Lost in Plain Sight

June 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

Lost ‘Do you know what I wish? I wish I had a dad… like you.’

Rufio, ‘Lost Boy’ to Peter Pan in Hook

If you have ever simultaneously known exactly where you were, and at the same time were completely lost, then you understand how I felt the other day in downtown Baltimore. After parking, I began to walk in the direction of a hospital where one of our Members was recovering from surgery. However in spite of the fact that I was headed on the right street towards the building I knew to be two blocks away, at some point I realized that I had no idea where I was!

The buildings were so tall that I couldn’t see anything other than structures immediately in front of me, and I got disoriented. Fortunately a nurse who was obviously headed to the same hospital, pointed to the building next to us when I inquired as to its location.

Yes, it was that close.

There are correlations with the Christian journey. I can know the direction, the rules, the promises, and everything else about a given situation, but then still find myself lost, missing the point. Strangely it often seems as though it is when I’m following the rules and walking rightly (according to my standards, of course) that I am most unnerved when things don’t add up, because everything inside of me says that God owes me for my presumed goodness.

Eventually this flawed thinking prevented Moses from entering the Promised Land (don’t worry, his story ended good!). God had used him in leading His people, but rather than see his own relative weakness, Moses presumed himself to be more than he was, and in doing so, he got lost – in plain sight.

I do too.

In other words, my self-righteousness is exposed, and I am utterly (and mercifully) derailed, until freshly reminded that the rules have never been the story…

…Living in His delight is.

Ironically, it is the admission of our inability to wrap our arms around life and faith and righteousness that we become unloosened from those terrible chains of perfectionism and self-consumption, and begin to understand the gospel’s beauty – that God is a Father who desires us more than we could ever keep up.

And that is very good news, friends…

peace.

Memorial

May 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

Arlington “Our Nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington DC (pictured below)

If you have never traveled to Washington DC and visited the Arlington National Cemetery, then I hope you will one day get the opportunity to do so. Like Gettysburg, Arlington is breathtaking, and the entire Washington Mall experience is unlike any other, where one is uniquely placed in the center of history.

Two weeks ago we laid our Mom to rest at Arlington where Dad was placed six years ago, and we were freshly struck by the magnitude of sacrifice that has accompanied our Nation through the generations. It is simultaneously sobering and awe-inspiring to walk among the hundreds of rows of grave markers that bear the names of men and women on a pristine lawn that is dedicated to preserving their memory.

Memorial Day was officially declared a holiday in 1971 by an act of Congress, though its roots go all the way back to the first Decoration Day in 1868. Interestingly, May was chosen to be the month for the observance because it was believed that flowers would be in bloom throughout the entire Nation.

Jesus spoke to the profound nature of sacrifice when He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), and then He demonstrated His words when He offered His own life.

This weekend I am thankful for our fallen heroes, and our living Veterans, young and old, and people just like us, but who served, and many others who entered into harm’s way for the sake of those they knew and many more they would never know. As Jesus taught, there is no greater expression of love (and therefore no greater example of God’s love) than when people sacrifice themselves for the sake of others.

“I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3)

Amen.

peace.

Korea

My Mom

December 28, 2013 § 20 Comments

DSC00375 “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

peace.

Christmas Dinner - 2005

a Gift for the Broken…

December 14, 2013 § 3 Comments

Broken“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”

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

Going There

August 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

Field_of_Dreams_poster “The darkness has faded just enough so that for the first time he can dimly see his opponent’s face. And what he sees is something more terrible than the face of death – the face of love.”

Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat

Field of Dreams, is one of my favorite movies because it taps into our deep yearning for wholeness. Ray (played by Kevin Costner) is compelled by a whisper-ish voice that inspires him to build a baseball stadium in a corn field in Iowa. The movie’s most enduring line is, If you build it, they will come. But the haunting refrain that pulses throughout it is, Ease his pain.

Much happens between Ray’s first encounter and movie’s end, but the most touching scene comes when he is brought face to face with his father who had died years before. Their reunion and exchange close the movie. However just before engaging his dad he realizes that the voice that inspired the construction of the field was his own, and only a journey of pain and uncertainty would bring him to that point.

So it is with us. The prospect of facing life uncensored and raw is terrifying because it is personal, but the gospel cuts through our layers of resistance to take us ‘there.’ Mysteriously, at one and the same time God enables us to face ourselves, and then live out of that reality without pretense, as He satisfies our God-given desire to be seen for who we are – and yet still be loved.

I am reminded of Joshua’s commissioning, where Moses says, The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,” (Deuteronomy 31:8), asserting the promise and principle that there is no place God will ever lead us that He has not already been.

It is ‘there’ that God heals our pain with Christ’s pain, our sorrows with Christ’s sorrows and our brokenness with Christ’s own death, demonstrating that He has already been ‘there’ on our behalf, and has completed our broken stories with His own. In short, He eases our pain.

Such 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.

The Gospel according to Robert D’Niro

March 18, 2013 § 2 Comments

D'Niro - Raging BullThere is something in all of us that repels from weakness. I remember having to adjust as my dad declined while his disease slowly diminished him in every way until he died. This is probably why we love sequels where our heroes return fit as ever and every bit as brave. They feed our false notions of invincibility…

Recently, Katherine and I went to A Good Day to Die Hard for Valentine’s Day (hey, I’m a romantic, okay?). It was disappointing, to say the least (not the company but the flick) – Bruce Willis lacked energy, and towards the end of the film I said something like, ‘Wow, he looks old,’ to which Katherine responded by reminding me that he is old (with a detectable sense of, ‘Are you really this deluded?’) – Shock! My takeaway was that in the next Die Hard installment, John McClane (Willis’ iconic character) needs to die (Don’t worry, Bruce, I’ll never stop going).

In this regard, I can understand the disciples’ shock in the Upper Room when Jesus told them that He would die. For them, Jesus was making Himself less, and to be sure, He was. And they weren’t ready for Him to be weak.

D'NiroBut the other night we saw Robert D’Niro in Silver Linings Playbook. The movie was brilliant in spite of the fact that D’Niro looked like a little old man, which, in fact, he is. What made him effective was that he didn’t need to save the US from Russian terrorists. Instead, he played an aging, weak, broken old man while ‘blocking’ for Bradley Cooper, the lead actor. As always, D’Niro was tremendous, and in spite of the fact that I’ll always see him as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, he actually became more by making himself less, in enabling his young lead actor to shine.

This is the way of the Cross. It is the supreme demonstration in which we discover our true identity when we abandon self and live sacrificially for others. In this we discover that we are strongest and most influential when we embrace weakness.

It is the way of Jesus, and it is an intentional movement towards self-denial, all the way to sacrifice.

Hey, I don’t get it either, but I am drawn to what Jesus calls me to, because the alternative is to follow my instinct to clog all meaningfulness with ego – and that gets old real fast. Like John McClane, I mean… Bruce Willis.

Jesus didn’t call us to take up our crosses for our own sakes (Luke 9:23). It was a call to join Him in His work of redeeming the whole world, an invitation to be liberated from the dungeon of self.

Whoever knew Al Capone (Robert D’Niro, that is), could teach us so much about the gospel?

No matter how you cut it, and regardless of who speaks it, the gospel is always good news…

peace.

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Baltimore (AKA how the Super Bowl informs a simple Faith)

February 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Raiders “…I stay in the shallow waters and skim the surface for insights and truths that are often passed over by the deep thinkers.”

Ruth Tucker, Walking Away From Faith

With Super Bowl XLVII just days away, the excitement and anticipation have built to a fevered pitch in the Greater Baltimore region. So pardon the simple musings of lifelong sports fan. Along with family and friends, I have entered into the excitement – much to the surprise of those who have known me for many years to be an avid, make that rabid, Oakland Raiders fan.

A simple visit to my office will reveal various Raiders paraphernalia, including my treasured, framed poster of the 1969 Oakland Raiders, the season Daryl Lamonica threw 34 touchdown passes and won the AFL MVP. My Dad secured this particular picture by writing to Al Davis, the Raiders’ owner, on Eastern Airlines letterhead. I could probably list every significant play, win, loss, player (including number) and moment in Oakland Raiders history. And I’ll never believe that Franco Harris’ immaculate reception/touchdown was legitimate!

So why allegiance to the Ravens?

The answer is simple – Because we live in Baltimore. In nearly seven years I have grown to love what this city loves, including its teams, its Inner Harbor, its food (translation: crabs, crab cakes & Old Bay crab seasoning), and most importantly, its people. I’m from Miami and love that city, though friends will argue that I never loved the Dolphins, which is true. But in 7th Grade you go for the coolest uniform, and no team’s uni was cooler than the Raiders’. I digress…

Years ago I had the joy of working with Rev. Bruce Reynolds in youth ministry – He and his wife Jeanette hailed from Baltimore. They were Baltimore everything, from the Orioles to the Colts (long time ago!). Bruce is now involved in a ministry of humor, faith and encouragement for churches, clubs and corporations. Neither would have dreamed they would settle in Florida, and we in Maryland. Not to mention that lifelong friend in life and ministry, Ray Cortese (also a Miamian), was as passionate for the Baltimore Colts as I was the Raiders. His Johnny U poster hung in our college dorm room.

It is worth mentioning that several players for the Ravens played at the University of Miami (the U) while we lived in South Florida – players we watched compete in the old Orange Bowl. And amazingly, one player for the San Francisco 49ers played at Katherine’s and my alma mater, Belhaven College.

In my simple universe there has to be something to this.

I think it is that the contours, shifts and transitions we face and experience are about a story God weaves us into during the course of our entire lives. People, places, interests and affections are never static. Neither is faith. We are put into particular settings just when God wants us there. And for His own reasons, whether to grow our faith, to insert us into another’s life, or for purposes we may never know, He is knitting us into a sweet narrative that before we would not have imagined – a picture we would never have recognized – with all the sounds, sights, smells, encounters, faces – yes, even teams – that help complete His work on the canvass that is our lives.

The apostle Paul saw himself as ‘becoming all things to all men,’ believing that being situated in diverse contexts and cultures enabled him to ‘do all this for the sake of the gospel…’ (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) – The temptation is to see this is as something God does through us for others, and undoubtedly this is part of what Paul is saying. But I’m not so sure it is only that. Could it be that He is working the gospel into us as well? I’m certain He is. And my guess is that wherever Paul was, at any moment, he was completely at home.

So my encouragement is to stop fighting and enjoy. Figuring out God’s reasons is like counting the stars – it ain’t going to happen! We’re way too linear to understand God’s plans for our lives. And every attempt to do so robs us of the joy of the moment.

And I guess this is my point. Wherever you are, for whatever reasons, God put you there, and through you He intends to be someone else’s good news, and they yours…

Go Ravens! (and Oakland, please, PLEASE, deal with your offense!)…

peace.

StaffRavensPhoto

Until Emmanuel Comes…

December 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

Sorrow Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!

This morning Katherine and I left for Pensacola, Florida to attend our daughter Emily’s college graduation, to be held tomorrow. Within hours we will be reunited with all of our children, including our daughter-in-law, and Katherine’s sister and brother-in-law, so you can imagine the joy that filled our hearts in anticipation of the weekend together when our jet took off. However by the time it touched down, 27 people, including 20 children under the age of 10, had been senselessly and violently murdered by a gunman who then took his own life, in Newtown, Connecticut.

I have no answers, only anguish and devastation. My heart is heavy. Before I am a pastor I am a husband and dad, as well as an often-confused Christ-follower. This shouldn’t happen – but in a fallen world it does, and will again. Even as I write, our dear friends in Miami await their unjustly imprisoned son’s release from a Mexican jail. And this on the heels of a mall shooting in Happy Valley, Oregon that left two victims dead and one critically wounded, along with the shooter, earlier this week.

After the initial sense of horror, we were filled with profound thankfulness for our children’s wellbeing, but also an even deeper sorrow, realizing that we will celebrate something with our daughter that these parents never will with their babies. Throughout their entire lives we have prayed for our children and their safety. We prayed when they would fall asleep in their cribs, when they began to walk and put everything in their mouths, while baby sitters were watching them, when they first learned to drive, and every time they were on the road after and since. We prayed for them when working late, walking in parking lots, in classrooms, on flights, and while in college. All along knowing that ultimately we are not in control and have absolutely no way of protecting them – that their world is just as fallen as ours – that their lives are just as fragile.

And now young dads and moms will have to identify their precious ones who will not be able to respond to their expressions of love and tenderness, nor dry their tears. Somehow these dear folks will have to figure out how to make sense out of the rest of their lives.

It is Advent. We long. We wait for violence and death and rage and illness and sadness to be gone forever, when Jesus comes to heal our damaged world and make all things new, where everything that is wrong is transformed into what it was created to be.

Our consolation is Jesus. We don’t hold on to something – we cling to someone, and only a Father, whose Son died so violently and publicly – for us – can both comprehend our deep longing, and understand our profound sadness.

And while we wait, the One who entered into our brokenness, has given us one another – to celebrate, to love, and yes, to weep, comfort and be devastated – together. He has also put us in this world, and permits and desires for us to mourn with those we don’t know – To love those we haven’t met – And embrace those we can’t touch.

So today, and every day, no answers. Tomorrow, with great joy we will celebrate our precious Emily. When she walks across the stage and receives her diploma, we will look at her in the context of what transpired today. We will weep with a deep joy for every memory and this mixed with a profound sadness for others who may never know such gladness.

Until Jesus comes, I think this is the way it is supposed to be…

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

peace.

A Holy Disturbance

November 30, 2012 § 4 Comments

Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again… there is no place where we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from his power to break in two and recreate the human heart because it is just where he seems most helpless that he is most strong, and just where we least expect him that he comes most fully.

Frederick BuechnerThe Hungering Dark

Inertia is defined as ‘a tendency to do nothing, or to remain unchanged.’ In physics it is descriptive of something that exists in a perpetual vacuum of progress in spite of continual motion. But when applied to people, it can simply mean to merely exist.

This past week I was in Miami for three days. My Mom is in the hospital and on a healing path from a fall. While she was in PT, or resting, I met with old friends and drove down familiar streets, freshly reminded that nothing remains the same. If you are anything like me, in spite of the fact that I know this to be true, it is surprising each time it freshly hits home.

It occurred to me twice in Miami, the first when walking through Dadeland Mall, the highest per-capita spending mall in the country, and well-positioned in the southern ‘hemisphere’ of Miami. One evening I noticed construction of a huge new parking garage, and remembered the last time it was redesigned, and the time before that, and before that. Oh, and the time before that too. In fact, I remember the grand opening, and when the big shop to us kids was Cozzoli’s Pizza (also gone), as well as the famous dragon fountain across from Ferris Groves, the Venetian ice stand Jeff Jones, a high school classmate, and I worked at (both gone – actually Jeff and I are too).

But then, while at an intersection of US-1 I noticed a closed-down stand-alone store (pictured above). For those of us who grew up in South Florida few quick-stops were more endearing and convenient, than Farm Stores, those drive-through dairy markets with fresh bread, milk, butter, donuts and ice cream. Gone. Okay, I can understand the 7-Eleven moving across the street. But our Farm Stores? No!

Everything changes. Rowan Williams says that, we must be surprised, ambushed, and carried off by God if we are to be kept from idols. I think he is right, because until I am ambushed, my ‘idols’ tend to maintain a superficial splendor in my mind and heart.

If nothing else, the Christmas story demonstrates that Jesus breaks through the mundane. In His birth, and frankly throughout His entire ministry, once He comes, nothing remains as it was. Everything changes. In fact, it would be fair to say that no one can ever again be the same once they have had a real encounter with Jesus – for the first time, or for the one-millionth time. He constantly challenges the status quo while exposing our idolatries.

Which brings me back to Inertia.

My problems usually aren’t due to mistakes I make moving forward (which are manifold!). More often they are the result of my resistance to the chaos Jesus brings with His constant reentry into my life.

Deep down I want to be a stand-alone store that is never threatened by extinction – It must be part of living in rebellion of my unfinished nature. Even deeper, it is a refusal to acknowledge and let go of my idols. But in this resolve, subtly and unwittingly I become incrementally distanced from Jesus, and my fresh faith is transformed into spiritual inertia.

The cool thing is that He just comes. He is born. He enters. And with each fresh realization of this reality, in spite of my resistance (translation: fear) to His beautifully disturbing presence, along with a simple admission of that fear, comes the reminder that it was worth trusting Him again, for the one-millionth-plus-one time, because Jesus never comes to make my life less – but more.

And this is Good News of Great Joy…

peace.

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