Who Shook Who?

In the aftermath of Sunday’s sermon in which the bottom line was God shakes you up to send you out a Good Shepherd stalwart approached me.

“Thank you for that sermon,” she said. “I always thought that it was Satan who gave me cancer but after the message I think maybe it was God doing it because I sure have become more vocal for him as a result. What do you think?” read more

They Kinda Just Wana Hold My Hand

My Good Shepherd friend Susan Salzman brought her daughter Brooke Cantrell (right) and granddaughter Makaylah Cantrell (left), and they got a kick out of a certain photo collage that’s part of our lobby gallery:

Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Things I Can’t Do As A Pastor

Disclaimer: I am having a good week. I am content in ministry and think Good Shepherd is in a good place. Please don’t read this post as a sign of impending crisis in ministry.

Having said that, I’ve been thinking about posting on things I can’t do as a pastor for several months now. Why? Because at certain times over the last 20 years I’ve been asked to do every one of them. read more

“God With Us,” Week 3 — The “All Shook Up” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Featured an altered title and a changed bottom line from the original. The changes happened on Thursday of the week, which almost never happens;
  • Reminded the people of the church that Luke is an investigative journalist (as Luke 1:1-4 makes quite clear), and his detailed reporting results in the captivating language of Mary’s “call” story in 1:26-38;
  • Invited people to respond to their call to ministry;
  • Landed at this bottom line: God shakes you up to send you out.


Can I tell you about a text message I got this week that just got me kind of furious?
So I have a GS friend who sends me inspirational texts every day. Just this week I got one that said: (AV): SOME PEOPLE NEVER SUCCEED BECAUSE THEY NOT WILLING TO SAY GOOD-BYE TO THE FAMILIAR.
And if you know me at all, you know why I got so offended at that text. I like familiar. I love routine. I thrive on PREDICTABILITY. And if something unsettles that schedule or shakes up my expectations, I am a wreck. Jack Nicholson may have said YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH but, frankly, I CAN’T HANDLE THE SURPRISE. Elvis might have been in love when he was all shook up, but shake me up and I don’t fall in love, I just fall apart.
And I bet I’m not alone. I suspect that are a bunch of you here who thrive on predictability and despise having your routine or your life or your expectations unsettled in any way. Here’s something else I know: a good chunk of you are quite content with the status quo in your life , even if the status quo is not that great. And a deep part of you believes that if a church is doing a nice series with a nice title like God With Us, then for sure God’s “with-ness” would be all about comfort, it would soothe you in your routines and it would make you feel better about the ways you prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty. You might even be mad about the text, too!

Which is probably the kind of thing that, deep down, Mary believed. Yes THAT Mary, who is the object of this odd visitation from an angel named Gabriel as Luke unfolds the Xmas story. Now: you need to know that Luke is a journalist. He told us this at the very beginning of his Gospel, where his declared purpose is to write an orderly account, an account that he gets with a heavy dose of investigative reporting. He is an ancient Woodward & Bernstein, yet his purpose is not to bring a President down but to lift a Savior up. Luke’s investigative precision explains the remarkable level of detail he gives us in the run up to Jesus’ birth. Look at 1:26-27: 26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. Oh, I love that. There is a time, a place, and a breathtaking conclusion with a person … “the virgin’s name was Mary.” And this Mary, who was engaged, was very likely living an uneventful, peaceful life. Yes, she was engaged, but so was everyone else in their teens in ancient Israel. Arranged by her parents. So she is in the middle of saying YES to the dress and scheduling bridal party weekends in Nashville or Austin. All this was normal, peaceful in its very predictability. No reason for Mary to expect anything out of the ordinary, and as a teenage girl at that time, no reason to expect anything would interrupt those plans or disturb her peace. You know what that’s like. You have a plan, have a routine, and expected order of things and that utter predictability is a source of peace. I know that I have fewer greater joys that a day off in which everything I plan actually happens. I don’t have to accomplish anything; things just have to go according to plan. Then I can go to bed that night completely content and thoroughly euphoric. (And a lot of you are thinking, ‘what a lame way to be happy!’) When I know what’s next, I have peace in now. It’s Mary, it’s me, it’s at least some of you. And then the story continues. Look at 1:28a-b: The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! Highly favored! Yet, as Mary will quickly discover being favored does her no favors. Then the promise that is at the heart of the series: The Lord is with you. That’s what we want, isn’t it? God with us, not against us, alongside us not behind us. It’s the ultimate comforter. Except to Mary. Look at 1:29: 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. Greatly troubled. The promise of God’s presence and you’re TROUBLED? Not delighted? As I have thought about, I realize that fear and uncertainty is a very typical response in the bible when people see angels … they must be hideous looking! But beyond that, I realize that God’s presence in lives then and lives now is as much disruptive as it is comforting. God’s “with-ness” often seems to unsettle. Like that man I knew who had been called into ministry, he knew that’s what he was supposed to do, yet he ran from that call. God pulled and he resisted. Finally, there was the time when God’s presence felt so looming and so invasive that he had to turn around and ask “What do you want?” So how’d I know this guy? He became a preacher, that’s how. So this unease that Mary feels, the trouble she endures, is something that I believe still operates today. Look at 1:30: But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. Again, finding favor is not the same as doing a favor. Not at all. Then the angel gets serious in 1:31-33: 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” READ. OMG. What a marvelous level of detail again; the language is high, higher, highest. And all of a sudden, Mary’s predictable life has been thrown irrevocably off course. Her peaceful world has imploded, and her role in the planet’s business has all of a sudden become indispensable. Her role in life is no longer manageable but God-sized. Nevertheless, she keeps her feet on the ground while reaching for the stars and asks a logical question in 1:34. (Now if I was to give an answer to that, I’d say, ‘honey, if I told you you wouldn’t believe me, so just go with it.’) But Gabriel gives an answer in 1:35-36: 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. Followed by the double barreled conclusion in 1:37-38: 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. READ. “No word” – God’s faithfulness is at the center of all this. He means what he says and does what he promises. Mary’s reponse: that word fulfilled in me. I’m here for that. I do not understand it but I believe it. I can’t comprehend it but I’m gonna follow it. My faith will embrace ti. And all of a sudden it’s clear, this presence of God, this surprising and unsettling turn of events that is the direct consequence of “the Lord is with you!” The consequence may not be comforting but it is certainly thrilling. Here it is: God shakes you up to send you out. God knew that Mary’s peaceful life and predictable routine needed to be interrupted. He knew his mission required her participation. He knew her continued peaceful easy feeling might lead to a life or relative insignificance and that he had to shake her up to send her out. REFRAIN And I firmly believe that nothing has changed. Now: the miracle we’re looking at is neither scalable nor repeatable. No one here will conceive as a virgin and give birth to a sinless Savior. But the method IS scalable and repeatable. The more I dig into Scripture and the more I allow its INSPIRER to shape me, the more I realize that God is in the business of disturbing the peace. Unlike us, he won’t get arrested for it! He might be annoying, he might get in our face (if we’re looking), but he knows that FOR OUR OWN GOOD and FOR THE SAKE OF HIS MISSION we often need to be unsettled so we can be unleashed. Years ago, I was praying on a Saturday night for the sermon the next morning. I do this. And in the middle of those prayers, God quite literally interrupted me and said in a near-audible and completely unmistakable voice: Don’t ever preach without praying like this. Gulp! It was a warning AND a promise. I needed to be knocked out of my stupor of praying because you pray and my faith in a God who is my lifeline and without whose power I am utterly a wreck needed to be unleash. I was so unsettled by that interruption that I wrote it out on a small piece of paper and tucked it in the corner of my office. Don’t ever preach without praying like this. And I haven’t. God shakes you up to send you out. Because what I am talking about is not self-confidence. It’s not about faith in faith. It’s not about trusting in you. Faith saves not because you have a lot of it but because you place it in a lot of God! And you place the faith you have in a lot of God and the next thing you know, you’ll have a lot of faith. Because really, what kind of God do you have, do you believe in? Does what you expect of God fit in this thimble? Or have you upgraded your expectations to this bucket? Or have you right-sized your anticipation of God to the barrel? (Bring all of them). My god, I feel so many of us bring thimble kind of faith to our barrel sized God and when we’ve settled in and settled for that, God is obligated to unsettle us. To disturb our peace and overturn our tiny expectations. God shakes you up to send you out. Here’s why it matters. We pray that “Lord be with us!” while failing to realize that he already is, he always is, and he’s trying to get you to pay closer attention. He realizes that when it comes to faith and even church a lot of us are like those ppl in Jakarta Indonesia where the traffic is so bad there is a law you can’t drive in a car solo. So what has the entrepreneurial spirit done? Developed PROFESSIONAL PASSENGERS, people who, for a fee, will ride along so the driver can drive. And church has some professional passengers and the Lord has to disturb us out of that stupor. Because some of you here, when it comes to your marriage, have become comfortable in your dysfuction. You’re AT PEACE with your constant STATE OF WAR, mostly because you don’t know any better. And God is bothering you TODAY so he can bless you tomorrow, so you’ll start taking the steps to make it whole. God shakes you up to send you out. Others, it’s that family you have who is not saved. There, I said it. And you’ll see them this Xmas. And God is calling you not to dread it, not just to get through it, but to be purposeful today in sharing faith with lost family. It’s their only hope. God shakes you up to send you out. Others, it’s the fact that the bible is like a foreign language to you. You have longevity around faith but not maturity in it, and that’s because you’ve expected some Rosetta stone to show up and read the bible for you. Nope. Familiarity comes one massively small step at a time, one not always glamorous chapter a day. God shakes you up to send you out. And then several are being pulled into some kind of domestic ministry or overseas mission. It kills me that there might be a lot more ppl at the church designed for ministry and I just haven’t bothered you about it enough. Guess what? Today I am. You’ve settled for ignoring, your peace is avoiding it, and I have been praying for a long while that God would use these words to disturb that peace. God shakes you up to send you out. Because remember that text that made me so "mad"? "You have to say good bye to the familiar"? Maybe, just maybe, when you're not willing to say good-bye yourself, God has to step in and say it for you. read more

#TBT — May, 1978, Austin, Texas

Here I am serving in the final round of the Texas State High School Doubles Championship.

I was a sophomore, my partner was senior Chris Doane, and we were in the process of beating Sammy Giammalva & Mickey Branisa from Houston.

In the way high school tennis worked back then, you played either singles or doubles in the state tournament, not both. Our coach convinced both me and Chris to set our singles games aside for a month or so, and go for high school gold in the doubles. It proved to be good advice. read more

Pastor Or Agitator?

So what’s the more profound role for a person in my role: pastor or agitator?

If you say pastor, then you’ll believe that the most effective leader of a local church will care for souls, pursue healing, and excel in the ministry of presence.

If you say agitator, then you’ll believe that the most effective leader of a local church will stir up the people of the church to act on behalf of their faith, rally the congregation to dream big and accomplish bigger, and excel in the ministry of annoyance. read more

Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Ways Airpods Have Altered My Life In Just Four WeeksL

Last month, Julie got me a pair of Airpods for my 58th birthday.

I was initially a bit skeptical. I like my music in tactile,
tangible forms, and I’ve never been much of one for any kind of audio
headgear. I had a Sony Walkman for about two days back in 1985 and then
quickly tired of how isolating the device became. read more

“God With Us,” Week 2 — The “When Will I Be Loved?” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Was one of those I felt good about from the moment I prepared it back in early October;
  • Used an analogy with a $20 bill that seemed to connect with people;
  • Was SUPPOSED to reference Linda Ronstadt (give the message title) … yet at all three hours that line completely escaped me;
  • This line, however, did not. The message’s bottom line was this: He became one of us because he adores all of us.

———————————————————————— read more

“God With Us,” Week 2 — “When Will I Be Loved?”

Linda Ronstadt famously asked, “I’ve been cheated, been mistreated, when will I be loved?”

I think if she had checked Matthew 1 closely, she might have asked an entirely different kind of question. Or: received a completely different kind of answer.

That’s what we’re doing this Sunday as we move in to Week 2 of our Christmas series, “God With Us.” read more

Crossing Over From Death To Life

John 5:24 got me today:

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned he has crossed over from death to life.

We usually feel like we have to wait for the other side of the grave to “cross over from death to life.”

But I believe Jesus was talking about something much more immediate. read more

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