Category Archives: Faith

Playing Games

I have come to a startling revelation:  children today do not play, or at least they do not play like we did when we were kids.  At a recent curriculum night, my youngest son’s teacher informed the gathered parents that their children’s fourth-grade class will be participating in a weekly program that will teach how to play well at recess and how to follow the rules of recreation.  At our church’s yard sale, my middle son’s friend brought home a number of board games that we had for sale because he had no games at home.  Certainly, children today are engaged in sports and video games, they do not know how to play.  They know how to compete, whether it is tracked on scoreboards or screens, but are ignorant of play.

What did we do to our children when we were encouraging them to win (e.g. on the field) or finish the task the fastest (with Legos, for example) while at the same downplaying the joys of simply ‘having fun’?    Somewhere along the way we forgot the fun of recreation and substituted it with competition and amusement.  We neglected to pass on the benefits of being renewed, or recreated, when engaging with others in play and began to emphasize the goals of skill acquisition, winning and superiority when engaging against others on the ballfield or the playground.  Sadly, the question we ask our kids at the end of these endeavors is no longer, “Did you have fun?” but rather, “Did we win?”

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.   Hebrews 4:9-10

This is not God’s purpose for us – to compete with each other until one stands victorious and the also-rans fall to defeat.  God’s plan and purpose is for our lives to have periods of rest.  He worked into His creation a break from work (toil, labor and struggle) every seven days.  God’s understanding of rest is not for us to sleep for an entire day (as there is time for sleep every day), but to fill one day a week with recreational (what will recreate us) activities.  We all need to take time to be creative and be recreated.  We all are designed to take time to read for pleasure, cook for fun, exercise our minds and bodies for refreshment and play for the sake of enjoyment.

Our children work hard; they are engaging in toil, labor and struggle at school and with extracurriculars for hours at a time.  We, as parents and as a society, must encourage them to engage in play, not to win but to recreate.  Kids need to build things ‘without the directions’, ride bikes ‘without a destination’, and enjoy board games ‘without a decision’.   Kids need to see these things modeled as well – to see us reading, riding or rolling just for the mere pleasure of being together and growing together.

I wonder what would happen if we began playing games with our children for only an hour – playing for a time and not a triumph.  We could break out the Monopoly board and set the timer.  There would be no winner and no loser, just an hour of interaction and conversation.  Would we be frustrated by the lack of closure?  Perhaps, but I think it would pass.  Would we benefit from the process of recreation instead of competition?  Probably.  Let me know what happens if you try.

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A Twenty Year Shift

This Sunday afternoon, in celebration of my 20 years of service, Calvary Community Church will be putting on a luncheon in my honor.  While I loathe being the center of attention, I am grateful for the gesture of love and appreciation.  The irony of this event is that, while it recognizes that I have been pastoring the same church for two decades, I have not actually been pastoring in the same ministry for 20 years.  In a post a few weeks ago, I wrote that most of the congregants have changed over my tenure.  But that is not the only thing that has changed since 1997.

Our culture, and therefore our church’s ministry, has changed in the last few years.  Some of these changes have been stylistic – from organ accompaniment to piano or from singing with hymnals in hand to projecting digital images of lyrics – but some of the changes have been profound:

  • Our society was changed by terrorism (September 11, 2001) – our world, including our expressions of faith, changed when planes crashed into the World Trade Center Towers, the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania. Some were drawn to God, some were repelled.  But ministry changed…we were no longer invincible, no longer safe, no longer favored.  New questions were raised and doubts about God’s benevolence and power surfaced, leaving the church to offer hope to the newly hopeless.
  • Our society redefined tolerance (November 18, 2003) – our moral landscape changed when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld a lower court’s ruling in the case of Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, thereby legalizing the marriage of two consenting adults without regard to gender. The law of the land (ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court of the US) thus conflicted with the traditional interpretation of the Bible and local congregations were required to again consider questions thought inconceivable to prior generations.
  • Our society was given untethered access to technology (June 29, 2007) – our understanding of media and knowledge changed when Apple released the IPhone, allowing anyone with the resources to afford the phone and the service plan access to the internet virtually anywhere. Seemingly overnight, we went from transferring information conversationally to transferring it electronically.  We heightened our levels of awareness and distraction with our ability to record and transmit everything.  We began engaging in social media and neglected social interaction.  The church, whether it was ready or not, was required to engage with the digital world while maintaining its historically relational and textual characteristics.
  • Our society embraced a new form of activism (September 17, 2011) – our involvement with the world around us changed when people gathered for Occupy Wall Street, ushering in a new style of activism that blended the orchestration of peaceful assembly with the spontaneity of a flash mob. Diverse groups of individuals were able to communicate their dissatisfaction with cultural oppression en masse, without designated leadership, and have their voices heard.  This led to other groups (e.g. Black Lives Matter and Women’s March) raising awareness of the plight of the disadvantaged.  The church, who has championed the cause of the downtrodden for centuries, is now beginning to embrace this social activism as young Christians lead the saints into a world where there is justice for all.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8 (NIV)

In a few weeks, I am going to participate in a young man’s Ordination Council (a gathering of denominational leaders who interact with a candidate’s statement of theology, challenging the candidate to think deeply about their philosophy and content of ministry).  I remember my Ordination Council in 1999.  I was so young, so naïve, so sure of what I believed.  Then, over the past two decades, the landscape shifted in profound ways.  However, no matter how the culture may change, the Christ remains the same.  The message has never wavered, whether it is recorded in ink or pixels.  A culture worried with terrorism and wearied by intolerance has been washed in the Blood of Jesus.  A culture steeped in technology and straining for justice has been saved from sin through the sacrifice.  The church has changed over the past twenty years – as the adage goes, “You could not step twice into the same river” – but the Gospel remains the same.  And so we shall continue to share the good news until all have heard it.

Back to School

Yesterday was the first day of 11th grade for my son, David, and the first day of 4th grade for my son, Joshua.  Speaking for parents everywhere, the first day of school is absolutely wonderful.  The children were dressed in new clothes and their backpacks were filled with new school supplies.  Everyone sensed the excitement due to the possibilities of a new year with new teachers.  Social media will inevitably be filled with photos of our bright-eyed scholars ready for the commencement of new classes.  And, while the young ones are at school, precious hours of peace and quiet returned to homes everywhere.

I have memories (through a thick fog of time) surrounding a number of “first day”s of school: buying Garanimals at Bradlees, writing my name in my new Trapper Keeper, wondering if any of my friends were going to be in my class, trepidation over the navigation of hallways and locker combinations, walking down Park Street (first to the Clapp School and then to the E. A. Jones School).  I remember nearly all of my teachers’ names.  I can still see the hallway and stairway where one of my first grade classmates (who will remain nameless) had a meltdown of epic proportions due to what we now call separation anxiety.  First days of school leave an indelible mark.

These memories, however, are fading as I get older.  School days are no longer part of our adult lives.  We do not buy new clothes for ourselves at Labor Day sales and we detest the incredibly long lines at Staples.  Many of us have not been in a classroom setting (outside of parent-teacher conferences) in decades and assume a mindset that education is only for the young.  According to Pew Research, 27% of adults did not read a single book last year.  The world around is constantly changing, but, sadly, some of us see no need to hone our intellectual resources.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.   Acts 2:42

One of the counter-cultural practices of the Christian church is a devotion to life-long learning.  This weekend, communities of faith all over the region will be holding, in one form or another, a “Rally Day” to resume Christian Education classes.  Through Sunday School classes, Bible studies and C. E. discussions people of all ages will devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching.  People of diverse backgrounds will gather in church basements and conference rooms and read the Scriptures together.  Women and men of all ages will share experiences and insights, equipping one another to face the challenges of life.

At Calvary, Sunday will be the first day of school.  While we will not expect you to have sharpened #2 pencils or matching shirts and khakis, we do encourage you to devote yourselves to learning more about the Lord.  Whether it be in Dorchester or wherever Christ has called you, I hope you will get together with constructively curious people this weekend and equip yourselves with the Sword of the Spirit, readying one another for whatever the world may bring.

Time Flies

Twenty years ago today (September 1, 1997) I began serving as the pastor of Calvary Community Church in Dorchester.  I have been thinking about this day, and this posting, for quite a while, wondering what I would say about my tenure as a minister of the gospel in the greatest community in the world.  I thought about the numbers relating to ministry – attendance figures, baptisms and weddings I had performed, babies I had dedicated, or sermons I delivered – but, to be honest, these numbers would be unimpressive.  I thought about sharing interesting anecdotes about the church, but I have already shared most of these stories with those reading this and my remaining stories would be uninteresting.  In the end, all I have are the lessons I have learned over all these years.

First, I have learned to cherish the relationships that God has given me while I am blessed to have them.  While the numbers of worshippers have not appreciably changed in the last two decades, the people have; in fact, I count three (and 8/9th) people that were present on my first Sunday still regularly attending worship.  Some have gone on to glory, others have moved out of the area and others attend other churches.  Yet, through all the transition, God has blessed us with visitors, musicians and co-laborers who have expanded our world, challenged our complacency and enhanced our worship.  I praise God that so many have called Calvary home for a week, a season, a year or longer.

Then, I have learned to seize the opportunities that God has given me when I recognize them.  While I have not been given a city-wide or national stage to proclaim the gospel, I have been blessed to share God’s love with our neighbors.  Praying at a Flag Day program, talking in a front yard, serving water at the Dorchester Day Parade and welcoming the community for public events are just a few things that come to mind when I consider how God is working through our church.  I praise God that we have impacted so many lives, inside and outside the walls of our building, in so many interesting ways.

Finally, I have learned to appreciate the faithfulness that God has lavished upon me all the time.  While I have never, in my tenure at Calvary, enjoyed an abundance of resources, God has always given me and my family (immediate and church) what is sufficient for my needs.  We’ve paid our bills (mostly on time), had the volunteers and musicians, maintained a residence and been cared for.  God’s faithfulness is ever-present – in forgiving my sin and fixing my lapses in judgement, in bringing in saints every single Sunday, in always giving me a word to share.  All that I have done is because God has enabled me.  I praise God for all of it.

Praise the LORD, all you servants of the LORD who minister by night in the house of the LORD.   Psalm 134:1 (NIV)

So much has changed over the last two decades, but then again, so much remains the same.  God is still drawing wonderful people to our little church, still affording us opportunities for gracious interactions and still showering us with His great faithfulness.  Until that changes, I will be here wondering how God will next work among us.  I hope you will be here, too.

Love, American (U.) Style

I have witnessed a plethora of expressions of love this week.  Last Saturday, I watched local and national news stories of demonstrators in my fair city confronting hate and championing human kindness.  On Monday, I watched a children’s librarian, overwhelmed by the community interest in an eclipse viewing party, joyously and affectionately care for 500 or so people by offering sun-glasses, sun-hats and sun-daes.  Over the last few days, I watched family, immediate and extended, lovingly prepare and provided for a young woman who was moving into her first apartment.  Even yesterday, I watch a young man show what could be love by entering the awkward territory of building IKEA furniture with his paramour’s dad.  It is good to know that expressions of love (familial, romantic and brotherly) are still visible each day.

In saying this, I am not suggesting that any of these expressions were either perfect of fully embraced.  There was a minority of demonstrators on Saturday (small in number but newsworthy) who chose to use the opportunity for reconciliation to instigate their form of rebellion.  There were insufficient resources on Monday for the crowd, so a number of people took what they came for, a number of people went away disappointed and a number of people remained and enjoyed the benefits of sharing.  There were heated words and hurt feelings these past few days as travels to the Goodwill store and travails inherent in moving took so much longer than seemed, by some, to be necessary.  It seems that expressions of love are not always easy to embrace.

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Without going into great expository detail, as this is one of the more familiar passages of Scripture, let me state that I take these verses to mean that expressing love is messy.  Those who express the love that Paul is talking about will be subject to misunderstanding and mockery.  They will be required to sacrifice themselves and strengthen others.  Love means overlooking fault and overcoming self.  Love is not something that comes naturally or instinctually; despite the mantras and the memes, we must learn to love (as our sinful human nature will always nudge us toward the opposite).  Love is a choice and, when chosen, can be a catalyst to change the world in big and small ways.

God bless those who gathered at Boston Common last weekend whose sole intention was to counteract hatred – may that be what people remember.  God bless the staff of the Adams Street branch of the Boston Public Library for enabling a few hundred to share in community around a few dozen pairs of “eclipse glasses”.  God bless family, and Jake, who made a stressful day so much more than bearable; they made it memorable.  My you, too, witness a little bit of love in your little corner of the world.

“Them’s the Brakes”

I have always enjoyed roller coasters.  I delight in the anticipation from the slow but steady climb and the exhilaration caused by the rapid descent.  I am enthralled to no end when these experiences of undulation repeat themselves at an ever increasing rate of speed.  I like the old-fashioned wooden coasters, with their drop-bars, shimmies and creaks.  I like the newer, metal coasters with their harnesses, loops and corkscrew twists.  Unlike the carousel or teacups, the roller coaster is the highlight of my visit to the theme park.  I will try any one of them; any one, except the emotional roller coaster.  

I went on an emotional roller coaster ride on Wednesday, beginning at 8:30 in the morning, when the dealership’s service manager called with news about my car (they had been performing routine maintenance on it for about twenty-four hours).  The voice on the phone told me that the calipers had seized and needed replacing, costing an additional $530.  Feeling the pinch of the rock on one side and the hard place on the other, I agreed to the added expense.  [Down we go.]  Then I remembered that we purchased an extended warranty with the vehicle, and because we had moved about a year ago, I knew where I could find all the paperwork for the car.  [Up we go again.]  Securing the documents and reading them, I was overjoyed that calipers were covered under warranty.  [The ride was over].

But the roller coaster didn’t slow down after all.  Upon closer inspection, the warranty covered parts and labor for the first five years or 60,000 miles, whichever occurred first.  Since we purchased the car less than five years ago, the only question was the mileage, which was, when I dropped it off at the dealer, 61115.  Because of 1115 miles, we were liable for the cost we couldn’t really afford.  [And down we go again].  All I could do was wait for the work to be done and the final invoice to be calculated.  Finally, at 12:30, I received a call from the same service manager.  It turns out the technician was able to free up the calipers and springs so that they would work properly and the repairs (and the expense) were unnecessary.  [You may now safely exit the ride.]

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

It doesn’t take three years in seminary to know that roller coasters are not mentioned in the Bible.  However, we can turn to the Bible to find assurances that God is with us through the ups and downs of life.   The ups and downs of my week ended, this time, on the up side.  Maybe next time we will be less fortunate.  I want to delight in all things, for God is with me, sitting right beside me throughout the waves.  To paraphrase Matt Redmond’s song “10,000 Reasons”, whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the coaster drops.

Crash Course

“[A named loved one] was just in a car accident….”  While this might not be the content of the worst possible phone call, it would certainly make the top (or the bottom) ten list.  Fortunately for all involved, there were no physical injuries when a tow truck sideswiped the car my child was driving; in fact, the car was still drivable, sort of.  The passenger side windows were smashed and the doors mangled above the hood/trunk line, but otherwise, the vehicle was intact.  We were insured and the truck driver was found to be ‘at fault’, and so, after about a month of claims estimates, adjustments and body work the car was repaired and life has returned to normal.

Yet, life has not returned to normal.  While I am truly grateful to God that the ramifications of this car accident were more or less cosmetic and that my loved one was unharmed, I am now worrying about the next time.  I am aware that accidents are part of life and that no one is immune from tragedy.  I am reminded that I cannot protect those closest to me from harm.  The events of the last month had made me painfully cognizant that bad things happen to good (and bad) people.  I have come to realize that any goodbye could be the last goodbye.

      We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.   Psalm 33:20

There are a great many things in which we can put our hope: our health, our wealth, our wits, our insurance policies, our retirement plans, our relationships, our government, or our religion.  Unfortunately, all these things will eventually fail us.  Every created thing has an expiration date, an ontological obsolescence, and will one day cease to perform their intended function.  The only thing we can trust is what is uncreated: the living God, who has chosen to reveal Himself through His written word.  Because He is outside the realm of chaos and decay that we inhabit, the Lord alone is worthy of our unrequited trust.   He can help us and protect us from the dangers of this troublesome world.

God has a resolution to my most recent source of worry: He provides a means where we need never say ‘goodbye’ to those who we love.  Simply stated, when we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior (specifically, that He descended from heaven and became fully human, only to live a sinless life among us, die in our place and rise as victor over our sin) and our Lord (specifically, that He, in light of His sacrifice for us, has mastery over every aspect of our lives), we will live forever with God and His children.  Knowing Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and knowing my children know Jesus as their Lord and Savior, allay my fears (mostly).  I can say ‘goodbye’ and know, no matter what, it really means “see you later.”

That is the kind of peace of mind that no insurance company can provide.

Doing Good Badly

I heard the following quote from a podcast earlier this week:

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” – G.K. Chesterton

Upon hearing it, I did a quick Google© search to check its veracity.  It is, in fact, genuine.  Chesterton (a writer, poet and lay theologian from England) did write these words at the end of the fourteenth chapter of his 1910 book What’s Wrong with the World.  The context for the quote was the education of children and the point of his comments were to do what is necessary, even if it is done poorly.

Our society, at first blush, seems to contradict Chesterton’s words by telling us that if it is worth doing, it is worthy doing well.  Chesterton’s point, and my reasoning for quoting him, does not disagree with this prevailing wisdom.  When we endeavor to accomplish a task – in the home, in the workplace or in the church – we ought to do our best.  We must not enter into the essential activities of life half-heartedly.  That being said, we rarely are able to accomplish our best, whether it be due to an inaccessibility of resources, an insufficiency of energy or a lack of passion.

When our best work and our real work are incongruent, we tend to get discouraged, and when we get discouraged, we quit.  We flip the above-stated cultural mandate on its head and think to ourselves, “if I cannot do this well, I should not do it at all.”  That is where Chesterton comes in, reminding us that it is perfectly acceptable to do something, even if it is done badly.  We are always to do things to the best of our abilities, understanding that there are days when our best is bad.  On those days, instead of giving up the fight, we can resolve to do better the next time.

My life is full of moments when I am doing what is worth doing, but doing it badly.  There are times when I am hungry and I diet badly.  There are times when I am angry and communicate badly.  There are times when I am lonely and manage my time badly.  There are times when I am tired and pray with the family badly.  There are times when I preach badly, teach badly, father badly, husband badly, perform sonly duties badly and witness badly.  But I do not quit, and instead commit to doing better the next time.

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

As Paul reminded the early church in Corinth, we are simple, easily broken, earthen vessels.  Anything we do, any excellence we accomplish, any power we display is not from us; it is from God.  We cannot (and are not expected to) do everything well every time.  We will, occasionally, do things badly.  But we will do them because they are worth doing.  I pray we all will always be doing good, even when we can only do it badly.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Galatians 6:9 (NIV)

Planting A Flag

As hard as it is for me to believe, I have been offering my ‘musings’ every week for over five years.  I am certain that in that span of time my posts have repeatedly touched upon similar themes – the constancy of change, the ubiquity of hardship and the realities of domestic life.  Hopefully, I have been faithful in my appreciation of God’s amazing grace throughout all the ups and downs of life and the ever-changing challenges and joys of ministry in ‘hub of the universe’.  I would like to think, having chronicled my thoughts for all this time, that the process has enabled me to glorify the Lord.

However, as soon as I think that I have made some progress in my reliance upon the goodness of God, I have mornings like Wednesday.   As I was walking up to the church in anticipation of a great day at vacation Bible school, I noticed a caravan of DPW trucks stationed across the street from the church’s driveway.  It seems that the sidewalk needed to be replaced and that Wednesday, July 26, was the day that the work needed to begin.   I believe that I may have mumbled something under my breath that questioned if the cosmic forces were conspiring against me.

But nothing catastrophic happened: the work crew did their exacting work, the cars all navigated the serpentine route down Ashmont Street, and all the children who were planning on attending VBS arrived and enjoyed the program.   In fact, some great things occurred, despite my initial fears to the contrary: God blessed us with a dozen children and more than a dozen volunteers (including a few new faces); the weather was gloriously mild (enabling the kids to play in the back lot); and I was utterly fascinated by the choreography of the ten DPW workers, each with a unique set of tasks, as they replaced the sidewalk when they returned to finish the job on Thursday.  I was assuming that my glass was half empty and, as usual, God gave me the whole cow.

Over and over again, God grants me grace despite my ‘doom and gloom’ prognostications.  I worry that the trucks will impede my plans, but God has something better in mind.  Over and over again, God sends showers of blessings when I expect damaging rains.  I question my circumstances, but God has answers I could never imagine.  When I think to myself that the sky is falling, my ‘Chicken Little’ mentality only serves to discourage me when God seeks to encourage my soul.   I must choose to trust in the One who causes the sun to rise and set with the details of my day.

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  1 Corinthians 15:57 (ESV)

I suppose that the busyness of our street the other morning (and all the other things in life that are not going as I would prefer) has reminded me that I need to set my focus on God’s promises and not my problems.  As I have been hearing at VBS this week, above the din of activity across the street, God is mighty.  How foolish of me to wonder if God could still accomplish His will when a couple of trucks are blocking the way (He CAN!).

Flowers and Hearts

Through a series of unrelated events, the grounds of the church have undergone a transformation this week.  A $4 part at Lowe’s® fixed the church’s line trimmer and so we were able to “whack” the weeds along the fences lining the perimeter of our property that had been growing for about a month.  A vehicle that resided in the parking lot for longer than prudent was finally claimed by a charity and towed away.  A group of volunteers filled a 15-yard capacity dumpster with yard waste from unscrupulous landscapers who had been dumping their lumber, uprooted shrubbery and lawn clippings in our wooded backyard for years.  Add a routine mowing of the grass into the mix and we went from overgrown and unruly to tidy and trimmed in just a few days.

As I think about all that was done to beautify the “house of the Lord”, I marvel at the simplicity of the task: remove all that does not belong.  As I write this, I realize that I must clarify the prior statement – the work was simple, but it was not easy.  It was not easy for the tow truck driver or the dumpster delivery person.  It was not effortless for the teens who labored in 90-degree weather or the people who resourced the church for ministry.  It is simple to remove the superfluous, but it is rarely easy.

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.   Luke 6:45

In too many ways, my heart is like the church property. It is full of weeds, abandoned property and debris.  It did not start that way: Those weeds were an occasional unnecessary diversion, that abandoned car was a once-treasured (but poorly maintained) treasure, and the trash was just an accumulation of the things with which I could not seem to part.  I did not intend to disregard my heart’s condition, but I prized functionality over efficiency and, with little effort, pushed the debris to the side and vowed to deal with it later.  I embraced hording over health and paid little attention to the junk that accumulated on the edges.

But then, in those moments of self-absorption, I am reminded of the simple truth of God’s word and I commit to making the effort to remain obedient.  I remember that I am delivered from sin by grace through faith (as God’s gift to me) not by my own industry or ingenuity; I cannot do anything to save my sorry soul, but I can do quite a lot as a result of my redemption.  I can weed out the unwanted, jettison the junk and plant the seeds of salvation in the center of my heart.  I can commit to the work of obedience for the sake of my heart’s health and my soul’s harvest.  It is simple, but not easy.

I am so glad for the work that so many have done that restored the church’s parking lot.  As I stand and admire their efforts, I am reminded of the internal efforts I am committed to exert.  May we all tend to the gardens of our souls.