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Called to Belong: Called to Be His Own! An Advent Sermon on Romans 1

nativityCalled to Belong: Called to Be His Own

Romans 1:1-7

† In Jesus Name †

What People Need?

There are a ton of articles circulating across pastor’s desks, as they have for the prior three generations.  When I was in college, they asked why my generation was leaving the church and provided great statistics on why people like me, the children of baby boomers, weren’t attending church.

I wondered about it a lot, as I had gone to a large youth group in high school, in fact, it was significantly bigger than any church I’ve belonged to, and really, was bigger than all the churches I’ve pastored since.

In the nineties and up to about 2004 or 2005, pastors, church planters, it seemed everything churches did were questioning why people of my age group weren’t in church, and trying to make churches attractive to them.

As if we are all the same.  As if our needs, our anxieties, our challenges, our doubts and fears were the same.

It has changed now, as churches seem to have lost focus on those in my age group – those once labeled genX.  GenX is history, the church “experts” no longer mention us. Now the concern is with the millennials, Marissa, Melissa’s, Kelcie’s age group.  A group that is two or even three generations removed from the days when youth filled every church, when complete families, three and four generations worth of family found themselves sitting together on Sunday morning.

And for the most part, the experts still treat whichever generation they mourn the absence of as if they are all alike.  They want to find the “one” thing that will draw them all, the one key element that will draw them to church,

And perhaps, there is the problem in the first place.

If all we deal with is generalizations, how can we assure the individual whether 25, 50, 78 or 91 that they matter, that they belong?

To be honest, that’s been a challenge, even for pastors I’ve know in my life. Can the individual know that they are important, that God has called them to belong, that He has called them to be His own?

Yet, God calls us, individually here, to be part of this family, and maybe we can learn from that

Why is this good news?

When scripture talks about good news, we need to understand why it was good.  As Paul is writing to Gentiles, we need to understand that this was one of the largest generalizations ever created.

It was everyone who wasn’t Jewish by birth, who couldn’t trace their ancestral tree back to Abraham, Issac and Jacob. A lot of folk.  Good folk, bad folk.  Tall, short, skinny, fat, smart, wise, silly. Older, younger, men and women, Some who wanted to find God to each out for help, others that simply wanted to mock God.  And few that would want to make money off of people, but saying only they knew the way to God.

The only thing they have in common, is that they didn’t belong.  Even someone adopted into a Jewish family didn’t quite make it, and those who were hyphens, those who were half Jewish and half something else, they were treated with less of a welcome.

We were all outsiders, stuck in the darkness, not worth the time for a Jewish Rabbi to share his wisdom, not allowed to hear the sweet words that God had accepted our sacrifice for our sin.  For that is why we became outsiders, our inability to love God with all we are, and our struggles to love others, including our enemies, as God has designed for us to live.  Because of that sin, we were outsiders, out in the cold and dark, possessed by our sin, oppressed by sin’s guilt and shame.

That is why the gospel is good news, For it smashes the demographic divisions, it grinds up generalizations, for what defines us is that we are wanted.

That God calls us to belong.


Look at verse 6.  Let’s read it together

And you are called among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Though, he wrote this letter to an entire congregation, as you sin in the next verse, that “you” is singular.

You are called to belong to Jesus.

You are called to be a saint, one of God’s Holy People, whom He loves.

You are.  Singular.  Not because you are this age or that, because you have this heritage or that, no because except for this one.

God loves you.

And therefore you belong to Jesus.

He bought you at the cross, freeing you from the sin and hell which had power over you.

This is what Advent leads to, what Christmas and Easter, the manger and the cross.

That’s what has made the difference in every church I’ve been blessed to be a part of, we knew we belonged together, for we now we belonged to Christ.

I want you to hear those words one more time, what we need to hear, each of us in this room , and every person on this planet,

Matter of fact, maybe it will sink in deeper if we say it together,…

And I am included among those who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. Paul wrote this to me and all who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people.



That Manger Has A Specific Message for You.

Image result for coke nativityDevotional Thought fo the Day:

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest upon you. For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of God. 36Remember your relative Elizabeth. It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she is very old. 37For there is nothing that God cannot do.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you have said.” And the angel left her.  Luke 1:35-38 TEV

18  “Here’s what I want you to do: Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire. Then you’ll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven. You’ve gone around half-naked long enough. And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see. 19  “The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God! 20  “Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.
Revelation 3:18-20 (MSG)

The second (step to learning mental prayer (1)  ) means to place yourself in his sacred presence is, to reflect that God is not only in the place where you are, but that He is, after a most particular manner, in your heart, nay, in the very centre of your soul, which He enlivens and animates by his divine presence, being there as the heart of your heart, and the spirit of your spirit; for as the soul, being diffused through the whole body, is present.  (2)

Wednesday nights, we’ve been looking at the incarnation for something unique, as we find in the night’s darkness that is shattered by the glory of God, the reason we love Him with everything we are.  As we learn why our heart, our soul, our strength and our mind cry out for his love.

Francis de Sales wrote something quite similar, which appeared in my morning devotional readings.  Teaching a lady about prayer, he commented as you see above.  An intimacy we each have, because of the incarnation.  Just as Mary’s womb bore Jesus, just as He became incarnate there, so too does he become incarnate in the very center our soul. He comes into us, makes Himself home, so incredibly home that He intertwines himself into who we are.

Think of this, as through Mary’s umbilical cord shared her and his blood, so too our life and his life circulate within us because He is there.

That is how He “enlivens (the old quicken in the Creeds) and animates us by His presence. He clothes us, He heals, He corrects and comforts.

All because he is there, in your heart, in the depth of your soul.

He’s there, knocking at the door to you and me…for we are the people he loves. Read that second quote again, and hear His knock….and His desire to be incarnate, to be entwined in your heart and soul, to be your life blood.

May you answer, as Mary did – “may it happen to me as you have said…”


(1)  The first step is simply to that God is everywhere, and in everything.

(2) Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

Christmas Eve: Relationships: Isaiah 9


Isaiah 9:6-7

†  I.H.S.

May you realize the long awaited promise of God’s active presence in our lives, came true for all on a night like this… as Jesus the Messiah was born.

Four Letters.

Four simple letters, written by a prophet 700 years before the event he saw.  The promise of God nearly two millennia before that.

Four letters, divided into two words, that matter more than we can imagine.

“to us.”

This child that we celebrate, this man who is God whom we glorify, was born to us.

To us…..

And everything changes, as the relationship that God wants to have with us, is revealed.  That which they couldn’t understand in Isaiah’s day, and couldn’t understand on the night when Mary gave birth, made clear.  God came to us.  To have a relationship with us, to relate to us in a number of ways Isaiah tells US.

Like Kay is my wife, the church’s office manager, the mother of my son, so too does God relate TO US in a number of incredible ways….. and as we celebrate Jesus coming to us, as we ponder what this all means, it is worth looking at who Isaiah says this Jesus, this God is saves relates… to us

Wonderful Counselor, the one who comforts and directs, who consoles and guides, whose wisdom we depend upon.  This is the God, who came to us. It is the first way Isaiah tells us that He will relate… to us.

He does this because we need direction, we need comfort, we need God here, to be our shepherd. Because we too often lose our way morally, We need Him when life results in despair and mourning. So a child was born to us.

That baby, who was laid in a feeding trough, this child born of parents who would soon leave their country because of persecution and move. He is one we truly need, A God, the God, not made of wood or fashioned from stone.  A God, who is mighty, and uses that might, that ability, that power, for us. For that is how He would relate to us.  Not just minimally from a distance but interacting with us here.

Too often we make false gods, ones who would promise to do what we want, what we think we want.  We don’t want these gods to love us; rather we only want them to give us what we think we need.  This God, though, who came as a child to us…is not like that.  He is a mighty God, who loves and knows what we truly need.  He relates to us as the God, who is always able to be Whom we need,

The next way is is my favorite of the ways in which God relates to us humans, to his people. As our eternal dad, as the loving Father, we run to when we are hurt when we’ve broken our neighbor’s window, or their hearts when we’ve done the things that leave us needing His strong embrace.

And this Father is eternal, and he will be our Father eternally.  Think about that.  God just isn’t a god of this day or that, a fad.  He will be your God always.

There is a lot in this idea that this child relates to us as our Father, our everlasting Father.  Theologians make a big deal of it.  But when you need Him, His embrace is there…for you.

The last way God relates to us, through this child given to us, is so needed today.  With all of the stress, all of the fears, with all the brokenness we have to witness, such is the nature of the God who comes to us.  He is the Prince of Peace!

We so often picture the serenity of the manger scene, which I am not quite sure would be that peaceful.  A woman gave birth, a husband tired and weary, the shepherds, still in awe of the million angels announcing the glory of Christ being born… into that scene comes the prince of peace… and we always picture that scene as serene, peaceful, because we know His character.

The child who would be, no who is, the prince of peace….our Prince of peace.

This child in the manger calms our fears, our anxieties, our lives…our world.  Because of him, we have this peace… peace beyond understanding.  For that is why He came… to us.

And the prince of peace….to us is given

The prince of peace who has come… to us.


The Hard Lesson From the Manger…..we have to share in it…

Featured image

Artwork by my friend, and soon to be ordained Mark Jennings. His artwork (either originals or prints) is available through

Devotional THought fo the Day:

1  Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit, and you have kindness and compassion for one another. 2  I urge you, then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind. 3  Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves. 4  And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own. 5  The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had: 6  He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God. 7  Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. 8  He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death— his death on the cross.

1  Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (TEV)

562      When I preach that we have to make ourselves a carpet so that the others may tread softly, I am not simply being poetic: it has to be a reality! It’s hard, as sanctity is hard; but it’s also easy, because, I insist, sanctity is within everyone’s reach.  (1)

We have a fear of being taken advantage of, one that can easily consume us.

I feel it every time I get a phone call, and the person promises to come to church, if only we would pay their rent, or buy their meds, or provide them with money to buy food. I feel it when I get that text message at 10pm or 2am, knowing that the people need to listen, more than they are ready to hear my wisdom.

I see my fellow pastors, and all those who minister at this time of year struggling with it to, because they put in some much work, and sometimes only see a few people who will benefit from it.  Or we fear that this is the year when only 3 people will show up for the midnight service.on Christmas Eve. I see in it families, where one member always feels underappreciated, even as they continue to meet the needs of others in it.

We don’t like to be taken advantage of, we don’t want to be walked all over.

And that fear is confronted by the words of St. Josemaria Escriva.  What?  You think we should allow ourselves to be run over, run down, wiped out?  You want us to be a carpet or door mat that people can walk all over, grinding into us the mud on their feet?  He wants us to just take it, and serve people, knowing we may never even get a simple thank you?

(quick disclaimer – I am not talking about being run over by sexual, physical or emotional abuse)

But yeah, St. Josemaria is saying exactly what Paul is saying in Philippians 2.  The lesson of Jesus, lying there in the manger.  Lying there, with the shadow of the cross already promised, with the stripes that will be caused by whips already accepted, with the humiliation, with the fact that the very people that will praise Him, that He’s come to save… spitting on Him, cursing Him, nailing Him to the cross.

That Jesus would suffer all of that, to save us.  He through whom everything that has been created was created, becoming a infant, needing sustenance from another, needing another to change His diapers. That level of humiliation at the manger and at the cross, is first and above all, a picture of God’s love.

It is also a picture of God’s plan for our lives, here, during this life.

Paul knew that – and tried to live that way, accepting times of hardship, taking on the sacrifice it would take, including the humility to not strike back. but instead to let people see the strength of Christ-crucified, Christ-Incarnate alive in Him.

And he calls us to imitate him, as He imitates Jesus.  To live in Christ as Paul strived to, to have that attitude, that being a carpet doesn’t matter, that seeing people reconciled to the Father is far greater a reward than inconvenience, sacrifice, even martyrdom.

This is the lesson – that little Baby, willing left Heaven for you…. so you could walk with Him……in good times and bad.

that’s the lesson we need to remember…..

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2107-2110). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

His Love Made Perfect…in US

His Love Made Perfect….in US?

1 John 4:7-16


As we look into the manger – may we realize this perfect example of God’s love is here…to show us the mercy that will cause us His love to be made perfect in us.


The Shepherd’s View….

Of all the characters that gather around the Christ child, for some reason I feel the strongest connection to the shepherds, the ones who come in from the fields.  I imagine myself there, looking down into the manger in amazement, looking down on a little baby.  I think about trying to process what we had seen out in the field, the amazing words we had heard.

Can you imagine – these the least of those, the one’s whose “job” didn’t let them go home at night – if they even had a home, they were the ones who were brought to be the first witnesses of the birth of the Messiah.

Yet, looking down at the Baby…  I can imagine their hearts pounding, the sacredness of the harsh manger overwhelming…  and a question raising up inside…

Why me… why did God choose me to bear witness to this – and indeed I will – but why me?


Who us?  Love made perfect in us

As I read the passage we heard a few moments ago from 1 John, the same question arises…especially as I hear these words in my mind,

God lives in union with us, and his love is made perfect in us. 1 John 4:12 (TEV)

Me? Really? If there is a reason left in my mind as to God’s wisdom, it in choosing me. And I suspect, I am not the only one who is challenged in that way.  Sunday, as Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s house, the same kind of response – why are you here, the mother of my Lord – to visit me?  That attitude runs through scripture – Moses, Gideon, King David, so many others…

God you are going to make your love perfect… in me?
I so want to add on the word, “Really.”  Do you know how broken, challenged, imperfect and sinful I am?  And you are going to perfect you love… in me?

What do we think is love?

       It is God sending Christ for us.

       Knowing this – causes us to love each other

       It doesn’t start with us – but with him

I think the answer comes to the “why me”, “really, me” questions, when we begin to hear what love really is. When we really understand why we toss a little manger and put a doll in it, to remember Christmas.  Again – listen to St john’s epistle…

9 And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. 10 This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.1 John 4:9-10 (TEV)

Love is more than just a simple emotion – it is adoration and devotion in action.  Not just thoughts – but that which compels us, that which drives us to act in the best interest of the one whom we love.

And it isn’t that we have loved God… it is that He loved us, proving it here.. (point to the manger) and here (Point to cross), enveloping us in His love as He baptized us into Christ,  cleansing us from sin, as we feed on His Body and blood at the altar, as we are comforted by His presence, abiding in us – making us into the image of His son..


It is abiding in this love, living in it, reveling in it – letting it transform us, that brings us to the point where we can love Him – and even as that love resounds from us to Him, it envelopes those around us.

I used to think it a challenge to love those around us – something we have to exert all our energy, strain to do – that it was a challenge to love people who wronged me, or irritated me, or those wouldn’t forgive me for irritating them….

John is crying out to us, it isn’t about our straining to exert the effort to love.  That kind of love comes – as we spend time in God’s presence, living and resting in His love, in realizing and meditating on and reveling in the love that He showed us; as His Son was born and died, and ascended… and the Spirit gathers us, and grants us faith and repentance.
That kind of love doesn’t have to be forced out – it grows and we find ourselves unable to keep it in.

Assured – and so we declare this to others….because we trust in the love God has for us!

That is the love that occurs because God came into the world – and cleanses us from sin.  It is life changing, but such a challenge because we struggle to believe it, it is a challenge to know  it is ours…

Here of it some more,


13 We are sure that we live in union with God and that he lives in union with us, because he has given us his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and tell others that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If we declare that Jesus is the Son of God, we live in union with God and God lives in union with us. 16 And we ourselves know and believe the love which God has for us. God is love, and those who live in love live in union with God and God lives in union with them. 1 John 4:13-16 (TEV)
My friends, this is the love that saves the world, this is the love that takes this messed up, upside down, good is evil and bad is good and changes it, transforms it, makes it a place of peace.

This love is God’s love for you, it is the love He desires you to find life and rest in, it is the love that changes everything….

It is the love, that if we are honest, we are uncomfortable with, For we struggle to see ourselves there, and yet – that is the very… attitude that leads to worship – for God sees us and knows us and chooses to pour out that love on us..

So my friends – welcome God’s work in your life, welcome His love, and know, that yet – you really….


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