November 27, 2014 § Leave a comment
“To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”
From Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1863
Whether you are in NYC at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (the pic above is from our whirlwind, one day train trip in 2011), the snow-topped mountains of North Carolina, in sunny Florida (where our family is gathered), or even in painful Ferguson, Missouri, I hope the day brings rest and the sweetness of God’s presence to you and yours.
Happy Thanksgiving, Friends.
Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
Martin Rinkart, 17th Century
November 17, 2012 § Leave a comment
This morning at breakfast Katherine and I talked about what we were thankful for. It wasn’t our Thanksgiving pre-season exercise. It just flowed from a conversation that wound us around and through the world we’ve known together for over 30 years. Something Katherine said resonated – that it isn’t so much the details, but just the fact that God has filled us with thankfulness.
It set my mind into gear. So I wanted to pause and simply give thanks.
Somewhere last year it dawned on me that everything I had hoped for over 30 years ago, with Katherine and the future, God has brought about and much more. It is so cool that God has allowed for us to experience all this together. I could not be more grateful for this extraordinary woman. As the Beach Boys sang a million years ago, I don’t know where, but she takes me there, and I love going with her. But I am amazed at what we have been able to watch unfold through years, life and fulfilled, and yet-to-be realized dreams. How I thank you for Katherine, Father.
This Christmas all of our children will be home. On Thanksgiving our daughters will be with us. We are thrilled. In each of them is a story that testifies to the unfailing grace of God. We remember their infancies, their childhoods, their teen years, and their important moments. They live in the continuing narrative of God’s goodness, and we get the privilege and joy of praying for them daily, and then watching them grow, fall, get back up, and mature – we are amazed. Thank you, Lord for our precious ones.
Both of us are the products of parents who love Jesus. Two of our parents have made it home. All of them have helped to weave faith, hope and love into our fabric. None of them have been perfect, and even this has contributed to understanding the big story of God’s grace. The ones who are gone, we miss terribly, and the ones who remain we love deeply. Thank you God, for parents who gave us glimpses of you until we met you.
We are in ministry. It has always been challenging and sometimes exhausting – and He has rewarded us beyond the very real rigors of the pastorate and in spite of our even more real inadequacies. With each challenge He has poured out grace. And now He has set us in the midst of a beautiful congregation. He was more patient than my homesickness in the early years, and has brought more blessing than our imperfections. He has surrounded us with an amazing Staff, Leaders and Flock. I guess this is the right place to say that He has given me a Starbucks to write and reflect, because it is here (where I write even at this moment), that many from our church family, including our Young People, knock on the window, stop to say hello, and wave as they graciously pass their hermit pastor. This Sunday we ordain a young man who will start a new work in the City of Baltimore. How groovy! O God, thank you for the Chapelgate community (and my Starbucks!).
He has graced us with friendships – enduring friendships – amazing friendships – friendships that stretch all the way back to childhood, friendships from each congregation, old and new friends. It has occurred to us that many of the Young People who were in our youth group when we first entered into ministry have become dear friends in adulthood – how good is that. Our friends are treasures. Each has been placed in our lives by the Father who knows our needs. Through shared trials, love-shaping conflicts, love-affirming apologies, and in spite of time and distance, we have been the beneficiaries of a vast network of affection. Thank you Father for giving us these meaningful friends.
He has given us Jesus. A long time ago Jesus entered into our lives – our worlds. He has shaped, shaken, disrupted, comforted, convicted, confronted and contended with us. He has shown up in moments when we thought we were desperately alone – and without Him we were. He has been our life and for us, He gave His life. Thank you Father for giving us your Son.
The truth is that I could go on and on. God has been good to us and has blessed us with immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). I hope this and more for you.
All Thanks and Praise be to God, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
PS I’ll begin posting again two weeks from today.
September 15, 2012 § 1 Comment
Last week was one of reflection and remembrance of that horrible day, September 11, 2001 – so many memories. This past Thanksgiving Day our family, along with friends, took the train to NYC for the Macy’s Parade, and part of our day involved going to the 9/11 Memorial. It would be impossible to put into words what I felt because the memory of that visit just after the attacks remains so fresh and real.
The picture in this post is from the yet-to-be-completed museum that is situated on a corner of the Memorial property. If you could actually stand in that spot you would see twisted metal from the original structure on the other side of the glass. It remains as it was from the moment of the collapse on that horrific day.
Because we are unfinished, in some way, each of us is like a monument of twisted steel. We bear the reminders of our painful experiences. Some of that pain is self-inflicted, but some, the result of what has been inflicted upon us.
While going through pictures from the Monument, I realized that this picture was not only of the twisted steel from the attack it memorializes, but also my own reflection as well. Yes, that’s me in the picture. I’ll get back to the picture in a moment.
At the end of the day, when it comes to being free from the chains of the memories of past hurts, the gospel clearly teaches that the only path to such freedom is that we forgive. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true.
The best way to understand this is to consider when you have ever been hurt. I mean really hurt. Damaged. Wounded. Stolen from. Humiliated. Disgraced. Devastated. Crushed. Cheated.
You know what I mean when I say that such things bring unspeakable pain.
What did you want when this happened?
Revenge? Probably. If you’re human. I get that. We want someone to suffer as we did. But in his profound book, Free of Charge, Miroslav Volf says that when we say we want justice, we really want revenge, and we always want to cause more pain than we experienced. That is our nature. We say we want justice, but we would never settle for that.
No, the answer is to forgive, and the way to forgive is to do more than make a pronouncement – such pronouncements usually come from a misguided sense of Christian duty, but lead to even more bitterness and mounting resentment.
No, Volf says that to forgive is actually to condemn, and then to leave it to God for vindication.
But this is no cakewalk, and in fact it is impossible to forgive, unless, as in that picture, we see ourselves in the wreckage caused by others. Because the truth is that behind every evil act is an evil intention, and I am full of evil intentions, even if I don’t commit those particular acts. Only God’s grace restrains my wicked imagination.
And my only hope for more than surviving, but also for being truly free, from the evil that has been committed against me, and from the tyrannical prison of daily bitterness, is to see myself in it, and to believe that while I never have to excuse sin or bear the blame for someone else’s sins against me, I also don’t have to live in the daily misery of reliving what may never be reconciled on this side of heaven. Frankly, that’s their problem!
Essentially this is Jesus’ point in His story of the Unforgiving Servant: Forgiveness always begins by seeing that we too have been forgiven much (Matthew 18).
Because we have. Jesus affirmed this when He prayed, ‘Father forgive them…’
And this is our good news…
June 5, 2012 § 6 Comments
Five for Fighting
It is hard to put into words what it means to get to the 30-year mark with a spouse, especially when our life together started in our twenties! But here we are – Katherine and me – 30 years married. Frankly, I’m blown away.
But first, about my girlfriend and wife. We met in college. Belhaven is a small liberal arts school in Jackson, Mississippi. It is now a university, but when we attended it was a small institution of less than 1000 students, tucked in a beautiful Jackson neighborhood. I was in my fifth year, and through a set of cool circumstances, we sat near one another at a Christmas party, where I was able to hear and see Katherine sing – up close. We began dating. Katherine was a brilliant student, and had a promising singing career before her, had she chosen so. And I – well I was in my fifth year of college – what more do I need to say?
She rocked my world then, and she does today. Between her remarkable musical gifts accompanied by stunning inner and outer beauty and strength, I was hooked – immediately – and have been since. It seems every day I see new manifestations of that beauty.
Two-and-a-half years later we married in Nashville, where Katherine’s family lived, and where she grew up from Junior High, on. This has translated into a lifetime together that has yielded the fruit of enduring love. From before and since the time of our wedding, I was involved in ministry, with Katherine by my side, who somehow was able to teach music and lead churches in worship, all while instilling her strength and beauty into our three children. When my seminary studies were complete, we were off to three magnificent years of youth work, and then three churches I have been privileged to pastor. With each stop Katherine made every house into a home. I am most blessed.
The preacher in me wants to write a few points on relationships, but that would inadequately shift the storyline. Katherine and I are two people that God brought together, and held together because of Jesus. Somehow He took these two immature, flawed and insecure people, and made them into a couple. He protected them on a journey of love, pain, mistakes, ministry, friendships, fun, laughter, trials, troubles, triumphs, tears and joy. He graced us with three amazing children whom we continue to enjoy and adore in mutual love, a precious daughter-in-law and three congregations, along with lifelong friends, all of whom have added lovely chapters to our already-blessed lives. Each person and every experience, along the way – our children, the congregations, the seasons of our lives, and our beautiful friendships, like photographs taken throughout decades, have contributed ‘pieces’ in the shaping of the tapestry that is our marriage – we are humbled and thankful.
I don’t mind admitting that I write with the sweetest of tears…
And to reduce our marriage to a list of ‘how-tos’ would be to miss the point. This is God’s story –Thirty years ago He invited us to enter into it as husband and wife – in spite of ourselves.
Happy Anniversary Katherine – I loved you then, and I love you now.
November 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
Unlike most Thanksgivings this one will be different – for our family and for me as a pastor. Along with our daughters and longtime friends, Thanksgiving Day will be spent in New York City at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, followed by a visit to the 9/11 Memorial. The weather promises to be perfect for the occasion and needless to say, we can’t wait.
And while this is enough to make a day unique, it will be what happens on Saturday that will set it apart for me. That day we will have the Memorial Service for a young man who passed away early this past Monday morning. His name is Jon (pictured above with his wife, Anna), and he was 27 years old.
Last year I had the privilege of performing their wedding ceremony, and only a few months ago they discovered that Anna is pregnant with their first child, a daughter. As you can imagine, it has been a sad and somewhat painful journey for these two young people.
In his amazing paper entitled, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis writes, There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. For me, crossing paths with this extraordinary young man and his young wife has felt like being admitted into a sacred trust. Sitting with them in his last days, hearing their hearts, sharing their sorrows and observing their faith, have left me the better.
The picture above was taken of Jon and Anna, just a few weeks ago. Jon extremely is ill, but he is smiling because in his few days on earth, God had already given him everything one could aspire to if he lived 100 years. He got it all, starting with, and then continuing on, with Jesus.
In a few hours our daughters will be home. Their presence will bring such joy to our hearts. Because of our trip, we will dig into Katherine’s amazing cooking on Friday. We will wish out loud that our son and his wife could be with us, though glad they could be with our daughter-in-law’s family in Florida. Together we will wholeheartedly rehearse our gratitude: for Jesus – for one another – for family – for life – so much to thank our God, the Provider, for.
But this Thanksgiving my gratitude is multiplied because of this extraordinary young man who has made it Home, to the Feast, and who awaits those of us who love the Redeemer he now beholds, Jesus.
November 13, 2010 § 4 Comments
Recently, a young person in our congregation left a message on my office desk (pictured here). I don’t know what I most enjoyed about the note – the smiley face or the sentiment. Either way, the message wasn’t lost on me.
With the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons upon us our family is about to kick into a kind of overdrive that will take us to the edge – it is our annual pastime where insanity ensues. Katherine teaches elementary music at a local school, and she leads our church Chorus. She is responsible for no less than three special Christmas programs. I preach an Advent series that culminates on Christmas Eve. On top of that, days after Christmas we will take our oldest daughter Emily to Florida where she will finish her college studies. For our entire household Christmas is always simultaneously wonderful and crazy – it’s hard to describe. We can’t wait for it and we barely survive it each year.
From the moment our oldest, our son, left home for college, I have been impacted by the realization that life is not a series of ‘stills’ that we can put aside to revisit when we have time. It is more one of impossible-to-pause ‘frames’ in a fast-running video. God gives us moments and either we breathe and enjoy them as they happen, or we race through so fast that when they are gone we barely remember that they even occurred.
That’s a tough concept for me. Being raised as part of a generation that found so much value and identity in work and accomplishment, the thought of stopping to breathe almost translates into an admission of laziness. And what it has produced in me is a ‘drivenness’ that turns sight-seeing into a horse race, holidays into madness (cf. www.unfinished1.wordpress.com/2009/01/09/the-perfect-tree/), and the ordinary into the frazzled.
But what I’ve learned is that very little, other than success, comes from living a treadmill existence – and that isn’t good enough – that love and community and friendship and all the vital dynamics of healthy relationships come from breathing in the people and events and seasons that God brings along the way.
Last year friends from the early days of our ministry came up from Florida to spend Thanksgiving with us. It was truly one of the best we’ve ever enjoyed, because we were reminded that life’s experiences matter – when they happen and from that time on. We had nearly forgotten all those moments, good, bad, happy and sad. We nearly forgot how sweet life and relationships are when they are enjoyed with those you love.
And this delight is the foundational offering on which the Sabbath command is given. God calls it ‘rest’ but His intent is that we delight in Him and flourish in the lives, relationships and creation He has graced us with. Jesus embodies that delight and invites us to ultimately find that rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-30), to experience the fulfillment of ‘Sabbath’ and enjoy a taste of what was originally intended, and will one day yet be in the new heavens and the new earth. And that changes everything. Every relationship – every fresh discovery – every lovely landscape – every tasty meal – every beautiful song, or verse, or image – every sweet experience – all are intended as foretastes of an even greater reality that is already ours in Jesus.
So this year – this Thanksgiving – this Christmas – in the midst of the Khandjian household craziness – I am committed to taking this anonymous young messenger’s advice… I am going to try to remember to breathe. I hope you will too.
For this unfinished, driven one, this is Good News…
November 26, 2009 § 2 Comments
For some reason today, on Thanksgiving, when I let the dog out, this scene struck me with lovely force – a beautiful tree, shedding its magnificently transformed leaves for the fall. Not only are they falling, but they are doing so in what appears to be perfect circular symmetry around the tree that they once adorned.
It made me smile.
I offer these words as friends are on their way to the house to celebrate with us. The family has exchanged affection in person and on the phone. The food smells delicious.
Somehow that snapshot presented a moment to thank God for everything we are, have experienced and have yet to encounter. I guess I could offer the standard Thanksgiving recitation – one I love, by the way – you know, where you start from the top – with God’s goodness, family, friends, provision, etc, and just go from there. But not today.
Today, suffice it to say that every person we love, and each who love us, every dear moment, every sweet experience, every provision and a whole host of other good things that God graces us with in reminding us of His ‘Peaceable Kingdom,’ are like beautiful leaves that fall from a tree in the seasons of our lives. Even when they are no longer connected to the branches, they serve as lovely reminders of all that have defined and sweetened our stories. And it’s all there – right outside our Front Door.