504 Java Profile

504 Java Profile
Two of my favorite things

Monday, November 22, 2021

On a Stained Glass Christmas

 I am preaching a sermon series for advent called, "A Stained Glass Christmas" -- this is the idea behind it. Thanks to Dunwoody Baptist Church and FBC Winnfield families for encouragement and much love.

Before I came to Dunwoody in the 80s as youth pastor, I served a church in Louisiana. During my time there, we did a building project (anyone surprised?). We renovated a sanctuary building that was built in the 1920s. We decided to restore and repurpose the old building to preserve the stories of the wonderful history of the church (home of Huey and Earl Long) rather than to tear down the historic building and start over. 

We discovered many things about renovating an old building. The columns were full of bees. The foundation was leveled by pouring more concrete. The roof trusses were so full of termites that the inspector said “the only thing holding this building up is that the termites must be holding hands. And the stained glass windows needed to be completely restored. 

I learned more about stained glass than I ever thought I would know as I watched the tradesmen remove each window and transport it to a rented storefront nearby that had been transformed into a stained glass studio. Each window was disassembled, cleaned, and reassembled using the original lead process. Then each window was replaced in its original location and sealed with a storm glass to preserve it. 

Seems like a lot of work and expense for windows. But stay with me. 

At its most basic level, a stained glass project consists of pieces of glass whose edges are joined together in some manner. There are two common materials used to join glass –copper foil and lead. With each, the glass edges are held in a channel that conforms to the shape of the piece. Stained glass is colored glass and it has been used for a thousand years to create art in windows, using the color of the glass and the sun that God provides to illuminate the story in the window. Stained glass has been used historically in churches, but has expanded to other applications by modern artists like Frank Lloyd Wright and even the famous lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

The craftsman takes small pieces of colored glass and creates a story, an image, a work of art by arranging the glass into designs or pictures, bordered and secured by strips of lead or copper. Sometimes additional details are painted.  The artist doesn't just start putting glass into random places. He or she has an idea in mind, a story that the window must tell.  In addition to artistic skills, the artist must design it in such a way that it can be a chapter in a story with other windows in the same room and also hold up to wind and rain and cold--as functional as it is beautiful as a window.

I have seen incredible stained glass from the Notre Dame in Paris to the stunning contemporary design at FBC Huntsville, Alabama. In Europe, many stained glass windows remain and it is fair to say that they are examples of a major art form from the medieval period. Interestingly, they do not serve very well as windows as it is difficult to see out. However, they manipulate light in such a way as to create beauty regardless of which side of the window one is standing. 

So what? It occurred to me that the various parts of the Christmas story are independent in a way, yet the pieces need to come together in just the right way to tell the story of Jesus’ birth and why it is significant to us. Three of the gospel writers viewed the nativity through their own lens. The Gospel According to Mark has no story of Jesus's birth. Instead, Mark's story begins by describing Jesus's adult life, introducing it with the words, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). 

Mark does tell of John the Baptist, who predicts the coming of a man more powerful than himself. And each adds details that the others leave out. We need all of the writers, all of the stories to bring together the intent of God the Father in sending His son to us as a baby, to grow into a man and to be the sacrifice for our sin and brokenness. 

Only two of the four canonical gospels, Matthew (Matthew 1:18-25) and Luke (Luke 2:1-7), offer narratives regarding the birth of Jesus. Of these two, only Luke offers the details of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem.  John’s gospel starts at the beginning of the universe, telling us that the birth of Jesus was part of God’s design for mankind from the start. 

From the original idea for the Christmas series: The music of Christmas is always memorable in church.  At DBC, this year, the combined choirs and orchestra will present “The Symphony of Christmas” on Christmas Eve. The five songs in the piece provide the background and the storyline for the series. The titles come from the movements in the music. Each of the messages is a component of the story–an individual piece of stained glass to go into the window that allows us to see the whole story.

Oh and by the way, I love a saying about perspective: “When you look at a window, you see fly specks, tiny cracks, and the accumulated dust and dirt. When you look through a window, you see the world that God made and challenged us to love.”

The point of the series is to look at the beautiful window that God has given us in the story of Jesus coming to earth to live and die so that people can be forgiven from sin. Then we look through the window at a world desperately in need of that message.

On Thanksmas

I write this on the 21st anniversary of my Dad’s death.  Here’s to you, Pop. Glad Mom is there with you.  We miss you both.  We'll still set a place for you, but you are at a better banquet.

We had a tradition in our family for years that we all called, “Thanksmas.”  My Dad actually started the tradition when grandchildren were little. He thought that ‘every kid should wake up on Christmas morning in their own home’ and suggested that we all get together for our family time at Thanksgiving. There were four Jackson kids and we all got married and started families over the course of a decade or so, ending up with 8 grandkids. We also spread out to Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Georgia. We also had inlaws. Judi and I loved the tradition. Once Aaron was born, we didn’t really have it in us to travel at Christmas. You may or may not know, but pastors always have a Christmas Eve service that we do and that means that if we are going to wake up in a distant city with our families of origin, we have to drive through the night. 

So the Jackson family invented Thanksmas. Judi and I–and the inlaws and outlaws–agreed that we would spend Christmas with Judi’s Mom and Thanksgiving with the chaotic Jackson clan. So every Thanksgiving week, Judi and I would drive with Aaron and Sarah to Atlanta from Louisiana–usually on Tuesday or Wednesday–and spend the middle of the week with my Mom and Dad and my older sister Carol and her two boys, my younger sister Susan and her husband and her son and daughter, and my younger brother James, my sister-in-law Trish, and their two boys.  For Thanksmas.

Some fantastic traditions birthed from Thanksmas. We would all set up camp at either my parents’ house or my sister’s house.  The basement had pallets for all the older cousins (who now call themselves “the council of cousins” and make most of the decisions for the extended family). Wednesday was for finalizing shopping for the Thanksgiving feast and buying last minute Thanksmas gifts. Friday was for the serious shopping, back when Black Friday didn’t last for most of the fall. Until he died in 2000, my father was the King of Thanksmas, pretty much second-guessing every decision anybody else made, but rarely making any decisions without being prompted. I understand that a lot better now. 

On Thursday morning–Thanksgiving Day–several of us got up really early to go to the Chamblee Marta station to run the Atlanta Half Marathon.  As many as 7 of us ran it one year and the rest of the family took up posts along to route to cheer us on. We liked that tradition. When you burn that many calories in the morning, you can eat whatever you want to for the rest of the day. We got home from the run sometime late morning and started preparations for Thanksgiving dinner.  Everybody had favorites, and everybody had some contribution. Some years we smoked the turkey. One time we fried the turkey. Mostly it was cooked in the oven so we could argue about which dressing was better–the stuffing that was inside the turkey when it was cooked or the stuffing that got cooked separately.

Dinner was sometime around 2 in the afternoon and after lunch we would either nap or play football.  Dad would referee.  I remember the year he died–the day before Thanksgiving–we still played football, but we set a bench up on the sideline to remember him.  After he died, we also set a place for him at our table, even though we knew he was eating at a much bigger table. 

Life was full. Turkey. Football. Nap. Rinse, repeat. As far as football loyalties, we represented by Georgia, Georgia Tech, FSU, LSU, Kentucky, and Auburn (and throw in Southern Mississippi and Georgia State, but they were irrelevant to the football discussion). Somehow we still got along.  After football, we would come inside to nap some more, watch whatever games were on and officially transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas. My sister would have the house totally decorated but not lit up. When we gathered to read “The Christmas Story” from Luke, we would flip the switches to light up tree(s) and garland and officially transition from “Thanks” to “mas.” We drew names sometime in early November, set a price limit and tried to buy something that would be appreciated. We outlawed gift cards when it got to be more common than it wasn’t. Everyone would give their gift to the family member whom they had drawn until all the gifts were given.

As I reflect on those Thanksmas holidays, I remember being profoundly grateful. Maybe it is because the holiday reminded me to be thankful. Maybe it is because we all made the effort to be family. Maybe I looked around the room and cherished all the relationships. Maybe I was aware enough to appreciate that we could buy a turkey, buy presents for each other, afford to travel across the southeast to be together. Maybe because I had a similar gratitude when the family news was good and when the news that particular year had challenges or sadness. Maybe because I wasn’t in charge of anything “churchy” I was especially able to take time to thank God that everyone in the room had access to the message of forgiveness and hope that is the person of Jesus Christ. 

So Happy Thanksmas.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

On the New Normal

The new normal.  I keep hearing that phrase, but it will never be normal that we keep distance from people we love. It will never be normal for the church to “forsake the assembling together as is the habit of some.”  It will never be normal for us to venture out of our homes to do essential work or purchase essential items, but to do so in great fear. It should never be normal to refuse to hug, shake hands, kiss a cheek or reassuringly touch a shoulder. The concept of personal boundaries has taken on new meaning with a six-foot buffer of personal space. I reject this kind of normalcy.

There are aspects of the Great Quarantine that have been beneficial. We are perhaps more in tune with our families. Working parents who normally drive away each morning and leave the other parent at home with children are seeing the reality of a “stay home” mom or dad. Many are trying to catch up on home projects.

Some families are rediscovering non-electronic ways to spend time like board games or crafts.  I spoke to a man in my church who is committed to giving his wife an hour or two of “me time” so he takes a break from his working remotely routine to actively play with young children while she walks or yogas or reads.

We have new appreciation for teachers. One of my friends suggested that the day the schools reopen is the day teachers should ask for a raise, and that it would be gladly granted. We have hearts that break for families that have lost or will lose loved ones to this terrible pandemic. We have a fresh appreciation for the heroes who staff emergency rooms, hospital floors, and surgical units.

And some of us are rediscovering a devotional life. No breakfast meetings (it just seemed weird to eat eggs in front of a computer while someone else ate eggs in front of theirs). No staff meetings, except via telecommuting. No classes, no club meetings, no homeowners association or volunteer activities. Almost universally, minutes have been freed up, and for me at least, it has caused me to ask how I am filling those minutes (those of you with small children are appropriately eye-rolling me right now).

My point is that I am learning dependence. I cannot control someone sneezing on me if I venture out. I cannot control the shortage of medical equipment. I cannot control the continued bickering in Washington or the second-guessing of all leaders (likely including me). I can however seek God in prayer and scripture to see what He wants me to change in me. That I can control.

Father, thank you for a new day. Help me today to reach out to people who need to hear my voice, help me to redeem time with thoughts of You and others.  God, bring an end to this pestilence. Bring and end to the suffering.  Allow Your glory to be seen.  In this world, we will have trouble, but let the approaching of Resurrection Day remind us that You have overcome the world.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

On Viruses and Dependence

Again, I have neglected my blog.  I last wrote while riding on a train with the amazing senior adults at Dunwoody Baptist Church. I have been blessed to be a senior pastor for almost 5 years now--6 if you count the interim year before I became full time.  It seems like I have had the experience of several challenges that have allowed me to grow as a Pastor and  leader. And the lessons have not always been easy. That is why I write today.

A national health crisis called COVID-19 or the Coronavirus has caused us to move our church services exclusively to livestreaming, our meetings to virtual ones, and our conversations to be via telephone or computer. We are isolated, by choice, caution and decree. We have time to think and write and read since we are not spending time in the car, not going to offices, not going much of anywhere.

So I am learning through this. Today, I reflect on some of what I have learned as a pastor after more than two decades as a seminary professor.  I have learned I didn't have as much patience as I thought. My wife warned me. I have learned (again) that I don't really lean towards strong mercy gifts. I have learned that I do not have as many sermon ideas as I thought. I have learned that I thought I knew a lot, but I really don't know much about being a pastor.  And I am learning that I know a lot about God, but I am discovering the joy of knowing Him better.

Maybe I am just getting older, but as various aches and pains remind me of my mortality and vulnerability, I find myself longing for a word. I find words in Scripture. I am finding them in a devotional book by Paul Tripp called New Morning Mercies. I am finding words in talks with my beloved bride (who is a prophetic truth-teller, especially when I am whining). I am finding wisdom in conversations with friends and church members and my brother.

And now a virus in our nation and around the world is causing all of us to assess and reassess what is important. We are staying in our homes, working remotely, keeping close to each other and trying to find ways to communicate. To connect. To create ways to spend time that do not involve endless vegetation in front of whatever streaming service is providing old content.

So I decided to write. God is teaching me dependence and humility all over again. In so many seasons of my life, I confess that I am almost like the cycle we see in the book of Judges in the Bible. People would drift far from God, sometimes subtly and sometimes drastically. They would suffer from whatever their decisions had brought on, or God would send a reminder of their human weakness. A judge or a prophet would bring a word from God, the people would repent of their pride and God would forgive them and help them rebuild their broken lives.

Living through hurricane Katrina, I trusted and wept and depended. Then I rebuilt and began to unintentionally distance myself from the Hand and Voice and Provision of God. Time seems at a premium in crisis, though with Katrina and now COVID-19, I know that is not true. I make time for what I want to do, what I need to do and what I think is urgent.

Today, I confess that my time with God is urgent. My declaration of my sin, my pride, my inability to fix things that only God can fix.  I am learning dependence. Let me know if I can pray for you in that journey as well.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

On Train Rides and Sabbath

It has been a long time since I wrote anything on my blog.  I confess that early on, I thought of lots I wanted to say.  I like to write, I needed to write, and I thought that maybe my words would help someone else along the way. Maybe I was right, maybe I was wrong.

Why have I neglected my blog for so long? Life as a pastor happened. For the 22 years I taught at the seminary in New Orleans, life had certain predictable rhythms. I was able to refresh in summer or at Christmas break. We took a week off in fall, a week off in Spring and a few bonus days for Mardi Gras.  It was as if I could hold my foot to the accelerator pedal because a break was coming.

Not so as a pastor. Since I became the pastor of Dunwoody Baptist Church (a church I dearly love and one that has loved me well over parts of four decades),  the rhythmic rest has been harder to come by.  That is why I write today. I am sitting on a train--the Amtrak Southern Crescent which runs from New York to New Orleans, but my leg of the run is from Atlanta to New Orleans and back. I have brought a group from the church to a conference.

During the time we have been away, things continue to happen at church--people go in the hospital, decisions need to be made about future programs, and a beloved saint in our faith community passed away. Yet because I am away, I am unable to make decisions, offer a prayer, walk through a proposal--in person.  It causes anxiety to feel like I am letting people down. I am grateful that one of the other pastors was able to guide the grieving family through end of life and after death decisions. But I wasn't there. I am the Senior Pastor and I wasn't there. And it is okay. It has to be okay because the expectation that anyone is available at any time and under any circumstance is unreasonable.

The train is wonderful.  America is passing by and what is an eight hour drive in a car is a thirteen hour ride on Amtrak. And it is wonderful. The realization for me is that I recharge when I get such a change in rhythm.  Even though the week was exhausting with long days of sightseeing and seminars, it was a reset because of the change.

I think that is what sabbath is supposed to be. It is a nap, a long train ride, a "snow day" when you are in school. It is a time where the days melt away as days and at least once a day, the days seem to lose their identity. I have to keep reminding myself that it is Saturday and tomorrow is Sunday and that means we are back in the groove of our "normal" life.

So my personal takeaway this morning is sabbath rest. I am absolutely basking in the warmth of the company of these precious people. I enjoyed every minute of showing them "my New Orleans." However, in riding a train where I have no control over going faster or going slower or stopping or going, I feel the change of rhythm that must be sabbath.  I know I must have it. God said we all must have it. I need the reset to "be still and know that He is God" and to allow Him to recharge me for the work ahead. We are somewhere in Mississippi now. I think I will take a nap

Friday, May 5, 2017

On the Full Armor of God: a Prayer

This week, in both my small group and in my men's Bible study, we talked about the armor of God. It occurred to me that I should put it on each day like the kevlar, taser, handcuffs, flashlight and weapon put on daily by the wonderful policemen and policewomen who watch our church.

I wondered what that prayer might look like, me talking to God about my spiritual wardrobe as I got dressed in the morning.

The Scripture is in Ephesians 6:10-18. This version is the J.B. Phillips NT:

In conclusion be strong—not in yourselves but in the Lord, in the power of his boundless resource. Put on God’s complete armour so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organizations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground. Take your stand then with truth as your belt, righteousness your breastplate, the Gospel of peace firmly on your feet, salvation as your helmet and in your hand the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Above all be sure you take faith as your shield, for it can quench every burning missile the enemy hurls at you. Pray at all times with every kind of spiritual prayer, keeping alert and persistent as you pray for all Christ’s men and women.

Father, today let me put on the full armor that You said I need as a disciple. Let me chase after truth, even if it means I admit I am wrong. Remind me to pursue righteousness, seeing unrighteousness in the world for what it is and seeing the unrighteousness in me. Give me an acute awareness of who I was without Jesus and who I would be if He had not redeemed me. I pray that I won’t be enticed by shiny things that are not righteous, excellent or necessary.

God, today You will create opportunities for me to share Your story and how it has become my story. Please give me both awareness and courage to be ready to share.

Jesus, reassure me that I am loved, forgiven and transformed–the essence of my faith and my shield against feelings that I am not worthy, not holy, not secured in You.  Wrap my mind with the truth that I am eternally secure. Let me be intellectually satisfied that salvation is a mystery that cannot be explained or discredited by “experts” in science, literature, entertainment or even religion.

Help me know that I can cut through the deceit, distraction, darkness and despair of this fallen world because You have allowed me to wield the sword of Your Spirit. I can navigate today with the peace that passes all understanding, guarding my heart and my mind because I am filled with the Spirit. I can be salt and light in this world because I am a citizen of another world.

I pray with Paul that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I may fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel.  I pray I face this day clothed in the full armor that You have provided.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On Waiting and Moving

On Waiting and Moving

It seems a paradox that I want patience and movement at the same time. One of my favorite phrases is “let’s proceed with deliberate haste.” The tension between motion and stillness, patience and drive is held in that phrase and also (for me) in my faith.

The word combination “deliberate haste” may have come from Abraham Lincoln, when asked whether he favored the immediate emancipation of slaves, quoted the Latin motto festina lente: "make haste slowly." This expression, attributed to the emperor Augustus, found its English counterpart long before Lincoln: Ben Franklin, that proverb-meister, put "make haste slowly" into Poor Richard's Almanac in 1744. (credit to William Safire for the word play)

In the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which ordered school segregation to be abolished "with all deliberate speed." A decade later, Justice William Brennan commented on the progress following the decision: "There has been entirely too much deliberation and not enough speed. The time for mere 'deliberate speed' has run out."

Both Lincoln and Brennan used the phrase to describe a cultural situation that was unbearable.  The suggestion was that action needed to be taken, but the right action. Wisdom, but wisdom with forward motion.

Last Sunday, we sang a song in church and perhaps it was the passion of the worship team or perhaps the lyrics just penetrated my heart, but I was moved.  The song was “Spirit of the Living God” and some of it goes like this

Spirit of The Living God
Spirit of The Living God
We Only Want To Hear Your Voice
We’re Hanging On Every Word 

Because When You Speak, When You Move.
When You Do What Only You Can Do
It Changes Us, It Changes What We See And What We Seek

It changes us. It changes our priorities. It makes us uncomfortable with the status quo, similar to the desire to correct the injustice of slavery. Lincoln wanted to free those enslaved by humans. We want to see freedom for the spiritual captives.

Several years ago, Susan Ashton had a similar lyric

Oh but you move me
You give me courage I didn't
Know I had
You move me on
I can't go with you
And stay where I am
So you move me on

So here is my confession.  I am driven to study. I don’t want to be unprepared when I preach or teach the word.  However, I am convicted that if I, as an introvert, see being with people as a distraction, pulling me away study and preparation time, I have missed the point of preaching. I cannot neglect the study of the Word, but I cannot neglect people either. One preacher said, “I have to be spending as much time with the living human documents as I am with the printed documents and the commentaries. They feed each other, both are central.”

Jesus seemed to get this. He was aware that he was experiencing His last night on earth, His last moments before intense suffering, and His last season as incarnate Messiah made flesh. Yet, in Gethsemane, He told the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” In a few verses, the Passion began.

So I need to move with deliberate haste. I want to be with people, hear their hurts, see their pain, pray through their fears. But I also want to seek what God’s Word says about it, and dive into God’s presence to the point that I have to be where HE is working, have to be where HE is moving, have to use the Words HE has spoken to speak in the excitement of the moment with the congregation of Dunwoody Baptist Church, the amazing people to whom God has trusted me to minister.

I can't go with you
And stay where I am
So you move me on