Loving Kindness During Advent

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You don’t have to overthink it. God calls us to love others by being kind to them. Put others before yourself. Allow empathy for others to nudge you into action. 

Loving kindness during the Advent and Christmas season is more powerful than at other times of the year because the stress and difficulties of these few weeks magnify our need for a kind and gracious spirit.  

Here is a practical, straightforward way that you and your family can practice the spiritual discipline of ‘loving kindness’ this Advent Season. Each day make it your goal to take on an act of kindness in the name of the Christ Child. And who knows? These simple acts of kindness may just bring you joy. 

December 5: Go out of your way to open the door for a someone you don’t know.  

December 6: Tell a server, check-out clerk, or retail salesperson that you appreciate their hard work.  

December 7: Text someone you haven’t had contact with in some time and tell them that you’re thinking of them.  

December 8: Give up a parking spot for someone else.  

December 9: Feed the birds or other woodland creatures.  

December 10: Buy a co-worker a cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa.  

December 11: Give something that you have to someone who might need it.  

December 12: Ask for the manager of a store or a restaurant, and then thank them. Then, take a moment to tell them what you enjoyed or valued about your experience.  

December 13: Give someone a hug or a compliment.  

December 14: Give a treat or encouraging word to your postal worker.  

December 15: Pick out a person in a crowd and smile at them. Tell them you hope they have a good day.  

December 16: Put money in a vending machine with a sticky note that instructs someone to simply make a selection.  

December 17: Give a treat or an encouraging note to a neighbor you don’t know well. 

December 18: Send an encouraging text to a friend or family member.  

December 19: Buy a drink or treat for the person behind you in line at a restaurant.   

December 20: Invite someone to our church’s Candlelight Christmas Eve Service.  

December 21: Sweep a neighbor’s front walk or porch.  

December 22: Call someone that you know who has lost a loved one this past year.  

December 23: Get someone a cart at the grocery store and wish them a Merry Christmas. 

December 24: Take a few Christmas cards to a nursing home or hospital and tell the staff to give them to patients or residents that need them.  

December 25: Call or text someone that you’ve fallen out of touch with and wish them well on Christmas Day.  

And finally, share with us what these encounters and acts of loving kindness were like for you and yours. Give testimony to the way that God blessed others through your efforts. We’re eager to know and to celebrate your good deeds and to give glory to God in heaven!

“Hard as Iron, Water like Stone” 

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We know what to expect this time of year from the church: Celebrations! Cheery gatherings! Joyful musical performances! Christmas Eve Services with faces all aglow! It’s as though we have been programmed to have smiles permanently plastered on our faces during the Advent Season. And while it is certainly true that this is a season of joy, for many of us it is a very difficult few weeks filled with amplified grief, mourning, and sadness. 

There is an inclination in our culture to bury these less-than-welcome feelings and emotions. This, of course, only heightens our sense of depression as we feel guilty for the way we truly feel. 

The winter solstice is the longest night of the year. Many churches carve out space in their busy December calendars to have a worship service for those who are experiencing darkness rather than light. These ‘Longest Night’ Services acknowledge that our world can feel very dark at times. And so, instead of denying one’s feelings of pain, the Reverend Nancy C. Townley suggests that this unique worship service can be a time where we “remember those for whom the holidays are not joyful.” “Many of us,” she reminds us, “are lonely, in mourning, feeling alienated and cast apart from family celebrations.” 

This year, we will be having a ‘Longest Night Service’ at the beginning of the Advent Season. We will gather in the sanctuary at 6:00 PM on Wednesday, December 5th for an informal service of reflection and contemplation about the realities of light and darkness that we face at Christmas.

Winter begins at 5:23 PM on Friday, December 21. But for many of us, the darkness began to swell around us much earlier in the year. As individuals, we have been touched by grief that was unexpected and sudden. We have suffered disappointments and discouragements that continue to haunt us. Anxiety and depression have gnawed at many of us for any number of reasons and it has felt as though our daylight was getting shorter and shorter.  

For those who are grieving this Christmas season, we acknowledge that life can feel like a bleak midwinter:  

“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,  
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;  
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,  
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.” 
(“In the Bleak Midwinter” by Rossetti) 

Just as a ‘Longest Night’ experience can give us permission to grieve, it can also offer a hope and peace that only Christ can give. Our grief, while unique to us, is also universal. Christ was born into a dark world at a time of great oppression to a people long but forgotten. Seemingly separated by centuries of darkness and exile from the God of their salvation, God’s chosen people felt like victims. And yet we know a light shone in the darkness. And in that moment, a new era began where hope was present but not quite realized. We live in that tension. Although we know that the light shines bright and that it cannot be dwarfed by the sea of inky darkness that surrounds it, it doesn’t always feel that way.  

So, in response to God’s eternal presence with us—made new again at Christmas—we choose to offer the gift of our presence to those who are grieving. We remember and share their loss with a timely note, a phone call, an invitation to join our gatherings, a simple, but extended embrace. We choose to hold one another when our arms are lonely for the warmth of another. 

This is precisely when we can be church to one another. The loving presence of Christ, shared in a silent embrace, can help us know that we are not alone. 

And we mustn’t forget this truth as well: ’The Longest Night’ is indeed the darkest shadow that will envelop us. But the day also marks the beginning of a new season of ever-expanding light and life.

A (Realistic) Thanksgiving Prayer

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This is my prayer for you and your family this Thanksgiving: 

I pray good tidings on your week of feasting and fellowship! 

May your turkeys thaw properly, and may your congealed salads set correctly. 

May traffic be light and your GPS apps effective.  

I pray that you are blessed by the presence of family and friends this week. May disagreements be few, and may common ground be vast.  

I pray that the temptations of Black Friday will not cut short the valuable commodity of your time with family and loved ones.  

I ask God to protect you and yours from envy, strife, communicable diseases, cranky in-laws and the antics of sleep-deprived children.  

May last minute runs to the store be unnecessary and may the dishwasher be fully operational. 

I pray that God grants you Sabbath in the midst of chaos, and peace in the presence of rowdy grandchildren.  

I pray that you are mindful of your loved ones and that you tell them of your affection in person, and by text, phone, social media, Skype and Facetime.  

May you pace yourself as you eat so as to avoid bloating, reflux and other gastric unpleasantness.  

May the weather be good so that your gatherings can spill out onto the porch, the meadow, the driveway and yard.  

May God bless you with special skills to beat your brother-in-law in Gin Rummy. May you be able to prove your worth in touch football games, and with your three-point jump shot.  

(With that in mind, may your muscles, back, tendons, wrists, ankles, knees and necks be guarded from injury. And your nose. And hips.)  

May your conversations be deeper and more meaningful than the idle banter that you’ve become accustomed to at previous holiday gatherings.  

I pray that God is able to give you patience, compassion, awareness and wisdom. 

I pray that you will allow yourself a moment to remember those you miss most dearly, and that you will permit yourself to laugh and to cry as you recall holidays of old.  

I pray for a meaningful Thanksgiving, and that you will be quick to say thank you, and reluctant to rush away from your family too quickly.  

May your Thanksgiving be rich and your joy complete, for our God is the giver of all good gifts. 


Five Seasons, Not Four


“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” 
-Ecclesiastes 3:1 

November is a month of Birthday Bonanza! for the Mathises. All told, three of us will celebrate our birthdays within the span of a couple of weeks.  

It’s a sweet, though hectic, few weeks as we scurry for party dates, gifts, and family visits. Oh, and then there’s this gathering at the end of the month that demands travel, cooking and feasting—perhaps you’ve heard about it? Although November unfolds at a frantic pace, it also proves to be a time to reflect and to consider the changing landscape of our lives. The timing of our Birthday Bonanza! is fitting as one season fades into another.  

This year’s transition from summer to fall, and from fall to winter has felt schizophrenic. It’s as though summer overstayed its welcome, and autumn could hardly get in the front door. And once autumn did arrive, it had just hung up its jacket when winter arrived on the scene shoving it out the door.  

The fall foliage has been the victim of our seasonal tug of war.  Many leaves fast-forwarded their explosive yellows and reds and simply turned brown. Other trees dropped their green leaves as though they were surrendering to a summer tripped up on steroids. Yes, there was color in our mountains. But it was spotty and short-lived.  

So, by my count, autumn lasted about three weeks. Hope you like winter!  

But few of us do.  

While winter brings beauty of its own, it is also marked by long stretches of grey, drizzly, oatmeal colored skies. Oh, and then there’s the cold.  

The author of Ecclesiastes knows that the seasons can be a helpful a way to understand and to think about our lives. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” In addition to the multitude of seasons that we face in our lives, we can also see how our lives fall into the broader seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter.  

In which season do you find yourself?  

Those of us in springtime are enthralled with the newness of life—of growth and of promise. It’s important to note that springtime is not all sunshine and daffodils. Spring, like this season in our lives, can be marked by violent change and tumultuous events. In addition to the lovely warmth, springtime is the season of dramatic and ferocious thunderstorms. 

Summer is a time of putting down roots, of settling, and of tending to the fruits of our labors. It can be a delightfully rich season in our lives. But it can also be demanding and hard. The days are longer, the sun is higher and hotter; our work can exhaust us.  

Autumn can be a golden stretch in our lives. The change of wind brings any number of changes; most of which are bountiful and good. We have a renewed energy. The absence of summertime haze means that visibility improves. And the world is transformed by color each autumn—even if for a few weeks.  

But we know that autumn inevitably fades, and that the wind will scurry the leaves from the trees. The ground will alternate between soggy and frosty. Illnesses, aches and pains reveal new fault lines in our frames and in our bones. Yes, snow will deck the trees and branches and we will gasp in astonishment at what God is able to accomplish even when everything seems dormant. But we know that’s fleeting. Winter means loss. Winter means hardship. Winter means death.  

Not all of us will experience each season in succession. Some of our lives will tragically be cut short. But many of us will be blessed to travel through each stretch of the path.  

Each season has its beauty, its trials and its terrors. We cannot change that. Frequently we stand in two seasons, if not three or even four. Like the summers of England, you can sometimes experience all four seasons in one single day. We get to rub elbows with other seasons because the ones we love often occupy different places on the journey. We are parents to those in springtime and summer. We are children to those experiencing autumn and winter. This is what life looks like. And it can be beautiful and terrible at the same time.  

The challenge for us is to be gracious with ourselves and with those who accompany us along the way. The more we fight and tussle and resist the inevitable markers of each season, the more difficult the journey will be; for us and for our loved ones. We know this to be true.  

But the good news is that we do not get four seasons—we get five! We begin our lives in springtime and it blossoms into a summer of adulthood. Autumn emerges as we are blessed to age and winter signals the end of our journeys. Each season can be short. Each season can be long. But winter is not the end. Four seasons are not enough. 

In Christ Jesus, and because we have been baptized into a death like his, we will experience a resurrection like his!  

And that springtime, that moment and season of rebirth, will be like no other. We get five seasons, friends, not four. This is our everlasting hope, and the source of our joy.

Crafting Your Last Will and Testament


How do you capture someone’s life in less than 60 minutes at their funeral?  

Short answer? You don’t. But still, the question haunts me.  

One of the greatest honors that I am bestowed as pastor is to be present with families when a loved one dies. I can freely testify that God’s love, God’s strength, and God’s peace are felt at these most-important moments. The ground is transformed into Holy Ground, and it is a privilege to bear witness to a person’s entry into life eternal. 

A different kind of energy, however, is required in the coming hours and days. We all know this. Unlike other ceremonies and services, funeral arrangements require swift attention. Although the bereaved have often had the chance to get some rest in the hours since their loved one’s death, there is still the unmistakable air of disbelief in the looks of those who meet with me to discuss the funeral.  

At these times, we need help and assistance to make the necessary arrangements for family travel realities, visitation, the funeral service, burial possibilities, etc. Some have reflected that the business of death is helpful; one can focus on the logistics and delay the inevitable tidal wave of grief. 

“I know that daddy would have wanted this hymn sung at his funeral,” one bereaved child once mentioned to me when we were planning his funeral service.  

Her mother, however, snapped to attention at the suggestion: “I don’t like that song. I’ve never liked that song.” There was a moment of awkward silence. “But I think you’re right. He would have liked that song to be played.” Resolution and disappointment clouded her face.  

I couldn’t help but to speak up and to give some perspective at this difficult moment.  

“Actually, the funeral is not for the one who died. The funeral is for you, the family and your friends. The service is a time for you to grieve and to be comforted in the solidarity of your church family. You may choose whatever you may wish to help you memorialize your husband's life. But you should consider a song that would be meaningful for you.” 

When I was in seminary, I took a class where I was directed to write my own funeral. Interestingly, I was also working on the service for my Ordination to the Gospel Ministry at the same time. One of my friends remarked, “Aren’t they one and the same?”  

It’s a good exercise to write your own funeral, and I can certainly commend that experience to you. And yet, you probably shouldn’t take it too seriously. Why? The funeral service is for the living, not the dead. 

The purpose of a Christian funeral is to give thanks for God’s presence in a life that we held dear. It is a time of bearing witness to someone’s life. But the funeral is also a time of remembrance of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, as that gives us assurance and hope in the reality of the deceased’s journey into eternal life. 

The funeral cannot bear the weight or responsibility of capturing the power and significance of a person’s life. Yes, we will remind the congregation of your birth, your vocation, the facts and figures of your life’s journey. There will probably be some music played or sung. And yes, we will reflect on how your story and God’s story intersect. We will most definitely pray for your friends and loved ones, and we will seek comfort in scripture passages that you held dearly.  

But that moment does not belong to you. It belongs to the survivors, to the congregation, to friends and family, and to us.  

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The funeral service that I wrote for myself is my own assessment of my life. The truth is, however, that the life that I choose to live is the only testimony I’ll ever really have. Our lives and how we choose to live them are our real legacy; our true last will and testament.  

So, if we find ourselves anxious about what will be said at our funeral and wish to script it out in the framework of our own choosing, we’d best remember this: It’s our life, our love, our sacrifice, our service, our actions and decisions that really matter.  

And once you live your life, you entrust it to others. 

Focus on your life now. Be grateful for the gift of life! Let someone else worry about your funeral service. Trust me. If you live your life faithfully and well, your funeral will write itself. 

The Shadow Grows Long but We Must Not Despair


“We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.” The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

On a bright Sunday morning in September of 1963, an explosion erupted at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Members of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan had placed sticks of dynamite beneath the steps leading up to the church.  

When the bomb went off, several African-American children were changing into their choir robes in the basement before worship. The explosion killed four little girls. The sermon that day was to be, “A Love That Forgives.” 

A Baptist pastor would eulogize three of these four girls at a funeral service. The pastor was the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  

In light of this past Sunday’s evil attacks on the parishioners of a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in the countless other acts of violence that our nation has endured, I find King’s words to be prophetic and tragic in its timeliness.  

Eulogy for the Martyred Children by Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“This afternoon we gather in the quiet of this sanctuary to pay our last tribute of respect to these three beautiful children of God. They entered the stage of history just a few years ago, and in the brief years that they were privileged to act on this mortal stage, they played their parts exceedingly well. Now the curtain falls; they move through the exit; the drama of their earthly life comes to a close. They are now committed back to that eternity from which they came. 

These children—unoffending, innocent, and beautiful—were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. 

And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician [Audience:] (Yeah) who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats (Yeah) and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. (Speak) They have something to say to every Negro (Yeah) who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream. 

And so my friends, they did not die in vain. (Yeah) God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. (Oh yes) And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force (Yeah) that will bring new light to this dark city. (Yeah) The holy Scripture says, "A little child shall lead them." (Oh yeah) The death of these little children may lead our whole Southland (Yeah) from the low road of man's inhumanity to man to the high road of peace and brotherhood. (Yeah, Yes) These tragic deaths may lead our nation to substitute an aristocracy of character for an aristocracy of color. The spilled blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham (Yeah) to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future. Indeed this tragic event may cause the white South to come to terms with its conscience. (Yeah) 

And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour (Yeah, Well), we must not despair. (Yeah, Well) We must not become bitter (Yeah, That’s right), nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. (Yeah, Yes) Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality. 

May I now say a word to you, the members of the bereaved families? It is almost impossible to say anything that can console you at this difficult hour and remove the deep clouds of disappointment which are floating in your mental skies. But I hope you can find a little consolation from the universality of this experience. Death comes to every individual. There is an amazing democracy about death. It is not aristocracy for some of the people, but a democracy for all of the people. Kings die and beggars die; rich men and poor men die; old people die and young people die. Death comes to the innocent and it comes to the guilty. Death is the irreducible common denominator of all men. 

I hope you can find some consolation from Christianity's affirmation that death is not the end. Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance. Death is not a blind alley that leads the human race into a state of nothingness, but an open door which leads man into life eternal. Let this daring faith, this great invincible surmise, be your sustaining power during these trying days. 

Now I say to you in conclusion, life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. (Yeah, Yes) Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. (Yeah) And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him (Yeah, Well), and that God is able (Yeah, Yes) to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace. 

And so today, you do not walk alone. You gave to this world wonderful children. [moans] They didn’t live long lives, but they lived meaningful lives. (Well) Their lives were distressingly small in quantity, but glowingly large in quality. (Yeah) And no greater tribute can be paid to you as parents, and no greater epitaph can come to them as children, than where they died and what they were doing when they died. (Yeah) They did not die in the dives and dens of Birmingham (Yeah, Well), nor did they die discussing and listening to filthy jokes. (Yeah) They died between the sacred walls of the church of God (Yeah, Yes), and they were discussing the eternal meaning (Yes) of love. This stands out as a beautiful, beautiful thing for all generations. (Yes) Shakespeare had Horatio to say some beautiful words as he stood over the dead body of Hamlet. And today, as I stand over the remains of these beautiful, darling girls, I paraphrase the words of Shakespeare: (Yeah, Well): Good night, sweet princesses. Good night, those who symbolize a new day. (Yeah, Yes) And may the flight of angels (That’s right) take thee to thy eternal rest. God bless you.

A Messy Pulpit


Our pulpit is a mess and it’s time for me to clean it up. 

Most of the congregation wouldn’t know this. They cannot see what’s behind the front façade. From the pews, they see clean lines and the regal wood work of our church’s pulpit. But behind that handsome veneer is a hodgepodge of assorted items that have accumulated over the past weeks (okay, months). If you don’t believe me, ask the choir. They are forced to look at it every Sunday.  

So, it’s time for me to do the tedious work of cleaning out the pulpit’s cabinet space and removing the things that have been stuffed there. I’m not thrilled to be doing this, but I know that it needs to be done.  

Not surprisingly, the first couple of items that I’m removing are Bibles. There are two different translations of Holy Scripture—our sanctuary Bible, that is, the New Revised Standard Version, and the New International Version, which is often used as a good ‘reading’ Bible. There’s a lesson plan for small group leadership folded into its pages. Perhaps it’s from a Sunday School class? No matter. It’s coming out.  

Next up is a clipboard with note cards to assist with new members on Sunday mornings. Parenthetical note: I need to find a better place for this important tool. Finding the information for new church members scribbled on the margins of a bulletin that was stuffed in my suit jacket weeks later is not particularly efficient. And yes, you’re noticing a trend… 

Here’s a manual for the projector. How did that end up in the pulpit? 

Here’s an order of worship for a service at a local nursing home. It’s dated June 25 of 2017 (Wow).  

And now I’ve found a manila folder with the copy of a funeral service that I led many, many months ago. So, this one’s on me. I had made a hardcopy of the service because I didn’t want my digital device to malfunction during such an important moment in the church’s life. Likewise, I’ve found sheet music that the Pirates of the Tuckaseegee must have used.  

There’s a large piece of felt in the pulpit. I have no idea what it was for, or how it got in the pulpit. Anyone?  

There’s a small pedestal and gold cloth, here. They were used to elevate the cross on the communion table at Easter. Always err on the side of an elevated cross, people.  

No, I’m still not done. 

I’ve found a number of worship-related items. Here’s a piece of pottery that I’ve used to administer ashes on Ash Wednesday. There’s a metal scoop that looks like it might be used to measure coffee grounds in here, as well. I think, yes I know, that it’s used to extinguish a candle’s flame. Candles. There are multiple candles in the pulpit and pieces of paper used to mop up wax that had melted. Speaking of candles, there are two lighters (both work). There are two AA batteries, a piece of hardware that I do not recognize (it looks like an eye on the stove?), and one reserved sign for a pew. Oh, and here are a number of pens, markers and pencils.  

What’s left is dust. I’ll attend to that in a moment. 

As much as it pains me to come clean (terrible pun intended), the messy pulpit is a metaphor for my head and my heart. That is, it can get cluttered. Those who have visited my office know that unlike one of my predecessors, I like a clean office. An orderly office looks professional; nice. But that’s only half the truth. I’m a mess. All one has to do is open a drawer or look in the closet. No, it’s not a disaster. But it’s also not particularly tidy.  

No, this is not an Ode to a Clean and Orderly Life. But perhaps it’s an invitation to consider that what people see in us doesn’t always match what’s going on beneath the surface. Most of the time, we only see bits and pieces of people’s reality. I know this because I can be particularly effective at hiding the stuff that clutters my head from observing eyes. And I suspect that you can, too. 

As it is, then, perhaps we can choose to be more graceful with others. We really don’t know what’s going on beneath the surface in the people with whom we rub elbows and bump into. But also, there’s probably a word for us that we need to tend to the spaces that other people can’t always see or peer into. As I’m sure you’ll agree, that ‘stuff’ can get heavy to tote around and obfuscate.  

The good news is that God is eager to create a clean heart in us. God wants to take the heavy and cumbersome loads that we bear off our shoulders. But first, we’ve got to be willing to acknowledge the clutter.  

Although it’s not spring, perhaps a little cleaning and housekeeping is in order.

Be Here Now


Many of us remember the concert venue in Asheville called, ‘Be Here Now.’ Although long since gone, it was the location where many of my favorite singer/songwriters performed and lounged about.  

Back then, I thought the title was nothing more than a not-so-subtle way to get people to pay the cover charge. Today, I know a bit more about the name they chose. 

‘Be Here Now’ comes from the title of a book by Ram Dass about Hindu spirituality that was published in the early 1970s. As I have come to learn, the catchy phrase has been repurposed countless times to reflect the Hindu philosophy of valuing the present moment.  

Be here now. Consider that for just a moment and you’ll come to realize that it’s not as easy it sounds.   

It’s exceptionally difficult to be present. That is, it’s very easy to be somewhere else. The word ‘distracted’ doesn’t come close to capturing how divided our spirits are. We live in a veritable Times Square of stimuli within our heads. Everything and everyone compete for our attention. Crises and emergencies steal our focus away. The demands of work are ever-present and inescapable. Our calendars look like venn diagrams. Our to-do lists are ever-expanding. Our minds are desperately working to cling to the information we’ve accumulated, while also trying to make new data stick.  

Exhausted yet? Hang with me because that’s just the half of it.  

Our internal world is just as chaotic. We’re constantly replaying what happened last week, last month, or last year. We’re rewriting conversations the way they should have gone. We’re grieving what might have been. We’re romanticizing the past. We’re fixated on what’s about to happen, and what that will demand of us. We fantasize about what may be, what could be, and what we wish it might be.  

And then there’s the role that technology plays in keeping us distracted. We carry devices that steal us away to other more pressing matters…all the time. Messages, reminders, communiques and headlines thwart our attention with ruthless affect. We are focused on nothing. And it shows.  

We fail to be present with our spouses. Our children speak to us, but we do not hear them. The movie reminds us of work. The dinner date is a placeholder for planning, or reminiscing, or rehashing. The worship service is just a time to fume on the slight we experienced in Sunday School. The hike is just a time to worry about the future. The wedding is just a prelude to the reception. The funeral is just something to get through.  

When our spirits are divided, and when we are distracted, we react to life. We make poor decisions. We are self-centered and unaware. The ones we love get overlooked. We hurt rather than help. 

Be here now? What a joke. We’re everywhere all the time. Which means, of course, that we’re nowhere most of the time.  

This is not a way to live. Or at least, this is not a way to live well

Sometimes I wonder if the reason we allow ourselves to be distracted is because we’re dissatisfied with the present. And admit it: ‘Being here now’ can hurt us. The present moment is fraught with peril and danger. If we’re always moving, always thinking, always wondering, always considering, always planning, always dreaming, always reliving, then it’s harder for us to get hurt in the present moment. But it’s also hard for us to really be alive.  

When we allow ourselves to be divided by everything else, we are being poor stewards of the gift of life that God has given to us. Our lives matter to God. We matter to God. We know this because God took time to ‘be here now’ with us in the person of Jesus Christ, His son.  

The Bible tells us that gratitude and thanksgiving are what can keep us grounded and present in the moment. Being thankful enables us to savor the moment and to be present in the now. “Being thankful in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18),” then, becomes a way for us to “have life and to have it abundantly (John 10:10).” When we are blessed with life, we will experience the wide breadth and depth of it. That is, if we allow it; if we truly live it.  

Here’s some practical encouragement: 

1.) Breathe. Pray that God gives you the presence of mind to be present in every aspect of your day. 

2.) Resist. Be aware of where your head and your heart go. Find handholds in the present moment to grasp when your attention is diverted. 

3.) Build fences. Set boundaries with technology so that you’re not always being tapped on the shoulder.  

4.) Feel. Savor each moment, even the hard things. It heightens our awareness and enables us to feel the world around us.  

5.) Be Thankful. Allow thanksgiving and gratitude to flow through each moment. Internally (and out loud!) verbalize your appreciation for what is being given to you.  

Be here now. Although it may not seem like it, each moment we are graced with is a gift from God. Imagine the good we can do when we are fully present with God, and with ourselves and with one another. Life was redeemed in Christ Jesus and then given to us as a gift. It would be a shame to waste it.  

Kingdom Enlightenment


“God says: It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” 
-Isaiah 49:6 

The light above our kitchen stovetop burned out a few weeks ago. Finally, I attended to it this past weekend. 

But a curious thing happened when I replaced that lightbulb. I noticed other lights in our house that didn’t seem to be measuring up. The light in the upstairs hallway looked dim and dingy. The light above the kitchen table was pale and sickly. The light above our kitchen countertop was suddenly a deficient source of illumination.  

Upon closer examination, I found that some of the lightbulbs in these disappointing lights had burned out. Some had older, less efficient bulbs. Other lightbulbs were the wrong wattage.  

So, I replaced the light bulbs. I cleaned out the lights themselves (blasted ladybugs), and I marveled at the difference that the new light made. In fact, some of us in the Mathis household wondered if some of the light was too bright. The kitchen, now bathed in a more purifying light, showed the signs of cleaning deficiencies and needed home repairs.  

Maybe a weaker light is the preferred light. It would certainly mean that we see things less clearly. That has its advantages, doesn’t it? 

Light illuminates. Light reveals. Light convicts. 

This month, we will be taking a new look at a familiar term in our ecclesiastical lexicon: missions. What does it mean to be on mission? A frequently used buzzword in church life is missional. What does that even mean?  

Our scripture passage from this past Sunday reveals God’s intention for His people. And it’s bigger than his hearers had envisioned.  

“It’s too small a thing,” God says, “to occupy yourselves with yourselves. I have greater plans for you than that.” 

“You are to be a light to the nations—to the world and the people who do not yet know me. You are to be a light so that the gift of my salvation can be available to all.” 

According to God’s word, we do not exist to be a blessing to ourselves. It’s too small a thing to be consumed with our own success. We are to be about more than just maintaining our own well-being. Rather, God intends for us to be light so that others can see.  

Actually, let’s clarify that. We, ourselves, are not the light. Jesus points this out to us in his Sermon on the Mount. Those who belong to Christ, those who have decided to be Kingdom People, those who have professed Christ and who build their foundations on Jesus’s teachings, are the light because Christ shines through them. In short, I am not my own light. My own sense of enlightenment will not save me. My good ideas and good intentions will not save anyone or anything.  

Christ Jesus is our light. And when Christ lives in our hearts and in our minds and in our souls, we are directed to let Christ’s light shine before others so that the world will see His light and give glory to God in heaven (Matthew 5:16).  

The sooner we learn this, the more dependent upon Christ we will become. For us to be effective, we’ve got to invite Christ to shine through us. Christ’s values, words, and directions must shine through us. Otherwise, any light that extends from us will be weak and ineffective; it will mask corruption and hinder restorative action.  

But God’s light purifies and directs. God’s light reveals and convicts. God’s light makes the Path clear and becomes a beacon for those who are lost along the way. 

As Jesus illustrates in Matthew 5, God did not create us to be light for a corner of the house, or simply a portion of our community. God’s light shines through us to light the whole house and to be a blessing to the very ends of the earth. 

We’ve sung it frequently at the end of our worship services, and it bears repeating here. It’s a fitting prayer, and a powerful charge: 

“Shine, Jesus, shine, fill this land with the Father's glory, 
Blaze, Spirit, blaze; set our hearts on fire, 
Flow, river, flow; flood the nations with grace and mercy, 
Send forth your word, Lord, and let there be light.” 

That’s all well and fine. But we’ve first got to allow God to swap out the source of our light from ourselves to Christ. We do that when we “gaze on God’s kingly brightness so our faces display His likeness.” 

Therefore, this verse must be prayed before we flip the switch: 

“Lord, I come to your awesome presence, 

From the shadows into your radiance, 
By the blood I may enter your brightness, 
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness, 
Shine on me, shine on me.” 

Yes, God. Shine on us. Shine through us. Not for our own sake. But for the world’s.

Strength for the Journey


I don’t like it when things are unresolved. But when I was growing up, I used it to my advantage. 

As the youngest child in my family, I had to work hard for attention. I didn’t earn my family’s attention, however. I stole it. One of my more effective efforts at getting attention came at the expense of my musically gifted sister. To elicit a response from her, I simply had to create unresolved suspense by not playing the last measure of a song that I was practicing on the piano in the living room. She liked this not one bit. I found it delicious.  

On Sunday, my sermon did not address the last ‘measure’ of our scripture passage.  

We were looking at the story of Elijah’s response to Queen Jezebel’s threats in 1 Kings 19. Although Elijah had just triumphed over the prophets of Baal in dramatic fashion, the reader finds God’s premier messenger trembling beneath a solitary broom tree in the middle of nowhere. We learned that Elijah wanted to end it all right there. But God was not interested in removing Elijah from his unsettling circumstances, even though that would have represented an answer to Elijah’s prayer. Instead, God sent his angels to attend to Elijah’s needs. Because of God’s intervention, Elijah rested. He was fed and nourished by God’s ambassadors. God provided his servant sanctuary so that his strength could be restored.  

But for what reason? 

Yes, just when your curiosity had been piqued, your preacher omitted the final measure. The story was left unresolved. The question was not answered. Why, indeed, did God provide sanctuary for his prophet?  

Our clue comes from the mouth of one of God’s angels who told Elijah to, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 

God provided sanctuary to his servant so that he would have strength for the journey. Although Elijah was ready for his journey to be over, God was not done with him. God gives him room to despair, yes. God gives Elijah a place to rest, true. And nourishment for healing is provided so that Elijah can continue on his way. This all happened for a reason. The road that Elijah would continue down would lead to a breathtaking encounter with the Living God. This was why God provided Him sanctuary in the first place.  

Although I left this point on the table, so to speak, the point will preach: God provides His people sanctuary because He’s not done with us yet. He knows we need strength for the journey ahead. And God, at least, won’t leave us hanging.  

Jeffrey, the obnoxious 7-year-old in the Mathis household, however, just might.