March 1, 2014 § Leave a comment
One of the last things I did before leaving our Mom’s home was to cut a timeline away from the kitchen wall. One of our daughters didn’t want it to be lost on new occupants. It had survived hurricanes, feasts, friendships, even death. Through 47 years in that home we would line up, back against the wall, and Mom would mark our progress. As grandchildren were born and grew the timeline became crowded with names and memories. It told a story that continues to unfold.
And while it would seem natural to begin to recount those stories, what struck me as I reflected on this is that God has been faithful – through years and crises, heartbreaks and growth spurts, through weddings, births, geographical moves and funerals. All of our names appear multiple times somewhere on that timeline because through the years we change. But God never has. He has remained faithful.
I forget this – daily. And I think it is because I measure God’s faithfulness against my own unfaithfulness, expectations and inconsistencies. I cheat Him of something that defines His very character, that He is as true to us as He is to Himself. His faithfulness is great, His mercies are new every morning, and His compassions never fail (Lamentations 3).
The fact is that I could look at each of those names and recall something that was happening when the measurement was taken. Timelines do this for us. We can recall moments, good and bad. But they are snapshots, and it is the video that streams behind them that tells the real story – that in good and bad, in weak and strong, in comfortable and desperate, God was there all along, lovingly tending His children.
The truth is that in my darkest moments, I cling to the snapshots rather than the video stream, and I build story lines that never existed. Even worse, in doing so, I undercut the real narrative, that in Jesus we have a God who did more than protect our story from disaster. Instead, He redeemed it, and then invited us into His.
Friends, this is good news…
PS Please read this profound piece from our friend, Jennifer Pett, who has been published on mamalode.com – you will be glad you did – it is lovely: http://mamalode.com/story/detail/clawing-my-way-to-calm
February 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
By now it should be obvious that some of my posts are last-second ideas that spring to life on the day of publication. Today is no exception. Sometimes this happens when I already have already written something else for Saturday, and others, well…
Each Saturday the goal is to arrive at my Starbucks somewhere between 8-9:00 AM following a few hours in the office. This is my writing groove, but today involved a hospital visit in between, and because of this the schedule was altered, which impacted parking more than anything else. Normally, to arrive at the mall by 10:15 AM is to be relegated to the second tier parking spots (translation: nothing close to the mall entrance), and for me that is like surrendering to the enemy.
So this morning, at 10:17 to be exact, I arrived at the mall, only to find the spot pictured in this post. It is not only near the mall entrance, but it is the best spot in the lot. If you notice in the photo, there is ice on the asphalt. Whenever we experience big snows, which we did two weeks ago, parking lots like this one are cleared, leaving huge piles of plowed snow-become-ice. Ironically the best spots disappear under the piles.
But today the sun is shining, and my guess is that when the ‘first-tier-parkers’ arrived early, it wasn’t available. However by the time I got there, it had melted away.
For me. Sweet.
You can’t follow Jesus for long before discovering, and then rediscovering that He turns every natural power grab on its head. One of them is our inclination to be first. Shockingly, the Creator of all that is, taught that in order to be first in His Kingdom, one has to be last (Matthew 20:16). It isn’t the only crazy twist Jesus put on life, but it is one of the biggies, and one He demonstrated with His atoning death on the Cross, and in what He modeled in His treatment of people every day. It is an invitation to entrust ourselves into the hands of a Father who loves us more than we could ever love ourselves. This can only free us give ourselves away and to love, without fear.
And it serves as an offer of hope to the weak, to the underprivileged, the poor, the disadvantaged, to those perpetually chosen last to be on the team, to the losers, the slow, the forgotten, the fragile, the marginalized, the broken, the discarded and to every man, woman and child who feels that life somehow got away from them.
What good news.
February 15, 2014 § 1 Comment
Last month Katherine and I were in Atlanta speaking at a conference. A wedding was taking place at the hotel we stayed at, and while in the elevator, headed to the business office to print out a talk, the Bride (pictured), along with the Wedding Coordinator, came into that small cubicle and transformed it into a magnificent room.
Because we live in a fallen world there is a tendency for those of us in the Faith to focus on the brokenness we share. There is no make-believe when it comes to the gospel. It exposes the painful manifestations of the fall. And for too long the Church was all ‘victory,’ and no reality. The Faith was presented as something people had to perfectly maintain more than a journey we set out on with Jesus, flaws, insecurities and all. The result was a lot of hiding – folks filled with shame, fear and guilt for not being able to live up to expectations never laid out in the scriptures, with no room for finding anything good in this broken world God created to be good.
But heaviness that isn’t balanced out with joy is a dangerous thing. It leaves the watching world with the impression that our end is misery, and our enemy is laughter, reducing the Church to the sorry end of a Billy Joel song.
In Ecclesiastes 7:14, Solomon writes, ‘When times are good be happy…’ He wasn’t proffering escape. His next words are, ‘but when times are bad, remember the same God has made them both.’ His point is that there is a vital balance in life and faith that enables us to live with the promise of good things, even in the midst of brokenness. Without this balance everything is warped.
Friends, heaviness and severity are not gifts of the Spirit. Joy is. And when it comes, God wants us to celebrate. Failure to do so does not demonstrate spiritual vitality. No. Only something oppressive will do this to us.
Because lovely things happen too…
You see, this is our destiny. In the story Jesus has invited us into, we are the Bride, and everything He teaches and embodies clearly demonstrates that He wants His wedding feast to be magnificently joyful.
The world is fallen and broken, but Jesus is making it new, and because of Him, when the lovely things come our way, we can enjoy them…
…because they do.
What good news…
February 8, 2014 § 3 Comments
It took an extra half-hour to get into the office early yesterday morning, due to a car that caught fire within 100 yards of the church driveway entrance. Being the upstanding Christian witness that I am, with hopes that I could squeeze through the roadblock, I gently reminded the police officer that I am a pastor, to no avail (that usually works).
How many times have I had what I assumed to be the goal in site, only to be diverted by some incident, some unforeseen distraction, a phone call, an illness – you name it. And while being delayed in my arrival to the office is a small thing, the truth is that I don’t like not knowing what God is doing with my life (which is always). Especially when it plays out in ways that bring struggle, doubt and sadness.
If only I could be in control…
The adventure of the gospel is that our plans aren’t necessarily God’s design for our lives. And the truth is that if ours played out as we dreamed them, our stories would end in utter madness and disarray. We live in the realm of sterile assumptions. Our plans are based on incomplete data. We see through a ‘glass darkly.’ And we have no stomach for diversions, pain and many of the other dynamics that often accompany what turn out to be deep experiences of joy.
It isn’t so much that my plans are great, but that I don’t want to entrust my life into someone else’s hands, and maybe deeper, that I don’t want to accept the reality that there is pain in the world – in my world. But the bottom line is that God wants surrender from us – complete and total surrender. And whether we offer it to Him or not, His will will be done. So what I find is that the extent of my joy and peace rides on the level of control I am willing to lay at His feet.
Do I believe in a Sovereign God who is unequaled in His desire for my well-being?
Somewhere in the journey I want to be able to get out of the way and simply hear the Father say, ‘Here is the way, walk in it’ (Isaiah 30:21) and then actually be fine with what I know that I don’t know.
And I can’t help but think that this dynamic accompanied Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He wept in anguish to the Father, filled with sorrow, yet with a ‘joy set before Him’ (Hebrews 12:1-2). In spite of His disciples’ objections, the Cross was no diversion – He knew it was our path to joy.
What good news…
February 1, 2014 § 1 Comment
Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation
This morning, upon entering the Mall at Columbia, the site of the unspeakable act of violence that resulted in the taking of three lives last Saturday, we were handed ribbons in order to join in unified sorrow, and to participate in a moment of silence at the time the shootings occurred.
Pain and sorrow exist in a broken world – and they always will until Jesus makes all things new, and everything is restored to what it was always intended to be. This is something we don’t naturally understand because pain is not written into our DNA. Deep within, we know that we were created to be whole, and pain threatens wholeness. It is a polluting element in a world that was intended to be filled with justice, flourishing and peace (this is captured in the Hebrew word ‘shalom’). We cry when we are sad, and ache when there is distress because pain, suffering and evil will never ‘fit’ our human impulses.
Unfortunately the Church’s response often comes in the form of judgment and isolation, although Jesus did just the opposite. Rather than condemn, He came to heal, and instead of insulating Himself in self-protective seclusion from pain and suffering – even sin – He embraced it to Himself.
So until He comes and makes everything new, sorrow, heartache and tragedy will always be part of the human experience, not because of sins, but because of the first sin, when the beauty, loveliness and glory of the Garden were violated by Adam’s rebellion.
But because Jesus (the scriptures call Him ‘the last Adam’) has come and has submitted Himself to the very rebellion and violence that brokered the fall, the curse has been broken forever. One day every remnant and memory of the fall will be eradicated from the human experience.
In the mean time the Church is called to something higher than self-righteous condemnation and self-preserving isolation. It is called to imitate Jesus, who entered into this world’s pain and sorrow, and to embrace the brokenness He embraced, when He came for us.
Can you think of any higher calling?
This is our good news.
January 25, 2014 § Leave a comment
Tragic news has struck our community here in the Baltimore burbs. A fatal shooting rocked the Columbia Mall, where I write my sermons and blog each Saturday morning. Were it not for the fact that Katherine and I are speaking at a Marriage Conference in Atlanta this weekend, I would have been there.
But today, on every news network and, exploding on the Internet, the story of a horrid tragedy in our own backyard predominates. I am sick to my stomach and overwhelmed with sadness. The shards of our world’s brokenness have struck ‘home.’
It was only last week that we returned from Miami, my hometown, where we had our Mom’s funeral service. There were all kinds of sentimental moments in the experience. We enjoyed dear friends, ate the familiar food, cleaned the home we grew up in, took in the tropics, and returned to the last church I was a member of (pastors don’t retain Membership in churches).
But ‘home,’ at least here on earth in this sweet season in our lives, has become for us, Greater Baltimore. This place, this region – this home that we have come to love – is hurting.
Sometimes home hurts.
As we enter into adulthood we do so with all kinds of expectations for our lives. Our hopes are only good ones, and our dreams presume the distinct possibility that they are entirely attainable. This is how we think – and it is a good thing. We should interweave our natural longings for heaven into the people and world we live in.
Only this could transform what would be a most understandable response of repulsion, into a deepened love for a ‘place’ and people that have entered into a shared sorrow. In fact, I find myself anxious to rejoin our wounded community, and to get back to the church we have grown to love, the ‘place’ we now call home – and ‘my’ Starbucks – to freshly embrace what is now part of the landscape of our shared world. This pain has drawn me in.
And I find it inexplicably beautiful that the closer He moved towards His betrayal and death, Jesus’ love for His disciples became more pronounced – rather than less. I have to believe that His ‘joy set before Him’ (Hebrews 12:1-2) served as His promise of a one-day sweeter and deeper intimacy with His beloved friends.
This was the good news Jesus embodied.
Written with deep sadness…
January 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge
Working through our Mom’s home was a huge undertaking. We had a five-day window to sift through more than 3,000 square feet and nearly-50 years of accumulation to decide what was junk, what we would sell and what each of us wanted to take home, before closing down the house we grew up in. Amazingly, between reminiscences, one more football game on our side yard, and picture-taking, we got it done, and by the time we left Miami, the house was empty, clean and on the market.
Somewhere in the mad dash we came upon a huge stockpile of tapes and CD’s, nearly all of which were sermons I had preached through the years. Before the dawn of podcasts and church web sites, Mom had my messages mailed to her weekly.
It took roughly one second to decide to toss the stash.
I can’t tell you that Mom listened to each of them, though I wouldn’t be surprised if she had. And admittedly, had I meticulously sifted through the titles, I probably would have categorized them according to how well or poorly I felt about each delivery.
But it wouldn’t be because of the quality of my messages that Mom continued to listen, rather that she loved and was proud of her son, just as she was of each of her other four children.
If there were any particular snare I fall prey to every single day, it is that every fiber of my being wants to believe that I am measured, and that my value is determined by what I do, rather than by who I am in Christ.
There is always a deep-seated desire to work myself out of my own mess, and perhaps more sinister, an even deeper unwillingness to accept that God is a Father who loves and accepts me with full knowledge of how insecure, flawed and disposed to sin that I will always be until I make it Home. Put another way, there is something within me that resists accepting that my righteousness is in Jesus rather than anything I have done or can do.
But has it ever occurred to you that love’s truest measure can only come, not when we are lovely, but when we are utterly unlovable?
This means that everything we need for the Father to lavish love on us as His children, Jesus secured on the Cross. The math is simple: ‘We love because he first loved us.’ (1 John 4:19). It’s all there…
What better news could there be?