Life, Liberty… (musings on the 4th of July)

July 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

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“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we usually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Closing words of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

It is Independence Day, July 4, 2015.

In case you haven’t figured it out, we are all in when it comes to things patriotic. Even as I type I am wearing my Quicksilver shirt, a boarding/surfing brand that put out a Tee with the colors of the Star Spangled Banner. Later I will change into another patriotic Tee for a local fireworks show. You get the point.
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I remember the day in 1976 when we celebrated the bicentennial of the signing of the Declaration. And then there was the July 4 when my boss at Gold Triangle in Miami, told me that we didn’t close because the Fourth is a ‘Yankee Holiday,’ as he put it.

You can find the original Declaration of Independence at the Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington DC. To see the display and consider that this is the very document our Founding Fathers actually signed in 1776, when they made official their resolve to form this Nation is an awesome thing. Adding to Declarationthe drama of the document is the fact that First Lady Dolley Madison saved the document when Washington burned in 1814.

Hey, there is plenty that is and has been wrong with our Nation. I wish that our Founding Fathers understood the severity of the sin of slavery, that American culture didn’t take so long to recognize the dignity of women, and that we even need child labor laws. Sin abounds in our history, because it is and always will be a nation of sinners.

But today is a day to be thankful…

Thankful for our Founding Fathers.

Thankful for all who have fought for our Independence & Freedoms, and for present and future servicemen and service women.

Thankful for visionaries like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Dolly Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, FDR, JFK, Dr. Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan.Napkins

I’m thankful we finally crossed the color barrier in the White House.

And I am not one to say that it is the greatest country in the world. It isn’t that I don’t think it is so much, but that I don’t want to cheapen ‘home’ with comparisons. I love the US because it is where I am from in the way that my parents will always be my parents. Home is good enough, and better.

I am an American pastor. A Christian first, sold out for Jesus and loyal to Him first and foremost. But as a citizen of this Nation, I can be thankful – and I am.

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So from our family to you and yours, Happy Independence Day.

peace.

Let’s Stop and Remember

May 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

Arlington“At the heart of the cross is Christ’s stance of not letting the other remain an enemy and of creating space in himself for the offender to come in.”

Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace

It is Memorial Day weekend. As a Christ-follower it is not uncommon for me to find myself involved in a conversation over the merits and sadnesses of war. No one I know would argue that every war the US has been involved in was what the Church father Augustine would call ‘just.’ But this weekend is not about that. It is to remember that many made the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ for their country in giving their lives.

Through years and generations our Nation has found itself embroiled in warfare, whether in world wars, regional conflicts, or even a Civil War. Everyone knows the sick, heartbreaking feeling of watching flag-draped caskets unloaded from transport planes. A simple history lesson of Gettysburg is enough to elicit the deepest of emotions over lives lost. Sacrifice is nobel, but death is brutal.

Each time a friend’s child or spouse goes overseas to fight, we hold our collective breath for fear that the worst news will one day find its way home to their families. I hate that. WreathsWe all do.

But this weekend, let’s put the debate aside. Let’s thank God for those who gave ‘their last full measure of devotion.’ Let’s honor their sacrifices and long together for the day when all wars will end.

Let’s not get lost in political madness and philosophical diversions. Let’s not argue the merits of war versus pacifism. Let’s not be ‘Hawks’ or ‘Doves,’ Liberals or Conservatives. Let’s just stop and acknowledge that many have died. To their parents, their siblings and their children, loss is loss.

If you have ever visited the Viet Nam wall, then you know that one can hardly do so without discovering elderly parents or aging spouses and children – in tears – revisiting their grief and loss over the sacrifice of their loved ones.

MonumentSo let’s reflect on the fact our daughters and sons have given themselves for others, and let’s acknowledge that we are the beneficiaries of their sacrifices, and be thankful.

Together let’s believe that it wasn’t political posturing, or bloodlust that drew these precious individuals, but the sincere belief that even if they died, their sacrifice would have counted for something towards a more peaceful world.

And in remembering what has been given by men and women through the years in war and conflict, here in this broken, and often war-torn world, let’s consider Jesus, who ensures that one day all wars will cease, and because in Him, our war with the Father has been settled.

In His Sacrifice…

This is our good news.

Happy Memorial Day.

peace.

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Star Spangled Stories

September 13, 2014 § 1 Comment

Lyrics “A man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories. They live on after him.”

Will, Big Fish

This morning Katherine and I are at the Inner Harbor in downtown Baltimore. Our goal is to make our way to Fort McHenry, where 200 years ago Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner, our National Anthem, and the city is celebrating. The Anthem was penned in 1814 during the War of 1812 in the Battle of Baltimore, a conflict that is arguably believed to have saved the Republic from Great Britain’s attempt to retake the country it had lost forty years before during the Revolutionary War.

The original manuscript will be on display. A massive presence of war ships, past and present, will be in the Harbor. The Blue Angels will fly overhead. The University of Maryland Football team will sport uniforms that bear the words of the Anthem. TerpsMcHenry3

It is part of our story.

As Christ-followers we celebrate that in Jesus we have been woven into the story God, one He has told throughout the ages, and a story whose nuanced details unfold with every crease and turn of history – our histories and all of history. It is a redemptive story, and it finds its greatest expression in Jesus, who not only entered into the narrative, but through whom our own broken and imperfect stories are retold through the prism of His death and resurrection.

In many years of ministry I’ve learned that it is overly simplistic to reduce facts and occurrences to neat packages when trying to decipher the meaning of events in people’s lives. We are unfinished, and this means that there will always be things we can’t explain or understand during our short time on the earth. In some way we are like the people of faith commemorated in Hebrews 11, who never touched foot on Canaan, the Promised Land, only to find their destination was in fact, always intended to be ‘a better country… a heavenly one… a city God had prepared for them’ (Hebrews 11:13-16).

For me, keeping this in mind is how I maintain perspective. Living in a fallen world (and within my own fallenness) has a way of making the temporary, eternal, and the eternal, imaginary. And it is easy to become a slave to the moment.

But the story we have been written into transcends time, events (good and bad), success and failure. It is not so fragile that a tragedy can make it untrue, nor is it dependent on good things for it to remain good.

It is God’s story. We don’t write it, but we share in it – and that makes it ours too.

And this, friends, is good news…

peace.

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Why We Celebrate & Why We Grieve

May 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

What do we do with the death of Osama bin Laden? He is dead, and if anyone in modern history was desired dead, bin Laden is the man. He, more than any other, is responsible for the loss of life of thousands in the 9/11 terrorist massacre, back in 2001. He, more than any other, was the mouthpiece of one of the most violent expressions of extremism in religion. Many believe him to have been the face of evil.

It might be good here to state a few things: I am proud – of our President, of our Country, of our Armed Forces, and of our resolve. We can get embroiled in all kinds of controversy and criticism, but at the end of the day – for me, a Christ-follower – all I have is the scriptures, and they clearly teach that God has ordained those who lead the nation of which I have citizenship. That’s all I need.

It was gutsy for a Republican President to put a bounty on bin Laden’s head, and it was gutsy for a Democrat President to give the go-ahead on executing the mission that brought him to justice. My advice: Don’t let partisan politics pollute you – It’s ugly and all of it, on both sides of the aisle, gets nasty. It’s better to trust a Sovereign God than put hope in fellow sinners…

So, with that said, how did you react when you heard the news? Did you celebrate? Did you grieve? Were you conflicted? And how are we supposed to respond?

Ezekiel’s prophecy (33:11) offers insight by giving us a glimpse into God’s heart – “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live…”

Perhaps Martin Luther King put it best in one of my all-time favorite messages, entitled, The Strength to Love“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

So is there room to celebrate? I would say yes, absolutely, in fact I personally was thrilled upon discovering of bin Laden’s death. Thrilled because justice was done, and because closure was accomplished for a lot of families. Thrilled because a monster is no longer among us. And thrilled because I was and continue to be overwhelmed with pride in our amazing Armed Forces.

But the Gospel compels me to grieve too, as God grieves. The death of the wicked serves as evidence that something is terribly wrong with our world – it is broken and irreparably damaged by sin. Little boys and girls that grow up to be murderers do so because a world that was created to be lovely has been turned into an incubation chamber for evil.

Why would God not grieve? Why would we not?

So I celebrate… and grieve – But I do so with hope, because my solace is found in the One that took both the reason for and the guilt of a world of sorrow along with the hope of a day when sadness and death would cease, completely upon Himself. I can celebrate Jesus. And that is enough.

There is no better news…

peace.

Remembering… 9/11

September 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

It is September 11, nine years after the vicious terrorist attack on US soil, in Pennsylvania, NYC and Washington DC. I remember that day as though it was yesterday – most can recite every detail of their lives on that fateful day – I know that I can. The nation was thrown into a chaotic and desperate rush to find answers, hear loved ones’ voices, to care for the wounded, identify the victims, comfort their families, and respond to our attackers.

The church I pastored met for prayer the next evening and nearly 1000 people came to weep and sing and pour their hearts out before God. Two and a half weeks after the attack I went to New York and served at a volunteer site, offering meals, comfort and prayer to the Military, Rescue workers and Law Enforcement, as they worked around the clock in the city. I was then taken to Ground Zero, where an Officer took me to the center of the devastation. I haven’t quite recovered from that moment, and probably never will. Thousands of lives were lost and sorrow blanketed over our nation for many months and into the next year. Nothing again would ever be the same.

The Sunday after, I preached from Psalm 46, sharing in solidarity with my dear friend in ministry, Jeff White, who pastors the Newsong Community Church in Harlem, and who I stayed with when I went to Ground Zero. Together we proclaimed the promise of the Gospel.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though
the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams
make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most
High dwells…

The solidarity that drew Jeff and I to preach the same passage, and that compelled me and thousands of other clergy and volunteers to go to Ground Zero, and that drew hundreds to our and many other churches – to pray – and the sense of reflection that our Nation today shares, are reminders that the best way to care for people in their brokenness is to enter into it and share it.

We can’t shake that moment, not only because of its shock-value, but because the suffering has remained with us – with all of us – we share it. It has become part of who we are, and it is something we don’t want to any longer be identified apart from. Because in that moment all of our differences – our wealth and poverty – our strength and weakness – our success and failure – our skin color – our ethnicities – our languages – our histories – our denominational affiliations – our generations – all of it, in that moment, faded into the backdrop, and together, as one, we shared in sorrow. We loved people we would never meet. We wept over families we would never know. We anxiously awaited news on individuals we had never laid eyes on. Love broke through the sorrow and devastation.

There is something so gospel-like in this – because we are invited to enter into the sufferings of the One that first entered into ours – Jesus – who knows and sees us as we are, in our unfinished state, and who loves us any way.

Friends, this is good news.

peace.

Postcards from the Inauguration

January 23, 2009 § 1 Comment

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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…

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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.

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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.

 

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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…

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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…

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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.

peace.

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