Vessels

All across the country this time of year are yard displays with illuminated nativity scenes.  Baby Jesus in a manger, surrounded by Mary & Joseph, angels, wise men, and animals.  Have you ever stopped to think, what is it about this story that has caused the manger to remain such a centerpiece in our society for centuries?

I believe part of reason is the hope it offers.  It opens our eyes to the possibility of a better world.  A world we feel we are incapable of creating ourselves.  A world flooded with love, forgiveness, justice and grace.  Just a glimpse of current events in our world and you are keenly aware of our inability to imagine, much less create, the world as it should be.

In the Christmas story, Jesus comes not in the way we would expect.  He is not born in a palace and draped in velvet.  Few, if any, see the son of a king, they only see the son of a carpenter.  Jesus is born in the back alleys of Bethlehem under the cover of darkness. Born in a small corner of a massive global empire bent on abusing and oppressing anyone who stands in their way.

But the reality is we are very familiar with this story because we have all heard it before.  It is the story that echoes through the blood stained halls of history.  A constant and surreal reminder of the way our world works.

So when news of a new king, a new kingdom and a better world begins to spread, it births a deep yearning within our soul.  Questions, diluted with doubt, begin to surface.  Could there really be a different way? A better way?

It is the way of Jesus – the way of forgiveness.  Jesus comes revealing the heart of God the Father.  Ultimately, taking the worst sin could possibly do in this world and lovingly saying, “Father, forgive them.”  

Part of the beauty of this story is the way in which God comes into the world. Mary is told by God, His Son will dwell inside her and she will be the vessel through which His presence comes into the world. It is the same message God has spoken to you.  God’s Son will dwell inside you and you will be the vessel through which His presence comes into the world.  

The whole time we thought being a Christian was about not sinning so that we could get into heaven. To get out of this place and into a better place, that was our understanding. Yet the invitation has always been to create the world as it was meant to be by entering into its brokenness and transforming it from the inside out.  Create a world where the curse is broken.  Create a world where death does not get the last word.  

The good news is that this world does exists.  And the even better news is Jesus’ invitation is to take part in that world today.  Not just have a place within, but to actually contributing to this new world.  Partners with God in his reclamation project. 

So today, may you be the vessel through which Jesus’ presence enters this broken world, flooding it with love, forgiveness, justice and grace. The next time you see a nativity scene, may it be a reminder of the calling you share.

Grace & Peace!

I’m Holding On To Hope

I’m holding on to hope 
today brings life again.
I’m holding on to hope 
death sting has found its end.

I’m holding on to hope 
today God breaks the grip of sin.
I’m holding on to hope 
death will not settle in. 

I’m holding on to hope 
today  grace floods this world again.
I’m holding on to hope 
death will not be the end. 

I’m holding on to hope 
today Jesus will restore.
I’m holding on to hope 
death’s victory is no more.

I’m holding on to hope 
today is different than before.
I’m holding on to hope 
because Jesus said, 
today could be better than before! 

This Time Will Be Different


By Gary Albritton

I know there are times
Times you stop and take long looks inside
Times you are confronted by the ugliest inside
Times you fight to clean house 
and present a pristine front for all to see.
We know if we can just convince our mind we can change.
We can have a fresh start.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

We can leave the addiction, 
evade the anger, 
break the grip of greed, 
leave lust behind
But here we are again, 
back at the starting blocks, 
making the same promises, 
but this time with more resolve, 
more willpower, more earnestness.
Like hamsters on a wheel,
we seem to be going no where fast.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

We seek to systematize our sanctification.
We create sets of rules and regulations, 
hoops to jump through.
All well meaning but still insufficient 
We rely on our intellect, saying, 
God I want to understand you.
All the while our heartbeat 
has simply been to see His face, 
to know Him and fall head over heels in love with Him 
because He is beautiful.  
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

The rules and the knowledge are not bad,
But they will never change your heart,
but that was never their purpose in the first place.
They were only meant to shape your heart.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.


The lie of the garden still rumbles deep within our soul.  
God is holding out on us.
There is knowledge, 
there is goodness, 
there is blessing,
God is keeping from us.
To find it, we will have to look else where.
There! 
That tree, that road, 
that way, let’s try that one!
We try, only to encounter another dead in road, 
Yes! Death lies at the end of that road too.  
Surprised?
Absolutely!
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

We knew for sure this tree, 
this road, this way, would be different.
This tree would fulfill, 
this road would lead to something better,
this way would give me purpose.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

He must be holding out!
Fight! 
Fight to work your self into His favor.
You can never be good enough, 
but you can get close.
Close enough that He can get you the rest of the way.  
That’s the message you got.
But it is an exercise in futility.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

We quote and memorize the 23rd Psalm
We know it by heart but we never actually take it to heart
We never truly here the words
Surely, mercy and love will follow you 
all of the days of your life.
We needlessly assume it’s a gift 
that only accompanies death, 
but the problem is it was promised in life.  
This life, not just the one to come.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

Mercy and love have not left you,
They are not out pacing you 
so that you must run faster to catch them. 
No, surely they are there,
following you, pursuing you, running after you,
they have never left your side.
You need no longer to give chase,
Stop running after them 
because they have been running after you the whole time.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different, 
it is our battle cry!

Stop, turn and they will run into you.
You strive to be good enough but you never will, 
but then again that is why Jesus came.
He came not to make you morally perfect, 
but to look into the face of moral imperfection 
and say, Father forgive them!
He came to give you a new name, 
a new birth, a fresh start.
But still we cry, 
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

He came to save you from yourself.
From the lies you believe,
God is holding out on you,
God could never be pleased with you,
God needs you to get it right, 
so you can be right with Him.
Lies!  
All lies, straight from the pits of Hell.
The deceiver, the accuser, the Satan, 
has never stopped spouting these malicious accusations.
At first it was no big deal, 
but over time you started listening to them.
You are a liar, you are a thief, you are an adulterer.
And over time you started believing them,
It must be who you are!
As their shouts became louder 
it drowned out the whisper over your shoulder,
You are loved, you are a child of God and He is pleased with you.
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
‘this time will be different.

You think you have to have it all together
You try to be what everyone else wants you to be.
Still you fall short. 
You see in the mirror every morning, a self, 
a you, that is scared and scarred, 
bruised and hurting, 
yet somehow still clinging to the hope 
that today might actually be different. 
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

You have convinced yourself 
that no would could truly love you as you are.
You see only insufficiency, inadequacy, imperfection.
You see garbage but I see the beautiful face of Jesus shining on you.
Calling you,
Loving you,
Never letting you go.
He is your light!
He is your salvation!
Whom shall you fear? 
Try harder, run faster, keep going, 
this time will be different.

Please hear me,
It is a mirage, an illusion, a fantasy, a lie
Stop listening to it, 
stop running after it, 
I promise, this time won’t be different!
Just more of the same.
Stop running and chasing after 
what has been right there the entire time.
Stopping assuming there is still so much to do 
to be worthy of God’s grace.
You belong,
You are loved,
You are a child of the King!
No need to try harder, to run faster, to keep going…
If you will stop running I can make you only one promise,
This time will be different!

A Modern Day Parable

She grew up not far from the botanical garden. She would walk by almost everyday, peering through the wrought iron fence supported by beautiful brick columns. She would think to herself, one day I would love to work there.

29949_closeup_of_lily_flower

As she grew older she fell in love with art. She would spend hours sketching, drawing and painting in the botanical garden. Each season brought new beauty and new color. It was as if every changing of the seasons unveiled a new and glorious world never before seen. Still, she longed for the day she could work there.

Finally the day came. She put in her application and because she had spent so much time there, the director knew who she was. Just by listening to her talk he knew she loved this place. He knew she would be committed to keeping it beautiful. So he felt very confident, that even though she had never had a job, she would work very hard to keep the place she loved beautiful. Her face lit up when he peered over his desk and said, you begin tomorrow. I will see you at 6 am. The next morning she awoke to the alarm on her phone at 4:30. No way would she be late for her first day; Her first new day at the place she loved.

She got ready, ate breakfast and packed her lunch. She headed out the door to simply go and do what she loved. As she got out of her car a sense of satisfaction came over her. This was the very thing she was made for. She walked along the dark grey, crushed, gravel path leading to the maintenance shed to meet her coworkers, and get her instructions for the day. She was so glad to be a part of this team. To be a part of something bigger than herself. To be able to make a difference in the world. To bring beauty and enjoyment to people, especially little girls who like her had a deep sense of wonder for this place. The flowers, majestic. The grass, perfectly cut. The animals, at peace in nature. All she could see was the beauty of the place she loved.

Her supervisor said, I would like you to pick up trash. Keeping the park clean and litter free was one of the most important jobs she felt she could do. She hurried out with her thick, black, plastic trash bag and long spiked pole. So the day began picking up trash. The day was amazing. She got to work in the place she loved and keep the park beautiful and clean just as others had always done for her. Her favorite part of every day was dawn. The very moment, the sun would peek over the edge of the horizon and sunlight would glimmer over the fresh morning dew. So everyday she came to work surrounded by beauty and fully believing this was the reason she existed.

So years went by and the love never seemed to fade. Then one day, she got to work and stepped out of the car as she had done for years. But today was different. Oh, she didn’t know it was different, but it was. As she shut her car door, she saw a candy wrapper right at the edge of the dark grey, crushed, gravel path. The same path she had walked for years. Then she saw an empty bottle and an event flyer ushered in by the wind. What was so different about today? After all, picking up trash and keeping the park clean had been the most significant part of her job. Today was different though because today, for the first time, she failed to see the beauty she was surrounded by because trash had become her focus. The litter she had worked so hard to keep clean was now the only thing she could see.

Friends, today is a new day, a precious gift. A day of resurrection. A day new life is bursting forth all around you. Today, don’t become so focused on all that is wrong with world that you fail to see the beauty of this day. Life is a miracle, each and every breath you take. Each and every moment you have with the people you love. Don’t miss today, you don’t get it back.
HE IS RISEN!

RESIGNATION LETTER TO WESTHILL

2 weeks ago was a very special day for me, I began my 11th year of ministry here at Westhill.  For the past 10 years Cami & I have poured our hearts and souls into this church and this church has poured their hearts and souls into our family.  We have experienced incredible relationships with truly loving and compassionate people.  I did not grow up at Westhill, but I did grow up at Westhill.  This is my first job, my first home, where I got married, began our family, had our children, developed leadership and a passion to preach.  Abilities I never saw in myself.  Best of all, I believe the best days for Westhill are still to come.  Unfortunately, we will not be a part of that future.

Cami & I have accepted a job to become the Preaching Minister at the Shiloh Rd. Church of Christ in Tyler, TX.  We will begin this time of transition next week.  We will be in Tyler next weekend with Shiloh Rd. to be introduced to the congregation.  We will return to finish out the summer with VBS and Summer Camp.  Our last Sunday at Westhill will be Sunday, August 4th.  This has been an incredibly difficult decision to make but one we have felt God is calling us to for a while.  God has opened every door through this process and we believe it is where He has called us.  I am constantly telling our students to listen to the call of Jesus and follow His voice.  What kind of a person, much less minister would I be if I ignored my own advice.  Following Jesus does not mean life will be easy, in fact, it will probably be more difficult but it is what I have given my life to do.

We have a plan in place for Westhill Student Ministries as we go forward that many of you will be a part of.  We have also have begun to discuss the new Student Minister, and putting feelers out to get some leads on possible candidates.  We are not leaving because we no longer love this church, this is our family.  We are not leaving because of a “better job.”  We are making the choice to leave Westhill because we feel God is calling us to begin a new chapter in our ministry together and we want to be faithful to his call.

This verse has hopefully been the foundation of our ministry here at Westhill and the foundation for ministry from the adults we have surrounded you with.  So I leave you with the message Paul gave to the church at Thessalonian.

1 Thessalonians 2:8
Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

FINDING HOPE IN THE MIDST OF DESPAIR

This has been a really difficult week.  A CHS student made the decision to end his life.  Knowing a young man chose to end his life is excruciating.  Even worse, is that I knew him.  So it has been a very difficult week.  Talking with students who have so many questions and ministry opportunities that have opened.  Tonight was one of those.  In fact it was a first in my ten years of ministry.

hope

I have never had a group of students, with no connection to our church and not invited by a friend, who just showed up.  Four guys, just randomly picked our church, walked up and said, “is it okay if we start going to church here?”  They had no background in any church.  As I got to talk to the guys one of them was good friends with the student who ended his life.  He was searching for something.  For me that is cool but not the amazing part.

All week I have been debating over whether or not to scrap everything for tonight, message and all and focus on suicide.  Monday, I was going to focus on it.  On Tuesday, I decided to go ahead with the original plan and work suicide into the discussion.  Wednesday, I was thinking the same thing.  One of our parents asked how I was going to handle it tonight?  I told her the plan, but as the day went on I felt I really needed to address it.  So I texted her back and she agreed.  I did not know why, I just felt God wanted me to talked about it.  So at 3:00 I decided to make the change.  I had nothing planned, nothing ready but really felt this is what I needed to do.

When the four guys showed up, I was overwhelmed.  I got to spend some time with the guys but at the end of the night one came up to me and said he was so glad he was here.  He felt like God was speaking to him tonight.  He had to have been, because I could not tell you what I said.

It amazes me how God shows up and works through our life when we simply allow him to be present in our life.  It amazes me how he can take something so unspeakable and use it focus peoples attention on him.

God is at work in our life and the lives of people we come in contact with everyday.  The true question, are we going to have our eyes opened to see him at work?

THE IRONMAN EXPERIENCE – PART 1

So lots of people have asked me about my experiences from the past weekend at Ironman 70.3 in Galveston.  So I thought I would write a series of blog post about the weekend, the training leading up to the weekend and the things I learned on the journey.

medal

The part that impacted me the most was the ending.  9 months of training, hours upon hours.  In the pool, in the lake, on the road.  In rain, in cold, in wind and some days all three at once.  Pain, injuries, tweaked muscles.  You seem to experience a little of everything when training for something like this.

The weekend was amazing.  If you have never been to an Ironman event I highly recommend the experience, even if just a spectator.  Race day starts early.  4:30 AM breakfast and in the transition area for body marking at 5:30 AM.  Over 2,300 athletes over 2000 volunteers and literally thousands of supports lining the run course, cheering for you and encouraging you to keep moving.

But nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced at mile 13 of the run.  At the mile 13 marker you enter the finish chute to run the last .1 miles to the finish line.  The excitement is unbelievable.  I had tried during my training to visualize the finish, to imagine my name being announced but nothing I dreamed of could have compared to the experience.

At the moment I enter the chute all of the pain seemed to vanish.  It had been a very difficult day, 70.3 miles.  1.2 mile swim.  56 mile bike ride along a very windy coast.  A very hot 13.1 mile half marathon to finish out the day.  Struggles with swimming straight.  A small bike wreck.  Really bad muscle cramps and spasms in the first mile of the run.  But then there was mile 13 and everything I had been through that day to get to that point vanished as thousands of people screamed and yelled for me crossing the finish line.  They place a medal around my neck and give me a finisher hat, which is great, but in know way compares to the experience of crossing the line.

I want to experience it again.  I am hooked to the feeling of crossing the finish line.  It made everything else I experienced on the journey worth it.  So my plan right now is a few months off to do P90X2 to really work on my core and overall strength and then get ready for Ironman 70.3 in Austin, Texas in October.

There are lots of take aways from the finish line experience but the one which stands out the most is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27

We live for a singular purpose, the purpose of building His kingdom here on earth so that when we cross the finish line the prize is eternal.  In some ways I think it will be much like my mile 13 experience.  I always talk to people who are trying to imagine what it will be like.  I don’t think you can, because I believe the experience will be something so far beyond what we can imagine.  In the race, the finish line was not my focus, it was too far ahead of me most of the time to be my focus.  My focus was simply taking one more stroke in the water.  One more rotation of the pedals on the bike.  One more step on the run.  So if the finish is not the focus, what is our focus then?  Let’s borrow for the Apostle Paul once again.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2

Make Jesus the focus.  Make being more like him the next step of your journey, because at times the finish line can seem so far off.  Our promise though, is that He is never far away.  Focus on Jesus, He is more than enough to sustain you!