Most of us still remember the days and weeks before Christmas that slowly progressed with mounting anticipation. It almost seemed as if the machine that governed time, which during the summer months ran so efficiently, was clogged with all the tumbling leaves of fall and was in great need of scheduled maintenance by Thanksgiving. I can imagine how my cold breath would linger in the air for hours if the seconds dragged as slowly as the days seemed to pass. During this season, my generation passed the time by circling our favorite toys in department store catalogs and sneaking candy canes off the tree, hoping that no one was looking, especially Santa’s watchful eye. The Christmas season was defined by longing and waiting: two sides of a coin that, at times, seemed too high a price to pay for the reward. I tested this theory later in my childhood by searching for my gifts in the attic before Christmas.
Maybe you grew up in a family, like mine, that attempted to correct the selfish, self-centered aspects of Christmas that the marketplace so efficiently bolstered in my young heart. My parents were earnest, and they were wise to direct my eyes and heart elsewhere, but my sisters and I get a good laugh at the thought of some of their attempts. “Santa is watching you” was the early iteration. It morphed into going to Christmas Eve services, which was an appropriate measure, but soon things got a little weird because we started receiving gifts on Christmas morning with the label, “To: Kelly, From: Jesus!” (…whose handwriting was strangely similar to my dad’s. I can’t make this stuff up, people!) I suppose I should have felt more grateful if my ninja turtles were placed under the tree by the Son of God, Himself. Well, despite their efforts at changing my motives, I still get those feelings of anticipation and longing, and even do the same watching and spying, but now I’m learning to aim those feelings and actions in a much different direction. I can attribute this refocus of my heart, in part, to observing Advent.
I talked with my dad yesterday, and we were both curious why the church I attended while growing up didn’t observe the Advent season as the Church has historically done for centuries. We racked it up to having been members of a church that seemed to detach from the more liturgical aspects of worship for a more informal tack. I understand that reasoning, but as much as I love my childhood church, and as much as they are not mandated to observe Advent, I do believe I may have lost something valuable for years as a result of that decision.
Advent, which simply means “coming,” is the season that spans the four weeks prior to Christmas, in which Christians remember the longing God’s people experienced between the ancient promise of a Savior King and Jesus’s birth which dawned the fulfillment of that promise. Some churches, as KCC will practice, follow a series of themes which were epitomized in Jesus’s life. Each Sunday leading up to Christmas Eve will focus, first, on the theme of hope, then peace, followed by joy, and love. Each week’s theme will coincide with a candle that is lit and a scripture passage read by one of our church members. The last and fifth candle we light is called the Christ candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve. Throughout the Advent season, we will sing carols which many of their singers around the world may not realize are filled with rich, beautiful, God glorifying theology, a couple of my favorites being “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
The candles represent the light of hope, peace, joy, and love that Christ, the Light of life, shined on the world of men at his coming. The Gospel of John says “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5, ESV) What is interesting, is that mankind sought to snuff out the Light by crucifying Jesus, yet Jesus was resurrected, defeating death. He later ascended into heaven promising he would return to make everything new that was broken by sin.
This is where the second purpose of the Advent season comes into view. We find ourselves in a similar place as Israel, waiting for the second coming of Jesus. The Advent season connects us with our forefathers who saw the promises of God fulfilled, and the knowledge that God made good on his promises helps us to be patient for our King’s return. Remembering the feelings and experiences of our predecessors, as well as recalling the promises God has made, helps us process the tension created by the sin that remains in the world and the promised end of sin and strife. Observing the Advent season also helps us turn away from self-centeredness and propels us to spread the gospel because we remember that all God’s promises are true.
It is my hope that each Christian who comes to King’s Cross Church will find reason to wait faithfully and hope confidently on the divine promises to be fulfilled by the God who has always kept His promises. For those who may not yet trust in Christ, I pray that through experiencing the Advent season, the Holy Spirit will cause you to hope in Christ, bringing peace to your soul, resulting in joy that cannot be killed, because you have experienced the love of God for the first time. For all who trust in Jesus, there will be a time when sin will be no more and faith will be sight. There will be a time when patience will be relieved by experience, and longing will be fulfilled by a life lived in the presence of God. Until that day, we should tell the tales of God’s faithfulness over and over again. As my favorite songwriter, Andrew Peterson, writes, “Gather ‘round, ye children, come. Listen to the old, old story of the power of death undone by an infant born of glory. Son of God. Son of man.”
The most viscerally divisive election of my lifetime (I turned 42 years-old today) is over. Regardless of the Electoral College result, the reaction this morning would have been the same. The country is divided. We’ve known that instinctively for a long time and now we have the data to back it up.
This morning the same expert political pundits who told us that Bernie couldn’t challenge Hillary, that Trump couldn’t get the GOP nomination, and that Trump had no chance at winning the general election, are writing columns and filling airtime telling us why this happened and what it means moving forward.
I’m neither political expert nor pundit. I’m a pastor. I’ll leave the political analysis to those better equipped to handle it than I am.
However, what matters most today is not “Political Insider” analysis, stock market futures, celebrity reactions, the dissection of acceptance/concession speeches, or social media trending topics.
What matters most today (and, by the way, every other day too!) is how ordinary people interact with one another as they go about their ordinary lives. What do I do today? What should the two hundred people in our largely unknown church plant in Charleston, SC do today? How should we be thinking about the future? How should we be talking to our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors?
Matthew 22:35-40 is a well-known passage about Jesus that I think gives us the answer to that question. It goes like this:
“And one of them, a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
As a pastor, I know that sometimes the simple answers are easy to point out, but hard to live out. Love God with all my heart, soul and mind? I don’t think I have lived up to that simple standard on even a single day of my life! Simple isn’t always easy.
With that in mind, here are four practical ways that you can “love your neighbor (e.g. family, friends, coworkers, classmates, literal neighbors, etc…) as yourself” in the wake of the election results:
1. Listen to people more.
There is a very good chance that your neighbors feel personally marginalized, politically disillusioned, socially betrayed, and nervous, if not outright scared, about the future regardless of whom they voted for. That is a problem.
People you know and love felt/feel like:
You may agree or disagree with their perspective of the problem(s). You may agree or disagree with their perceived solution(s) to the same. What I plead with you not to do is dismiss them or tell them that they shouldn’t feel the way they feel.
Loving your neighbor as yourself means acknowledging the concerns that led them to vote are just as real and as valid as yours. It means asking why they are hopeful/fearful today, rather than telling them not to be. It means listening to their American experience, rather than assuming your reality is, or should be, normative.
You can learn a lot more by listening than by talking. So, rather than teeing off on the next person who views this election differently than you… love them enough to slow down and learn why they feel as they do.
Love your neighbors by listening to them more.
2. Listen to more people.
How is it possible that literally every poll got this election wrong? Millions of dollars were spent, hundreds of polls were taken, months of programming on TV went by…and yet it was not until the early evening of Tuesday’s election returns that the possibility of Donald Trump actually winning the election began to make its way into the mainstream conversation.
How does that happen? Pollsters made the same mistake professionally that so many of us make personally: they needed to listen to more people.
Technology allows us to customize our lives to such a degree that we rarely have to listen to anyone or anything unless we choose to do so. But, sometimes that means we simply don’t listen to enough people, or we simply don’t listen to enough different people.
Here’s a helpful question to ask yourself, “How often do I intentionally listen to people who are different than me?” To be more specific:
Loving your neighbor as yourself sometimes just means listening to more of them.
For example, let’s say you find out that you share a common religious worldview with a diverse group of people, but you have a significantly different perspective on social justice issues. I don’t know about you, but I want to explore why that is. Not merely from a place of intellectual curiosity, but also because I believe that listening and learning widely is a practical way to love people. But here’s the thing – you have to listen before you can learn.
Love your neighbors by listening to more of them.
3. Pray for their leaders.
If you are a Christian, God commands you to pray for those in power (1 Timothy 2:1-4). What is interesting is that in context, that command is given not to benefit the leaders but for the benefit of “all people.”
One of the ways you can love your neighbors well is to pray that those in power would lead in such a way that your neighbors’ lives improve. Financial flourishing, social stability, the rule of law, fair and impartial justice, civic prosperity, international peace, educational opportunities, domestic tranquility…these are not partisan issues. These are not the domain of only one socio-economic class or one ethnicity. These are not to be enjoyed only by one political party, gender, or race.
God’s common grace is intended to bless all. When you pray for those in power, or those who will be in power in the future, pray in such a way that your neighbors would experience God’s common grace—even if/when it is mediated through government—to a greater degree.
Love your neighbors by praying for their leaders.
4. Point them to a greater hope.
I don’t write this because of what I do, I write this because I believe it with every fiber of my being: our hope for a better future is not found in politicians or government, it’s found in King Jesus.
The reality is that humans are flawed, broken, sinful beings. We are. I am, you are, everyone who has ever lived. Oh, sure, we uncover people’s flaws more easily these days with the prevalence of social media and camera phones, but people have always been flawed. To put your hope in flawed, broken, sinful people whom you expect will perform as if they are perfect is a tragic mistake that will only lead you to despair and disillusionment.
There is, however, someone who had no flaws and who never sinned. There is someone who was a perfect servant-leader. There is someone who was willing to enter into this world of brokenness and offer hope for eternal healing. There is one whose plans will be precisely carried out, whose kingdom is unending, and whose justice is perfectly balanced by his mercy.
The joy/angst your neighbors feel over this election speaks to the object of their hope. Christian, you have a wide open door to discuss a Greater Hope, do so with love.
Love your neighbors by pointing them to a greater hope.
Loving your neighbors as yourself requires much more intentionality than loving your neighbors who are already like yourself. Hopefully this helps to start you thinking about these, and other, practical ways to love your neighbors in the weeks and months ahead.
The weather is delightful here. Sitting on the back porch of our good friends’ house in Chapin, SC you’d never know Hurricane Matthew was slowly and deliberately wrecking its havoc up the coast. Our plans had been to stay, after all my wife and in-laws stayed during Hugo so why leave Mt. Pleasant now? But, a phone call from my brother in-law—a Captain in the Folly Beach Fire Department—telling us to get out of town tipped the scales... a few hours later, here we are.
Watching the reports out of Haiti and Florida, and knowing that those live shots will soon be broadcast from the Holy City reminds me of a few truths I thought I would share:
The good news to us in this is that there is one who is in control! In Matthew (no irony intended) 8:26-27 we find the historical account of Jesus calming a storm that was so strong it had veteran fisherman fearing for their lives. After he spoke to the storm, and it ceased its raging, even his closest disciples asked, “…What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
The good news for us is that there is one who has overcome death. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by a professional Roman execution squad, buried for over 48 hours, and resurrected from the dead. He appeared to hundreds of people in and around Jerusalem for more than a month before ascending into Heaven. This truth was the one the earliest Christians were most excited to share with others. A man named Peter, sharing about Jesus in Acts 2:24 said about death, that it, “…was not possible for him to be held by it.”
The truth is those meteorologists, and EMD Directors, and the Governor, and the Mayor, and…you get the idea… they all know more than me. And sometimes it’s easy to forget that humility is a good thing. Scripture says that, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6).
I’m thankful for God’s grace in my life that allowed us to move to higher ground, and I pray His grace would be with those who couldn’t do so for one reason or another.
By that same grace, by this time next week life will be more-or-less back to normal for the vast majority of us. For others, life in the wake of Matthew will never be the same. For now, I’m thankful for humbling reminder that God is sovereign, and we shouldn’t take tomorrow for granted.
What reminders have you received during Hurricane Matthew?
Someone recently asked me to describe myself when I was in middle school in ONE word. Instinctually, I laughed and said, "Obnoxious." Which I was, in my own quirky way, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that was just one of the many words that described me in middle school. I was awkward, annoying, funny, self conscious, jealous, loud, silly, but most of all I was a “wannabe.”
I wanted to be popular. I wanted to be good at sports, and be the MVP. I wanted to have high grades, and win all the awards. I wanted to play guitar, and be asked to join a band. I wanted what it seemed like everyone else around me had. At that time, I was coming from a household that honestly wasn’t the greatest. It seemed like a lot of things around me were out of my control and I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I would look at all the other kids around me and they always seemed to have everything together. So I thought that if I just hid who I was around others, all the loud, silly, annoying, quirky parts of myself and wore the same clothes as the other girls, listened to the same music, and if I made my Myspace profile show only the “cool” parts of my life, then everything would get better. Fake it, ‘til you make it, right?
Except no one ever told me in middle school, that faking it ‘til you make it, actually doesn’t work. It doesn’t make you popular, or good at sports. Faking it doesn’t all of a sudden make you good a playing an instrument. (Trust me it took me 3 years of guitar lessons to realize I was tone deaf and had no rhythm.) In reality, it means you’re hiding unique qualities, talents, and gifts that God specifically gave YOU. He didn’t make all of us the same for a reason and if we all act the same then we aren’t contributing to anyone around us, and we end up hurting ourselves.
Embracing who God made you to be is hard. It doesn’t happen overnight, and is not an easy process. Self-doubt and fear take over. “What if no one likes me, for me?” “People are probably going to think this idea is stupid.” “There’s no one who would understand what I’m going through.” But if you take it one step at a time, or one day at a time, you’ll start seeing qualities about yourself that are distinctively given to you.
I love singing on the top of my lungs, dancing when there’s no music, and I laugh TOO hard when I hear a good pun. I have a really loud laugh (and sometimes I snort, which makes me laugh louder), I cry when I’m too sad, but also when I’m happy. Not everyday I’m a shining example of embracing myself. But on those days, I remember Ephesians 2:10 that says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Remember that God loves you for you and has made you for a purpose, embracing yourself glorifies Him and brings a new light to your life.
I am thrilled to be a part of King’s Cross Church. I can’t wait to meet you and your families! Please pray with me as we enter this new and exciting time. Pray for the middle and high school students of King’s Cross. Pray that through this ministry they will learn to embrace who God created them to be and grow deeper in their relationship with Christ!
See you on Sept 11th!
I'm excited to announce Colleen McFarlin as the newest member of our staff leadership team! Colleen is a Massachusetts native and a graduate of Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). She will serve as a Student Ministry Coordinator, working alongside Josh Romine to disciple our middle and high school students. However, like all of our staffers, Colleen's influence on our church will be felt (and seen...she's got a great eye for design!) in areas outside her primary focus area.
Many of you may already know Colleen as she has been a part of The Church at LifePark for almost two years. During that time she served as an Adult Leader with the FirstWave Student Ministry. While volunteering in that capacity, she had the opportunity to join the students on a mission trip to Charlotte, and became convinced that she wanted to be more involved in the lives of students. She explored that call during an internship at LifePark, and we couldn't be happier that God has now led her to our church!
Please join me in praying for Colleen as she has jumped into the King's Cross family during the height of our pre-launch activity (thankfully, because we needed her!). If you don't know her yet, you're going to be delighted to get to know her soon. And, as a parent of three middle/high schoolers myself, I can tell you that our students will benefit tremendously because of her leadership and influence!
Lastly, if you have the time please send her a note of encouragement by emailing: