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How do you cultivate JOY?

grumpy-15057374_1847734315513758_1077785814882058240_nJoy to the world, the Lord is come! Being a joyless Christian is a contradiction in terms! Yet we all go through drought or letting people and things “rob” our joy.  My short definition of joy is Gladness in God!  Jesus offers a joy that no one can take from us! (John 15:7-11) For the third Sunday in Advent, I preached on how God With Us brings JOY.  You can listen to the sermon here. I explain 5 ways we can cultivate joy – listed below.

Cultivate Joy!

1.  Repent and believe the Good News
Repentance (turning back toward God and putting all trust in Christ) is the starting point for real Joy and Hope.) Luke 15; Psalm 51 (especially vv. 8-12)

2.  “See Christ everywhere;” “Find God in all things”
Kalistos Ware summarized a life of prayer and experiencing God with the first phrase. “Find God in everything” is a central teaching of Ignatian spirituality and the Jesuit tradition. These both remind us that God is constantly speaking and using every experience to transform us and use us to embody the faith in every arena of our lives. There is joy in experiencing God!

3.  Stretch yourself to serve.
“The way out of the dungeon of self, is in service to others.”  Luke 10:17-21

4. Contemplate Beauty and the Life of the World to Come
Hebrews 12:1-3 – Jesus endured suffering because of the joy set before Him.
Psalm 16 – “In Your presence there is fullness of joy!”

5. Fight being “too easily pleased.”
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)


Let’s ask the Holy Spirit who produces Love, Joy, Peace… to make us people of JOY!



What does JOY look like in a suffering world?

ORLANDO CANDLES C0014124821--720160614231037000Last Sunday’s services followed the 6.12.16 shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL. We began a new teaching series, The Heart of Worship, a bit different than originally planned. The music and liturgy reflected our collective lament and our common humanity. You can listen to the sermon here. It’s called, Worshiping in a Broken World.


We explored 3 facets of JOY, which are at the heart of Christian worship based in Hebrews 10:11-25:

“Joy because” which is rooted in the assurance of our Faith;
“Joy in spite of ” based on the  confession of our Hope;
“Joy against” motivating our Love in action.


You can listen to a moving song called “Pulse,” written after the shootings, along with the pictures of those who died.

Jesus’ Method or Ours

It would seem like a “no-brainer” to ask HOW Jesus did ministry and made disciples. Alas, we often take Jesus words and read the stories and then form our own methodology.  Looking at the encounter with Zacchaeus in Luke 19, this sermon (listen here) challenges some of our attitudes and practices. It points us to be faithful to our vision as a church: “To be a diverse community that lives the Good News of Jesus for the flourishing of all people, in our region and throughout the world.”

The outline for the teaching:

16-05-29 Make Disciples -Jesus Method - Zach 2.008


Mary: Mother of Jesus; Disciple!

Hopelogo2In Advent and Christmas this year we are teaching in Luke 1 and 2 around the theme of Hope for Everyone. Week one was Zechariah: Despite All Odds. Week two was a fresh look at the announcement to young Mary: Let it Be! (You can listen here.) Our view of Mary is one of those places where the history of the church is again afflicted with the peril of the pendulum – swinging from the extreme of overstated or excess devotion to outright neglect and understatement. I suggest that the biblical balance comes from seeing Mary as Honored Mother and Model Disciple. Mary was originally given the title, Theotokos (God-bearer or “the one who bore the one who is God.”) This was not to draw attention primarily to her, but to defend the incarnation of the God-Man, Jesus Christ! We have much to learn from Mary about what a devoted disciple looks like. In the sermon, I suggest 5 ways that Mary models being a devoted disciple of Jesus:

  1. Mary was ‘ordinary’ but chosen.
  2. Mary responded to Grace (“…my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”)
  3. Mary was an obedient, humble servant (“I am the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be to me according to Your Word.”)
  4. Mary was a worshipper (“she pondered all these things in her heart;” “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!”)
  5. Mary overflowed with hope her whole life (“a sword will pierce your own soul;” she was at the cross and  with the disciples waiting for the Holy Spirit launching the mission of the church.


Some resources for further study:  Two books, one by Scot McKnight, The Real Mary; and Frederica Matthewes – Green, Mary As the Early Christians Knew Herlooking at well known early writings in the church that suggest traditions beyond the biblical narrative.)

The Why (and How) of Solitude + Silence

Neil's "frenzied heart" - now  settled!
Neil’s ‘frenzied heart’ – now settled!

Our Executive Pastor, Neil Botts, just preached on “Loving Others Better Through Solitude and Silence.” Inspiring and intensely practical! You can listen here. Be sure to download his great resource, Practical Steps into Solitude and Silence.  Here is a summary from Neil…

We are bombarded daily with the demands and expectations to be “productive” whether at work or at school or at church. As a result, our sense of worth and identity are often entangled with a frenzied pursuit to “produce.” Add to that our skepticism that we can be truly known and still loved apart from what we “produce,” we then fill our lives with busyness and activity which hinders our ability to be present with people and to hear God speak into our loneliness. The spiritual practice of solitude and silence is a gift from God that opens the door to a new way of being productive and fruitful in relationships and in life. We are better in community (and for our community) when we are regularly in solitude.


freshairThe person of the Holy Spirit has been called the “neglected” member of the Trinity! (God doesn’t suffer from neglect – we suffer from neglecting!)

The Spirit is described in many wonderful and vivid images, using all the senses – things we know best by experience rather than explanation: *the force of wind, *the intimacy of breathing; *the instincts of a Dove; *the energy of Fire; *the Comfort of a friend close by; *the fragrant healing balm of Oil; *the power of a river; *the ‘good intoxication’ of being filled and moved, continually being under the Lord’s influence! (Ephesians 5:18)

Fresh Air is the title for our current sermon series at Christ Church. (The title is borrowed from a book I’d recommend by Jack Levison.) 

The first sermon, Breathe! picks up on the image of the Spirit as breath and air, embedded in the very definition of spirit. (Pneuma in Greek; Ruach in Hebrew) Learn what this beautifyl image of breathing has to teach us about the “Holy and Life-giving Spirit.” 

On hearing the sermon theme, someone in our community reminded me of a book chapter titledBreaththat I adapted for the spoken word. I’ll share it here. Listen for the biblical allusions.

“The Spirit is like breath, as close as the lungs, the chest, the lips, the fogged canvas where little fingers draw hearts, the tide (in our lungs) that rises and falls twenty-three thousand times a day in a rhythm so intimate we forget to notice until(we’re out of breath or until a Friend or Guide) says “pay attention to your breath!” and its fragile power awes us again. Inhale. Exhale. Expand. Release.

In the beginning, God breathed. And the dust breathed back enough oxygen, water, and CO2 to make an atmosphere; to make a man. Job knew life – as “the breath of God in my nostrils,” given and taken away. With breath, the Creator kindled the stars, parted a sea, woke a valley of dry bones, inspired a sacred text.

So, too, the Spirit — inhaled and exhaled in a million (everyday) ways, animates, revives, nourishes, sustains, speaks! The Spirit is as near as the nose and as everywhere as the air, so pay attention! 


(adapted from Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans, chapter 23. Read the original excerpt here.)

Here’s the rest of the sermon themes for the Fresh Air series

May 17 – A Community of Oneness
May 24 – The Helper has Arrived!
May 31 – Anointed to Flourish
June 7 – The Gift Giver
June 14 – Temples 

Hope that overcomes Despair

anchor 3The Anchor, which is the RI state seal, was the ancient Christian symbol of Hope. The hope of Christ that is the anchor of our lives (from Hebrews 6:19.)

Our Advant series, A Light in the Darkness, ended with an amazing experience of worship focused on Hope amid Despair. The poignant story of a couple’s journey through the despair of death was surrounded by music and teaching from Scripture about lament and enduring hope.
You can listen here. I’m including some illustrations I used in the sermon
that will help you as you listen.

The Scriptures were from:
Lamentations 3
Psalm 77
Romans 15

The pattern we see in the Bible is one of honesty with ourselves and God. Like Peter when the Apostles were asked, “Will you too, go away?” we can respond, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” (John 6:66-69) Lamentations and Psalms both model the practices of pondering God’s Word while continuing in prayer. Renewed Hope is God’s desire for each of us.

14-12-21 - Advent 4 - Hope and Despair.001 14-12-21 - Advent 4 - Hope and Despair.002 14-12-21 - Advent 4 - Hope and Despair.003

Psalm 119 ~ Bonhoeffer’s Unfinished Book

DietrichBonhoefferWorksVol15I have three of the 17 volumes of Bonhoeffer’s Complete annotated works translated from the German over a 20 year span. They include background notes from scholars and often fascinating detail from the margin of his Bibles, letters previously unpublished, etc. One gem in Vol. 15 is the notes he began on each verse of Psalm 119 – an acrostic poem of 22 stanzas of 8 verses each.  Every verse has different and “new variations on one theme, the love of God’s word.”

We have learned that “in the winter of 1939-40, Bonhoeffer intensified his long-practiced meditation on the Psalms and considered an interpretation on Ps. 119 ‘the climax of his theological life.'” His closest friend, Bethge noted that this Psalm was ‘the biblical passage quoted most frequently by Bonhoeffer.’ In his American diary, Bonhoeffer called it his favorite Psalm. He saw this project as central to biblical ethics.

We have notes on only 21 verses of Bonhoeffer’s Psalm 119 meditations. One reflection has been a constant reminder to me about “delighting” in God’s Word.

God gave us the Scriptures to be read and pondered anew every day…
Why do I forget God’s word? Because I cannot yet say as the Psalm says:
“I delight in your statutes.”

I do not forget the things in which I delight!
(Works, Vol. 15, pp. 517-18)

10 times in this great Psalm of the Word – the word DELIGHT is used to describe the Psalmist’s response to the revealed Teaching of God. Two more:

In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. (v.14)
If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. (v.92)

A suggested practice:
As a way of increasing your delight in the Word, read and meditate on this Psalm. We are reading 2 stanzas per week in worship currently. You may want to take a month and read one 8 verse stanza each week day.

“O how I love your law; it is my meditation all the day!” (Psalm 119:97)

Beauty and the Beast

In an earlier post, “Beauty will save the World,”  I highlighted the last section of the poem by Czeslaw Milosz called One More Day. Milosz lived through the horrors of attrocities in 20th cent. Europe. He draws attention to the reality of moral absolutes built in by God. In light of the current raw evils that seem to  flood over us, I find the whole poem timely and poignant.

One More Day

Comprehension of good and evil is given in the running of the blood.
In a child’s nestling close to its mother, she is security and warmth,
In night fears when we are small, in dread of the beast’s fangs and in the terror of dark rooms,
In youthful infatuations where childhood delight find completion.
And should we discredit the idea for its modest origins?
Or should we say plainly that good is on the side of the living
And evil on the side of a doom that lurks to devour us?
Yes, good is an ally of being and the mirror of evil is nothing,
Good is brightness, evil darkness, good high, evil low,
According to the nature of our bodies, of our language.
The same could be said of beauty. It should not exist.
There is not only no reason for it, but an argument against.
Yet undoubtedly it is, and is different from ugliness.
The voices of birds outside the window when they greet the morning
And iridescent stripes of light blazing on the floor,
Or the horizon with a wavy line where the peach-colored sky and the dark-blue mountain meet.
Or the architecture of a tree, the slimness of a column crowned with green.
All that, hasn’t it been invoked for centuries
As mystery which, in one instant, will be suddenly revealed?
And the old artist thinks that all his life he has only trained his hand.
One more day and he will enter the core as one enters a flower.
And though the good is weak, beauty is very strong.
Nonbeing sprawls, everywhere it turns into ash whole expanses of being,
It masquerades in shapes and colors that imitate existence
And no one would know it, if they did not know that it was ugly.
And when people cease to believe that there is good and evil
Only beauty will call to them and save them
So that they will still know how to say: this is true and that is false.

(from  Unattainable Earth, and also New and Collected Poems 1931-2001)