Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Prayer for a New Year

It is commonplace in our culture to make "New Year's Resolutions." I intend to do no such thing this year, although the idea is intriguing. To "resolve" to do something, anything really, requires the will and resources to accomplish said resolution. It also implies that we as human beings have the interior character and strength to make it happen. That's simply not me. Can't do it. I have the idea, I know what needs to happen, but simply don't have the will or interior strength to see it through. Truth is, I don't need to resolve to loose a few pounds; I am, however, changing my diet, exercise and lifestyle regimen in order to be healthier. Truth is, I don't need to resolve to be a 'better' teacher; I am, however, adjusting my classroom approach in order to give my students a richer, though boundaried learning experience. Nevertheless, it will be 2010 in a few days and I need a fresh start and a fresh attitude. So what gives you say?

Well, first a list of New Year hopes:

1) I hope for opportunities to love, to share and to be generous;

2) I hope to draw closer to my family;

3) I hope to draw continually closer to my God.

In light of those hopes, rather than offer a New Year's Resolution, let me offer a New Year's prayer for all of us.

Abba Father, this is your servant, Jay, and 2009 was a rugged year. I'm tired and ready for a change. I believe many of my family, friends and readers are too. There is nothing within me that can resolve to make the kinds of changes you want to see occur in my life. I realize that you are the only agent of lasting change and that it is only when we fully rely upon your grace, wisdom and direction that any of us can be and do what you desire. So here I am, here we are, hoping, but more than that, asking you to come into our lives and perform a total home makeover. Would you empower your Spirit to burn up the dross in our lives, fortify our wills that they may accomplish your plans and pour love into our tanks so that we will never be alone? Will you implant an unquenchable desire for your Word in our hearts so that we can never be satisfied with anything less than the glory of Christ in our lives? Will you give us a passion for personal health, so that our bodies may truly be your temple? Will you give us a sense of your Holiness and purity, so that our lives might mirror your Son's life? To be honest Lord, I'm tired of living two lives and would like to just live one before You! I hunger and thirst to live as a child of God before the rest of the world, every moment of this life. Will you help us do that O Lord? Finally, Father, will you help us to stop hurting each other, and give us the strength to Love one another, even when it hurts? Will you let that truth be the hallmark of our lives. This is my prayer, this is our prayer, for the new year. Thank you for 2009, I think we learned a lot. But Father, let this year be the year that we draw ever closer to your unquenchable love and in the process see that love spill over into our world!

We pray this prayer in the name of your Son, Jesus, amen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Christmas Carol 2009

A Christmas carol (also called a noël) is a carol (song or hymn) whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas or the winter season in general and which are traditionally sung in the period before Christmas. Christmas carols can focus on the birth of Christ, or on secular themes. (

Although Mr. Wikipedia gives us a good definition of "Christmas carol" above. What I want to share with you is a more "Dickensian" Christmas carol. Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol: In Prose. Being a Ghost Story about Christmas" in 1843 as an indictment against industrial capitalism, its excesses and neglect. I believe the story continues to be popular today because of its enduring message, continually calling modern humankind away from the precipice of greed and selfishness and towards the hope of joy and giving.

My Christmas carol will be a bit briefer and more pointed. I spent 2009 in the midst of a great test. Not an intentional test mind you, but a test nevertheless. I spent the year testing the boundaries of love. Love for students, love for friends, love for family and love for God. As a theologian / pastor it is easy to talk about love - in this instance, agape - but it is a whole different matter to live it.

Yes, I know what phileo, storge and eros are: affectionate, brotherly love; parental love and physical love. But agape is something very different. Agape is unconditional. We can derive personal pleasure from the expression of the first three types of 'other' focused attitudes (let me use the word 'attitudes' in place of the word love - in English language cultures the word love has become so abused that I think it is important to express it another way!) and so we become conditioned to satisfying that need for acceptance, happiness and physical pleasure under the general rubric of love.

But that is not agape. Agape is not necessarily an individually pleasurable attitude. Agape is absolutely other-centered. It has nothing to do with your own personal pleasure. It is an attitude that is completely focused on the well-being of the other. It is an attitude that is impossible to sustain or even comprehend in our own fallen condition. Indeed, a human being can only embody agape once they have embraced God; for God is the embodiment of agape. It is God working in and through us that enables us to be bearers of agape. We cannot do it on our own. We are simply too messed up - rooted deeply in our sinful selves. We cannot do selfless acts - we always, always expect something in return whether it be a "thank you" or a smile or like act in kind. I say that honestly, because when we attempt selfless acts and are not in some way appreciated for that act, we feel hurt or unappreciated. Worse yet, if we are chided or disparaged for the selfless act, we respond with bitterness and withdraw into ourselves.

So this year I have learned... When you enter into a life of agape, you only do so by sharing in the life of God and God was crucified for His love. The world could not bear the selflessness. Even confessing Christians practice a half-way agape. We want to love unconditionally until it costs us something. In other words, we like the resurrection part of our faith, but don't really care for, and even try to avoid at all costs the crucifixion part. Sadly, you can't have one without the other. The New Testament is replete with admonitions to "take up your cross" or "being crucified with Christ" or take the "narrow way" or "give your life for your brother"or "whoever leaves father, mother, children" will inherit eternal life...

As Americans or even as English-speaking Christians, we are prone to this "half-way" agape. Our materialistic, greedy, consumerist, pride-filled culture has ensured that we will always struggle with agape. We sing the old hymn, "O' How I love Jesus" but when push comes to shove, we try harder than ever to defend our "half-way" agape and even turn our backs on agape, when 'our' lives, 'our' lifestyles and 'our' choices are threatened.

Now I am no saint. Whatever goodness there is in me is Christ's doing. I've learned this truth the hard way this year. My constant prayer now, right now, is that God will strengthen me to be a vessel of His love and that I could love unconditionally - always. That is my prayer for you, my reader as well. I've tasted crucifixion several times this year and the pain is excruciating. The earliest Christians knew that crucifixion was part of the reality of following Christ and it was a cost they were prepared to pay. They knew that extravagant love required extravagant sacrifice.

Because of what I have gone through this year, I understand a bit better God's desire for this life. This Christmas, as I watched my daughters and wife unwrap presents, I could not stop thinking about 'the Gift' God gave to us so many thousands of years ago. The baby in the manger is the very gift of God's agape. And so I embrace a theology of the cradle. Yet, we will not see the extent of that love until we embrace the cross as well. You and I want to remain at the manger, with all of its joy, hope and possibility. But true love - agape - can only be found when we take up the cross and love people without condition or reserve, just as Christ loves us. Make 2010 the year of agape; for only agape will change our world.

Truly a Merry Christmas to all of you.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Yielded to God...

Since I answered God's call to ministry over 20 years ago, I never cease to be amazed at how God works in me and through me. I've never had a "superman" sensation, where I felt as though I personally had the strength or the skill to perform the tasks laid out before me as a pastor, preacher and even teacher. Quite the opposite. I am not an imposing figure. I do not have what I would consider a powerful preaching voice, nor do would I consider myself "handsome in the pulpit." Indeed, I constantly battle my weight, and must work on my sermon delivery so that it would at least be intelligible to the listener. At times, I am very discouraged by my lack of discipline in the pulpit and the corresponding lack luster delivery. There have been many times where I thought I should have remained in the music field, where I continue to have success! So, I stand in awe of the men I have met who had "the voice", "the skills" or "the imposing personality" who fit the standard paradigm for a successful preacher. I continue to learn from their personal study habits, daily routines and delivery mannerisms. Yet, I am me. My prayers before each sermon always have been, "please use your servant and this message to bring glory to yourself and expand the boundaries of your kingdom."

Then there are Sundays like yesterday. I have a cold. I am fighting laryngitis. I am tired. I am bloated by too much rich Christmas food and I am personally discouraged by my Christmas schedule of events. All of the "signs" suggested that I shouldn't preach. Nevertheless, something in my heart said to persevere and so I did. I preached twice this past Sunday, until I had no voice left and was exhausted. But God was good when I was not. The 'Word' went out as it has for thousands of years and God used it, in spite of this vessel.

What do I constantly learn from lessons like these? I have learned that its not about skill, talent, voice or education. It is first and foremost about being "yielded" to God. Life becomes one giant act of worship - everything you do, every word you speak, every moment of service to the Triune God makes a difference if the person is yielded in humility to the voice of the Master. God does not honor separations between "my home life" and "my ministry." Life must be lived authentically and transparently before God. God expects us to live and speak the truth, then He will do the rest. If I'm having issues with my wife or problems with my children; or if I'm having ego issues - then God lifts his hand ever so slightly and turns me around to face those issues before I get back to the task of ministry. God then uses me as He wills - preaching, teaching, pastoral care, leadership - it really doesn't matter. What matters is having a heart absolutely yielded to God.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Have you ever just felt lousy? Maybe you have a little cough, a stuffy nose which amount to the onset of a cold... Maybe you are swamped with so many decisions to make that you have reached overload and find yourself grinding to a halt... Maybe the you've come to the end of a project and you don't feel the joy that you thought you would... Maybe you looked in your checkbook recently and your expendable income isn't as expendable as you thought it would be... and all of sudden it hits you that it is the season of Christmas, which just makes these maladies all the more acute. All of these symptoms confirm a condition I like to call the "Bah-Humbugs!" And I have a moderate case of them at the moment.

The "Bah-humbugs" are an interesting malady that prevent us from engaging and enjoying life as we should or even could. They are the disease of self-interest. In other words, the "Bah-humbugs" are so focused on our own personal condition that they prevent us from seeing and experiencing what is going on around us. Indeed, they cause us to become envious and bitter of the joy that others are experiencing. The obvious signs of the "Bah-humbugs" are a sour demeanor, terse if not angry responses to even the kindest of questions and the pathetic need to be alone or the demand for the absolute attention of everyone!

Whether a person will affirm it or not, no one really wants the "Bah-humbugs"... we want to be on the same track as everyone else this holiday season. We want to experience the joy and love of Christmas. The solution or cure to the 'humbugs' however is not found in extra attention or better banking balances or the absence of the sniffles and cough. The cure is to focus on "enhancing the good of the other"...

The "other" is someone other than yourself. What I means is simply this: find another person who needs something you have and give it to them. Maybe its a helping hand; maybe its a small gift; maybe it is just a smile; maybe you can just text them a :-). Make a connection and give the gift. Although your sniffles might not go away immediately and the pile of decisions will not have diminished, your attitude will have changed significantly and you will be able to face the problems with resolve, instead of resignation. You see, we were created to give ourselves away. That's love.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served,

but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:45

Although only Christ came to give His life for all, He sets the example for us. The "Bah-humbugs" run counter to God's design for us and can be debilitating. Don't let them get you down this holiday season. As you can see, I'm already starting to come out of mine!

lux lucis eternus fulsi in vestri vita is dies

[May the light eternal shine into your life this day!]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Eighteen years of love...

Yesterday something special occurred in my home:

my daughter received her acceptance letter and scholarship offer to Baylor.

This is an event that most families experience - a son or daughter is accepted to a university - but for me the impact hit deeper and harder than I thought. Eighteen years of love ran through my mind in a fraction of a second. My little girl, though still growing, has grown up. Its almost time for her to "fly the coup" as they say. I've been preparing myself for this moment for the last four years, but it hits like a ton of bricks. Although she is almost ready, I am not. I'm not ready for her to start kindergarten yet... I'm not ready for her to be in high school... I'm not ready for her to drive (though she is a good driver)... and I was definitely not ready for boyfriends! It seems like just yesterday that she was my little bundle of joy. I remember her birth; I remember holding her in my arms and naming her. I remember taking her back to our base housing at MCB Quantico in the snow. I do vaguely remember the infractions and punishments for disobedience and the like... but those things pale in comparison to the overwhelming joy and love I have for the gift to me that she is.

I know that her education will be costly - both for me and her - but I also realize that it is the final release for her from her birth family to what God has for her next - vocation, husband and her own family. I know that over the next few years she will make good and poor choices. I know that she will learn both the easy way and the hard way. I know that in some way I hope to spare her from the difficult life lessons, but I also realize that I cannot and should not. She needs them.

Overall, what strikes me today, this moment, is how much I love her and how much I have grown with her. I have not been able to provide all the material things for her in life, but I have given her a household of love in which to live and a family to sustain her. I have given her opportunities to see some of the world and to encounter God in her world. In all of this process, God has matured me. Through the joy and pain, love and disappointment - God has grown me.

I realize now, more than ever before, that "Children are a gift from the Lord." [Psalm 127:3] The eighteen years of love that He has given to me in her have changed my life forever.

Thank you Lord for my children.
Thank you for the gift and responsibility of love that came with them.
Help me to continue to be the father you ordained me to be for them.
Help me to treasure them always...
to encourage their person and gifts and
to help them to learn to live responsibly on this earth
as your child.
Thank you God
for eighteen years of love.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It has been awhile...

I must say that it has been awhile since I have posted anything to Sojourn - and so I must apologize to my friends and readers, for sometimes life just gets in the way. However, I have my friend Kalie and her blog to thank for getting me back on track! She wrote a piece on the topic of "waiting on God" and it just caught me off guard. If we will listen, God speaks to us in the most wonder-filled and surprising places.

I have been on a journey this fall; one of which I haven't even been truly cognizant. I have been working hard on my thesis, teaching my classes, leading seminars, attending elementary school and high school functions; I have been judging marching band competitions and trying to squeeze in family time. I have been to England - across the sea - and Austin - across the state. I have tried to love people that have been hurt and I have hurt people that I desperately love. I have learned to hold tightly on to Jesus so that his love might grow me and to let go of those things that I love that they might grow...

It has been a long fall and a short one. Nevertheless, I am trusting that God will lead me and lead you - my friends, family and readers - into deeper relationships with Him.

I have been on a journey, seeking where and how God desires me to serve and grow. I am still on that journey, so I appreciate your prayers and guidance.

A few "thank you"s need to happen as I begin this journey in earnest though:

• My dad and mom for encouraging me in very different ways

• My friend Carol for helping me to see myself when I could not and for always pushing me towards grace, even when she didn't realize it.

• My colleagues at HPU for always encouraging me and praying for me

• My students at HPU for always making me think a little bit harder

• For Chris and Fran for reminding me of God's call...

• For Catherine and Hannah, the beacons of joy in my life

• For Melissa, the one who always reminds me of unconditional love

• For Christ my Lord - the one that I long for and the one that I seek, so that I may behold His beauty all the days of my life.

• For you who follow this blog, for joining me on the journey.

Grace and Peace to You...