The Morning Comes

September 23, 2020 § Leave a comment

“At times I am tempted to lose heart. But my good Shepherd is leading me toward life, not death…”

David Pawlison, Safe and Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual Battles

Several of us were saddened the other day to learn that a pastor friend’s next-door neighbor had taken his own life. He didn’t know why, other than the fact that earlier this year his marriage ended in divorce. I can’t help but think that our current pandemic has figured into such narratives. Statistically, depression and anxiety are rising, as people have to process the uncertainty of work, isolation, family care, and daily life, in a time of COVID-19.

Dawn in Ellicott City, Maryland

As believers, we are not immune to human frailty. Jesus said that the rain falls on the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:45). The world is broken, and whenever it suffers, we suffer with it. We are part of it.

What the scriptures teach is that we share a hope that takes us beyond the pathos of the moment – or even a lifetime.

It reveals that misplaced hopes will end in disappointment, even tragedy. And that making lesser things everything cheapens the undiminished hope of the gospel.

This is why, for me, and others in ministry, it is difficult to stomach health-and-wealth ministers that promise material abundance and miraculous healing, often as they exploit the weak, while padding their bank accounts.

Growing up, our neighbor contracted Leukemia. She went to a famous faith healer’s revival meeting, and came home convinced that she no longer had the disease. But she did, and eventually it took her life.

Did it ever occur to you that every person Jesus healed has since passed away? Obviously those healings were intended for a purpose other than lives that would never be interrupted by death or disappointment.

And they were – They served as snapshots of something far more visionary, beautiful, lasting, and hopeful than one’s lifespan.

The quote above is taken from the last chapter of a book that David Pawlison wrote as he was dying of pancreatic cancer. At the time, he was serving as the President of CCEF, the Counseling Center out of Glendale, PA, that has most imprinted our church’s Life Counseling Center.

In the chapter he writes…

“Now more than four decades later [since trusting Jesus], I am staring death in the face. Instead of my faith failing, the promise of a new heart holds true. God is still shining into the darkness of my heart to give me the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

In the chapter he cites a passage in 2 Corinthians 4 that I memorized one summer during a personal crisis:

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (vss. 16-18)

The promise of the gospel is not that we can escape this world’s troubles. That would be far too short-sighted of God for His people, and would only carry them until the next heartache or disappointment.

No. We have been promised that when all is said and done, and we close our eyes in death, through Jesus, and in the power of his resurrection, the morning comes, with unending joy.

this is our good news…

grace & peace.

Clueless Wednesday

April 8, 2020 § 1 Comment

“the act of trust is an utterly ruthless act”

Brennan Manning

While sheltered in place, the Church worldwide celebrates Holy Week, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, was celebrated, betrayed, arrested, and crucified – and then resurrected.

Maundy Thursday is the night he met with the disciples and instituted the Lord’s Supper. It was in that Upper Room that Jesus gave his friends the new command, to love one another (John 13:34).

AcaciaOn Friday we are sobered – and blessed – by the crucifixion of Jesus. We call that day Good because it is. On the Cross, Jesus died in payment for the sins of the world. Our atonement was secured at Calvary. Jesus died as our Substitute.

Saturday is quiet. Along with Easter Egg hunts, the Church remembers it as the day Jesus lay in the grave. The grave would be where Jesus would leave our guilt, shame and sin.

And then, Sunday. Easter, when music and message are all aimed at the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, and the hope we have in his conquest over sin and death. It is the celebration of celebrations.

Each day is dramatic and packed with meaning. But just 24-hours before events unfolded, the disciples moved through another day, oblivious to what was before them. I’m going to call it Clueless Wednesday, because that is what it was.

The fact is that we don’t know what God is doing with the world – with our worlds – in any given moment. We are clueless. I would argue that this is a good thing, because it is a childlike cluelessness. Even now, while we shelter in place, children delight in the moment, with danger as the furthest thing from their minds.

In hindsight we see events as they unfolded. Our past tense vision is 20/20, with the advantage of the whole picture. But until things happen, we have no idea what lies before. Like the disciples we move through the week, tending to responsibilities, enjoying friendships, caring for family, wrestling with life, temptation, weakness, and ambitions.

To know what lies before us in the immediate future is always tantalizing, but in reality, it would be disastrous, because the complexities of God’s unfolding redemptive plan would horrify us.

So, God never gives us more than what he is doing now. And, while for us we are clueless to the full meaning of the details of the immediate future, what matters is that Jesus knows what he is doing with the world – and with us.

What good news…

grace & peace.

A Prayer for Kenya

April 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

Grave “In every extremity, every horror and pain, Jesus is accessible as the one who continued to make God’s loving presence wholly present in the depth of his own anguish and abandonment.”

Rowan Williams, A Ray of Hope

Earlier this morning, as I watched with delight as hundreds of precious children made their way to the not-so-hidden Easter Eggs, I could not help but also think with sadness of Kenya, where 147 equally precious Christian university students were mercilessly and savagely executed because of their Faith.

For all the times I have hoped that I would be able to die for my Faith, they did. And I will feel privileged to one day meet them in God’s new world.

Today we remember, even celebrate that Jesus not only died but was also buried. The grave has as much a role in the redemptive drama of God and His people as every other aspect of the narrative. To the grave Jesus took our sin. In the grave He experienced the isolating silence and darkness of death.

Separation and finality accompany a grave. Each time I conduct a funeral, the most painful moment comes when the casket is lowered into the ground. Within days families in Kenya will bury their dead. It is at the grave that we say our farewells.

Today we reflect on the solemnity, sorrow and indignity of death’s sting. Most can’t relate to the Crucifixion, but all understand that the grave awaits us.

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb
O, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb

John Wesley Work, Jr. Frederick J. Work

Whenever unspeakably horrible things happen, like what occurred in Kenya, the worst in me comes out, because the very sin that drove such acts of violence finds residence in my heart in the form of hatred and revenge – I too bear the markings of the curse.

And it is for this reason, that the gospel teaches that our only comfort can only ever be found in Jesus. In Jesus, in spite of the violence and sorrow of the fall, in and outside of us, because He ‘died and was buried,’ even the grave is not a place the Father is unwilling to go to care for us, His beloved children.

Friends, this is our good news…

peace.

“O Father, Giver and Sustainer of Life,
We praise you for the promise of a renewed world,
when Heaven and Earth will one day become one,
and suffering and sorrow, tears and illness are gone,
and justice and peace embrace in your Kingdom.
Our hearts are broken for brothers and sisters we will not see,
until we are Home at the Feast.
Be with their families and friends.
Bring comfort that only Jesus, who suffered for us, can give.
Redeem their tears and meet them in their terror and sorrow.
Bless them, for they have been persecuted for your sake.
And cause the Easter hope to somehow find residence
in their broken hearts and devastated communities.
Through Jesus. Amen.”

Team Photo

September 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

“The goal of human existence is that man should dwell at 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.”

Nicholas Wolterstorff, REASON [within the Bounds of Religion]

If you haven’t seen the moving video entitled, Made in New York, produced recently by Gatorade honoring Derek Jeter, the retiring New York Yankee shortstop, then sit back and enjoy – it is a worthy watch.

If anything has distinguished Jeter’s career it is that he is a team player. While he is unquestionably an exceptional athlete, it is his commitment to the wellbeing of the team that separates him and others like him.

Hey, I’m no Yankees fan! But those who play for the team – those who care primarily for people other than themselves, they are the ones that transcend the lines of demarcation that normally separate people. I think this is because they tap into what we were created to enjoy with one another, and all creation, before the fall cursed the world with isolation. They embody the selfless expression that community demands in order for it to flourish. In a year filled with painful sports scandals, both on the professional and collegiate athletic levels, it is refreshing to say farewell to a pro that ‘got it.’

This is partly why I believe the Baltimore Orioles’ season has been special (other than winning the AL East Division Title!). They have survived disappointment and injury – as a team. Last Tuesday evening in Camden Yards (picture below) was magic, because team and city converged in joy. It is always about the team, and the people/city the team plays for.

I often don’t get this. In a culture and society that is so individualized, it is easy to get lost in doing my job: preparing my sermon, writing my blog, paying my bills, fixing my house, etc, that I forget the grander, sweeter communal life of love, friendship, fellowship and faith I have been called into.

We weren’t created to live for ourselves. And we are miserable when we do. In spite of the fact that our selfish instincts often prevail against the messy, inconvenience of relationship and sacrifice and self-abandonment, it is when our darkest wishes come true, and everything is in its perfect order just as we wanted it, and we are left to ourselves, that we are at our most miserable.

So God gives us simple expressions of self-abandonment in order that we may catch fresh glimpses of Jesus, who exchanged glory for shame, and honor for love, that we may rediscover that the Father’s great delight is most beautifully enjoyed when shared together… with the team.

What good news…

peace.

Stadium

He is Risen!

April 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Walking Away “The deep darkness vanished into ordinary daylight, and the mystery of God was only made more splendid.”

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!

peace.

He will Bind Us Up…

April 19, 2014 § 1 Comment

Repair “Each Sunday we say “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!” Today we slow things down. We say ‘Christ has died’ and wait.”

Fred Harrell, Sr. Pastor, City Church San Francisco

In just a few hours our church grounds will be swarmed and traversed by hundreds of children in search of even more goodies that have been hidden in plain sight at our annual Easter Egg Hunt. It is one of the more delightful things we do during the Easter season at our church, and a sweet interlude in the reflective observance of Jesus’ death. It occurs on the day that commemorates Jesus’ last day in the tomb before the Resurrection, and I have to think that the joyful laughter of children is a fitting expression of our confidence that Jesus didn’t remain in the grave.

This past January our community was rocked by a senseless shooting at the mall from which I post this blog. Understandably the Zumiez store shut down. But I was glad to recently notice that they are undertaking whatever restoration work is needed to once again open their doors to the public.

Though I’m not quite certain what was going on in the grave on that day before the Resurrection, or the day before for that matter, I do know that it was good, and that there is something in the silence that is good for my soul.

In some way it is representative of our lives here on this still-injured planet as we await Jesus’ return. We are His, and we are redeemed, but we wait, trusting that His healing work continues, even when undetectable.

While the Cross insures that our sins have been paid for, and the Resurrection that our eternity is secure, it is the Grave that hits me where I am, every day in the struggle, and reminds me that I can hang in there.

I can hang in there through the adversity.
I can hang in there when I am weak.
I can hang in there when my sin drives me to fall before the Throne in sorrow.
I can hang in there when I am assaulted by doubt and unbelief.
I can hang in there even when I don’t want to hang in there.

“…he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us…”Hosea 6:1a-2b

I can hang in there, that is, I can trust Him, because on that quiet day, Jesus lay in the Grave. But He didn’t stay there.

And this means that even God’s silence is saturated with healing properties that bear testimony to the fact that the Father delights in calling us His.

So I can hang in there. And so can you.

What good news…

peace.

‘In My Darkest Dreams…’ (aka someone saved my blog tonight)

April 5, 2014 § 1 Comment

Record “To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark.” Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

With a wedding to perform and our own daughter’s forthcoming wedding, my plan was to let the blog go today (translation: a vacuum of good ideas), but then, sitting in the office, preparing for the wedding, a post presented itself.

When in my office, I listen to music – anything from classical to classic rock, to present-day rock, to mellow tunes, to country, to show tunes, and everything in between.

This morning, as the classic rock song list played, Elton John’s Someone Saved My Life Tonight, came on. It was a hit in the 70’s (not mine – still making my way there!) from his Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy album. I am embarrassed to admit that I gave that album to a girl I was dating (I wonder if I could get that album back)…

Back then, you had two practical choices if you wanted to listen to music. Either you put an 8-Track tape in the player in your car, or you listened on vinyl, also known as an LP Record. An LP is a big flat, pizza-shaped piece of plastic with grooves in it. An amplified needle would move within the grooves to produce the sound. The thing with an LP is that if it became scratched, then the song would skip.

As I sang along this morning, when it came to the place in the song where John sings the words, ‘…in my darkest dreams…’, whereas he continues with the next written lyrics, I sang along as I had when I would play my scratched LP. Even though the MP3 didn’t skip, I did!

At first I laughed it off, and was amazed that I probably haven’t sung the song correctly since before my LP got scratched. Then it struck me that when I am honest, deep within, I am prone to believe the lie that I am a damaged tune rather than the new song that has been composed into my life in the gospel.

It isn’t an acceptance of my brokenness, but a rejection of it. Or more accurately, a rejection of God’s grace, that in Jesus the Father loves me, and sees me and accepts me – as whole, which means that the song we will one day sing when heaven and earth become one, is already playing on my behalf.

No scratches.

No skips.

What good news…

peace.

Disconnected!

October 20, 2013 § 1 Comment

Morning

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.

Sunday Morning – With the last of four talks delivered early this morning, I’m back on the road, just as clueless as to my location as I was two days ago. First up comes breakfast…Breakfast

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.

Todd After breakfast I worshiped with a friend in ministry in his relatively newly formed church (Do my hands do that?). The service was sweet and his message on target. God had found me… again.

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.

Home

This is our good news…

peace.

Long, Winding… and Good

July 20, 2013 § 5 Comments

Final Row

“I read somewhere that a thing that does not exist in relation to anything else cannot itself be said to exist.” Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

The trees pictured here are from my old neighborhood, in fact the home on the left corner is the one I grew up in. Forty years ago our dad, my brothers and I, along with other dads and their teenage children planted these trees as seedlings. The work was hard and dirty – and it cost us two weekends. But it was never intended to serve us alone. It was meant for generations that will follow long past our lifetimes.

Isaac’s journey came to mind as I prepared to reenter the blogosphere after a break and some redesign. He was Abraham’s son, and at some point in his life as an adult, Isaac found himself back in the land his dad once owned – it would one day become Israel. Upon arrival his first task was to dig wells in order to establish a usable water supply (Genesis 26). As he surveyed the land, he discovered old ones his father had dug years before, some working, and others not. Rather than build all new wells, he wisely recommissioned the ones that still functioned.

Such is the story of our lives as Christ-followers. Who we are now is in some way shaped by all who have gone before us, along with our every experience, which in turn somehow shapes those who will follow – like trees that line a neighborhood.

The video below is from the Paul McCartney concert Katherine and I attended the other night in DC. For me, a former Beatles freak, it was one of those bucket-list moments – what a thrill! The Long and Winding Road paints a beautiful picture of an entire lifetime.

Listen, our past helps to shape us, but because of Jesus it doesn’t have the power to fully define us – Isaac’s story reassures us that we don’t have to fix every broken well, and we can enjoy the ones that still work!

Here is my cheap advice: Don’t think so much in terms of any one given moment in your story, or you will either drive yourself crazy with things you can’t change, or drive everyone away with foolish self-promotion. Instead, think of yourself as being on a road – a long and winding road, one that will take you where you were always intended to be. This puts everything into perspective, good and bad.

Sorrow, regrets, shame, broken dreams and sins long ago committed, even successes, all have a way of distorting how we remember our lives, and this easily leaves us feeling disconnected from something larger… something better. But worse, they rob us of the big story – the story that extends past and before us – the story of Jesus the Redeemer who entered into the pain and brokenness of the fall, and into our unfinished lives, with a resolve to heal our broken world and make everything new. It becomes a story He retells through the prism of the Cross and the triumph of the Resurrection – and every time – every time, friends – the story ends well.

What good news.

grace & peace.

So What Now?

April 6, 2013 § 2 Comments

Peeps It’s happened. Don’t you get it? It’s tomorrow!Phil Connors, Groundhog Day

One of my all-time favorite movies is Groundhog Day (already alluded to once on this on this blog). It is the story of a weatherman who gets lost in one particular day (Groundhog Day) that continually repeats itself over and again. It is obviously an extended period, because over time he learns how to masterfully carve ice, play professional jazz piano and perform life-saving acts – all on the same day.

With the Easter season behind, a prevailing thought for me is, what now? The chocolate bunnies have been eaten and most of our Peeps (yummy!) have been beheaded and devoured – what do we do with our lives now that we are back to the ordinary?

By way of confession, with celebrations such as Easter, for a pastor the very human instinct is to feel the proverbial ‘letdown.’ In the process one becomes lost in a moment.

For Phil Connors, the main character in Groundhog Day (played by Bill Murray), the point is that he is full of himself, trapped in a world that only has room for what he wants, when he wants it. Sadly, I resonate (ask Katherine – she will confirm). And it isn’t until he realizes that he is on the planet to live for someone other than himself that he begins to accept his strange circumstance, and ultimately find relief from the imprisonment of that particular day (and ultimately, himself).

The resurrection isn’t the end of the Christian’s story – it is the beginning. And only the risen Christ can inform our hearts that we are free from the tyranny of self, and what He will do with the rest of our lives. But because we are unfinished we will always trend towards what is behind us.

Imperfect as it is, the past is safe while the future represents the unknown, and threatens to take us out of our comforts – out of our selves – this can be terrifying. But the risen Jesus invites us to enter into the wild unknown of His hopeful future with the promises that He will be with us (Matthew 28:20), and that He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). It is an invitation to get over ourselves and find ourselves, all at the same time.

What a relief, and what good news…

peace.

PS I am taking a few weeks to retool and learn some things about blogging and design that will make for some changes. See you then!

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