Here’s to 2013

New Year's ResolutionsToday is the end of 2013.  Tonight, those of us who have friends and social lives will be ushering in 2014.  Will you be sad to see 2013 go or will you be rushing it out the door?

Typically, people make resolutions as they say goodbye to the old and usher in the new.  They commit to diets, exercise plans, work plans, and all sorts of things that will ensure that their lives will be different and better on this new path forward.  I haven’t done the research to find out just how effective those resolutions are, but I get the feeling that they’re not as effective as people wish that they were.

It seems that every year when I get to the end of it, I can always find a fair amount that I’d like to forget from that year.  At the same time, there are plenty of things that I can recount with joy and gratitude.  The last time I made a New Year’s resolution was probably 20 years ago, and I have no plans to make any for this year.

Sure, I’ve thought through the things that I want to do differently, the goals that I will set for myself, the things that I would like to achieve, but I try to take a good look at myself on a regular basis, not waiting until one day of the year that’s set aside for forgetting old acquaintances, at least according to the song.  I’ve found that if I take long looks along the way it feels a little less painful than taking one giant look at the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

The beauty of the New Year is that it forces us to look ahead, to leave the past behind us, not without considering it, but definitely without dwelling upon it.  It can help us to focus on grace, and in the case of those who believe in Jesus Christ, trust that that grace is sufficient and can help us to move ahead with boldness and confidence.  Grace helps us to understand that we are not defined by our mistakes but we can accept forgiveness and move forward.

Like I said, I experienced some milestones in 2013, but I can’t say that I’m sad to see it go.  I think the days of being sad to see years go got left behind with my 20’s.  You come to a point in your life when you begin to simply appreciate what’s right in front of you and do your best to savor moments.  Not that I’ve perfected it, but when life hands you experiences that help to gain perspective, it becomes a little bit easier to see things differently.

So, here’s to 2013, and here’s to 2014.  May I find grace in knowing that the mistakes that I made this year can be passed over and forgiven and may I embrace that grace enough to know that I can move past them in the year ahead.  As one of my friends says all the time, there will never be another 2014.  So, I’m looking forward to it…thankful for that grace.

Parting Isn’t Always So Sweet

honda civiThey say that parting is such sweet sorrow.  I’m not completely sure when the sweet part comes.  Most of my experience with parting has been far from sweet.  It’s been more sorrow than sweet and I’m wondering if the sweet part ever comes.

Well, I guess I have experienced some sweetness in parting.  Of course, I’m taking the quote out of context, parting company for a time is very different than saying goodbye for longer than a day, a week, or even a month.

Months ago, my wife and I got rid of our first family car, a Toyota Camry.  We bought it just months before our first child was born.  We had it for about 7 years and we probably would have kept it longer, but I inherited a car after my parents both passed away.

Not too long after that, my wife was talking to her brother about the fact that he and his wife were down to just one car.  They had their third child and had bought a minivan, just like we had.  My brother-in-law’s car had died and they were trying to survive on just one car.  My wife suggested that we give my Honda Civic to her brother.

At first, I was astounded at this prospect.  My wife thought I was foolish, I could tell from her body language, but she’s also known me long enough to know when to push and when to leave well enough alone.  This was one of those times when she needed to leave it alone and I was glad that she understood that.

We had a fairly new Toyota Camry that was sitting in our garage while I continued to run the Civic into the ground.  There was no logic to it other than the fact that the Camry represented something else to me.  As I stopped to try to come to grips with my strong emotion over the cars, I realized that the Camry, inherited from my parents, really represented my parents.  I realized that I was hanging a lot of emotion onto everything that I had left that had belonged to them, including things like cars.

Now, the Civic and I had been through a lot together.  Well, our family and the Civic had been through a lot together.  My wife bought it just before we got married.  She drove back and forth to Nyack, New York to seminary while we were in Connecticut.  She got halfway through her degree there and then picked up in Charlotte, North Carolina while we were in Asheville to finish it out.  When we moved to Richmond, I took the car back and forth to D.C. to work on my seminary degree.  Over the course of the nearly 13 years with the car, we put on about 170k miles.

But it was time, and I had to shake myself away from whatever emotion it was that I had attached to these cars.  I also needed to realize that my parents weren’t attached to a car, nor was I, nor was my family.  I had to realize that I had been given an awful lot, been blessed with a whole lot, and I needed to be as willing to give away as I was willing to take.  We didn’t NEED the Civic, I just WANTED it.  My brother-in-law needed it.  I needed to put my selfishness aside.

I have the sneaking suspicion that my wife was praying for me during this time.  There is really no other explanation to my change of heart.  I was working on dealing with it myself, but I’ve seen some changes in myself lately that can’t be attributed to simple will power or inner strength.  I can only come to the conclusion that God is really doing some work in me and I’m changing.

I finally reintroduced the concept to my wife and she smiled with that knowing smile, the one that kind of said, “I knew you’d come around….eventually.”  What can I say?  I married up and found a woman who is far more superior than what I deserve.  I finally got over myself and realized what I really NEEDED to do.

I just don’t like to part with things, no matter what they are.  It’s more than a foolish habit, it’s something deep down inside of me, something that needs to change, especially when the “something” is an inanimate object that can easily be replaced.

When you lose things that are important to you, like people, you begin to realize what’s disposable and what’s not.  You begin to see the value of things beyond your own selfish desires.  My perspective has changed dramatically over the last few years, and while I wouldn’t have chosen to have endured some of what I have endured, I can see the good that has come out of them.

It might not make much sense to you, after all, we’re talking about cars here, right?  Well, kind of.  We’re talking about the value of things and people.  I’m still learning the lessons myself.  I’m still learning what needs to be treated as most important and what can be let go of.  I’ve still got an awfully long way to go, but I’m getting there, a few cars at a time…..

Merry Christmas

MerrHappy-Birthday-31y Christmas!

There is so much to be thankful for this year.  It’s hard to be spending this Christmas without my parents, but as I watched my children unwrap presents and saw the joy in their faces, I got the sense that Mom and Dad were there in spirit.  The legacy of who they are lives on in me and my children and I could imagine their smiles as they saw the joy in my children that they had probably observed on the faces of me and my brother so many times in years gone by.

As difficult as holidays can be even years after loss, I was reminded of the fragility of life again as on the eve of Christmas Eve, a friend of my wife’s and many other women in my church lost her husband after his own battle with cancer.  While it’s difficult to face holidays after a loss, to have that loss occur during the holidays has to be incredibly difficult.  Every year is marked by the celebration of the holiday and the pangs of loss that never quite go away.

I heard the story of a mother who had to return Christmas presents in order to pay for her gas to get to work.  Somewhere in parts of the world where I have never been, little children are opening up shoeboxes prepared for people and delivered by Samaritan’s Purse.  These are probably the only gifts that these children have.  These realities are good reminders to what I have and am blessed with, not the things that are rights, but privileges for me and my family.  It helps me to remember that thankfulness needs to start with the smallest things…..everything else is just a bonus.

As old as I get, I never grow tired of watching the joy on someone’s face when they receive a gift.  When someone knows that you thought of them enough to give them something, it’s a feeling that cannot be compared.

Today is the day that we celebrate the greatest gift that has ever been given to us.  Sure, Jesus was probably born in the Spring.  Away In A Manger is most likely wrong, because what baby doesn’t cry?  The wise men weren’t at the manger.  And Jesus wasn’t blonde haired and blue eyed, looking like he walked out of an Abercrombie ad.  He was much darker than Caucasians think he was and he was probably not much to look at, at least according to Isaiah’s prophecies.

But he came….

He lived…..

He died…..

And he rose…..

He gave us the gift of life that we could never give ourselves.  That’s the one thing that I have tried hard to let my kids understand this year, and I think they can see it….at least the two older ones.

Merry Christmas.  I hope that today you feel the love of family and friends.  I hope that today you can find thankfulness amidst the gifts that you have been given, regardless of whether or not they were wrapped and under a tree.  I pray that you might know the greatest gift that you could ever receive.

Merry Christmas…….and Happy Birthday, Jesus!

A New Kind of Christmas Eve

through eyeglassesIt’s Christmas Eve, and this year, it looks different for me.

This is the first Christmas Eve that I won’t be thinking about school assignments or upcoming classes.  A year ago this month, I completed my coursework in seminary.  In the months following, I still had one other requirement that was delayed and which hung over my head.  This is the first year that my head is clear of schoolwork.

This is the first Christmas Eve that I will celebrate without my parents.  Last year, Dad was still around, albeit in bad shape, but he was still here.  A few days after Christmas, my cousin was married and my dad was able to be there.  Little did I know that in less than four months, Dad would be gone.

This is the first Christmas Eve that I will be celebrating with my new church family.  Well, they’re really not new to me, but our situation is still less than a year old.  We have only been in existence since February under our new name.

This is the first Christmas Eve that I will celebrate in a school.  Our church has only been in existence since February and we do not have a building, so we have been meeting in a school.  This Christmas Eve will give us opportunities to try new things, do things differently.

This is the first Christmas that I will be around when my children go to bed.  In 2004, I left my engineering job to become a pastor.  Since then, Christmas Eve has been devoted to the church and I have not had the opportunity to spend much time with my family.  Our services this year are earlier, so I will have the opportunity to be at home with my children before they go to bed, something that will be very exciting for them and for me.

Every year, as I move into the Advent season, I do my best to slow down, to take it all in, to establish traditions with my kids that were my own or that are being created for the first time with us as a family.  Every year, I have found myself clamoring for rest, for a breath of air amidst the frantic hustling to make sure that everything is perfect and taken care of for Christmas.  This is the first year that I actually feel that it has happened.

I haven’t perfected it, far from it in fact, but I feel like I am a step closer to improving my overall demeanor and approach towards the Advent season.  All I know is that my stress has been a little bit diminished and my outlook has improved.  This is a season of expectation and wonder, and I am beginning to recapture that expectation and wonder that was lost a long time ago.  Merry Christmas Eve.

Top 10 Christmas Albums

This is my 150th post, and I thought that I would make it fun.  So, as a follow up to my Top 10 Christmas Movies post, here are my Top 10 Christmas albums with a few honorable mentions.  I know that there are many that are overlooked here, but these are the ones that have stories connected to them, I’m sure you’ve got your own stories for your own Top 10 list, and I would love to hear about those.

BtLoG_New1. Andrew Peterson “Behold the Lamb of God”

A few years back, a friend introduced me to this album.  Peterson labels it “The TRUE Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ.”  Every aspect of this album is great and it has been a highlight for me to have seen it performed live 3 times (see this post).  A concept album that screams for some time to be set aside in order to listen to it from beginning to end.  Peace on earth!

2. The Carpenters “Christmas Portrait”

I can’t listen to this album without seeing my mom’s face and it’s brought many tears to my eyes in the years since I lost my mom.  I grew up listening to this on the record player with the smell of Christmas cookies baking in the background.  Karen’s voice and Richard’s piano playing make this the perfect Christmas album.

3. Amy Grant “A Christmas Album”

This is another album that I listened to on the record player.  It screams of all of the cheesiness of 80s music, but there are some gems on here as well.  The opening with “Tennessee Christmas” is just pure Christmas goodness.

4. Kenny Loggins “December”

Not quite sure where I picked this one up, but Loggins does a great job of bringing his own adult contemporary vibe to some of the lesser known Christmas classics.  His original tunes “The Bells of Christmas” and “Angels in the Snow” are great.  His take on some of the more sacred Christmas songs like “Coventry Carol” and “Some Children See Him” are enhanced by some really nice instrumentation.

rob mathes christmas5. Rob Mathes & Very Special Guests “Christmas Is Coming”

I am biased about this since I sing in the choir on it.  I met Rob many years ago through his sister who I was good friends with.  I had the privilege of singing in his choir for many years until we left Connecticut.  Great music, both original and traditional, and some fantastic arrangements for the band and vocalists like Vanessa Williams and Michael McDonald

6. “The Muppet Christmas Carol” Soundtrack

Since this movie is on my Top 10 Christmas Movies list, it only seems appropriate that the soundtrack should follow on her.  Some good songs that got cut from the film as well.  Anytime you hear Beaker sing, it should be enough to evoke a laugh.  Animal trying to contain himself on the drums.  Paul Williams doing what he has done so well for the Muppets for years, writing some great songs that you will continue to sing long after the album is over.

7. Michael W. Smith “Christmastime”

Michael W. Smith enlists the help of a boy choir for many of the songs on this album.  Just hearing the beauty of the voices evokes images of a large cathedral with candles burning and the boys lining either side of the altar wearing their white robes.  “Sing We Now of Christmas” and “Carols Sing” are standouts to me.  If you want good Christmas choral music, listen to John Rutter, but Smith offers some nice arrangements here too.

8. John Denver & The Muppets “A Christmas Together”

The winning combination: John Denver and the Muppets.  Just a fun Christmas album that brings me right back to sitting in my footie pajamas watching the Muppets on TV.

guaraldi charlie brown9. Vince Guaraldi “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

Another movie that’s on my Top 10 list with the soundtrack firmly planted here.  Vince Guaraldi’s music is timeless and connects with every generation.  Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear “Skating” while we’re out in the store and to hear one of my sons say, “This is the song from Charlie Brown.”

10. “The Preacher’s Wife” Soundtrack

Whitney Houston in the remake of “The Bishop’s Wife.”  The song that gets me every time is “Who Would Imagine A King.”  Whitney in her heyday with Denzel.  Can’t really go wrong with the movie, but Whitney’s pipes are in their prime.

Honorable mention

Sting “If On A Winter’s Night…”

Mr. Sumner brings his own twist to the Christmas season with some more baroque and traditionally British music.  A tree, a fire, a couch, your favorite holiday beverage, and your listening experience will be complete.

James Taylor “At Christmas”

How can you go wrong with Sweet Baby James?  Great Taylor takes on holiday classics.

Francesca Battistelli “Christmas”

A good mix of the classics with some originals thrown in there.  Of particular interest is “You’re Here.”  A worthwhile listening.

Top 10 Christmas Movies

Just because Christmas is 2 days away, I figured I would share my top 10 Christmas movies (plus two honorable mentions).  These are the movies, for the most part, that I watch every year.

muppet christmas1. The Muppet Christmas Carol – What’s better than Kermit as Bob Cratchett, Piggy as his wife, Michael Caine as Scrooge, and Waldorf and Statler as Jacob and Robert Marley?  If it’s out there, I haven’t found it yet.

2. A Charlie Brown Christmas – Charlie Brown living through the holidays in his own melancholic way, and who can forget Linus’ monologue about the real meaning of Christmas.

3. It’s A Wonderful Life – Buffalo gals, won’t you come out tonight, George Bailey lassos the moon, and Jimmy Stewart scores a holiday win.

4. Elf – Will Ferrell doing what he does best, making us laugh and taking his place in the annals of holiday movies, and ticking off an angry elf.ferrell elf

5. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – Christmas Clark Griswold style.  Cousin Eddie.  Julia Louis Dreyfus.  Snots the dog.  Aunt Bethany’s grace.  All I want for Christmas and a squirrel in a tree.

6. Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer – Sure, we see Santa and the other reindeer abusing poor Rudolph, but it all works out in the end for the little guy.

7. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town – Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney lend their voices to the story of how the guy in the red suit became the guy in the red suit.

8. A Christmas Story – Ralphie in the rabbit suit, Triple Dog Dare, and a Red Rider carbine action BB gun, wrapped up together with a provocative leg lamp.  Make sure to label it FRAGILE.

05_Flatbed_1 - DECEMBER9. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol – The legally blind, accident prone, lovable little man takes on the holiday classic, with a side of razzleberry dressing.

10. The Polar Express – A children’s book that was magnified into a visually spectacular cinematographic display by Robert Zemeckis.  Add a lot of Tom Hanks and dash of Aerosmith, and you’ve got a winning combination.

Honorable mention

March of the Wooden Soldiers – Laurel and Hardy take on “Babes in Toyland”

Frosty, the Snowman – The back story to the beloved song.

It’s My Prerogative

phil robertsonAnyone who has been spending any amount of time in front of a TV, computer, or radio in the last 48 hours has been unable to avoid hearing about Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Duck Commander family and star of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty.”  Due to him expressing his conservative Christian beliefs in an interview with GQ magazine, he has been suspended indefinitely from the show.

After the network’s decision, advocates and opponents of Robertson have voiced their opinions regarding their outrage at his comments or their support for him.  Facebook groups have been formed.  Petitions have been signed.  Lines have been drawn in the sand.  And vitriol flows from every side.

Full disclosure: I have been a fan of Duck Dynasty.  The show amuses me.  I’ve read Phil Robertson’s book.  I admire the way that the Robertson family stands strong for their convictions and allow those convictions to impact their lives.  The Robertsons value each other, spending time with one another, working with one another, and doing their best to put family first.

The story as I see it is that Phil Robertson expressed his opinion and his employer was unhappy with that opinion.  So, his employer has put him on a leave of absence.  Somehow, this has surprised those who are supporters of Robertson and the values to which he holds.  But why is this such a surprise?  Isn’t that his employer’s prerogative to make such a decision?

What would happen if there was a Christian employer whose employee made comments with which they disagreed and they, in turn, suspended that employee?  Would that not also be the employer’s prerogative?

I know what people will say here, that the second case would never happen because that Christian employer would be brought up on charges of discrimination and would be forced to reinstate the employee.  Is that correct?  Is that what would happen?

Of course not, there’s no way that could be the case, right?  I mean, if the roles were reversed and a Christian employer were not allowed to suspend an employee for their comments with which he/she disagreed, than we would be looking at some form of inconsistency, right?  Is it possible that those who cry out for tolerance might need to reassess their tolerance when it’s discovered that it breaks down and they become intolerant over those with whom they disagree?

The dictionary definition of tolerance is, “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.”  According to that definition, it would seem that shutting down the opinions of those with whom you disagree might actually be contradictory to the definition and actually mean the opposite, intolerance.

There is a breakdown somewhere.

I believe that people should hold to their convictions.  I believe that people should be able to express their opinions.  So, what happens when expressing your opinions and holding to convictions on one side is interpreted as tolerant, open-minded, and progressive while expressing your opinions and holding to convictions on the other side is interpreted as intolerant, unloving, bigoted, and deserving of being shut down?

Until we can come up with some adequate answers for these questions, answers with which both sides can agree, I think we are at an impasse.

Doing Your Best

carrot-incentiveA few weeks ago, a friend of mine was pondering how there was a difference between the college field goal record and the pro record.  The difference is 5 yards, in favor of the college record rather than the pro record.  Anyone who watches Monday night football saw a 61 yard field goal made in the Detroit/Baltimore game as well.

So, why the difference?  Most people would assume that the pro record would be greater than the college record.  Setting them side by side seems to beg the question, what causes people to do their best?  How is it that players making millions of dollars for playing struggle to make achievements that those who are younger and are playing for tuition and potential future glory have made?

I have to check myself when I think this through because my first thought is that the professional athletes have become lazy.  They’ve signed their contracts, locking in their multi-year, multi-million dollars and there is nothing more to prove.  They have been validated by the contract and they can coast.  There are some in the world of baseball who believe that Robinson Cano was doing that with the Yankees and believe that he will continue to do it in Seattle where he has been signed to huge contract.

But is it really lazyness?  Could it be that there is a lack of incentives?  What would drive someone in the professional world to seek out conquering a record?  What would drive someone in the college world to seek out conquering a record?

I’m not sure about you, but when I was in college, I thought that I was 15 feet tall and bulletproof.  It seemed like nothing could hurt me, that I was indestructible.  That’s foolish to think, but that was the reality of where I was at the time.  Once I moved past that stage of life, I realized how vulnerable and mortal that I really was, but in the thick of it, there is a tendency to be completely blinded by pride and self-centeredness.

The deeper question through all of this is what drives us to do our best?  What kinds of things spur us along?  What can make the difference between doing something mediocre versus doing something great?

Incentives.  What incentives are offered to us that lead us to perform at our maximum capacity?  What drives us to look to “break records” in what we do?  Is there a consistent incentive?

I tend to think that people will perform based on incentives that are particular to each individual.  While there may be overlap here and there, I think that you may see a varied response across the board.  For some, it may strictly be monetary.  For others, it might be relational.  For some, it might be about long-term goals and achievement.  For others, it might simply be about recognition.

How about you?  What drives you to do your best?  What incentives cause you to put in your full effort, or even the 110% effort?  I am curious to see what overlap there is from person to person and what distinct differences there are as well.

Ministering to Problem People In Your Church – A Book Review

Ministering to Problem PeopleAnyone who has worked in any kind of ministry for any length of time will know that difficulties arise and difficult people will always emerge.  Marshall Shelley has written on this in his book, “Ministering to Problem People In Your Church.”  He comes at the subject with a candor that can only come from experience and investigation into these problem people that he appropriately terms, “well-intentioned dragons.”  Shelley claims that his book is, “about ministering while under attack.”

From the outset, Shelley grabs the reader with his stories (the names have been changed but the scenarios are real).  As I read them, I had to look around to see if I could spot the hidden cameras into my life.  The scenarios were so spot on, paralleling so many of my own personal experiences in ministry or the experiences that I have heard firsthand from people who are close to me.  I could feel my heartbeat speeding up as I found myself relating to so many of the stories, completely understanding the emotions of those who were being described.

Along the way, Shelley offers many practical means by which to handle these well-intentioned dragons.  He humorously categorizes them and lists out ways in which we can engage them and others.  Among his greater points to me was the fact that, “sometimes enlarging the frame of reference helps remind us that one mouth isn’t the whole church, one critic isn’t the end of our ministry, and even one church isn’t the whole body of Christ.”  We need others to grow and we need others to encourage us.  We can’t like everyone and everyone won’t like us, that’s not an opinion, it’s a fact, but we are called to love everyone, and some make that more difficult than others.

If I have any criticism for the book it’s that it felt that the idea of just up and leaving a church was given as an alternative too often.  I fully admit that the landscape of ministry is changing and long-tenured pastors are not as prevalent as they once were, but studies have shown that time served is what is most effective in allowing change to take place.  I have served a church myself where things began to unravel.  The pastor eventually left and his successor undid everything that had been done up to that point.  How effective was that?  It’s possible that Shelley sees that leaving a church should always come as a last resort, but I didn’t feel that he made that as explicitly clear as it might need to be.

Overall, Shelley offers a humorous and practical approach towards handling difficult people.  As long as we deal with people, they will be difficult.  There is no getting away from them.  Shelley ends the book with a story of a little known monk who originally went the way of the desert monks, sequestering himself and separating himself completely from the world.  Eventually, he realized that his growth could not take place without the presence of other people.

Shelley’s bottom line is this: “developing Christian virtues demands other people – ordinary, ornery people.”  We cannot learn in a vacuum and expect that we will actually grow.  We can’t simply read books without incorporating some kind of praxis to apply the knowledge that we have gained.  If we want to move along in our own sanctification process, we need other people, difficult, frustrating, and real.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House Publishers.  These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Broken Cars and Houses Get Me Down

Rainy Days and MondaysIt was over 40 years ago that Karen Carpenter sang, “Rainy Days and Mondays get me down.”  Over the last few weeks, I’ve been tempted (not strongly enough) to redo the song, changing the lyrics to “Broken Cars and Houses” to better reflect my life.  Things never break conveniently, do they?

My house is at about the age where everything seems to break on houses.  So, we’ve replaced lights, toilets, patched leaks, reinstalled door seals, and done various other things.  It’s a reminder to me of all the “joys” of being a homeowner.

Right around the same time that all this was taking place, one of the cars started losing air in its tire.  Not that big of a deal, but in an attempt to get it fixed, it was discovered that one of the doors had been left open, draining the battery.  I couldn’t get the car in neutral to roll it out of the garage to jump it, so it required some creative maneuvering to get the other car alongside it in the garage to jumpstart the battery.

One problem fixed, on to the next one.  In an effort to remove the flat tire, I realized that without a pneumatic tool, it’s pretty much impossible to move lug nuts from tires.  So began a fairly frustrating Friday where my impatience got the best of me, but I was reminded of many things in the midst of all of the frustration.

In fact, I had woken up a few hours prior to all of this and had dragged myself downstairs to the computer.  Once there, I proceeded to go through my morning routine, email, social networks, Bible reading.  While on Facebook, I was disheartened to find out that yet another friend had lost his job, this one who has twin girls who are less than a year old.  Another friend whose children are both special needs announced that his daughter has leukemia.  A few weeks ago, another friend’s husband lost his mother.  And on and on and on I could go.

Life doesn’t stop simply because Advent arrives.  Just because we’re getting ready for the celebration of the birth of Christ doesn’t mean that everything else gets put on hold.  Life continues to move.  In the immortal words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  Ain’t that the truth?

After dropping my car off at the tire store, I walked myself over to the nearest fast food restaurant where I could get warm coffee and free wi-fi.  During that walk, I called my wife to apologize for being so impatient.  She wasn’t mad, she assured me, but I was embarrassed.  Why should I be so angry and frustrated by such insignificant problems?  There are people who have experienced significantly worse who are still holding their heads up high.

In the midst of my own frustration, I took time to pray for those around me whose problems far exceed a flat tire and a few measly leaks in the roof.  As I read through another friend’s list of broken things in their own house, I was reminded that I shouldn’t let temporal inconveniences steal my eternal joy, especially in light of this Advent season, a season of preparation, anticipation, and expectation.

Eugene Peterson talks about how pastors tend to preach one sermon over and over again.  My one sermon is a constant push towards community.  Over the past few years, that sermon has grown stronger because of the benefits that I have seen in my own community.  Healthy community gives us a healthy perspective.  Healthy community helps us keep some accountability in our lives.  Healthy community helps us when we are in the midst of the storms of life.  Healthy community helps us to remember that we’re not alone.  I don’t think that I’ll ever grow tired of that, even if it is the only sermon that I ever preach.