, Toy Story 2 was the year 2000’s version of Frozen. I remember waiting for what seemed like three semesters in the line. By securing my copy of this Disney animated classic, it was certain that my kid would be able to fully celebrate the birth of Jesus. (Marketing works!) I paid the money and started to leave the store when I realized they had under charged me. Against the temptation to run, I went back to the customer service counter and let them know I was undercharged about $10. They thanked me for my honesty, and then kindly sent me to the rear of the line to do it all over again! And I did it. I know, I was so naive.

As I stood in line for the dorm elevator my selfless service done 15 years ago was made right.   You see, as I was waiting in the dorm line it was discovered that Kasey’s room was actually on the other side of the building and accessed by a different elevator! When we went to the other elevators there was not a soul in line. We went right on, and in two uneventful trips we had everything moved in. The Lord is faithful! 

James, the little brother of Jesus says, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and he will lift you up.” Of course, I’m just kidding about this being some kind of repayment for faithfulness. But it is true that when we humble ourselves, God takes notice. And we are promised that the Lord will lift up the humble. It may not be today, but in due time the Lord will lift you up. As the old preachers use to say, “God may not be on your time. But he is always right on time!”

“Lord, help us to humble ourselves in your sight. Restrain us from the temptation to exalt ourselves or to lift ourselves up.  We know that you are faithful. And may we find hope and strength today in the fact that your timing is always perfect. We pray this in the name of, and mindful of the one who humbled himself and was raised up right on time by the power of God. Amen”

You are Loved,

Pastor Terry

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

A (Another) Baseball Refection

So since baseball is still in full swing, and since yes I’m still coaching and it’s July! And since I’m sentimental about my oldest daughter going off to college. I thought I’d offer one more analogy from American’s favorite pastime.  A lot of life lessons can be learned from baseball. Baseball teaches important morals such as, “don’t ever give up”, “sometime we have to rely on our teammates”, and learning that “failure doesn’t have to define you”. And even life itself can be likened to rounding the bases on a baseball diamond.

First Base. 
The early years of our lives are a lot like the path from home plate to first base. It’s when we are the closest to home. In those early years we are taught and instructed and have base coaches in the form of parents and loved once close by to provide direction.  Early in life we rely on their instruction and help to get us started with the values and beliefs to prepare us for the rest of life.

Second Base. 
The young adult time of life is a lot like the trip from first to second base. We are a lot on our own, and it’s often a time when we take risks. But if we aren’t careful, we can get picked off. And many do. And when we are on second base we are the farthest from home. One Hundred and twenty feet and 6 inches from home plate. It’s a long way, and we are on our own.  This is the college years, or life in our 20s.  The values of home seem so far from there.

Third Base. 
But if we are wise and with a little help, we move toward third base. This is midlife, we are feeling more confident. Home gets closer. We have learned a lot and we have hopefully found our purpose and a sense of hope. We dream of making this life count, and the desire to make it count grows in us. We want our lives to show up on the scoreboard. So we seek to mentor, teach, invest in others so that what we’ve learned can help others on the path.

TS Eliot once wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” That’s the path from third to home. This is a journey to a familiar place. We find that we are getting closer to the place where we began. A place where the values that got us started now bring us home. Those final years of life are preparing us for home. Where God is. Where Jesus is. From where our faithful love ones are standing to cheer us on (Hebrews 12:1).

“Jesus you told us that you are life’s Beginning and End. You are the Alpha and the Omega. You’re the same yesterday, today, and forever. Assure us today with the truth that, from home....down every path... and back home again, You are there. Amen.”

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Wrestle (Pronounced: fes ul')

When my son was barely old enough to speak, he would grab my hand pull me toward the living room floor with the word "fes -ul." In his toddler language this was a close as he could get to properly saying the word, "wrestle."  I would often oblige, crawling off the couch and onto my knees. As soon as I made myself shorter than him, he would climb all over me trying to pin me.  Surprise rear attacks were his specialty. The problem with his surprise rear attacks though, was the "attack" was usually preceded by some growl or loud grunt. Thus, negating the surprise. Anyway,  these periodic wrestling bouts continued as he got older and stronger.  With the passing months I would have to up my game to ensure victory for both of us. Little boys love to wrestle with their dads. Here's what I think about these bouts between father and son.

1. My son didn't really want to win.  Or to say it the other way, he really wanted me to win. Now, I'm not saying he wasn't trying to win. I'm not saying anything here about his competitiveness or will to win at all. He is very competitive! But deep down he wanted his dad to be stronger than him. Every little boy does. There is something incredibly reassuring about knowing that someone in this world, that loves you, is stronger than you are. There is something comforting in knowing that the biggest and closest male in your life is seemingly (at least to a little guy) invincible. He really wanted me to win. So I obliged :)

2. Regularly wrestling with Dad provided benchmarks of his own growth and strength.  Honestly, the older he gets the more it hurts. Because he is getting stronger, and because time is no respecter of persons I know eventually one day (when I'm 90) he'll beat me. But in the meantime each bout encourages him, by showing that he's getting bigger and stronger.  He is maturing and this good. He is becoming more like his dad.

God and Me
Something in us knows that we are not the strongest force in our lives. We know, deep down, someone's stronger. And we fight against him. But, if we are honest, the little boy in all of us, really wants to know that our Father is stronger than we are. And our willingness to fight him only illustrates our desire to be more like him and to be reassured that He and his Strength are still there. We want to know that there is One that is for us, and far stronger than us. And that gives me courage. I like knowing my Dad's got my back...always.

As we grow physically and emotionally our struggles with Dad get more intense. The intellectual, spiritual bouts we have with God over things we don't understand or simply don't like, get more intense. But we should know God is strong enough. He is good. He is strong. He is not intimidated by our 'fighting back', rather he is encouraged by it because it shows that we are maturing. And like any loving Father, that ultimate goal for all of his children is for them to grow up strong.

“Father, thank you for wrestling with us. Thank you for your strength. The very strength (your strength) that we fight against is the strength that, down deep, gives us courage and hope. Thank you that you are for us and far stronger than us. You proved this though the power of your Son, and our Lord, Jesus. Amen.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jesus at Pinch a Penny

The Saturday before Easter, in an effort to burn off some pre-Easter jitters, I decided to clean out my pool filter from its winter muck. I'm no Bob Vila, so somehow I clumsily knocked the filter into the chlorinator piercing one of the hoses. A spear of water instantly began stabbing my face!  Trying to see through the chlorinated water drops tumbling in and in front of my eyes, I blindly reached over to inspect (stick my finger in?) the leak. When I did the whole valve broke into what seemed like a thousand pieces.
So I turned the water off, collected the fragments and drove to Pinch - a – Penny (pool supply store).  Let me say parenthetically, that the East Lake Pinch a Penny has the most incredible customer service in the entire galaxy. They are just a great people. Always incredibly helpful, and most endearing they never make customers feel like idiots. Despite my high admiration of them, on that day I was sure that when I walked in the door with my two hands full of hoses, plastic chips, springs, valves, and Teflon they were going shake their heads and send me to "new pool sales".

But here is what actually happened. I walked in the store still damp from the over-spray, holding the pieces, and feeling like a dog that had an accident. I didn't have a clue where to start with putting this back together. An employee met me at the door, took a glance at my pieces and said, "Yes, I know exactly what you need. No problem. Follow me and we will get your chlorinator (that’s where I learned the word) fixed right up."  And in 15 minutes he did exactly that. He took me to a work bench and starting distinguishing the pieces that could salvaged from the ones that had to be replaced or were missing completely. He put it back together and described what would be required when I got home to get the chlorinator back in working order. I stood there (still soaked now with a little shiver) but amazed. And for $9 and about 45 minutes of work the chlorinator was put back together.

That’s why I say, I saw Jesus at Pinch a Penny. My problem seemed big and overwhelming to me. But routine, even simple to a person who has seen these kinds of things before. I also noticed how quickly my anxiety and frustration subsided when someone identified my problem and confidently promised to help.

That sounds like Jesus. Jesus looks at our broken pieces, some we are responsible for some were are not, and he says to us, "I know exactly what you need. I've seen this 1,000s of times before and I can salvage (save) it."  I hope you will be reminded today, as I am to never fear bringing handfuls of broken pieces to Him. Because Jesus knows this stuff, and he is a master restorer.

"Father, thank you for Jesus who has a work bench where lives are lovingly and masterfully restored. We are amazed that through Him and his Cross, love and hope now flow effortlessly through our lives. Living Water. In Me. Miracle. Amen."

Monday, March 02, 2015

Christ, Our Pinch Hitter

As I sit writing this, its just a few days before the opening day of my son's little league season.   This is great time of excitement as the new season begins and the hopes of a winning season and tournament championships are still very much alive for every team.

In a former life I played in a church softball league.  We were not very good, so our championship hopes usually were over by the fifth game of the season (at the latest). We had a lot of fun though. One of the funny things that happened was one time when one of the best hitters on our team smacked the ball really well. I mean he crushed it. In fact, to our duffer-league disbelief  he hit it so hard it cleared the fence.  Duffers don't hit many home runs! And certainly not our team!  So we were all going into hysterics over this out of the park home run.  The funny part  is everyone knew the ball was out of the park except the batter. He ran as fast as he could all the way around the bases with people yelling to him. They were yelling to slow down, but he misinterpreted the noise as a prod to run harder. It wasn't until he crossed home plate that he realized there was no need to run so hard. “Wait...It was over the fence?” he asked with winded speech. While the work was done to enjoy the trip, he ran like it all depended on his "lightening" speed. His, once-in-a-duffer's-life moment, lasted all of half a minute.

Right now, we are in the middle of the season of Lent. It is period of time Christ -followers traditionally slow down to reflect on what Jesus purchased for us on the cross. It's a time, before opening day (Easter) to slow down. Walk slowly.  So maybe today, maybe right now, God is telling you to slow down. Consider and enjoy what He has done for you through the cross and resurrection.

If I could relate it to baseball, here's the miracle victory he has given to us.
In this high stakes game of life we were in the ninth inning of a losing battle with sin and death. We faced an 0-2 count with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. All of creation stood on tip toes as out of the dugout came God's appointed pinch hitter (God always bats last). We stepped aside and He pinch hit for us. And on that dark Friday the game would be decided. Satan unleashes his fury.  Creation, as spectators in the stands, held its breath....then let out a roaring cheer when the Champion saw the pitch, timed the pitch, swung and crushed it.  And out of the park it went! Then instead of running the bases himself, he looked at you and me declaring, "This was for you. This is your victory. Enjoy the trip around the bases." Jesus' defeat of death through resurrection was the sealing of victory to all who believe.

If you've put your faith in Christ, you’re salvation has been purchased. You've got a free trip around the bases. Why then do we make life so difficult? Why do we rush around? Why do live and struggle with God's amazing gift of salvation like it all depends on our effort. It doesn't.

Nothing you do could ever make God love you any more than he already does. Don’t wait till you get to heaven to breathe in his joy and delight for you. The hardest work has already been done by Jesus. So breathe, soak in the jog around the bases. Enjoy the victory that is yours through Christ.

Lent 2015