August 2, 2014 § Leave a comment
“The most vulnerable thing we could ever do, the thing that requires the most courage and faith, is the key to freedom. We bring our nothing – accepting who we are by accepting who God is, what he has done and what he promises to do.”
J.R. Briggs, Fail
It was a treat to be invited by one of our Elders to the Baltimore Ravens’ training facility in Owings Mills a few weeks ago, which is by invitation only (as opposed to the larger venue at M&T Bank Stadium). Through another friend who works with the team, we were also permitted to enter into the complex and view the team’s two Super Bowl trophies.
What a thrill to be at field level watching these athletes. They are stunningly fast and observably sleek. Their movement is precise and seemingly effortless. When they strike the blocking machines you can almost feel the force from the stands.
Following practice the team autographed footballs, jerseys, posters and hats for the children. But we adults were equally awed with the event. Having grown up a sports fan, any brush with professional athletes has always been the coolest thing. I still feel like a kid when watching them practice, even though I am twenty-five years older than the oldest player on the team!
Yet what reached me most deeply was in observing our Worship Director and his twin sons. The photo at the top of this post really says it all – a Dad and his boys. They were his joy and the stars of his photographs.
Amazingly we enjoy no less pleasure from the heavenly Father, even more.
What a sweet picture of God and His people – a Father and His children. We are unfinished, and His love for us is complete. We are weak and He is strong. We get lost and He finds us. We are immature, and He is eternally wise. We obey imperfectly and He delights over us with singing, His lens ever fixed on us because of Jesus.
I know the tyranny of unbelief, how it creeps into our hearts and thinking, wrecking joy and imposing it’s own version of a twisted righteousness that is neither righteous nor beautiful. More than anything, it obscures us from the Father – and this is sad.
However to our sometimes despairing spirits and fearful hearts the gospel freshly announces to us that we are not orphans! Nothing Jesus did – on the Cross and in His Resurrection – is wasted. In Christ, we are God’s daughters and sons (John 1:12).
What good news…
June 14, 2014 § 2 Comments
“I think there are a lot of religious trends that would have us controlling God, telling us that if we do this and that and another, God will jump through the hoops like a monkey. But this other God, this real God, is awesome and strong, all–encompassing and passionate, and for reasons I will never understand, He wants to father us.”
Donald Miller & John MacMurray, To Own a Dragon
It is Father’s Day weekend, and both the Fatherhood of God and the fact that my Dad is gone are colliding within my heart. Dad was strong, imposing, sweet and gentle all at the same time. He loved Christ. And he loved his family. I miss him.
Dad wasn’t the most communicative of people when it came to intimate space, a typical son of poor immigrants, who poured his passion into providing for and protecting his family. But when I left home for college, and then seminary, to my surprise, he began to write – a lot. Each month I would receive long letters, written on Dad’s Eastern Airlines stationary (they even smelled like his office) in which he poured out his love for the Lord and the family in great detail. I discovered that he had a lot in him, and the letters (all of which I still possess as treasures) offered safe passage for speaking his heart.
I was blessed with a good Father. And I always wished someone like my Dad for friends who had sadder stories with their own parents. Dad made believing that there is a Father in heaven who loves me more natural than if I had to fight through harsher experiences in accepting this to be true.
And I have come to believe that my greatest struggle with God isn’t the tenets of the Christian Faith, but in freshly believing the intimate realities that accompany it.
Tomorrow I begin a summer series on The Lord’s Prayer. Right out of the gate Jesus teaches that more than a theological tenet, God is a Father, ‘Our Father…’ And further, this foreboding God of the Old Testament, all along (you can hear the passion in the covenants, promises and sacrifices), had a lot in Him… for us.
And He sent all He had, in Jesus, for the very reason my Dad wrote those precious letters.
What good, sweet 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
January 25, 2014 § 1 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?
December 28, 2013 § 20 Comments
“All I ever wanted was to have a wonderful husband and children and take care of them. I had all that and God saved my soul, so I have Heaven thrown in, as well! Remember, I will be in Heaven praising the Lord. What a wonderful life I have had!” – Mom, June 1, 2012
This past Thursday, the day after Christmas, my Mom, Marie Khandjian, passed away. I am speaking in the most personal of terms – the ‘she’s-my-mom’ kind of terms. Until your parents are gone you always feel the same, like the child one has been, throughout their entire lives to that point. Even as an adult, when you visit the house you grew up in, nothing feels different. There is your room, your den, your kitchen, etc. It’s all there as it had always been. But then, when they go, it is different. And now it is different. My Mom is gone. On her behalf we are relieved that she is Home and reunited to Dad, but it is different.
My Mom was an amazing woman. She loved life. She loved her family. And she loved Christ and His Church. Her story is of someone who started out with tons of pain and sadness, but ended in healing and joy. Somewhere in her adolescence, at a critical moment when she could easily have spiraled into a life of constant sorrow and trouble, she met Jesus, and her life was miraculously and radically transformed.
She had an incredibly positive outlook. One year, after I was dumped by a girl in college, she sent me the single (yes, a vinyl 45 rpm record!), I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor. She was right. I did.
She wasn’t afraid of setbacks, nor impressed with greatness. She had no fear of confrontation, conflict or disagreement. Even if it was with a pastor that might also happen to be her son…
She was relentlessly committed to her family. Out of her painful childhood experiences she resolved to cook hot meals for her family every night – and did. She not only raised us, but loved us, spoke truth into our lives, forgave us much, taught us about Jesus, and blessed us by adoring our Dad, her husband, out loud.
She was tirelessly social – Being Armenian, she loved throwing parties – big parties to the tune of 50-100 people at a time. Armenian Pilaf, salad and veggies, along with London broil that Dad would grill, and of course, Baklava, were the staples. Family would gather. Women would cook and catch up. Men would play backgammon and talk loud. Children would run inside and out. Classmates, church members and neighbors (invited or not) were welcome and constantly stopped in for that famous food and energy.
All to say that my Mom gave to us what she didn’t receive in her hard upbringing, which makes her all the more amazing. God gave her a vision for something better and sweeter and lovelier than the hard life she was born into. He gave her what she most longed for, even when she didn’t have it or quite know what it would look like. And through her and Dad, He gave us Himself.
And now, everything she wanted for us, she has – She is Home, at the Feast, with her beloved husband, with the gathered family of God and in the presence of the One she has always been amazed by – for His rescue and forgiving grace. Jesus.
What good, sweet news.
My Mom was amazing. Right now, in between this moment and that service in a few weeks, I get to be her boy. And that is a good thing…
Marie P. Khandjian – November 1, 1929 – December 26, 2013 – RIP
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” – Psalm 116:15
December 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
“Adeste fidelis. Come and behold him, born the king of angels. Speak to him or be silent before him. In whatever way seems right to you and at whatever time, come to him with your empty hands. The great promise is that to come to him who was born at Bethlehem is to find coming to birth within ourselves something stronger and braver, gladder and kinder and holier, than ever we knew before or than ever we could have known without him.”
Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark
It is Christmas morning. Come, let us adore Jesus. He is born to us – to you – to the weary, the broken, the lost, the fearful, the lonely, the poor, the needy, the weak. To any who recognize their need for a Savior, Jesus is born.
Humbly He comes, offering Himself. He bears forgiving grace, enduring peace and unconditional love. The waiting is over. Christ has come.
It is early. As with each year, I am awake, with coffee brewing, Christmas music playing, tree lit. Once again we are blessed to have our entire family here with us. As the family sleeps, I am given a few moments to reflect on the fact that somewhere in the night, in a small town, to a young couple, God came, wrapped in flesh, a newborn. Angels rejoiced as heaven opened up to welcome His arrival to unnamed, lowly shepherds.
Be encouraged. Jesus is born. Take heart. You are not invisible to God.
“To our Weakness He is no Stranger”
In Jesus, God has come. Let us adore Him!
He is our good news of great joy.
peace on earth.
Merry Christmas, Friends!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
William Blake, The Lamb
December 21, 2013 § 6 Comments
“We matter to God. Inexplicably. Undeservedly. Even we dedicated Christians tend to forget this truth – or doubt it or altogether reject it – when we encounter trouble. It is difficult to understand why we matter, but we do. God is watching, listening to us, speaking promises into the cacophony of our worries and the certainty of their fulfillment into our most deeply buried hopes.”
Patty Kirk, Confessions of an Amateur Believer
For years I have been sitting here – at ‘my’ Starbucks – writing, reflecting, observing and praying.
In observing, I see weariness, weirdness, craziness and determination, in fellow regulars who have become friends I will likely never see outside these walls. And strangers. Strangers who walk by, and strangers who stop by.
Many are desperately trying to survive and navigate the details of their lives. Some are actively searching, looking for meaning and purpose. They are in touch with their longings and can hear the music, but haven’t yet discovered the source.
All of them matter. Each was created in God’s Image, shattered though that Image may be by the fall. Not all have discovered the beauty of Jesus, but with tears, I hope each will.
As I write, my Mom is dying. She is a Christ-follower and woman of God, and when she passes I’ll write more. But on this the day of my sister’s 50th Birthday, my sense of awe is with her. Venus works in home health care and for a year she has relentlessly pursued a dignified setting for Mom’s passing.
The picture at the head of this post is of the bedroom she and my brother-in-law prepared for Mom in anticipation of her arrival. It isn’t merely a room with a bed, but a suite, with classical Christmas music playing, lovely family pictures, homey furnishings – and massive doses of love.
Mom is barely ‘here,’ and she can only communicate with a nearly undetectable whisper and nuanced facial expressions that we kids recognize as being uniquely ‘hers,’ yet this dying woman is being treated like a beautiful queen who has everything before her – and she is and she does.
She matters. You matter. We matter. God’s Image. How sweet.
The Advent longing is not a hopeless cry, but the song of redemption, a beautifully hopeful melody, whose music emanates from the humbleness of the manger and the conquest of the Cross, sung into the messy reality of our fallenness, which is precisely the point of Jesus’ entrance into the world.
It isn’t enough to say that God loves the broken. Stopping there leaves incomplete the fullness of the gospel. God not only loves the broken and has entered into our mess with forgiving grace, but amazingly, He also sees us as though we are perfectly whole – because in Jesus, we are.
What good news of great joy…
peace on earth and good will to all.
October 26, 2013 § 2 Comments
We have the privilege of living in perhaps the finest medical region on the planet. World-renowned physicians work in the Baltimore-DC corridor, and this means that when a life is in peril, it is the place to be. Last week one of our Members was in an accident and clinging to life in a small Pennsylvania town that did not have the facilities to treat the severity of his condition. So he was life-flighted to the University of Maryland Medical Center Shock Trauma Unit in the middle of the night, and there he was tended to by an expert team of docs, nurses, experts, diagnosticians and administrators.
The next morning we learned that most don’t make it into the unit. But by God’s grace he did, and he has, in no small way due to the people who have so relentlessly cared for him.
Those first 48 hours, as his life lay tenuously in the balance, he was heavily medicated and barely conscious. He likely had no idea what was going on. He was restless, in pain, and disoriented. He didn’t know the names, and could barely discern the faces of the people attending to him.
But ever-present with him was that crowd of people (pictured in this post) who knew exactly where he was and what he needed. At some point I counted roughly fifteen who attended to him at the same time, observing monitors and vital signs, listening to his heartbeat, prodding his body, and watching breathing patterns.
I’ve replayed that scene many times since witnessing it, and it occurred to me that we too are often oblivious to the hand of God through the people – and angels – He sends our way. In spite of his sedated state, our friend actually wasn’t alone at all.
Genesis 21 came to mind, where Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid, was in the wilderness of Beersheba, without sustenance, weeping and waiting to die along with her young son. Yet even there, God heard her sobs, and then opened her eyes to reveal a well that would sustain her son, and her.
I think the point isn’t that we have to know that God is there, but that we can actually not know – and He is nevertheless – in the wilderness and in the crowd.
Such good news…
September 21, 2013 § Leave a comment
Patty Kirk, Confessions of an Amateur Believer
Our Music/Worship Director recently noticed that my desk was looking less book-infested, and I was thrilled because he was the only one among our Staff that noticed. It doesn’t take much for that desk to become a monstrosity, as mentioned in last week’s post. When it does, it usually remains that way for weeks until the clutter wins and makes it impossible for me to think (as happened recently), which then compels me to ‘scorch the earth,’ so to speak, and clean the desk.
The truth is that I love it when it’s clean, but I don’t mind if it’s a mess. At the end of the day it isn’t that important.
As Christ-followers it is easy for us to aspire to the wrong things – and one of them is our track record. Part of this is due to what we assume to be expected of us, internally and externally. Hey, try being the only pastor in a family of thousands (okay, it seems that way) of proud Armenians!
There is something diabolical within all of us that want our records expunged on a daily basis. We love God’s grace yet our natural darker selves hate that others would notice our need for it. But we do. And the only evidence of its working in our lives is that we are flawed. We aren’t perfect parents, perfect couples or perfect humans. We wrestle with our demons, our wickedness and our weaknesses. We aren’t perfect Christians. We are unfinished.
To embrace this truth is to truly accept what Jesus became for us – ‘God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us…’ 2 Corinthians 5:21.
Part of the problem is that we are easily lost in the wrong storyline.
Friends, perfection never was the story. Sure, Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden – and that is entirely on them, as our sins are on us – but God’s design wasn’t for perfect automatons – it was and is for daughters and sons. Redemption is the story. And there is something wildly beautiful about letting go of the need to appear to be something we can’t be, and frankly, something that doesn’t even matter, to entrust ourselves into the hands of a Father whose sole interest takes Him past our brokenness and into what we will one day be.
Could there be any better news?