October 11, 2014 § 10 Comments
Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge
A friend died this week. The truth is that I can barely write these words without weeping. It isn’t merely that a friend passed away, but someone who was so convinced that God is a generous God, that he became one of the most generous people I’ve ever known.
While alive Lewis never wanted people to know the extent of his generosity. To look at him, he would be the last person you would assume this of. His daily garb was a white or light blue guayabara, slacks and a shirt pocket full of pens, notepad and a cell phone. He evoked a semblance more like that of John Madden than some polished mogul.
Yet Lewis was a pioneer in the cruise line industry, the owner and developer of one of the most successful food service companies in the business.
Somewhere in his journey, Lewis met Jesus and through the guidance of his pastor (and my mentor), he learned that the Kingdom of God is worthy of our lives, our hearts – and our resources. So he became someone who gave generously – to the Church – to Missions organizations – to Missionaries – to Christian schools – to Community Projects – to out-of-work strangers – to struggling single-parent families – to drug rehabs – to ministers – to widows – all the while believing that he could never out give God.
All of this, Lewis did, joyfully and secretly behind the scenes. Even when he and his wife lost their college-aged son to a rare heart condition, his faith was unwavering in the midst of his unspeakable grief.
As his pastor, each year I would be the recipient of an envelope stuffed with thousands of dollars that he wanted for me to anonymously distribute to people in need – no tax write-offs – no publicity – no recognition – just gifts. I’ll never forget knocking on the door of a single mom who was barely making it, to say, ‘Merry Christmas from someone who cares, and who loves the Lord,’ and the look of joyful amazement on her face. That indeed made my Christmas very merry.
This doesn’t even scratch the surface.
That was Lewis. He didn’t do it to be noticed or even thanked. In fact this may be the first public mention of his generosity. He quietly served on boards, embraced ministries, visited widows, ate with outcasts and befriended the lonely – just as Jesus did.
And I guess what I’m getting at is this: In his liberality Lewis discovered his life. He wasn’t generous to impress or to prove anything, and he would be the first to admit to being unfinished and broken. No, Lewis gave because he was free. He truly found himself in giving himself away.
I am going to miss Lewis – our annual phone conversations and predictions about the Hurricanes’ football program, and our deep talks about life and loss and faith and heaven. Because fortunately, in the mix of ministry and life, I was blessed to discover Lewis’ greatest value to be that of friend.
And now he is home, reunited with his son, and his generous Savior, Lord and Friend, Jesus.
What good, sweet news…
November 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
We may joyfully believe that there was, that there is, one to whom no human suffering and no human sin is strange, and who in the profoundest love has achieved our redemption. It is such joy in Christ, the Redeemer, that alone protects us from the dulling of our senses by the constant experience of human suffering and also from accepting as inevitable the suffering in the spirit of resignation.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter to the Brethren at Finkenwalde, 1942
This week, sitting in Starbucks was more than about burrowing in my preferred writing spot. It was also due to the fact that our office was closed and without electricity since Monday, when Hurricane Sandy hit Maryland. Only late yesterday power restored. Fortunately our Staff found creative ways to meet, study and work in spite of the circumstances.
We got off easy. The devastating consequences of Sandy’s wrath in states like New Jersey and New York will yield decades of aftereffects and sorrow. Loss of life has been high, and is climbing. Homes were demolished and entire communities obliterated by water, wind and fire. The sorrow that comes through in news stories and interviews is almost too much for Katherine and I to bear.
Having lived through hurricanes, and having experienced two historic floods in Mississippi during college and grad-school years, I can tell you that there is nothing romantic about going through something like this. Jobs will be lost. Lives will be altered. Families will walk away from their homes, never to return. Relationships will be tested to the brink. Opportunists will exploit desperate people. The world many know will never be the same.
When Hurricane Andrew demolished much of the southern hemisphere of Miami in 1991, a friend (and one of my models for leadership), Ray Goode, the one-time City Manager, along with another city leader, decided to launch a campaign called, ‘We Will Rebuild.’ They rightly resolved that the city was worth restoring, and so as he dealt with the devastation on his own block, Ray led Miami in an effort that was nothing short of Herculean.
Relief is more than a physical dynamic. It is a resolve. And it is something that doesn’t happen effectively in a vacuum and without a larger community of people committed to something greater than themselves. The most enduring and effective relief efforts happen when broken people recognize their own condition in the lives and events of others, and then act on them – together.
A long time ago I discovered something about Jesus that I might not have guessed in my ‘neat’ and ‘responsible’ universe. As you follow Him, and observe how He is constantly confronted by the pathos of people who bear the effects of a fallen world, you discover that He only ever offers relief. What I mean is that He doesn’t ask how something happened, never ascribes blame, and makes no demands – He simply relieves burdens. His response to brokenness is never conditional.
Because the crazy thing is that Brokenness is Jesus’ point of connection with humanity – it is the singular reason for His entrance into our world.
And He wasn’t merely exhibiting His saving power, which would be enough. He was also demonstrating what the Church is called to, and how effective she could be by merely entering into and serving the very broken world Jesus came to save.
Here is the thing: We are connected. All of us. When one person is cut, we all bleed. When one suffers, we grieve together. When a city lies in ruins, we are reacquainted with the reality of our shared condition.
And when there is renewal, as one, we all have cause to celebrate. So we find connection in our shared brokenness. And in relief, together we taste of and share in the good mission of the One who is making all things new.
This is our good news.
If you are looking to help, you can do so directly. Here are two sister church communities that will bring relief where they serve:
1. Brooklyn Presbyterian Church (a community of several congregations):
Brooklyn Presbyterian Church – Mercy Team (make your check payable to this line as well)
174 Prospect Park West
#1L Brooklyn, NY 11215
2. Redeemer Presbyterian Church – Hope for New York
August 25, 2012 § 4 Comments
And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.
Mumford & Sons, After the Storm
This post was inspired by a sister blogger (barbcollinsbooks) after several of us conversed online this morning about Hurricane Isaac as it barrels down a corridor in the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately any intersection with the state of Florida will impact family and friends. So we pray…
When it comes to hurricanes, preparation begins with determining where you are in the ‘cone of possibility’ (as opposed to the ‘cone of silence’), that rarely-accurate imaginary, studied, hypothesized passage of potential landfall. If there is a relative probability that the hurricane will strike, then it is a matter of stocking up on imperishable foods, filling cars, gas tanks and generators with gasoline, checking batteries and flashlights, charging chargeable devices, cutting down coconuts (aka projectiles), sealing important documents, putting dry clothes in protective containers, and installing storm shutters. Then you just go through the storm (the picture in this post is from our church property in Miami after Hurricane Wilma in 2005 – yes, that is a single fallen tree!).
When a storm closes in on a community, at that point all we can do is ride it out and wait.
Last week our community, Ellicott City, experienced a horrendously tragic event where two college girls were instantly killed after a train derailed beside the very bridge they sat on – probably one they had sat on dozens of times when many trains had passed before.
It is as though a horrible storm blew in for an evening and there was nothing we could do. The storm is still raging – there is great pain. Answers are insufficient, even insulting. There is no substitute for grief… or time. Our Comforter is God (John 14:16) and He alone heals.
Unanticipated tragedies and events have a way of deceiving us into thinking that they are exceptions in an otherwise perfect world. But they aren’t. They represent this broken world’s true identity.
I hate that so much. I hate that it is all so screwed up – but it is. I hate the suffering that family and friends endure, along with the rest of a world that was created to be so beautiful.
And we are called to wait. Waiting goes against every instinct in my being. But deep within I know that I am far less prepared for the storms I face than I would like to admit.
I don’t know how this waiting thing works (Isaiah 40:28-31), but we are promised something we can’t produce when we do. We are promised endurance and hope, none of which we feel during the storm – but somehow and mysteriously it comes. No answers. Just God.
And then the storm passes. By then all power is out and a few hours seems like the entire night. The day after is a surreal experience both in marveling at the damage and debris, and in celebrating survival. It also marks the onset of entering into one’s community to share in the collective effort of healing in the neighborhood.
I think this is who we are: Unfinished sons and daughters of God who find their mission in the healing work of the gospel in a storm-wrecked world. I will tell you that I don’t like the storms, and anyone that tells you they do is probably lying. They wreak havoc with my comforts, and sometimes bring to pass my deepest fears. But I’m glad that God doesn’t keep His children immune to them. Through us Jesus enters into the world’s debris, even as He did into our lives when He redeemed us.
I have no other answers – and need none. We have Jesus. And this enables us to ride out the storm – because He did.
I know it doesn’t always feel this way, but it really is good news…