November 15, 2014 § 2 Comments
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
The other night, Katherine and I sat in our courtyard, beside a small fire, reflecting on our lives together, our family and children, our ministry and calling – you name it. There is something about a fire that seems to suspend all urgency, and draw us into such conversation. And yes, we listened to Christmas music as we did, while sipping on hot chocolate.
As we conversed, we agreed that much of what we thought to be important many years ago in our lives was not so important after all. It wasn’t so much about regret, but of perspective. The thing is that we would not trade anything for where we are now. Fortunately God’s hand has not been thwarted by our stumbles.
‘If I had to do it over again…’ can be a dangerous statement. So can, ‘What if…’ Micromanaging our pasts and obsessing over the future only steal from the present.
Unfortunately the Church hasn’t always been helpful in this area. Through the years Christians have fixated on the future to the point of madness, parsing events and people, while attempting to fit them into a sensationalized ‘end times’ blockbuster movie-type scenario. Authors have raked in millions, feeding off the fears and frenzy of ‘end times’ enthusiasts.
But the gospel teaches that what God will one day do, He is already doing – Right Now. He didn’t identify Himself to Moses with the words, ‘I was’ – It was, ‘I am,’ and you can hear this in Jesus’ prayer, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…’
The gospel works because of this. It enables us to find fresh hope in the moment – Today. Only our regrets and fear of the future will rob us of enjoying God’s grand design for our lives in the present.
Within weeks we will read and recite the beautiful announcement, ‘Today, in the city of David, a Savior has been born…’ This is the refrain we find throughout the scriptures – it is all so present tense!
In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a single instance in Jesus’ ministry, in which He dwelled on the pasts of the people He encountered. Other than opening one woman’s eyes to His ability to see through her defenses, He never drudged up incidents and failures of the people He healed and consoled. He was all about the moment.
This was no accident. It was His announcement that with the Father there is grace to continue on with the journey, in spite of our pasts that are speckled with failures, poor decisions and regrets, as well as with the future unknown.
Settle this in your minds and hearts, friends: Regret over the past and Anxiety over the future are not on the Father’s radar.
‘You can step out into it at any moment…’
That’s good news…
September 27, 2014 § Leave a comment
Life has a way of taking us back – all the way to who we’ve always been. Have you ever considered this, for instance, after speaking with a really old aunt that still talks to you like you are thirteen – and then you feel that way?
My youngest brother called the other day. Andrew lives in Hattiesburg, Mississippi with his family, where he contracts within the hospital system. Hattiesburg is home for the University of Southern Mississippi.
When I answered the phone his first words were, ‘You need to take this call,’ and then he handed the phone to someone who had been a lifelong hero (both pictured above).
Ray Guy is one of Southern’s all time great players. In a few weeks the University will celebrate his induction into the NFL Hall of Fame (the first punter to enter) after a career with the Oakland Raiders, from when I was in my teens.
It just so happens that he works at one of the hospitals that my brother services, and they interact regularly.
It would be an understatement to say that I was thrilled, and it didn’t take long for me to revert to fourteen years old, blathering into a near play-by-play of my favorite game of his pro career.
The other event is a much less pleasant one – the dentist (yes, that’s me). I was recently fitted for a new crown where an old one had worn out its welcome. I’ve already documented how traumatic it is to be a dentist-lifer.
Interestingly, it occurred to me that I still talk with the dentist exactly as I did with others when I was twelve years old. Maybe it is the chair. The guy is young enough to be one of my nephews, yet I feel like a kid when he’s working on me.
And that is the connection. We are always who we’ve always been.
I have found that it is never of God whenever I am tempted to reinvent myself.
Just track the saints and their stories. Though transformed by the gospel, they struggled with the same issues of weakness and sin that they had before they encountered God.
This is because Jesus doesn’t reinvent us. He redeems us. He redeems us into the recognizable children God always intended for us to be, before the fall marred us and drove us into hiding. In doing so, He casts a lifeline in us, to others who thought it had to be another way.
And so it will always be that the Father finds us most precious when we shed the exhausting pursuit of perfection, and simply live in the grace that will accompany us… until we are Home.
Friends, this is good news…
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…
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 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.
November 30, 2013 § Leave a comment
“Our longings remind us of the essential human fact that we are talked and touched into life, and that a human race struggling to do all its talking and touching for itself faces a paralyzing unhappiness and anxiety.”
Rowan Williams, A Ray of Darkness
It is difficult to imagine that in a few hours this mall will be utterly packed with shoppers. Yesterday (Black Friday) was so crazy that I never got out of my car. Having no reason to be here other than to witness the madness, I just circled the parking lot a few times, then went home.
But now, in this early hour, it is empty. Quiet.
There was a day when I couldn’t handle emptiness or sadness. It was worse than idealism. Something within me actually believed I deserved life to always go well. I know, it sounds ugly – and it is, and it gets uglier, because it was rooted in a practical rejection of my need for Jesus.
It is Advent, that sweet time of the year when we celebrate longing, of all things. We celebrate because we know that Jesus has come. And every December we rehearse this cry in anticipation that He will come again and make everything new.
The temptation is to translate these longings into sad things, and to be sure, there is a place for sorrow in a broken world, but I think they are more than that. God put these longings within us, not as cruel reminders of despair, but to serve as hints of something better.
I am convinced that Jesus was addressing this longing when He told His disciples of His ‘Father’s House’ (John 14:1-6). It is an emptiness we will feel, sometimes in huge gulps, and other times in small doses – until we are Home.
And in this hope we are liberated to live life to the fullest. To grieve unashamedly. To laugh unapologetically. To love boldly. To give generously. To forgive freely. To serve humbly. To embrace our longings, and live!
We celebrate a God who satisfies us with Himself and not from a distance – this is at the heart of the Incarnation – God has come, in the flesh, and until He returns nothing will satisfy completely. And this means we can embrace every sadness and longing as daily reminders that God has prepared something better. Because in Jesus… He has.
What good news.
Oh, come, Desire of nations,
bind In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel!
Translated by John Mason Neale
October 20, 2013 § 1 Comment
Saturday Morning – Normally a different post would have appeared early Saturday morning (today). Perched at my spot in Starbucks some roughly 390-word offering would have been launched into the cyber universe. Instead, I am writing from a gathering room in Manchester, Maryland where I am leading a men’s retreat for a sister Baltimore church, completely cut off from the outside world and without internet access, while listening to a group of guys argue politics over coffee in a town I have never been.
Of course retreat is the whole point of a retreat, but my instincts, habits and sensibilities don’t know this, so with ears and mouth engaged in a meandering conversation that will likely solve all the problems of our Nation (let’s not go there), my brain and fingers are writing a post that won’t be read until, well… now, I guess.
Retreat is something you find throughout the scriptures, and interestingly, as with us, it occurs for many reasons. Jesus retreated to the mountains early in the morning. Elijah and David fled to the wilderness to save their skin. Peter retreated to his old profession of fishing to escape shame.
Regardless of the motivation, however, in each case God visited His people, and when He did, they experienced renewal. In fact, I remember reading in Eugene Peterson’s fine book, Leap Over a Wall, that for David, whenever he fled to the wilderness he was actually unsuspectingly running to God.
Back on the road I was reminded that following Jesus is a journey with travels that find us in familiar territories, and also some unexpected lands. Our struggles, sins, fears and sometimes wobbly faiths all seem the cause of these wanderings, but regardless of how lost we may feel, and disconnected we may be, we are never out of the the Father’s gaze, nor without Jesus, who went on His own journey – and made it Home.
Jesus always finds us home.
This is our good news…