April 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
“…he has clothed me in garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Isaiah 61:10
Nothing could have prepared me for the emotional impact of walking our daughter down the aisle, her arm in mine, in order to ‘give her away’ on behalf of our family, to the Groom, our new son-in-law. She was magnificently beautiful and in some way, never more our daughter than at the very moment that she would now become part of a new family. But for our Emily, Caleb, the Groom had come, and he wasn’t to be denied his Bride.
It is Easter morning.
Jesus died and He has Risen. Our glorious Groom is alive.
His Bride, the Church, anxiously awaits Him. We are arrayed in His Salvation and Righteousness in spite of ourselves. His ‘banner over us is love.’
He will not be denied.
Jesus is King.
He is Risen!
March 22, 2014 § 1 Comment
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
This past week I was thrilled to meet up with an old friend and one of the most inspiring people I have ever known. When we first met, Jenni Gold was 10 years old and I was an 18 year-old volunteer church youth worker. Jenni has Muscular Dystrophy and was in a full body cast at the time, having had a steel rod surgically placed in her spine. Along with her parents, her two amazing sisters provided an environment of healing. The only thing they wouldn’t offer was sympathy, and this produced a will that far surpassed the strength of the rod in her back. We became fast friends, all of us. She fully entered into the life of our Youth Group. The word ‘limitation’ was not in her vocabulary. It still isn’t.
After graduating with a double major from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Jenni, along with her husband Jeff, moved to California, determined to produce movies. Today she is the co-founder of Gold Pictures in Universal City, CA. On Wednesday we reunited in DC to see a viewing of her Documentary, CinemAbility, a stunningly beautiful film about the history of the entertainment industry in relation to people with disabilities. She was also in DC to accept the 2014 American Association of Persons with Disabilities Image Award, presented by Danny Woodburn (‘Mickey’ on Seinfeld!).
In accepting the award, Jenni sited Paul’s words in Philippians 4:13, thanking Christ who gives her strength, and so revealed the source of her amazing will and character. Somewhere along the way, in all she has endured and overcome, as a little girl, and since, Jenni met Jesus. And He has provided everything she needs to be nothing short of amazing.
She mounts up with wings like eagles. She runs and doesn’t grow weary. She walks and doesn’t faint.
And she happens to have MD.
It is Lent. The world is broken. Suffering is part of the daily narrative.
But Jesus has come. And in entering into our brokenness by subjecting Himself to temptation, sorrow and pain, even death, by His resurrection He has assured that until He returns, and regardless of our circumstances, we may dance to the song of His redemption.
Friends, there is no greater news…
Taken on Palm Sunday in 1977 when Jenni joined the church
February 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
By now it should be obvious that some of my posts are last-second ideas that spring to life on the day of publication. Today is no exception. Sometimes this happens when I already have already written something else for Saturday, and others, well…
Each Saturday the goal is to arrive at my Starbucks somewhere between 8-9:00 AM following a few hours in the office. This is my writing groove, but today involved a hospital visit in between, and because of this the schedule was altered, which impacted parking more than anything else. Normally, to arrive at the mall by 10:15 AM is to be relegated to the second tier parking spots (translation: nothing close to the mall entrance), and for me that is like surrendering to the enemy.
So this morning, at 10:17 to be exact, I arrived at the mall, only to find the spot pictured in this post. It is not only near the mall entrance, but it is the best spot in the lot. If you notice in the photo, there is ice on the asphalt. Whenever we experience big snows, which we did two weeks ago, parking lots like this one are cleared, leaving huge piles of plowed snow-become-ice. Ironically the best spots disappear under the piles.
But today the sun is shining, and my guess is that when the ‘first-tier-parkers’ arrived early, it wasn’t available. However by the time I got there, it had melted away.
For me. Sweet.
You can’t follow Jesus for long before discovering, and then rediscovering that He turns every natural power grab on its head. One of them is our inclination to be first. Shockingly, the Creator of all that is, taught that in order to be first in His Kingdom, one has to be last (Matthew 20:16). It isn’t the only crazy twist Jesus put on life, but it is one of the biggies, and one He demonstrated with His atoning death on the Cross, and in what He modeled in His treatment of people every day. It is an invitation to entrust ourselves into the hands of a Father who loves us more than we could ever love ourselves. This can only free us give ourselves away and to love, without fear.
And it serves as an offer of hope to the weak, to the underprivileged, the poor, the disadvantaged, to those perpetually chosen last to be on the team, to the losers, the slow, the forgotten, the fragile, the marginalized, the broken, the discarded and to every man, woman and child who feels that life somehow got away from them.
What good news.
February 15, 2014 § 1 Comment
Last month Katherine and I were in Atlanta speaking at a conference. A wedding was taking place at the hotel we stayed at, and while in the elevator, headed to the business office to print out a talk, the Bride (pictured), along with the Wedding Coordinator, came into that small cubicle and transformed it into a magnificent room.
Because we live in a fallen world there is a tendency for those of us in the Faith to focus on the brokenness we share. There is no make-believe when it comes to the gospel. It exposes the painful manifestations of the fall. And for too long the Church was all ‘victory,’ and no reality. The Faith was presented as something people had to perfectly maintain more than a journey we set out on with Jesus, flaws, insecurities and all. The result was a lot of hiding – folks filled with shame, fear and guilt for not being able to live up to expectations never laid out in the scriptures, with no room for finding anything good in this broken world God created to be good.
But heaviness that isn’t balanced out with joy is a dangerous thing. It leaves the watching world with the impression that our end is misery, and our enemy is laughter, reducing the Church to the sorry end of a Billy Joel song.
In Ecclesiastes 7:14, Solomon writes, ‘When times are good be happy…’ He wasn’t proffering escape. His next words are, ‘but when times are bad, remember the same God has made them both.’ His point is that there is a vital balance in life and faith that enables us to live with the promise of good things, even in the midst of brokenness. Without this balance everything is warped.
Friends, heaviness and severity are not gifts of the Spirit. Joy is. And when it comes, God wants us to celebrate. Failure to do so does not demonstrate spiritual vitality. No. Only something oppressive will do this to us.
Because lovely things happen too…
You see, this is our destiny. In the story Jesus has invited us into, we are the Bride, and everything He teaches and embodies clearly demonstrates that He wants His wedding feast to be magnificently joyful.
The world is fallen and broken, but Jesus is making it new, and because of Him, when the lovely things come our way, we can enjoy them…
…because they do.
What good news…
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…
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.
December 14, 2013 § 3 Comments
A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Just this week a young pastor in Florida took his own life. It is a tragedy. He was our son and daughter-in-law’s pastor until last year when his personal life began to unravel publicly. He was both gifted and brilliant. But he carried pain.
His dad (also a pastor) and I have corresponded since things began to fall apart last year. My initial contact was to encourage him with what his son had been to ours. Some years ago, at a crucial point in our son’s life, this young man took time out of his crazy schedule to field his questions about life and faith and ministry – We will always be in his debt, and nothing that has transpired since will take that away. At this point I have no words – only sadness.
And I am freshly reminded that as long as the world is broken, people will be too – you – me – everyone. We carry our pain.
The Advent cry is God’s gift to the broken. We long for healing and wholeness, when we will no longer walk the earth in the confusing tension of secret shame, besetting sin and genuine hope. The insecurities, weaknesses, ‘demons’ and struggles we carry are real – they are our right-now reality.
But our hope is every bit as real, and because of Jesus we live in the promise of what we will one day be, when He will come and make everything new.
What you need to know is that God is okay with this. He isn’t the One expecting you to be perfect – you are. And that isn’t helpful (it also isn’t righteous!).
Jesus has come and He is coming. Until He does, He has given us the assurance that His grace is sufficient. It is ‘from the fullness’ of this grace, and not our ability to keep it all together, that we receive ‘one blessing after another’ (John 1:16).
With full view of our flaws, sins and failures, Jesus extends Himself.
Friends, this is good news…
peace on earth.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
Christina Rossetti, In the Bleak Midwinter
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