Category Archives: Faith

Who Cares?

Recently, I had the opportunity to deliver a sermon on one of my favorite Bible passages: Mark 4:35-41.  This portion of scripture recounts Jesus’ stilling of the storm.  I find this section of God’s word particularly impactful because of the question someone in the boat asks of Jesus: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  That is a question that each one of us has asked (or will ask) whoever we understand to be our Supreme Being when our lives are on the brink of shipwreck.  When we come to the end of ourselves, when our brains and our brawn have been exhausted, we all want to know if God will be there to deliver us from danger.

From the very beginning of their voyage, everyone in the boat knew Jesus’ command – “Let us go over to the other side.”  Their problem was that they lacked a full understanding of who was resting in the boat with them; they failed to recognize that the man who fell asleep amid the rising swells was God the Son.  They did not recognize that the one who directed the disciples to cross the sea would not lie or be denied.  They were unable to comprehend that, no matter how strong the storm (and even if the boat was sunk), they would make it through the wind and waves safe to the other side.  They were going to survive those frightening hours because God keeps His promises.  We, too, will survive the storm.

This inability to recognize Jesus as anything more than a teacher, an expert in the Law of God, is the crux of this account.  It has always fascinated me that the disciples, at least four of whom had years of nautical experience as fishermen, would wake the resting Rabbi for assistance.  Perhaps this question of concern was founded in their thought that a “man of God” was blessed by God and His prayers would avail much.   Maybe they remembered His miraculous power expressed in healing and deliverance, thinking that maybe He could act miraculously again.  The point is, someone in that boat thought that Jesus was special and wondered if He could save them.  We, too, have times when we wonder if Jesus can save us.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)

Why did Jesus calm the sea?  He did not still the waves to assure safe passage; that would have happened anyway.   He did not rebuke the wind to demonstrate His power over the natural order; they already knew He could do that.  He did all this to bring peace to the hearts of twelve frightened grown men; He showed that He cared for them, not just their circumstances.  The danger in reading passages like this that it can lead us to assume that God will always tame the troubles that terrify us.  That would miss the point that Jesus came to tame our fear, not simply take them away.

We all have anxious moment when we wonder if God cares, or even know, about us.  Here is a reminder that He does.  He cares enough to weather the storms with us and still the storms within us.

A Bad Sign

I take an unhealthy delight in typographical errors on notices and signs.  The dry cleaner on the corner offers a “pans hem” service for $8.  There was a Dunkin Donuts© in Connecticut with a bathroom that was out of order, a handwritten note imploring patrons to “pleas bare with us”.  There are websites and late-night talk show segments devoted to “Bad Signs”.  One of these signs was for a children’s software company whose tagline was “So Fun, They Won’t Even Know Their Learning”.  Despite the errors (in grammar, spelling or context), the information is still conveyed – that the cleaner offers tailoring for pants, the coffee shop begs for their customers’ patience and that they are retaining knowledge while enjoying the computer products.

Almost every blog posting I write has some typographical error.  Sometimes it is grammatical, crafting sentences where I lack verbal agreement or confuse plurals with possessives.  Sometimes it is spelling, such as when I use form for from or an for any (often words that slip through auto-correct but are misspellings for what I intend).  Sometimes it is contextual, when I think effect is correct instead of affect or use complement for compliment.   While I am not fond of disclosing my imperfect nature to the cyber-universe, I am blessed to have a few readers who are caring enough to make me aware of my mistakes (mind you, this is not an invitation for anyone and everyone to point out my many flaws).

This is one of the wonderful aspects of life in Christ and living for Christ – God doesn’t require our perfection, but our faithfulness.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.   2 Corinthians 4:7

In the words of Scripture prior to this verse, Paul mentions our ministry, our knowledge of God, the gospel and the light – all of which could be the treasure he mentions.  Then, in the above verse, he likens us to jars of clay (common earthen vessels) susceptible to cracks and chips and vulnerable to failure due to imperfections.   One implication of Paul’s teaching is that our value is in our content and not our form.  In other words, what we say is more valuable than how we say it and what we do is more valuable than how we do it.

My goal in ministry, sharing the knowledge of God and shining the light, is not eloquence and exactitude (as is evident with a blog post a few weeks ago containing more errors than a little league game) but expressing the truth of God to all those whom God blesses this earthen vessel to reach.  So, I no longer wander about if I could of had an affect on the readers personnel growth if I could only write good (I know, at least 6 errors in that last sentence).  I only hope that God can use this imperfect platform and performer to point to Him, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Even a misspelled sign can give direction if its message is true.  Of this, I am living proof.

The Mother Lode

This Sunday we celebrate Mother’s Day.  It is the day that we, as a society, honor the people in our lives who have sacrificed their sleep, their youth, their livelihoods and their plans to provide for us.  We all have someone in our lives worthy of celebration – a mother (or mother-figure) who has loved, comforted, taught and trained us; a person who has given us advice, assistance and correction when we needed it; and someone who was willing to give all they had to help us achieve all we are intended to be.  No human being, and therefore no mother, is perfect; they are simply closer to the ideal than the rest of us.

From last Mother’s Day to this, it has been a particularly difficult year for the three mothers in my life.  The mother I was born to has been hampered by some minor health, home and hearth concerns.  The mother I am married to has seen one child graduate college only to be rocked by an uncertain job market and unestablished credit, one child graduate High School only to live at a college 500 miles away, all while she was required to perform her functions as a mother in a downsized environment.  The mother I gained through marriage has had the toughest year: she suffered the loss of her son in December and an extended hospitalization and rehabilitation since March.  Life has not been easy for the mothers of my family.

As I witnessed how these three remarkable women coped with the challenges of life thrust upon them, it seems that I am the one who is still learning the lessons of life from these moms.  Their stalwart persistence teaches me that God provides all that we need: a few dollars or a few kind words just when we are at our wits’ end.  Their steadfast love teaches me that the difficulties of our day are diffused when we bear the burdens of someone else.  Their sincere concern for their children teaches me that love is empowered only when it is released for the betterment of another.  I am blessed by the love and care of these moms.

My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.  Proverbs 6:20

The events of the last year, and the ways that these wonderful women navigated them, reinforces in my mind the notion that we need our moms.  We also need to uplift the mothers among us.  Let me encourage you to celebrate the mothers around you.  If your mom is still living, acknowledge the integral role she has played in your life.  If all you have is memories, share one this Sunday.  Recognize the full spectrum of motherhood in your community – greet the new moms, the single moms, the empty-nested moms, the mourning moms, the expectant moms, the motherly role models, the future moms, the moms who care for others’ children and the prodigals’ moms.  It is a tough world and we can use all the love and encouragement we can get.  Praise God this weekend that He has given us great mothers.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Type Casting

At this very moment I have 199 unread emails in my inbox.  Most of them are of little importance that I can quickly scan and delete (notifications of the latest sales and deals at stores and restaurants I have frequented, daily or weekly newsletters and devotionals from ministries and ministers I respect, and the occasional opportunity from a Nigerian prince), but there are a few which have subject lines that are ambiguous and, therefore, warrant a closer look (just in case they are important or urgent).  Because of the internet, I am now able to interact with nearly anyone who may have an inquiry or request for intercession.  What I wonderful time to be alive.

Now I have 205.

Electronic communication is a marvelous resource for this generation:  you can interact with missionaries who serve halfway across the globe, engage in prayer with innumerable people despite differences in location and schedule, or encourage untold (and sometimes unknown) saints and strangers with an apt and timely word.   While I still prefer a phone conversation over an email or text regarding substantive matters, many times a few digital characters are sufficient to efficiently address the details of life.  Plans, which for previous generations took days or weeks to finalize, can now be ironed out in moments.   What a wonderful time to be in community.

207.

While I take the time to espouse the merits of digital dialogue, I am also aware of its dangers.  In this electronic age, we have the ability to say almost anything to nearly everyone: however, immediacy can hinder introspection and sometimes some people type faster than they think, causing everything from misunderstanding (in the best scenarios) to misogyny (in the worst).  In this electronic age, we have the ability to happily exist in a state of complacency: we can be tempted to read daily devotionals and peruse personal emails or posts as a substitute for real life interactions.  In this electronic age, we have the ability to surround ourselves with others who share our opinions and beliefs: our electronic presence can place us in an ‘echo chamber’ of our own thoughts.  Still, what a wonderful time to be engaged.

212.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  Ephesians 4:29

Email, blogs, social media – all marvelous tools to help us engage with the culture around us (and to the farthest corners of the world).  But, like any tool, electronic communications must be used skillfully and wisely.  And, like any tool, electronic communication must not be used exclusively.  We must challenge one another to speak (with our voices and our keystrokes) with words that uplift.  We must stretch ourselves to reach out to others with actual interactions and not simply react to life.  We must lead with love.  What a wonderful time to be a child of God.

At this point I now have 219 emails to deal with…and a whole host of people to talk with face-to-face.

Singing in the Rain

As I was standing out in the schoolyard, waiting for Joshua’s dismissal, I was thinking about all the umbrellas.  Did I mention it was raining?  Our relationship with umbrellas is a complex one.  We don’t think about our umbrella until we need it; we’d never search for one on a sunny day.  They break in the wind and rain, but we don’t replace them, regretting that decision the moment a bit of inclement weather arrives.  We stick them in closets or in trunks, along with the winter boots and ice scrapers, and then are unable to get our hands on them when we need them.

Some people like little, compact umbrellas that can fit in a purse or briefcase, just big enough to protect our heads from the drops (but insufficient to keep our shoes and shoulders dry).  Some people prefer the big, golf-sized umbrellas that you can use as a walking stick, sufficient to protect you and a few companions from whatever may fall from the sky.  As I waited in the schoolyard, every variety of umbrella converged: black umbrellas for the business types, rainbow-striped ones for the free spirited, pink parasols for the princesses and clear plastic domes for the utilitarian folks among us.

There were also people with no umbrella – these are the people I was wondering about.  Did they not possess an umbrella?  Did they own one at one time but lost or misplaced it?  Did they have one at home, but figured that their hood or their hat or that overhang would keep them sufficiently dry?   Did they have a bad experience with an umbrella in the past, perhaps a terrible wind or bout of hail, and swore to never trust an umbrella again?   Did they think that the weather was something they could handle and that a little bit of water never hurt anyone?

I was also wondering if people think of God in the same ways we think of umbrellas.  Are they thinking that God is good when we need Him, but unnecessary on bright and sunny days?  Do they keep God in the closet and then forget about Him?  Have they had a bad experience and blamed God for their discomfort?  Is God little more than a fashion accessory?  Well, God is not merely a cosmic or spiritual umbrella, useful only in protecting us from what may fall from the skies.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.    Isaiah 43:2

God cannot be relegated to the closet until we feel He could be useful; He is continually making His presence known.  God does not come in a myriad of sizes and colors; He is more than we can imagine and greater than we think.  God does not simply keep us dry when we find ourselves in the throes of an April shower; He can enable us to pass through floodwaters and flames.  If you want to be equipped to face the challenges of life, be sure you have an umbrella in your trunk, but make sure God is by your side.

Amazing Grays

There is a word in Greek (thaumazō) that Luke used to describe what happened when human beings witnessed the power and glory of God.  It is alternatingly translated as “to wonder, to be astonished, to be amazed, to marvel, and to be surprised”.  It is the response of the people of Bethlehem after hearing the shepherds declare the birth of the Savior and the disciples after Jesus calmed the wind and the waves.  It is how multiple people reacted to the miraculous acts of the Lord and how Peter felt when he saw the empty tomb.  Throughout the Gospels, men and women come face-to-face with the words and works of God and are amazed.  

This experience of occasional astonishment is, in my opinion, a stark contrast to those who attend our twenty first century worship services.  When was the last time you wondered at the meaning of the words found in the Scriptures or were surprised by the works of the Holy Spirit in our midst?  When was the last time God broke through the mundane and you marveled at the world around you?  In our day and age, our impressions of life on earth is more like that of the author of Ecclesiastes: there is nothing new under the sun.  Where has all the wonder gone?

I believe we get from life and from others what we expect from life and from others.  Beyond “glass-half-full/glass-half-empty” biases, we see what we want to see.  We are not surprised by God, either through His miraculous works or His marvelous words, because we do not think we will be.  Babies are born and all but the immediate family shrugs.  Healing comes to those who are sick and most of us yawn.  Accidents are avoided by random delays and we are oblivious.  Then we consider the biological functions necessary for sustaining life and the explosive power of the combustion engine, it is amazing that we “live and move and have our being”.

…and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  Luke 2:18

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this?”  Luke 8:25b

…and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.  Luke 24:12b

Last weekend, with its reminders of the sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of Jesus, ought to pique our interest in the amazing.  Easter is a lasting witness to the wonderful and marvelous works and words of God.  It reminds us that while His claims may sound fantastic (i.e. based on fantasy), to our amazement they have all been proven true.  This week, in communities of faith gathered in worship and in places of solitude intended for reflection, we allowed ourselves to be amazed, if only for a moment.  I wonder what would happen if we allowed ourselves to look for the surprising every Sunday morning, or every morning for that matter.

I pray that this week you hear something amazing, see something wonderful and sense something marvelous.  Let me know when you do.

‘I Am’ in Good Hands

Today is Good Friday, the day in which the Church remembers and reflects upon the death of Jesus.  Each year, I focus on one of the gospels as they relate the events of Palm Sunday through Easter.  This year I have been reading through Luke’s account of the Lord’s final days and am struck by what the good doctor states is Jesus’ final utterance (and arguably His “famous last words”): “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  In saying this, He is quoting from Psalm 31:5 and restating the assurances that David made of God about a thousand years before the cross. 

From the context of Psalm 31:5, I do not believe this is a simple statement of resignation, as if Jesus is saying, “I give up”.  Rather, it is a statement of confidence in the Father.  Psalm 31 tells us that David saw his strength as coming from the knowledge that God is his refuge, deliverance, rescue, rock and redemption.  It is in light of all this that David places all that he was, every aspect of himself beyond his physical existence, in the hands of God.   Similarly, this is the same confidence that Jesus expresses from the cross.

This phrase is akin to the words that Jesus spoke in the garden a few hours earlier, “… not My will, but Yours be done.”  It conveys the confidence that Jesus had in knowing that the plans of God and the guiding hand of God can be trusted.  As the agony of the cross began to overwhelm the limits of His human body, Jesus doesn’t give up, but rather gives over control of His existence to the only one who can perfectly accomplish God’s will, the Father himself.  And He is faithful, releasing Jesus from His mortal coil and redeeming us, lost sinners, from the power of death and sin.

Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, LORD, my faithful God.  Psalm 31:5

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  When he had said this, he breathed his last.  Luke 23:46

I pray that I’d have the confidence that David expressed or that Jesus exhibited.  Sadly, I often see the opposite dynamic at work:  when the going gets tough, I want to take matters into my own hands.  Instead of committing my spirit into God’s hands, I futilely attempt to handle my trials and troubles myself.  Instead of acting like David (who just prior to committing his spirit to God asks Him to “keep me free from the trap that is set for me”), I am more likely to stumble into danger by relying on my own sense of direction.  How much pain could be avoided if I committed my spirit to His hands.

It is hard to see the empty tomb when we are enduring what, for us, seems to be the cross.  It is at those times that we need to trust the hand of God, which comforted the Lord, rolled away the stone and raised the Savior.  It is also the hand that can comfort, strengthen and save us.

I am praying that you have a blessed Good Friday and a Happy Easter.

Driving the Parade Float

In our church’s most recent newsletter (found at http://calvary-boston.org/newletter.pdf), I wrote about my reservations about public praise and my resolve to increase that praise in light of Jesus’s admonition on Palm Sunday.   “If the people won’t cry out, the rocks will,” Jesus told the Pharisees.  This rebuke of the religious elite has challenged me to praise God so that the Lord need not replace the praise that I ought to be offering with that of a stone.  Part of Palm Sunday is celebrating the triumphal entry of the conquering king, knowing that He has conquered sin, death and the Devil. 

But this is only part of the Palm Sunday narrative.  The Gospel of Luke begins the day we know as Palm Sunday with a conversation between two unnamed disciples and Jesus.  Jesus commands these two to enter into town and secure the services of a donkey.  It was an important task, as it would fulfill a Scriptural prophecy about the Messiah.  But it is just “transportation” ministry – two of the divine dozen, the chosen students of the Lord, being asked to call for an Uber® instead of doing something more important.  Maybe they struggled with a temptation I occasionally face: thinking that they had been called to greater things than this.

“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden.  Untie it and bring it here.  If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”    Luke 19:30-31 (NIV)

Imagine you were walking in the sandals of those two unnamed disciples as they witnessed the triumphal entry.  Would you be tempted to say, “Hey, none of this would have been possible without me”?  Would you want Jesus to acknowledge your contribution to the parade?  Would you, at some later date, tell Matthew (your fellow disciple) to make sure he mentions your name when inspired to write about Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem?   We can wonder how we might react to such a request from Jesus, but there is no question how these two unnamed disciples reacted – with humble obedience.  They did what they were told without question or credit, pure and simple.

Knowing what transpired once Jesus mounted the donkey (the praise and adoration of the crowd), it makes me think that there is a link between obedience and worship.  There must be something that connects our sacrifice and our singing.  It seems that we cannot fully rejoice in the Lord until we have first committed our lives to the Lord.  We praise Jesus – His power, His protection, His provision and His prodding – because we have seen Jesus.   We have seen the evidences of His mighty acts and heard the expressions of His salvation.  And having seen and heard what the Lord can do, we are willing to follow Him wherever He leads.  Then, as we follow Him wherever He leads, we witness the praise and rejoicing He alone deserves.

It is good to know that all our efforts – our deeds and sacrifices – will produce, on earth and in heaven, glorious praise to our King.  That is ultimately our greatest reward.

Building Blocks

The other day I picked up our youngest son, Joshua, from a library program where he had been building robots with Legos®.  It was amazing to see what could be built with things my son had at his disposal.  From those four basic components (the EV3 computer, sensors, motors and Lego® pieces), he was able to build useful and powerful machines.  Legos® have come a long way from when I was a kid: then, we could build a “blocky” plane or a car (which we could imagine to be the real things), but now you can design and control an actual moving vehicle.

Watching Joshua ‘play’ with these toys made me think about the church, the local representation of the kingdom of God.  I always pictured, as all my kids and I played with the little plastic bricks, that this is what the Bible must have been referring to when Peter wrote that we, the saints, were being built into a temple.  We may not all look the same (we come in different colors, lengths, widths and thicknesses), but we all can be useful in the construction plan of God.  To steal a sentiment from The Lego Movie: in the hands of the Master Builder, we all can be special.

As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.      1 Peter 2:4-5

Then, as Joshua was explaining these new components, I thought deeper about the matter.  The computer unit provides the direction to the structure, much like the Word of God provides direction for the church.  The sensors and motors translate that information from the computer into kinetic energy, just as the Holy Spirit translates the written Word into the Living Word as we gather as the church.  And then, as one diverse but cohesive whole, the unit moves and accomplishes the purpose of the designer, whether we are talking of a Lego® robot or a local congregation.   This is all in accordance with the designer’s plan.

Regarding this metaphor of the church being like a structure built with an interlocking brick system, it also reflects the truth that function is not defined by form.  Anyone who has ever ventured into the Lego® Store knows that there are boxes of these bricks that that can make a “Super Soarer” for $9.99 and the US Capitol Building for $99.99.  Does brick count make the project better?  Not necessarily.  Whether it is Legos® or churches, the size of the building is not as important as the enjoyment of the ‘build’.  If you need a pencil holder, having a replica of the Millennium Falcon will not satisfy your need.  And if your family’s experience with Legos® is anything like mine, all the set pieces get mixed together pretty quickly, and that is really when the fun and creativity starts.

I’m so glad I’m a part of the multi-colored structure that God is designing with our church.  We may not be very big, but we are beautiful.  We may not have a large brick count, but we are being used to bring our creator glory.  And like Legos®, we (as a church) began as an idea in Scandinavia.

Don’t Give Me A Break

My mother-in-law, who turned ninety on the 28th of last month, had a fall at her home which resulted in her breaking six ribs.  She is currently being cared for at a wonderful hospital in Boston, but addressing her pain, which is substantial, has proven difficult.  If you were to visit her those first few days, you would hear her literally crying out to God in a loud voice; however, by all appearances, God did not reply.  The extreme discomfort of those broken ribs (which cannot be immobilized) remained and the extreme fervency of her prayers (which could not be suppressed) remained unanswered.

My mother-in-law’s condition makes me think about all those who are crying out for relief – relief from the grief or anger of loss, relief from the pain or anguish of trauma and relief from the worries and doubts of the unknown – but relief does not seem to arrive.  Is God silent when we seem to need to hear from Him the most?  Is God distant when we have the greatest hunger for His presence?  Is God uncaring when we long for the comfort that can only come from Him?  By faith, I contend just the opposite.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.   2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Let me be the first to admit that I would appreciate my mother-in-law’s relief from her pain.  Let me also admit that I tend to be blinded by the blessings of God when burdens are right before me.  The loudest murmurs I hear are those of distress, but also present are the beeps of monitors, the hums of IV pumps and the voices of caring health professionals.  My mind plays out a number of other sounds as well: the ringing of an unanswered phone which triggered concern in a daughter’s heart, the sirens of an ambulance that brought needed assistance to a woman in need and a lecture in a medical/nursing school that equipped the doctors and nurses at the hospital to provide expert care.   These, too, are answers to prayer.

God is not silent, or distant or uncaring.  He is speaking in our circumstances, even in the pains that are not fully relieved (which might be teaching us what we ought to avoid).  He is close to us as we undergo the troubling conditions relating to our shared human nature.  He cares for us, so much so that He endured every indignity that comes with life on earth and conquered everything that causes permanent damage – sin, death and damnation.  While I would like the symptoms of this fallen existence to fade into solely painful memories, I accept that God usually comforts us in less obvious ways.

The good news is that Jeanine’s mother is slowly improving and pain killers are alleviating some of her discomfort.  I pray that God, in time, alleviates the remaining difficulties.  It is unfortunate that it takes pain to cause most of us to cry out to God.  It is truly fortunate that He hears and cares, even if we cannot sense it.