April 5, 2014 § 1 Comment
With a wedding to perform and our own daughter’s forthcoming wedding, my plan was to let the blog go today (translation: a vacuum of good ideas), but then, sitting in the office, preparing for the wedding, a post presented itself.
When in my office, I listen to music – anything from classical to classic rock, to present-day rock, to mellow tunes, to country, to show tunes, and everything in between.
This morning, as the classic rock song list played, Elton John’s Someone Saved My Life Tonight, came on. It was a hit in the 70′s (not mine – still making my way there!) from his Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy album. I am embarrassed to admit that I gave that album to a girl I was dating (I wonder if I could get that album back)…
Back then, you had two practical choices if you wanted to listen to music. Either you put an 8-Track tape in the player in your car, or you listened on vinyl, also known as an LP Record. An LP is a big flat, pizza-shaped piece of plastic with grooves in it. An amplified needle would move within the grooves to produce the sound. The thing with an LP is that if it became scratched, then the song would skip.
As I sang along this morning, when it came to the place in the song where John sings the words, ‘…in my darkest dreams…’, whereas he continues with the next written lyrics, I sang along as I had when I would play my scratched LP. Even though the MP3 didn’t skip, I did!
At first I laughed it off, and was amazed that I probably haven’t sung the song correctly since before my LP got scratched. Then it struck me that when I am honest, deep within, I am prone to believe the lie that I am a damaged tune rather than the new song that has been composed into my life in the gospel.
It isn’t an acceptance of my brokenness, but a rejection of it. Or more accurately, a rejection of God’s grace, that in Jesus the Father loves me, and sees me and accepts me – as whole, which means that the song we will one day sing when heaven and earth become one, is already playing on my behalf.
What good news…
March 29, 2014 § Leave a comment
“God’s work to release himself from his suffering is his work to deliver the world from its agony… When God’s cup of suffering is full, our world’s redemption is fulfilled.” Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son
I had no idea that the extraction of a wisdom tooth could be so painful, though I consider anything done in my mouth while in the dentist’s chair to be an act of violence. I thought the guy was going to rip my jaw off my face! It was like he was going to crawl inside my mouth. Sure, I’m an unapologetic anti-dentite (though I denied this to him – he had tools and drills and stuff at his disposal – you know, live to fight another day, and all that…).
And then there was the pain afterwards. A few hours following the extraction (the term alone is enough to elicit screams of panic and shrieks of terror!), I had a late afternoon meeting. All I could think of was my poor mouth. My pain. Me! It was freezing outside and I was sweating and daydreaming of romantic encounters with Extra Strength Tylenol, holding my jaw in my hand, in agony (proving that I’m no faith-healer).
It didn’t help for our Director of Worship to ask, ‘Is it safe?’ (you have to know the horrific scene in Marathon Man to grasp the depth of cruelty in this person that amazingly, I call ‘friend’).
So it is with pain. It demands our undivided attention, reminding us that all is not well with our bodies. When in pain, it is difficult to think of anything else.
And mine only lasted a day. But the world has been in pain ever since the fall.
Just yesterday a friend posted his sorrows on the birthday of a son that he and his wife lost – he would have turned seven years old. It was so painful I could barely read it.
Pain puts us on notice: in our homes, in our relationships, our minds – wherever it touches. We are cruelly reminded that the world isn’t what it was intended to be.
Amazingly, in the Lenten season we actually celebrate Christ’s pain, because His ‘via dolorosa,’ was not only a path of suffering, but also the passageway to a healed world. One day, what we see and know and experience and avoid and collide with every single day – will pass.
This is the narrative we sometimes miss in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, when we reaffirm that though pain occupies a place at the table in a broken world, it will not be seated at the Feast of Jesus when He makes all things new.
What good news…
March 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
This past week I was thrilled to meet up with an old friend and one of the most inspiring people I have ever known. When we first met, Jenni Gold was 10 years old and I was an 18 year-old volunteer church youth worker. Jenni has Muscular Dystrophy and was in a full body cast at the time, having had a steel rod surgically placed in her spine. Along with her parents, her two amazing sisters provided an environment of healing. The only thing they wouldn’t offer was sympathy, and this produced a will that far surpassed the strength of the rod in her back. We became fast friends, all of us. She fully entered into the life of our Youth Group. The word ‘limitation’ was not in her vocabulary. It still isn’t.
After graduating with a double major from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Jenni, along with her husband Jeff, moved to California, determined to produce movies. Today she is the co-founder of Gold Pictures in Universal City, CA. On Wednesday we reunited in DC to see a viewing of her Documentary, CinemAbility, a stunningly beautiful film about the history of the entertainment industry in relation to people with disabilities. She was also in DC to accept the 2014 American Association of Persons with Disabilities Image Award, presented by Danny Woodburn (‘Mickey’ on Seinfeld!).
In accepting the award, Jenni sited Paul’s words in Philippians 4:13, thanking Christ who gives her strength, and so revealed the source of her amazing will and character. Somewhere along the way, in all she has endured and overcome, as a little girl, and since, Jenni met Jesus. And He has provided everything she needs to be nothing short of amazing.
She mounts up with wings like eagles. She runs and doesn’t grow weary. She walks and doesn’t faint.
And she happens to have MD.
It is Lent. The world is broken. Suffering is part of the daily narrative.
But Jesus has come. And in entering into our brokenness by subjecting Himself to temptation, sorrow and pain, even death, by His resurrection He has assured that until He returns, and regardless of our circumstances, we may dance to the song of His redemption.
Friends, there is no greater news…
Taken on Palm Sunday in 1977 when Jenni joined the church
March 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
“Death and the hells of dereliction and abandonment eat people up, exhaust them, scrape them out, and bring them to nothing. Jesus is already empty, already poor, already nothing, for God is everything in him; and so the inexhaustible life of God meets death and eats it up and exhausts it.” – Rowan Williams, A Ray of Hope
This has been one of the coldest winters on record for Maryland, a season that has repeatedly flirted with our hopes, offering a few warm moments and days, only to remind us of its presence, with arctic blasts, day-long snows and gray skies. Being from Florida we generally greet the snow with excitement and fresh wonder. But winters like this are exhausting. One can only shovel so much snow and spread so much salt before wondering if it will ever end.
But it will.
This past fall I buried over 140 bulbs in the front of our town home. Until we moved north, I thought bulbs were the old version of Christmas tree lights, and that ‘football’ and ‘hurricane’ were the only valid seasons. But when it comes to gardening, bulbs are these agricultural knots of root and dirt, that when left in the ground to endure the cold of winter, yield beautiful flowers in the spring.
Amazingly, after months of frigid temperatures, hard-as-concrete frozen ground, and layers of snow, they have begun to emerge from the dirt.
Spring is something we cling to on cold, long winter days. When the thaw comes, we rediscover that God has designed hints of the life and beauty He always intended for Creation.
With the approach of Easter comes the celebration of Jesus’ conquest over the grave. Because of the resurrection we don’t have to pass over Christ’s pain – or ours. We can feel sorrow as it affects us and others. We don’t have to pretend that disappointment doesn’t wound and that death doesn’t devastate.
They do. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
In his own retelling of the redemption story, Solomon puts this to verse, singing, ‘My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.’” (Song of Solomon 2:10-12).
Friends, in a broken world pain, disappointment and sorrow will be our realities until Jesus comes.
Terms like ‘resurrection’ and ‘renewal,’ though beautiful – and real – are hard to capture in the midst of life and pain. When our worlds come crashing in around us, they can seem hollow and unhelpful.
No, what sustains us is love, and in Jesus, we are the Father’s beloved.
this is our good news…
March 8, 2014 § Leave a comment
It is the Lenten season, a time when reflection on Christ and loss and sorrow and brokenness converge in anticipation of the celebration of the Resurrection.
A good friend, and pastor in San Francisco, Fred Harrell offers this:
“Lent is an old English word that means springtime. It was a way of speaking about a season before Easter, and over the centuries Christians have used this time of year before Easter to say, ‘I need springtime in my soul’.”
It is a good thing to ‘feel’ the lament of a fallen world, of which we are part, because it may be that we most accept our own brokenness, and therefore our need, by seeing ourselves in the context of a larger community that shares our condition.
I know that every instinct within is to avoid such things. We have enough pain in our lives. Why remind ourselves that we are a mess and that we bear scars? But there is something healing in lament in the way that dressing a wound is simultaneously painful and soothing, like in the relief we feel when we finally come clean to someone we love. Solomon says that “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by the sadness of the face the heart is made better” (Ecclesiastes 7:3).
Sorrow and lament peel away the shallow layers of self and denial to expose our simple need for God.
In the end, this is really what the Lenten season is all about – because to lose ourselves in sadness would be as incomplete as avoiding its reality. There is something beyond the tears and wounds.
No, the story we find ourselves in is that in Jesus, God has come near to ‘sympathize’ with our condition, ‘a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering’ (Isaiah 53:3), choosing the Cross to be His only way Home. When we celebrate the passion, and align our hearts with the world’s sorrows, embracing our neighbor’s pain as our own, while allowing the gospel to delve into our own brokenness, we enter into Christ’s passion as He did ours. In doing so, we look to the end of suffering as well, because Jesus who died now lives.
Friends, in the Kingdom of God, no sadness is wasted on a Father whose Son has made for us a way Home.
such good news…
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.