March 4, 2013 § 1 Comment
N.T. Wright, For All The Saints
Forgive a belated post. I spent the last five days in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with a team of nine that did restoration work in a community ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. Three teams worked in three different homes, and one church. The before-and-after images of the homes two of the teams spackled, sanded and painted had to bring unexpected delight to the folks whose living spaces were invaded by the storm’s violence.
The team I served on laid a kitchen floor after stopping a radiator leak, first by constructing a sub-floor. The project involved a healthy chunk of time measuring and re-measuring every contour of the floor’s layout, then in cutting large blanks of thin plywood (sub-floor), gluing, driving screws, rolling, and then gluing again in order to situate the new floor into place.
For us novices, this installation was a two-and-a-half day project. Those who spackled, sanded and painted would say the same. Paid professionals would knock this stuff out in no time. We were doing our part.
It will be years before Jersey and other affected states are able to finally put the storm behind them. More remains to be done than has already been accomplished. This is the way of such devastation.
But it is also the way of healing.
As we debriefed one evening, it occurred to us that this is the way the Gospel enters, in the way Jesus would simply enter into a town or village, and brings flourishing into brokenness, at every level – a heart, a life, a home, even a community. You can break it down further: Injured marriages, failing cities, broken relationships and damaged memories all heal in the same way.
Even if one could point to a moment, it is rare that everything happened in a particular instance. No, it is normally after many dynamics converge into a quantifiable point in time. This after brokenness was unearthed, damage was acknowledged, and deep need and despair were felt. The sub-floor of brokenness.
And then, healing came.
When we enter into a broken community, or start a new church, or encourage a hurting neighbor, we do what the gospel does – we come to them, not to fix (because we can’t), but to enter into a greater narrative in God’s work of healing the whole world.
Last week, in the process we met friends we may never again see until the Feast. But for them, and for us, the gospel had come in a fresh and beautiful way – to all of us, just as it always does – with salvation and healing, hope and renewal.
It comes to a world that will remain unfinished, a world populated with people equally incomplete – until Jesus finishes what He has inaugurated – until He satisfies every yearning, heals every neighborhood and reconciles every broken part of His good creation.
And this just floors me…
It is the good news.
December 9, 2012 § Leave a comment
Currently there is a nationally televised Home Depot commercial that has caught my attention. It features people being helped, in every department – by Santa Claus, of all people! If you pay attention to the ad, you will see that at least one of the Santas is named ‘Noel.’ It is written in that black Sharpie kind of way on the apron that adorns every local Home Depot employee. (Chevrolet has a similar ad, but Santa’s nametag is ‘Nick’).
I love this TV spot, not only because of its creativity, though I am shallow enough for that to be sufficient, but also because one of the Santas is a personal friend. In fact, he is a fellow pastor and church planter in South Florida.
Steve Lantz is an amazing guy. He and Lynda, his wife of nearly two years, are expecting their first child in April. Because Lynda was the Campus Crusade for Christ Director for the West Chester University in the Greater Philadelphia area I had the privilege of meeting her soon before they married when she and Steve drove through Maryland. This past year they worshiped with us as well.
Steve has lived with the kind of longing that Advent focuses on. It is the hope of Jesus, and a vision for something that will one day be – something good – that in His coming, what has been empty will once again be to overflowing, and what has been broken will eventually be mended.
Part of how Steve raises funds is through acting. Early in his ministry he took classes in order to supplement his income while he mapped out his dream. For eight years he has served as the Chaplain for the Booker T. Washington High School Football team in Miami (and recently the State Champions), a job that pays little in spite of its own rewards. And he has worked as a short order cook in Downtown Miami.
He is driven by a vision for working among the poor and watching the gospel cause the Overtown neighborhood and community to flourish as a result of the justice, presence and power of Jesus in Miami.
I have found that it isn’t until I am willing to go ‘there,’ that is, to enter into the pain, whether in relationships, personal tragedies, or seasons of sorrow and doubt, that I really begin to connect as an agent of consolation and renewal.
There is something in all of us that is natively resistant to pain and suffering, but the gospel always draws us to enter into our world’s brokenness as Christ did in His Incarnation, so that we may be as tender with its pathos as Jesus is and has been to ours.
His willingness to do so is our Good News.
And that goes for Santa Claus too…
PS Here is a letter Steve put out last month, that describes all he is doing.
November 17, 2012 § Leave a comment
This morning at breakfast Katherine and I talked about what we were thankful for. It wasn’t our Thanksgiving pre-season exercise. It just flowed from a conversation that wound us around and through the world we’ve known together for over 30 years. Something Katherine said resonated – that it isn’t so much the details, but just the fact that God has filled us with thankfulness.
It set my mind into gear. So I wanted to pause and simply give thanks.
Somewhere last year it dawned on me that everything I had hoped for over 30 years ago, with Katherine and the future, God has brought about and much more. It is so cool that God has allowed for us to experience all this together. I could not be more grateful for this extraordinary woman. As the Beach Boys sang a million years ago, I don’t know where, but she takes me there, and I love going with her. But I am amazed at what we have been able to watch unfold through years, life and fulfilled, and yet-to-be realized dreams. How I thank you for Katherine, Father.
This Christmas all of our children will be home. On Thanksgiving our daughters will be with us. We are thrilled. In each of them is a story that testifies to the unfailing grace of God. We remember their infancies, their childhoods, their teen years, and their important moments. They live in the continuing narrative of God’s goodness, and we get the privilege and joy of praying for them daily, and then watching them grow, fall, get back up, and mature – we are amazed. Thank you, Lord for our precious ones.
Both of us are the products of parents who love Jesus. Two of our parents have made it home. All of them have helped to weave faith, hope and love into our fabric. None of them have been perfect, and even this has contributed to understanding the big story of God’s grace. The ones who are gone, we miss terribly, and the ones who remain we love deeply. Thank you God, for parents who gave us glimpses of you until we met you.
We are in ministry. It has always been challenging and sometimes exhausting – and He has rewarded us beyond the very real rigors of the pastorate and in spite of our even more real inadequacies. With each challenge He has poured out grace. And now He has set us in the midst of a beautiful congregation. He was more patient than my homesickness in the early years, and has brought more blessing than our imperfections. He has surrounded us with an amazing Staff, Leaders and Flock. I guess this is the right place to say that He has given me a Starbucks to write and reflect, because it is here (where I write even at this moment), that many from our church family, including our Young People, knock on the window, stop to say hello, and wave as they graciously pass their hermit pastor. This Sunday we ordain a young man who will start a new work in the City of Baltimore. How groovy! O God, thank you for the Chapelgate community (and my Starbucks!).
He has graced us with friendships – enduring friendships – amazing friendships – friendships that stretch all the way back to childhood, friendships from each congregation, old and new friends. It has occurred to us that many of the Young People who were in our youth group when we first entered into ministry have become dear friends in adulthood – how good is that. Our friends are treasures. Each has been placed in our lives by the Father who knows our needs. Through shared trials, love-shaping conflicts, love-affirming apologies, and in spite of time and distance, we have been the beneficiaries of a vast network of affection. Thank you Father for giving us these meaningful friends.
He has given us Jesus. A long time ago Jesus entered into our lives – our worlds. He has shaped, shaken, disrupted, comforted, convicted, confronted and contended with us. He has shown up in moments when we thought we were desperately alone – and without Him we were. He has been our life and for us, He gave His life. Thank you Father for giving us your Son.
The truth is that I could go on and on. God has been good to us and has blessed us with immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). I hope this and more for you.
All Thanks and Praise be to God, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
PS I’ll begin posting again two weeks from today.