I’ll admit it. Most years I love Christmas.
The lights. The sounds. The smells. The sense of anticipation in the air. Christmas music playing twenty-four hours a day on the radio. Endless replays of A Christmas Story on TBS. The one peppermint mocha I’ll drink all year just because I can. Watching our kids lose their minds on Christmas morning.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
Some years it really is.
But what about the others? What about those years when it’s not the most wonderful time of the year? Because let’s be honest, we all have them.
Wednesday morning I woke up to learn that Donald Trump will be our next commander in chief. It seems like just yesterday he announced his intentions to run for president and the country collectively burst into laughter. “This has to be just another publicity stunt, right? Surely this smug billionaire-turned-reality-tv-star doesn’t really think he’s remotely qualified for the country’s highest office, right?” No one gave Donald Trump a chance. Shoot, Trump didn’t seem to give Trump a chance. But after a dismal voter showing at the polls, a big white working class push, and overwhelming support from the evangelical community, Donald Trump edged Hillary Clinton as the next president elect. My mind has been spinning all week. How did we get here? How did this happen? And what does it mean for the church? Now that it’s been a few days, I want to offer a few pastoral thoughts on the other side of this crazy election:
“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” – Psalm 146:3
This is a truth I constantly need to be reminded of, perhaps especially during election season. I am very grateful to live in a country where I have the ability to vote, but as a Christian my hope and security does not lie in any nation or president (thank God!). It is not in any prince of this world or in the people or institutions they govern.
I’m writing a book. There, I said it.
To tell you the truth, I debated on whether or not to share this publicly. It can sound so presumptuous, as if writing a book is what one does after they’ve risen far above everyone else with their cute little assumptions and misunderstandings.
“Excuse me, people. Author coming through.”
But that’s not me and that’s not why I’m writing this book.
A couple years ago I decided I wanted to do something special for our kids.
So on a whim I jumped into their room and announced we were going to get some fish. The girls screamed with excitement. We hopped in the car and headed to the pet store. Together we picked out some fish to adopt and a whole setup for them. We even splurged on a Sponge Bob motif equipped with miniature versions of Squidward’s house and the Krusty Krab for our fish to lounge in after a long day.
We got it all home and spent most of the evening getting the whole thing setup. Finally the moment came for the fish to enter their new habitat. The girls and I counted down from ten, “10, 9, 8, 7…” and then we plopped them in. The girls jumped up and down with anticipation as they watched the fish explore their new home. I gotta admit I was feeling pretty great as a dad in that moment.
To our horror, however, over the next twenty-four hours we watched as one-by-one the fish began to float a little funny. “What are they doing, dad?” “Uh, they’re back floating honey.” (Which technically was not a lie.)
Within two days all of them were dead. Every single one.
It was just about six years ago that Megan and I loaded everything we owned into our 2001 Honda Accord and a small trailer in a parking garage in Los Angeles.
We had spent the previous few years preparing and now it was time to make the long trek back to Lincoln, Nebraska. Our goal? To be a part of unleashing a movement of God’s grace in the city of Lincoln. We had no idea all that would entail (and we still don’t) but we did know one thing: it would start with the planting of a church.
“Oh my god! Did that just go in?! I think that went in!”
I was fifteen years old and I had just hit the golf shot of a lifetime.
Set deep in the trees with over a hundred yards to go and just a six foot window to put the ball through, I was in what us hackers affectionately call a “swing and pray” situation, as in swing hard and pray the ball misses all of the trees directly in front of you. Normally I’d simply utilize my trusty foot wedge and conveniently relocate the ball somewhere less deadly, but just as I located my ball a family walking down an adjacent road spotted me in the forestry and stopped to watch the show.
I spent the next few minutes nervously trying to figure out my shot while pretending not to hear the muffled voices of my own personal shame gallery standing directly behind me.
Flustered, I prayed a short and desperate prayer, nervously stepped up to the ball and swung.
I’ve always considered myself to be a person who handles stress pretty well. I like to be busy. I enjoy taking risks. I tend to have my hands in numerous endeavors at any given time. I never thought anxiety was my problem.
Then a little less than a year ago I hit a wall.
The previous several years of starting and growing the church I now pastor had caught up with me. I could never seem to get enough sleep. Small tasks became very difficult. Things I had normally done with little thought or stress were suddenly accompanied with an almost crippling anxiety.
It all came to a head one day as I was driving between meetings when all of a sudden it felt as though my heart was malfunctioning. I pulled the car over to the side of the road convinced I was having a heart attack. I remember thinking this might be the way I go out and I began praying for my family. That was my first panic attack. It was that moment that I realized I could no longer ignore the stress and anxiety that was slowly taking over my life.
Something had to change.
Note: The video below includes profanity. If you’re in a public place, heads up.
For the last several weeks we’ve been journeying through Jesus’ beatitudes with our church. This morning I’ve been reflecting on the last couple months and as I do I find myself once again captivated by Jesus and overwhelmed by the depth and richness of his words.
In the beatitudes Jesus puts flesh and color on the resounding theme of his life: the presence and availability of the kingdom of God. Those present to hear his words no doubt found them every bit as shocking as we do.
In a culture marked by religious oppression and exclusivity, one in which things like power and financial blessing were assumed to be evidence of God’s favor, Jesus makes a shocking announcement: The kingdom of God is available to those religion has failed and the world has forgotten.
Something is wrong.
You can feel it in the air. Many of us can sense it in ourselves. Something has shifted and it’s not for the better.
Never before has a generation existed that is more connected and isolated at the same time. We have hundreds of Facebook friends yet we do not know our neighbors. We have scores of LinkedIn contacts and Twitter followers but very few people we can call in the middle of the night when we need a friend.