Thursday, December 7, 2017

Advent Musings pt. 6

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. Luke 21:34 (NIV)

The anxieties of life can certainly weigh you down. George Bailey, in the iconic film, It's a Wonderful Life, almost succumbed to the anxieties of life by ending his own life. Clarence appears and gives George a glimpse of what life would have been like if he had never been born. My favorite scene in the film is at the end as George reads the inscription from Clarence. "Remember, no man is a failure who has friends." 

Three years ago our family gathered to celebrate my cousin's wedding. Weddings are joyous occasions that remind us of God's blessings in life when the anxieties are threatening to trap us. Jesus performed his first miracle as recorded by John at a wedding feast. Three years ago as we celebrated Brad and Bonnie it was a reminder of the joy of friends and family. It was a reminder that life really is wonderful. It was a reminder that the anxieties of life meet their solution in Jesus of Nazareth. 

This year I have been continually encouraged by dear friends in my life. I'm most grateful for the friends that God places in my life that help push me closer to Jesus. Those friends remind me not to let the anxieties of life close in around me. Those friends are a tangible expression of God's grace. Praying the Lord surrounds you with friends this Advent season. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Advent Musings pt. 5

The greatest event in the Old Testament was the Exodus. This event defined the Hebrew people for generations to come. The second most important event in the Old Testament is the Babylonian Exile. Both events brought about a renewal of God's covenant promises with his people after a period of time that felt as if God had abandoned them. The prophet Micah speaks of the coming judgment that would manifest itself in Exile. Micah also spoke of restoration. Of Hope. Of renewal. Of God's faithfulness in the midst of a period of perceived abandonment.
Micah 4:6-10 (NIV)
“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“I will gather the lame;
    I will assemble the exiles
    and those I have brought to grief.
I will make the lame my remnant,
    those driven away a strong nation.
The Lord will rule over them in Mount Zion
    from that day and forever.
As for you, watchtower of the flock,
    stronghold of Daughter Zion,
the former dominion will be restored to you;
    kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem.
Why do you now cry aloud—
    have you no king?
Has your ruler perished,
    that pain seizes you like that of a woman in labor?
10 Writhe in agony, Daughter Zion,
    like a woman in labor,
for now you must leave the city
    to camp in the open field.
You will go to Babylon;
    there you will be rescued.
There the Lord will redeem you
    out of the hand of your enemies.

Redemption, rescue, hope, restoration. These are things Micah draws the people to consider as they get ready to go into Exile. In the words of that esteemed American folk theologian, Tom Petty, "You don't have to live like a refugee." The refugees and exiles that we see around us, the ones we find in our homes and families, and even ourselves can cling to the promise of redemption. The broken shell of who we are, beat down by life, in prison to our sin and idolatry, cast away from our homeland and family can rejoice that through Jesus we can experience restoration. Exile doesn't have to define us because Jesus has redefined us through his victory that conquers Exile. 

As we observe Advent, let us wait with great expectation of the promise of redemption found in Jesus alone. 

Advent Musings pt. 4

My Mamanon's birthday was today. She passed away in the spring of 2016. Remembering a loved one on a birthday always reminds me of good times shared with them. My mind is filled with wonderful memories of childhood, young adulthood, and even adulthood in which her presence was felt because of something she said or did. The impressions she left on me continue to shape me. She was a woman who loved deeply, who prayed fervently, and who worshiped authentically. Psalm 79 speaks of the generational component of faith. A life of faith is passed down from one generation to the next, in much the same way as family stories are passed down to each other. Mamanon passed down her faith, the faith, entrusted once and for all to the saints to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She taught us and others what it looks like to praise the God who created us and redeemed us in unending praise.

Psalm 79:13
Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
    will praise you forever;
from generation to generation
    we will proclaim your praise.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent Musings pt. 3

Isaiah 64:7-8
No one calls on your name
    or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
    and have given us over to our sins.
Image result for potteryYet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

Today, the words of the prophet remind me that God's love for us is not based on what we contribute, our moral uprightness, our moral bankruptcy, or a certain level of spiritual enlightenment we achieve. In fact, verse 7 reminds us that on our own we don't seek God, in part because we are so consumed with ourselves. 

The contrast found in verse 8 holds forth the hope of the gospel. The hope that God loves us not because of who we are, what we have done, or what we might achieve. He loves us because he is our Father. He loves us because he is the potter, we are the clay. He is the creator, we are the creation. He is the one molding and shaping us into the image of Jesus just as the potter molds and shapes his pieces of pottery. The imagery of potter and clay constantly speak to the truth that God is not finished with me. He is constantly smoothing and working in the details that will make me a complete picture of His Son. 

Though we are sinful, He is faithful to his covenant promises. He loves us not because of our lack of sin, but in spite of it. He doesn't give up on us in our sin and idolatry He draws us back. Back to Him. Back to the wheel. Back to creation. Back to new creation. Back to the cradle and the grave. Back to the manger and the mount of Calvary. Back to the stable and the savior. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Advent Musings pt.2

The Georgia Bulldogs won the SEC Championship for the first time since Cyd and I had children...let that sink in for a moment. And just like that Gus Malzahn went from being one of the most envied coaches in college football (having beaten two number one teams this year) to potentially being on the hot seat at Auburn. The reality of SEC football is you can be the most beloved coach one week and the most hated coach the next week. And this is all from the fans and boosters of your university.

The coaching carousel of college football reminds me of a verse tucked into a prophesy that Jesus gives in Matthew 24. Jesus is reminding his disciples to not be duped into thinking that the Messiah has come again if the news seems to trickle in slowly. Rather the return of Messiah will be earth-shattering and life-changing. "Just as a gathering of vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near" (Matthew 24:28).

Living in the country you notice vultures a bit more than if you live in the city. When you see the flight pattern circling overhead you sometimes begin to wonder if they're really coming for you and you don't know it yet. By the way, my favorite line from The Outlaw Josey Wales is, "Buzzards got to eat; same as the worms."

Jesus seems to be using a simple biological truth to illustrate that one should practice discernment with people. In other words, don't be so gullible all the time. Don't buy everything the medicine man is selling, it might just turn out too good to be true. Jesus takes our death and brings life. New life. His life.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Advent Musings pt. 1

Christmas season has always been a favorite time of year for me. Memories are filled with family, presents, Christmas programs at church, and most importantly the birth of Jesus. It wasn't until after college that I really began to fully appreciate the fullness of Advent. The anticipation each year of the humble, earthly begins of the one who would fulfill God's plan of redemption. There are several reading plans and books that can help you in your devotional reading. The one that I have read through numerous times is Calvin Miller's The Christ of Christmas. The book may be out of print now but if you can find a used copy buy two.

"And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord--his name alone will be worshiped." Zechariah 14:9

Advent calls us to consider the worship of the Lord. How interesting that the king over all the earth begins in an obscure outpost. He makes his arrival with an audience of animals not other royalty. And yet, the beginnings of Jesus during that first Christmas remind us of the truth found here in Zechariah, Jesus, the Christ child is Lord over all the earth. His mission was reconciliation and redemption not just of humanity represented by Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, but of all of creation. The lowly beasts marked by stubbornness and aloofness holds out the hope that the most stubborn and aloof people we encounter are able to join in the worship of the one and only Lord of all the earth.

Could it be that we need to be reminded that stubborn people in our lives are markers that remind us that we are not a god and we certainly aren't worthy of worship? Only one is Lord; he alone is worthy of worship.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Finding Jesus in the Dark

Grief is a strange human experience. It can knock the breath out of you one minute, and bring a sense of relief, even hope the next minute. I have lost several people who are important to me to death through the years. Each loss is different. Each memory unique. As unique as each person who once was with me in this life. Just as each person and each loss is unique, so too, is the process of healing and remembering peculiar to that particular scenario. In short, every person processes grief differently.

I still miss all of my grandparents dearly. Their legacies live on in their children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. My father-in-law and my dad are both deceased. The impact that losing these two men, in the season of life of being a young father is something I wrestle with nearly every day. So many times, I wish I could ask them a simple question or share a moment of joy and even frustration with them. Like getting power tools to crank. Taking two weeks to figure out what was wrong with my vehicle and having the spare time to address the issues so that I could drive it again. Getting to see their grands would bring a huge smile to both faces.

I have two cousins, who lost battles with brain tumors and cancer. Cancer...such an ugly word. I sometimes would rather hear the vilest of swear words on repeat than to hear that word uttered. It is ugly, dark, sinister even to those who battle it and those whom it leaves in its wake.

Still, the death that haunts me most perhaps is of a student, Luke. Yesterday was the anniversary of his death, a death that continues to impact me and others in our community because as Isaiah 35 says, God is able to make a river in the desert. Luke's death has given way to life. Just as the seed must die in the ground when it is planted in order to bear fruit. Luke's death has brought life to others through his memory as well as a non-profit established in his honor.

It's funny how much death impacts believers in Christ. We know the end of the story. We know that victory is ours through Jesus. Through his life, death, and resurrection, we cling to the hope of the gospel and the promise of the resurrection so that death never has the final word.

...and still we scratch our heads looking for answers to make sense of it all. We try to put the pieces back together of our broken, fractured selves in our broken, fractured world that needs a broken savior. That is exactly who Jesus is! He is the one wounded for our transgressions. He is the one broken to make us whole. He is the one who experienced death, darkness, and hell so that the darkness we try to fight in this world and the hell we experience in this life is eclipsed by the one who after all brought light out of darkness at the foundation of the world, on a hillside called Calvary, and every moment when the darkness seems to overcome us.

I recently read through Frederick Buechner's two newest collections. They are classic Buechner in every sense. This phrase towards the end of A Crazy, Holy Grace struck me in the most profound way. "Anyone who has ever known him has known him perhaps better in the dark than anywhere else because it is in the dark where he seems to visit most often." Is it possible that death and grief stay with us to remind us of our own mortality, even more, to remind us of our dependence on the one who has claimed the final victory over death.

Darkness is not just about death and grief. Darkness could be lurking in any number of corners of our hearts and lives. Jesus offers light. He offers healing, He offers hope. He offers himself...and that is enough...ultimately!

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Great Omission

The late Dallas Willard probably influenced more people in the art of discipleship and spiritual formation than any other writer in the last 50 years. Willard drew on the best of church history and Christian spirituality to help modern readers understand the essential teachings of Jesus. His books are a worthy investment even though at times they can be challenging to digest.

In The Great Omission, one finds a collection of articles, lectures, and other pieces clustered around the idea of discipleship. At times the book is repetitive given the nature of the compilation, but it is a great introduction to the thoughts of Willard. Willard contends that the great omission of the church is that we have focused on making converts (to a particular stream of Christianity) and baptized them into church membership without ever "enrolling people as Christ's students." The goal is formation of the inner character to be developed that operates out of the mind of Christ.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Hope in the Midst of Hurricanes

Watching footage and images and updates from Texas makes me grieve for the people impacted from Harvey. Less than a year after Hurricane Matthew we are still trying to reclaim parts of our property and clean up fallen trees. We know well the damage that a storm like Harvey can bring. We know the reality of repairing and rebuilding that many will face in Texas.

We have family in Houston. Friends in other parts of the affected areas of Texas. Our hearts break with you. Our prayers cry out to God for you. We offer you one thing that we found to be true throughout the last year of post hurricane life, hope. Not in some dime store anticipation of finding that trinket. What I am talking about is Biblical Hope. Hope that raised Jesus from the grave. Hope that transformed a rag tag group of followers into a catalyst to completely change the course of human history.

As rain continues, as you try to rebuild and repair, cling to the hope of God that he has not abandoned you and your family. Cling to the hope of God to make all things new, ALL Things, including you and me.

May God provide for you as only he is able. We found this simple truth to be a source of strength for the difficult journey ahead.

Hopefully expectant,

The Pagliarullo Family

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Befriend: A Book Review

Scott Sauls, a pastor in Nashville is quickly becoming one of my favorite spiritual voices on social media. I have read his books Jesus Outside the Lines and Befriend. In both books the reader senses Scott's heart for God and his passion for people to know God. He gently encourages the reader to join him in discovering what God is calling us to do as we follow Jesus.

Friendship is an interesting topic to tackle. We can have hundreds or even thousands of friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter or Instagram but do we really have genuine, meaningful friendships? Do we even know how to have those type of relationships anymore? Scott Sauls answers these questions and more as he offers encouragement for the believer to rediscover genuine, loving friendships with different types of people, different groups, and even oneself as modeled by Jesus. This is a great resource for a small group Bible study or accountability groups.

New Music and a New Road

Cyd discovered Ellie Holcomb early this year and introduced me to her music. This song captures the essence of what it means to live and walk by faith and not by sight. Too often, I see God rescue me from my "Egypt" only to get to the Red Sea and see the impossible rather than the possible. God has been reminding me lately that he always provides a Red Sea Road to his children.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Centri-Kid Week

This week has been a great week for my girls, all three, to be away at camp with our Kidz Ministry at FBC Statesboro. I am beyond excited that they will be home later this afternoon! Since Cyd was gone, Tripp and I got to spend a lot of time together this week. We have had some funny moments, an occasional tear, and many moments of wanting to freeze time in order to remember that exact moment with him. He has helped me work on some projects for the college ministry here and there, but mostly he has been a conduit for God's grace. His smile, laughter, and even his tears have served as a gentle touch to my at times callous heart. Through our time together (the endless questions, the insatiable appetite he has, the need for affection and closeness with his dad) he has unknowingly pushed me closer to my Abba, Father.

Surely, the emotions that I feel as an earthly father with my son during these times pales in comparison to how God feels about his children. For this truth, I am thankful. Children are not simply a blessing from God, they are at times the instruments God uses to teach us what he is doing, to remind us that we are loved, and to redirect our energy to the things that matter most.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Five Years and A Few Tears

It's hard to believe that five years of life has passed since you drew your last breath on this earth. So much life happens in five years. There are days when it seems like I was just talking to you on the phone driving to Savannah to make hospital visits. Then there are those days that it feels like you've been gone for a decade. Five stinking years! In that time, the kids have changed in so many different ways. Sometimes I look at Cyd and say, "Dad would have loved watching them grow up." There is no doubt you would be right there to support them in all that they do.

I have lost track of the number of days I have wanted to ask your opinion on something, seek your counsel, ask for you to pray about something specific over the last five years. It's unfair, that at the junction of life where I most wanted you and your influence, I can't get it. If only, I had let go of my own hurt and anger earlier in life, I could have soaked up more of GLB's essence...yet it is this regret that the gospel has most come to bear on our relationship. The gospel needed time to root into my heart so that our relationship could be redeemed, even if for a brief season before that diagnosis in January. God's work in our lives is unique in that it doesn't always happen instantly. Perhaps that's why Jesus used so many stories about people and scenarios that required time and patience to see results. I'm thankful that neither of my father's ever gave up on me, rather like the Prodigal Father, both waited for me to return.

The similarities between us continue to manifest themselves. I have come to the conclusion that I am more like you than I ever thought possible. Sometimes this reality scares me speechless. Other times, I laugh and consider if this self-revelation the last five years would have happened if you were still here. I'm still in utter shock that the characteristics, mindsets, and patterns of behavior of a parent can be so strong in a child when they only lived together for a few years. The indelible nature of a parent's mark on a child is sobering. My own journey as a parent has reminded me that God is able to use our meager efforts at this whole parenting thing to do some incredible work in children's lives. We tend to forget all the faults of someone when they die and only recall the good times and the good qualities. I remember the love and tenderness you always offered me. I remember your laugh, your smile, and your anger. Mostly, I remember these things because I see them weekly, if not daily in my own heart and life. I think one of the things that God has shown me these past five years is that the faults are places where the master craftsman is still shaping me into his masterpiece. My own self awareness has helped me appreciate your faults, not to cast blame, but to learn from your mistakes, while rejoicing in the work that God accomplished in your life to bring light out of darkness. You taught me many things during the time our lives overlapped...I believe you have taught me even more about myself, about my vocation, about my family, about God, and about the gospel in the five years you have been present with the Lord. Thank you!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Beach Reach Update #1

It has been a great first two days in Panama City Beach, FL. I am so encouraged by how God is using our students and working in their lives. Tonight was our first night of van ministry, which entails picking up other spring breakers for a free van ride to wherever they need to go. Our students had some great conversations with the people we picked up throughout the night. Pray that the seeds planted tonight will be watered and grow into maturity.

Our very first ride was a group of students from Appalachian about loving your enemies for all of our GSU students. Pray for Sam from App State.  You can also pray for Lyndsey from App State. Our last call for tonight was her and some friends who are staying at the same house as Sam and his friends.

We also had an interesting group of guys from Boston. Nick is one of the guys from that group to be praying for this week.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

My Top 5 Books of 2016

I love books. All kinds, old, new, short, long, fiction, and non-fiction. I confess that much of my reading derives from Christian spirituality and theology, so the list is bent in that direction. Some of these books I read for my doctoral classes, others I chose because of various factors. I read several meaningful books this year but these five books have been ones I have been drawn back to since reading them. Since five is a small number to list all of the great books, I added an honorable mention list. These aren't in any particular order either.

Tracks of a Fellow Struggler John Claypool
This brief book on grief is composed of four sermons Claypool preached as he wrestled with the diagnosis of Leukemia his daughter received. He recounts the emotions of diagnosis, treatment, remission, recurrence, and death. His honest doubting, searching, and questioning of God are the words of many people who have experienced the loss of someone dear to them. It is the best book on grief I have ever read!

Subversive Spirituality Eugene Peterson
Peterson always challenges the way I view myself, my calling, and my relationship with God. This book is a collection of shorter pieces: sermons, interviews, articles, poems. Some are better than others, but given the structure of the book the reader can skip around and read the ones most intriguing to him or her. His insight into pastoral ministry is especially helpful for anyone who is called to vocational ministry and missions.
Eugene Peterson

The Return of the Prodigal Son Henri Nouwen
Nouwen's insight into the parable is superb! His introspective writing invites the reader to place himself inside the mind of each character of the parable.

This Is Awkward Sammy Rhodes
I met Sammy when he was the RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) campus minister at Georgia Southern. He is now doing RUF work at USC (South Carolina). Reading this book is like having a conversation with Sammy at a coffee shop. Many people will connect with this book but especially those in the 30-40 age bracket. His witty take on faith and life leave you in stitches while realizing your own need of God's gracious work in your life.

The Death of Santini Pat Conroy
Southern novelists are some of the most keen observers of the human condition. They have a way of writing about the idiosyncrasies of the South while affirming the best parts of it. Conroy is a master storyteller. This book recounts his turbulent relationship with his father, USMC fighter pilot Don Conroy. At the end of Don's life and the end of the book there is redemption and reconciliation. Two powerful biblical themes that we need to be reminded of as often as possible.

Honorable Mentions:
Meditation Jim Downing
Daring to Speak for God Norfleete Day
Jesus Outside the Lines Scott Sauls
The Jesus Way Eugene Peterson
Grief Melissa Kelley
Turn My Mourning into Dancing Henri Nouwen
In the Heart of the World Mother Teresa
Sycamore Row John Grisham

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016: A Few Moments of Joy

The last several weeks have been filled with lists of books, movies, music, and events of 2016 nearly everywhere I turned. 2016 is a year that will certainly be remembered for decades to come. Memorable moments in sports, society, and politics. As I reflected on this past year, several things brought joy to my heart. Recently, I was reminded that joy is most often something we choose in spite of our circumstances. Indeed, joy is a spiritual discipline, rooted in the Old Testament and the concept of Jubilee, which celebrated a reverting back of land to original owners, release from bondage for those forced into slavery, and a resting of the land during harvest time. Finding joy in life is a holy habit of finding the sacred in the mundane. Finding joy helps us see God working in our lives in hidden ways that can easily become choked out by the darkness and sin of our world.

Here are a few moments of joy for me this year in no particular order. As I recount the jubilee of God may your heart be drawn to examine your year to find moments of joy...may they bring a smile and perhaps laughter or even tears as you recount God's goodness in your life.

1. Celebrating 16 years of marriage with my better half.
It seems cliche, but I never take one day for granted with her. She is my biggest supporter, always seeing good in me, when I find it hard to see it in myself. The depth of her spiritual wisdom and insight astounds me weekly. She is my favorite preacher/teacher because of her command of scripture and her transparency with her audience. The way she loves me and parents our kids brings joy to my heart...always.

2. Reaching the milestone of 10 years of ministry at FBC Statesboro.
One of the unfortunate aspects of vocational ministry is that the average tenure of pastors and ministers is about 3 years. I have been fortunate enough to get to do ministry in one place for 10 years. My roles and responsibilities have changed during the decade, but the relationships that are the core of ministry have been a blessing to me in so many ways. I have had the joy of walking with people through trials and blessings, periods of rebellion and growth, yet through it all, God has enriched my life through the scores of people I have rubbed shoulders with for these many years.

3. Conducting my Mamanon's funeral. 
I know what you are thinking, joy in preaching a funeral...but for the Christian, joy is perhaps the best response when the deceased is a believer in the hope and resurrection of Jesus! Mamanon certainly was a godly woman. She lived for over nine decades and touched thousands of lives. As I shared stories of her life at the service and throughout the year with friends and family, God has brought an increasing measure of joy knowing that she has "thoroughly enjoyed" being in the presence of her Savior and of course seeing loved ones like Papanon again. Every time I think about her, a smile breaks through to remind me of her legacy of faith, one I can only hope to measure half way up to her standard.

4. Little moments with my children.
These include moments of laughter in the car. Rocking out to a favorite song in the car. Doing things to slightly embarrass them in public. Moments of reflection as we read the Bible together or talk about spiritual matters. Quick dinners at Chick-fil-A in between school, dance, cheer, and church. Watching ELF 100 times during the holidays. Living through repairs to our house in which furniture is shoved everywhere except in the designated places. These are moments I look back on and find joy and a glimpse of God's grace, I pray that one day my children will do the same.

5. Living through Hurricane Matthew and the aftermath of the storm.
It's hard to really understand why I have found joy in Matthew destroying our yard and falling a tree on our house, unless you have experienced something similar. It would be easy to cry and bewail the reality that has befallen our family. I confess there have been moments of this as well, but ultimately joy percolates beneath the surface like the tree roots now exposed that once were hidden. Matthew has brought us closer together as a family. We learned to do without furniture to sit on while we eat supper. We rediscovered the joy of a good pallet to watch a movie on the floor in front of the fireplace. Don't get me wrong, Matthew has stretched us to our limits in some ways. At the end of the day, Matthew has taught us that delight in the Lord comes in plenty and want because it isn't based on our situation but on the sovereign Lord of the universe who has NOT forsaken us.