June 20, 2015 § Leave a comment
A fellow pastor died earlier this week. The Reverend Clementa Pinckney, of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina was slain along with eight other innocent people who gathered to pray and study the scriptures. Obviously we didn’t know one another, but in the ministry, where the Faith is mutually embraced, there is a shared bond that cannot found in denominations or nuanced theological differences – but in calling.
As someone who has led and been part of countless Wednesday evening gatherings like this, I can tell you that people are rarely more vulnerable than when they open themselves and their lives up before others and God in a small setting. So for this violence to be perpetrated in such a context is beyond the pale. There are no words. Nine people are gone.
I am thankful for my fellow pastors, black and white, who are wrestling with all they have, in networks, on social media, with one another, and within their own hearts, as they lead congregations in the reality of racism’s unquestionable presence in our country.
We stand together.
It is important that you understand that we are every bit as human as anyone else. We are moved by pain, and sometimes filled with the temptation to hate and retaliate. We are often utterly clueless as to what to do in any given situation, and every bit as limited as any other human being. And sometimes we are blinded by our own prejudices, fears and emotions. We weren’t born ministers.
We get angry too.
We want revenge too.
We want blood too.
We want justice too.
We want to understand too.
We desperately need Jesus.
And by God’s grace, we have the gospel, from which His grace flows, and love has been demonstrated for this fallen human race, namely to us, not by some hero-wannabee, but by Jesus, the pure and spotless Lamb of God, who gave Himself in sacrifice for the very sins we grieve. And we understand that everything horrible and violent and vicious that manifests itself in this broken world, has found some measure of residence within each of us.
Jesus asks that we follow Him, even when the world is bleak and hope is scarce, even when we want to lay aside our ordination vows, and act out of our own pain and heartache. In His death and resurrection He has ensured that one day the grip of injustice and the violence and bloodshed of all sin will finally and eternally be broken. Jesus has overcome the world and its curse. We were called to announce, embody and cling to this unspeakably lovely hope.
Like I said, I didn’t know Pastor Pinckney and we won’t meet until we are both at the Feast – He has already made it Home. But we share the bond of a calling that begins with giving one’s life away. In some way Pastor Pinckney sacrificed himself many years before God called him Home.
And in this is our hope. In the violence and sorrow of this sin-torn and fallen world, we have the promise that a Feast awaits those who have fled to Jesus – who Himself died and made it Home – first. For us.
Our good news…
December 7, 2013 § 1 Comment
“The goal of human existence is that man should dwell in peace in all his relationships: with God, with himself, with his fellows, with nature, a peace which is not merely the absence of hostility, though certainly it is that, but a peace which at its highest is enjoyment. To dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in nature, to enjoy living one’s fellows, to enjoy life with oneself.”
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Reason within the Bounds of Religion
Until a fellow pastor taught me that God draws us into the shared brokenness that is our fallen world, I lived under the sad and selfish delusion that if all was right with me and mine, then that was enough. But this couldn’t be further from the teaching of the gospel and I will always be indebted to this dear friend because of his patient guidance.
Just this week Nelson Mandela died, and the free world grieves. It mourns because in his work to end Apartheid in South Africa something resonated within us. We were created to be free, and every person instinctively knows this to be true.
It is evident in the offerings of the culture (even in the DC store window pictured!). The best movies are redemptive. The sweetest writings echo compassion. The most passionate causes aim at justice. Even at Christmas I am freshly reminded of this in Stevie Wonder’s song, Someday at Christmas…
Someday at Christmas we’ll see a land
With no hungry children, no empty hand
One happy morning people will share
Our world where people care
This is the cry of the prophets, perhaps no more beautifully expressed than in Isaiah:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
At Advent we freshly enter into the collective brokenness of our world with a longing for healing. Until Jesus makes everything new, even our joy is incomplete unless it is expressed through the embrace of a shared sorrow. After all, it was ‘the joy set before him,’ that is, it was the joy of a reconciled and redeemed new world, that sent Jesus to the Cross.
With this in mind, He captured our sorrows in His own, our sins upon Himself, and our future joy in His resolve.
What good news…
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name
Adolphe Adam, 1847
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 31, 2012 § 3 Comments
In a few hours the New Year will be reality. The Mayans have been proven wrong, and the world has survived. Though this is in no way an exhaustive list, take the encouragements offered as musings from the heart of a simple pastor and fellow sinner who remains unfinished to the core, but redeemed none the less.
An Encouragement to Remember Who You Are (ala Mufasa in James Earl Jones voice in The Lion King) – The fact is that life is a struggle between competing forces that constantly vie for our identity. Each offers plausible shortcuts to all kinds of good things such as respectability, success, fulfillment and peace. But they require energies and compromises that we weren’t created to bend our hearts around, and in the end they compromise us, and others. So find your identity in Jesus – Christ alone offers unconditional love without diminishing our dignity.
Be who you are! God likes you that way. And deep down, so do you. Sure, you will meet with some rejection – that is an unavoidable consequence of the fall, but the alternative is to live in a pretend world that fools everyone except God – Oh… and the person you see in the mirror each morning.
An Encouragement to Live for Something Greater than Yourself – Katherine and I saw Lincoln this past week. It is worth more than the price of admission – an amazingly well acted, scripted and directed movie. What struck me was that Abraham Lincoln lived only 56 years, just one year longer than I have been alive. They were hard years, particularly towards the end of his life. But what he was used for in those years! The fact is that God put you here for a good purpose. It may be as simple as being a good parent, as public as holding an elected office, or as undetected as providing some faithful service in a broken world. Just determine to not come to the end of your life and conclude that you set the bar too low. Every instinct will tell you that you can’t do this, and you’re right, but as our Director of College & High School Ministries said yesterday, (Patrick Allen), Because God is faithful we have the hope of what will one day be. – Rest in that faithfulness.
So Live! Look past your short lifetime believing that what you do and who you are count for something larger than yourself.
An Encouragement to Pursue Jesus – Let me challenge you to make this a year to deepen your roots with God. Enter the adventure that is redemption, only don’t rely primarily on secondary sources – With the Christian life Relationship is everything, and our relationship with God deepens in His Word. Facebook is great for social interaction, but quaint spiritual sayings on pink or light green backgrounds are no replacement for journeying into God’s story, and ours. A simple admission may help here: I do ‘personal devotions’ only three times a week (sermon prep doesn’t count). It’s true – My life is crazy, and spending time in God’s Word is not as simple as a New Year’s resolution. Sure, I reflect on what I read throughout the entire week, and I enjoy a constant life of prayer, but when it comes to the discipline of bible reading, I give more energy and passion to those three days than I would under some formulaic system borne of guilt. And don’t deny yourself thoughtful authors who stretch your faith and challenge you to grow. God has revealed Himself, and Jesus tells us that He can be found beyond our natural layers of self-protection, not only in His Word, but also His World, the broken and weak, the lovely and beautiful. Expect Him to make Himself known to you.
So discover Jesus freshly! And hey, sometimes all we can do is remain near until He shows up. I am confident that He will in some way you never expected, and when He does, you’ll realize that He was not only waiting, but also pursuing you all along – even in your doubts.
An Encouragement to Love – God has put people in your life – people you know and people you don’t know. Love them well. Don’t let those you know just assume that you care. Care. There is nothing sweeter than being loved beyond obligation. Whether your immediate family or your church community, in the end, you will be thankful that actively caring for loved ones is not among your regrets. Give strangers the gift of kindness, signaling to them that no one is invisible to God. Jesus even calls our enemies our neighbors, so love the ‘neighborhood’ God has placed you in, whether faces are recognizable or not, and discover that the world changes in small, kindness-shaped bytes. And you may never know what unexpected charity brings to the recipients.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Trust me, you’ll be disappointed time and again by putting yourself out there, even by those you most love, but an unloved and unloving, calloused heart is no match for one that is tender to the risks of love. And somewhere along the journey, you’ll remember that God didn’t wait for you to clean up before making you His.
For the New Year, this is good news…
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you… Philippians 1:3
April 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
1 Peter 1:3
For all the times you wanted to throw in the towel, Jesus is Risen. For all the regrets you live with and the shame you bear, Jesus is Risen. For all the people you long to reunite with, all the indiscretions and all your sorrows, Jesus is Risen. For all the mistakes you can’t fix and all the sins and words and actions you can’t take back, Jesus is Risen. For all the injustice, oppression and heartache you see, and even that which you have caused, Jesus is Risen. For your troubles and the sorrows of the world, Jesus is Risen. For all the love you’ve lost and failed to give, Jesus is Risen.
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance
Mumford & Sons – Timshel
In His Name, Rise Up.
Jesus is Risen.
He is Risen Indeed!
He is Risen for you.
May 19, 2011 § 5 Comments
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes… again (The Doors)
In case you haven’t heard, the world will end this Saturday, May 21. According to self-proclaimed prophet Harold Camping, ‘Judgment Day’ will come with worldwide earthquakes. A full-page ad appeared this week in USA TODAY warning folks of impending catastrophe. And naturally, with the announcement also came Camping’s rationale for his previous failure in predicting the end of the world.
The problem with predicting ‘The End’ is that Jesus clearly teaches that this isn’t our place – that the Father alone knows how history will end. Shortly before Jesus ascended to heaven His disciples – His closest friends – asked for some inside information on the consummation of time. Jesus responded (Acts 1:7), It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. He would proceed to inform them that His Spirit would come and lead and empower them in the mission at hand.
Christ’s admonition wasn’t derived by a devilish pleasure in holding secrets others couldn’t share in. His concern is with becoming preoccupied with ‘The End’ at the expense of the here and now – Here and now where brokenness lives, and where need is palpable to a world damaged by sin – the here and now that cries for someone to enter into sorrow, with hope and not fear.
It is worth visiting some history here. I was raised in churches that saw ‘The End’ in terms of the ‘Last Days’ – that we would one day accompany and assist Jesus in His victory over the wicked. We sang Larry Norman’s, I Wish We’d All Been Ready, and watched movies on the ‘end times,’ while convinced that every symbol in the prophecy of Daniel and book of Revelation could be identified with some event or personality or dynamic in the culture, and thus prove that those times had arrived.
But we were wrong, and our passion was misguided. Jesus didn’t redeem us to decipher the future, rather to trust Him with it while living out the gospel in the present – to collaborate in God’s mission of bringing heaven to earth: An unwarranted kindness, an unexpected act of mercy, the practice of forgiveness, taking pleasure in the lovely things of creation, the culture and arts, compassion on those otherwise ignored or scorned, participation in evangelism, planting churches, restoring communities and cities, and praying for flourishing and peace in a world torn by sin.
All these, and more, reflect the belief that what God will ultimately do, He has already inaugurated in Jesus, and that we have been invited to share in the arrival of His Kingdom – not tomorrow, and not May 21st, but Today.
Friends, this is Good News.
PS – In case you remain unconvinced and are sold that this is the end, and that you have no need to plan past Saturday, then my only question is this: Can I have your stuff?
September 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
It is September 11, nine years after the vicious terrorist attack on US soil, in Pennsylvania, NYC and Washington DC. I remember that day as though it was yesterday – most can recite every detail of their lives on that fateful day – I know that I can. The nation was thrown into a chaotic and desperate rush to find answers, hear loved ones’ voices, to care for the wounded, identify the victims, comfort their families, and respond to our attackers.
The church I pastored met for prayer the next evening and nearly 1000 people came to weep and sing and pour their hearts out before God. Two and a half weeks after the attack I went to New York and served at a volunteer site, offering meals, comfort and prayer to the Military, Rescue workers and Law Enforcement, as they worked around the clock in the city. I was then taken to Ground Zero, where an Officer took me to the center of the devastation. I haven’t quite recovered from that moment, and probably never will. Thousands of lives were lost and sorrow blanketed over our nation for many months and into the next year. Nothing again would ever be the same.
The Sunday after, I preached from Psalm 46, sharing in solidarity with my dear friend in ministry, Jeff White, who pastors the Newsong Community Church in Harlem, and who I stayed with when I went to Ground Zero. Together we proclaimed the promise of the Gospel.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though
the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams
make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most
The solidarity that drew Jeff and I to preach the same passage, and that compelled me and thousands of other clergy and volunteers to go to Ground Zero, and that drew hundreds to our and many other churches – to pray – and the sense of reflection that our Nation today shares, are reminders that the best way to care for people in their brokenness is to enter into it and share it.
We can’t shake that moment, not only because of its shock-value, but because the suffering has remained with us – with all of us – we share it. It has become part of who we are, and it is something we don’t want to any longer be identified apart from. Because in that moment all of our differences – our wealth and poverty – our strength and weakness – our success and failure – our skin color – our ethnicities – our languages – our histories – our denominational affiliations – our generations – all of it, in that moment, faded into the backdrop, and together, as one, we shared in sorrow. We loved people we would never meet. We wept over families we would never know. We anxiously awaited news on individuals we had never laid eyes on. Love broke through the sorrow and devastation.
There is something so gospel-like in this – because we are invited to enter into the sufferings of the One that first entered into ours – Jesus – who knows and sees us as we are, in our unfinished state, and who loves us any way.
Friends, this is good news.
June 16, 2010 § 5 Comments
A hero died in Baltimore last week. His name is Allan Tibbels – He wasn’t the stereotypical hero. He didn’t land a jetliner into the Hudson River and he didn’t catch a Super Bowl game-winning pass. No, Allan was a Christ-follower who, along with his wife Susan and children, quietly moved into one of the poorest communities in the nation – Sandtown in Baltimore, Maryland.
Years ago, in Miami, I performed the wedding ceremony of a young man who grew up in Sandtown, and had left the community to play professional basketball in Europe. He was determined to never return to Sandtown, claiming that he was among few friends that had emerged from the neighborhood alive. So he moved out.
But Allan and Susan moved in.
Allan was born and grew up in Greater Baltimore. The City was in his blood. He met Jesus in Baltimore. He led youth and college ministries in Baltimore. He believed that God loved Baltimore and that He wanted Allan to love Baltimore.
Moved and shaped by the experiences and teachings of John Perkins, Founder of Voice of Calvary Ministries out of Mississippi, and his vision for Holistic Community Development, the Tibbels’ set out on a journey of healing and renewal – a lily-white couple in an almost-entirely African-American, impoverished and often overlooked and neglected community.
No one really knew. A lifelong friend, Mark Gornik, joined the Tibbels, and together they launched a revolutionary vision of seeing Sandtown be restored, not through political activism, but through the simple message of the Gospel – that God loves broken people and that He loves broken neighborhoods.
They formed the Newsong Community Church. They started the Newsong Community School. They founded the Newsong Center of Performing Arts. They opened a Newsong home for women who were transitioning out of prison. They founded and championed the Sandtown Habitat for Humanity, one of the only Habitat communities devoted solely to one neighborhood. Allan oversaw Sandtown Habitat. They brought leaders together. They empowered residents. They created and facilitated jobs.
And in a space of 25 years, a forgotten neighborhood was, and continues to be transformed. Instead of earning dollars that flow into other areas of the world, Sandtown is thriving. Nearly 300 homes have been restored, with nearly 200 more slated to be. The City of Baltimore has come to the Newsong folks to gain wisdom and guidance on repairing its own broken school system. A second Newsong church was started in Harlem, NY, along with similar accompanying organizations and activities that accommodate such renewal.
This is the short list.
Two evenings ago roughly a thousand people came to say farewell – people from the City Allan loved – people whose lives had been quietly put back together – people that once had been discarded, but who, through Newsong, had become the somebodies that God created them to be in the first place – important people that knew their reputations were puny compared to this mammoth, humble, hardly-known quadriplegic that had poured out his entire life as an offering to God on behalf of one neighborhood that God loved through him – black and white people – old and young people.
For Allan, all this was founded and grounded in a simple commitment he made over 30 years ago: “My life is yours. I want to forsake all for you. I don’t know all that this means, but I make this a sincere promise. Take all I have to offer – it is yours.” (June 22, 1978)
Here is the thing about heroes – They are as ordinary, simple, human and flawed as the next person – but they have discovered that this is exactly the kind of person God uses to do the big stuff.
Allan Tibbels – March 18, 1955 – June 3, 2010
The Sandtown Habitat Staff raise their hammers as a banner of love over Allan’s casket and family as they leave the sanctuary.