January 4, 2014 § Leave a comment
Robert E. Webber, the Divine Embrace
It is a new year and it is all there for the taking. What do you see before you?
If I am honest I have to admit that I sometimes cheat myself out of what is before me because of what lies behind. There are so many words I can’t un-speak, so many mistakes I can’t un-do, and so many people I can’t ‘un-hurt.’ We think we move on, but the deceiver loves dragging us into his warped version of the past, where grace is never has a part. It is all so personal and easily devolves into paralyzing guilt. Sometimes I’ll apologize to one of our children for something I did, or didn’t do when they were young, only to have them say that they don’t know what I’m talking about.
We can make ourselves prisoners of the past, even when the past isn’t holding on.
I think Robert Webber is right in saying that the story of any given religion shapes our spirituality (and therefore how we view life and perceive the world). And I see this all the more clearly when I am pressed to function and respond in the unknown. Because in the story we were born into the future is always terrifying and the ending is never good. The weight of failures and past injuries tend to find their way into our greatest hopes.
And this is what I love about the gospel. It is the new story – the story we have been invited into. And in this story, at the heart of the plot is Jesus, who entered into all that causes fear, dread and regret, to bring what we always dream we may have but never feel we can obtain – Redemption. In other words, that old narrative is only relevant so far as we allow it to be.
So here is the New Year. Only fear will make the future appear to be terrifying – a fear born of the story you were not meant to any longer be defined by.
Is this what you want?
But the new story beckons, and everything lovely that it represents is before you: reconciled relationships, forgiven sins, healed wounds, restored families, renewed passion, grace for all you can never ‘fix’ on your own – it is all there.
What are you waiting for?
It isn’t that we have overcome, but that Jesus has, and because of this, with Paul we can ‘forget what lies behind… straining forward to what lies ahead’ (Philippians 3), not because we know how things will go in the year, but because we know how the big story ends.
What good, mysterious, exciting news…
Happy New Year.
December 31, 2011 § 3 Comments
The most encouraging person I know is my wife, Katherine. It would be impossible to list the ways and moments throughout our lives together that God has used her simple words to lift my soul and make me smile. They aren’t always pivotal, life-transforming words, but often those daily encouragements that nourish me enough to make it through.
There is a line in the last Indiana Jones movie (I carry no shame for loving those movies) about ‘the space between all other spaces,’ and in some way those little encouragements are exactly that. You can’t plan for them, and unless they are brought to your attention, you wouldn’t even know your need for them – but when they come, it is obvious that you did.
So with that, I hope you’ll pardon a longer-than-usual post, and say farewell to 2011 with Eight Encouragements for the New Year – It would probably be better if Katherine offered them, but this is my blog, not hers! And in some way each encouragement reflects some of what she has infused into my life through the years, so consider it a collaborative effort. If nothing else, I hope a few make you smile…
1. If you are His, you have everything – I know we can’t always ‘feel’ this, especially in the thick of tough times, but it is true. And regardless of how distant that absolute sometimes feels, it is always there. None of us will be around in 100 years, so what matters most is what will survive past the day we leave this world, and for those in Christ this is a no-brainer. In Jesus we belong to the Father who has prepared a home for us in heaven. Remind yourself of this at least 366 times in 2012 (Yes, it is Leap Year!)…
2. Your struggles are not struggles to the Father – Hey, don’t resolve to not struggle in 2012, or else prepare yourself for disappointment. The important thing is that while you are wrestling with a lot of the things you have faced your entire life, God isn’t (In fact, He might find some of your greatest struggles to be quite boring!). Remember, it never was about your ability to hold on to Him, so let this year be one in which you enjoy His grip on you – It will take the fear out of your obedience and the excuse-making out of your sin…
3. It is worth the Fight – Life, that is, and particularly, the Christian life. Sometimes living the Faith feels like a journey not worth taking because we are always confronted with our own weaknesses. And every Christ-follower has moments where they want to give up. However don’t be fooled into thinking that the hard part is living perfectly. As long as we are on this planet we will struggle with resident fallenness – God knows this. What actually makes being a Christ-follower difficult is the daily temptation to make ourselves out to be something we aren’t. That’s the fight! – Believing the Gospel to the extent that we trust in God’s grace rather than any goodness we think we possess. Fight on, friends, and remember, where it most counts, the war has already been won by Jesus…
4. Your future is no mystery to God – With the New Year comes a whole host of unknowns. I can’t begin to list them, but I know that sometimes the unknown is paralyzing. Everything from personal health, to job security, to family well being, to financial matters will seem to be one thing on New Year’s Day, and any of them can radically change by the 2nd of January! And whatever you do, don’t depend on the headlines to determine your level of hope! Finding rest in the Lord brings unspeakable peace. So don’t sweat what you can’t control (which is everything), and live in the crazy unknown of God’s Sovereignty (which on any other plain would be lunacy!). He’ll take it from there. And if you don’t feel you can rest in Him, tell Him – He’ll understand and in that simple act of trusting Him with what is true, you will have begun to rest…
5. Jesus is Enough – This may be another way of stating the first Encouragement, but I mean something different here. The truth is that each of us has shortcomings, sorrows and all kinds of regrets. Like the country song says, ‘You ain’t got to dig too deep to get a little dirt on me.’ None of us is the entire package and all of us have baggage. But Jesus is sufficient. His death was sufficient to atone, and His presence is enough to sustain you, regardless of the details of your life. He isn’t turned off by your past and He doesn’t look at failures and poor decisions the way we do. He is enough, and this means that whatever deficits you think you have, in Jesus you have Someone to offer them to – every day. I can’t promise that He will change your situation, and He may not. But what I can assure you of is this: Mysteriously and inexplicably He give you a fresh perspective and He will redeem your pain – bringing meaning to even the ugliest realities of your life. Sorrow and regret have a way of convincing we unfinished ones that we are damaged goods, which is exactly why Jesus became damaged goods for our sakes, and when we offer ourselves to God, uncut and unfiltered, we can prepare to be amazed. So trust Him with who you are and discover that He already knew and has been waiting for you to let go…
6. Don’t take yourself too seriously – Solomon says, When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other… (Ecclesiastes 7:14) Christians are famously adept at being miserable when times are bad, and conversely poor at simply enjoying the good things God brings their way. But life is too short to be so serious-minded all the time! In 2012 commit yourself to a few dumb things, a few belly laughs, and of course, a few happy moments that accommodate the ‘good times’ God brings your way…
7. Don’t take God too seriously – What??? Seriously, let Him be to you who He actually is and what you hope He is – a Father who enjoys (‘delights in’ – Psalm 149:3, Zephaniah 3:17) His children. Sure, worship Him because He is worthy. Believe in Him because He is real. Give your life to Him because He has offered no less, and find that there is no greater sense of fulfillment than to do so. But don’t stop there! God wants you to enjoy Him. And that means trusting Him with the lighter things in your life, along with the heavy stuff. As you enter this New Year, ask God to free you to trust Him with your enjoyment…
8. Don’t take your friends to dinner – Okay, that one is just to follow #’s 6 & 7, but there is some truth in it as well. You have heard it said that you can’t really give until you know how to receive, and this is true. Being on the receiving end of things is an act of vulnerability that we often don’t want to expose ourselves to. But always giving is a sign of insecurity and distrust, not one of strength, and sometimes what may seem to be the most generic of offers may be serious attempts on another’s part to enter into your life. Don’t miss those cues in 2012…
With year’s end I am filled with gratitude for you, and your willingness to endure the musings of a fellow unfinished Christ-follower. We share a journey that really is worth taking and for this I am thankful. Paul says it best in Philippians 1:3 – I thank my God every time I remember you.
Happy New Year.
January 11, 2010 § 2 Comments
Because our son and his wife were in town for Christmas, Kevin and I decided to spend an afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery where we visited my Dad’s (and his Pa Pa’s) grave. It was his first time there and my first time back since we committed his ashes (the funeral in South Florida was months before the internment).
As a pastor I bury people all the time – it is one of those privileges I cherish – to be entrusted with walking with a family through sorrow and lament is a sacred thing – Sharing in sadness is only part of the experience – as a pastor I am invited into life stories and hearts.
But Dad is the first close family member I have ever lost. Oh, I have buried family members – aunts, uncles, etc – but no one so close. Yet there we were – at the grave of a man whose name both Kevin and I share. We not only share Dad’s last name, but we have his first name as well (our middle names are Lee).
What we discovered that day was that for those who have loved ones buried at Arlington, they are granted a special status. We possess a pass that enables complete access throughout the entire cemetery, and therefore the right to bypass the crowds (the guards just wave you through!). You drive where others walk. You are given the sense that once a loved one is buried there, it is your cemetery – your property – an extension of who you are. That is the way we now feel when we go.
Though it was bone-chillingly cold, it was also heart-warming. After taking pictures we talked about Dad – his life, his love for Jesus, his family and the Church – and we prayed – a time I suspect that neither of us will soon forget. In a sense that card not only granted us access to Dad’s grave, but once again to the story of the Gospel as well.
The symbolism isn’t lost on me – through Dad’s death we have access to Arlington, and through Jesus’ we have access to the Father. The God who seemed so foreboding, distant and unapproachable before Jesus came, has been revealed as a Father who, through Christ Himself, joyously receives all who flee to Him in faith, as His daughters and sons. We have access – We “…approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
This is good news, because when it comes to the Gospel, being unfinished never precludes being His…
Happy New Year.
January 23, 2009 § 1 Comment
This past Tuesday a few of us braved the cold (man was it frigid!), the crowds (like none I’ve ever seen), the Metro, the vendors, the barricades and the detours, to attend the 44th Presidential Inauguration. Here are some Random Thoughts…
There are few scenes so inspiring as the National Mall – Forrest Gump didn’t do it justice – being there is the thing. The monuments combined with the layout bring real meaning to the whole idea of Citizenship. I can’t think of a better venue for such an important moment in our Nation’s history.
Our Nation has taken an important step – I can tell you that some of the policies of our new President disturb me, but our history, in the areas of Race and Injustice do as well – ‘We the People’ of these United States broke historic ground in electing a man of color – a man who fifty years ago could not legally drink out of the same water fountain as any white American. You could sense the joy and relief in the smiles on the faces in the crowd. My heart was filled with pride and my eyes with tears. A long and sad drought has ended in America.
The collective Celebration was extraordinary – It was a massive party, really – we all sang American Pie with Garth Brooks, and Pride – In the Name of Love with U2. Aretha Franklin belted out, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, and we were mesmerized as Yo-Yo Ma and Yitzhak Perlman, along with a lovely ensemble, performed a John Williams piece for the occasion. I was reminded that when people are a Community many of the differences that often divide fall away. We would have attended regardless of who became our new President (everyone here needs to go to at least one, right?), but the nature of this moment was special and it felt that way. Would that the Church would be such a Community…
Presidents come and go – What a stunning image – of seeing one President who was leaving office, and another who was taking it – all on one stage. And it served as a reminder that World Leaders are humans who have life spans and terms of office. They are Public Servants and deserve our respect and honor, but they serve for a season. Even dictators one day die. Even if they are the first African-American President, they one day step down. Presidents are humans. They have huge responsibilities – but of the human order…
Jesus is still King – John calls Him “the ruler of the kings of the earth,” (Revelation 1:4-6) – while displaying His stunning credentials – that He “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…” When all is said and done we can put an Inauguration, historic as it is with all the pomp and excitement, into perspective. We can enjoy it (and I did), and we can appreciate its significance – but in the end, what matters is that the Prince of Peace is our Redeemer – Jesus, the King of Kings. And His Kingdom will never end.
This is Good News.
January 9, 2009 § 2 Comments
This Christmas our family experienced something we never before have. Each year we set out to find a Christmas tree – not just any tree, mind you. If you know anything about us, you know that it has to be the perfect tree. I use the word, ‘we’ loosely because Katherine and our daughters are not nearly as concerned about the tree as I am (our son used to be part of the process, but now he goes after his own Christmas trees). It isn’t that they don’t care, rather it is that, in contrast to my perspective, theirs involves sanity.
We have driven throughout entire cities, spent hours and walked miles on tree farms looking for this tree. Needless to say, it hasn’t always been the most enjoyable experience. Many wannabe trees have availed themselves to my ruthless scrutiny only to be turned away for the most minor of imperfections – you would think I had no knowledge of the Gospel when it comes to trees. Suffice it to say that we have our stories (cringe)…
This year was different though. It happened to be one of the coldest days in November and the wind chill was excruciatingly harsh. So we went to a local high school and, amazingly, we picked the first tree we looked at. I bit my lip to not suggest we investigate just a ‘few’ more trees. Within a half hour we were home. It was still light outside! And marvel of marvels, everyone was happy – thrilled, in fact. But not only that, it turns out that this became our all-time favorite Christmas tree. Go figure.
Here is my encouragement for the New Year: Don’t waste your days and love pursuing the impossible. Perfection is an illusion. Instead, enjoy the Perfect One and rest in His Grace. The temptation to reject God’s Grace comes with the prideful suggestion that we can attain something that the Cross alone brings. So trust me with what you already know: You are going to sin, struggle, fall and fail in 2009. Therefore remind yourself – it never was about your ability to be perfect in the first place. Being unfinished is the most beautiful aspect of belonging to God’s family, because it means being loved and ‘becoming’ in God’s work of making us ‘mature and complete’ (James 1:4).
Settle on what Charlie Brown taught us years ago – there are no perfect trees, but there are many Beautiful ones (only, promise to gently remind me of this in November).