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Feathers and Fears

In the course of events throughout my life, I have come to realize that God must have a sense of humor.  I have an unofficially diagnosed condition called ornithophobia, an irrational fear of birds.  The reason I concur that God has a sense of humor is because He has chosen to allow circumstances to place me in alarmingly close proximity with the feathered fiends.  There was that time when we brought our Christmas tree into the house and swept a little bird in with us.  There was also the time that a window at church was left open on a Sunday morning and a bird flew in and spent most of the worship service perched on a ceiling fan.   photo (9)

And now there is the ‘nightmare’ I face that every morning as I am awakened by birds perpetually perched upon my bedroom window ledge.  To add to my heightened awareness of my fears, we are also dealing with a mamma bird, with her two eggs, nesting just outside our flower box and staring at me.  I can rationally reconcile in my mind that I will not be dive bombed by a hawk, but there is something in my mind that is still at work reminding me to be afraid.

After the resurrection account found in John and the eyewitness testimony of a number of women, the closest followers of Jesus should have been overjoyed.  However, the truth was they were together with the doors locked because they were afraid – afraid that they would be next, afraid that they were alone, afraid that they were unprepared for what was to come next.  Twice that evening and once again the following Sunday Jesus tells them the same thing: “Peace be with you!”

19… Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you!” 26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them.  Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”   John 20:19-26 (NIV)

God knows the fears we face; some are irrational (like my fear of birds) and some are real (like the disciples’ fear of the leaders of their day).  God also knows what we need when we face fears of any kind – peace.  This peace that the Lord promises is more than an absence of conflict (the antithesis of war); it is the warmth of contentment and well-being even in the midst of the storm.

We all have things that fill us with fear – death, disaster, public speaking – and we all have access to the one who can dispel all that fear – the Lord Jesus.  The great hope for life on this side of the empty tomb is that Jesus has conquered all that makes us afraid.  He has afforded us victory over Satan’s wiles, sin’s influence and death’s sting.  He has given us peace, His perfect peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”   John 14:27 (NIV)

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A Timely Reminder

If your life is anything like mine, you are getting reminded of something all the time. There is the vinyl sticker in the top left corner of the windshield reminding you to get an oil change. There’s the phone message from the doctor’s office reminding you of the appointment you have in a few days. The children are reminding you that they need that book for class, that ride to practice or that deposit for the trip. You read text messages reminding you to pick up the prescription at the pharmacy and milk at the supermarket.easter-2014

Last week I was at a meeting with what my children affectionately call ‘my pastor buddies’ when Stan read the following reminder:

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve….” 1 Corinthians 15:1–5 (NIV)

We can get busy around this time of the year – spring cleaning, tax deadlines, proms, church programs and family gatherings – and before we know it all our time is gone and the things that matter get pushed aside for the things that are necessary. As a result, the once important remembrances, like Easter, are disregarded and replaced with tokens of affection like chocolate bunnies, colored eggs and florescent-hued marshmallow chicks.

At the risk of becoming just another reminder amidst the many other reminders your tablet, computer, laptop, calendar and phone are supplying, let me remind you to go to church next Sunday. Allow this post to remind you of what is of primary importance: that Jesus died for your sins (and mine) and was buried; on the third day after his burial he was raised from the dead and proceeded to appear to over five hundred people over the span of forty days. There are plenty of excuses people give for staying away from the church – many of them valid – but allow these words to be your reason for coming to church: God loves you and gave his one and only Son that you may believe in him and not perish but have eternal life.

Easter is, as Paul reminds us, a celebration of Jesus’ victory over sin, death and Satan. Easter is the essence of the gospel: He lived among us, He died for us, He rose in front of us, and He appeared to us. Easter celebrates that sin cannot condemn the believer and death cannot confine the believer. Easter celebrates the love, peace, joy, grace, mercy and forgiveness afforded us in the life, death and resurrection of our Savior. So, put it on your calendar and set it on your phone – Go to church on Sunday and celebrate the good news of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Not on the Fair Way

It is not the first words a child utters (‘Mama’, ‘Dada’ and ‘hi’ most likely have that distinction), but it may be the first complete sentence she forms:  “That is not fair!”  It is only unfairnatural to blurt out that sentiment, since we face perceived injustice seemingly every day.  Sometimes we, the deserving, are not rewarded while the undeserving get the praise.  Other times we, the offenders, are punished more severely than others who have done worse.  There are still other times we, the uninvolved, are treated improperly simply because we are in close proximity to wrong-doers.  That is not fair.

I have come to realize that I can handle unfair treatment when I encounter it but have great difficulty when my wife or my child is treated unfairly.  Such was the case a few days ago.  One of my children has worked very hard to be given a position that that my child greatly desired.  Unfortunately, the position was given to a less deserving and less experienced person – and we all agreed that this was not fair.  My wife and I have discussed what our next step ought to be: going to the decision makers and demanding reconsideration, telling this child to quit or trusting God to make lemonade out of these lemons.

Liz Story has a song titled Blessings which contains this closing refrain:

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops

What if Your healing comes through tears

And what if a thousand sleepless nights

Are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments

Or the aching of this life

Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy

And what if trials of this life

The rain, the storms, the hardest nights

Are Your mercies in disguise

Is it possible that what is unfair is also what God can use to draw us closer to Him?   Please don’t misconstrue what I am saying – life IS unfair.  Quoting Romans 8:28 to my distraught child is not good parenting and saying that we should look on the bright side brings no comfort.  This world is not going to be fair.  It will rain (even torrentially) on our parade.  We will cry (too often) even when it is our party.  We will be kept up at night (with anger, doubt and/or frustration) due to injustice.

So today I face a conundrum – do I seek retribution for the unfair treatment of my little one or do I allow a lesson to be learned and a faith to be strengthened through this experience?   I wish I know the perfect answer.  I wish I could see a few days into the future and discern which course of action is best.  Whatever we do, we can be sure that this will not eliminate the greater issue, namely that life is not fair.  There is hope, though; no matter what course we choose (this time or the next), God is still on the throne and He will accomplish whatever He deems best in my life and in the life of my (and His) child.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

My Week with Mo

After a week of vacation Bible school lessons about Moses, I have a great appreciation for him.  He overcame a difficult childhood and rose to a position of influence.  He was selected to do a job he was not qualified to complete.  He was confronted with powerful Mosesopposition to the message he was commissioned to deliver.  He experienced amazing success only to have the people around him grumble and complain, questioning his leadership.  He was given the privilege of speaking directly with God and speaking for God, despite his weaknesses and character flaws.  Moses was a special man.

“But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’”  Exodus 3:11

Have you ever felt like Moses?  Maybe you were born into difficult circumstances and perhaps even were forced to separate from your birth family.  Perhaps you’ve had a difficult word to deliver or difficult decision to make and you knew it would bring about negative repercussions.  It might be that you have a weakness or character flaw that seems to reveal itself at the most inopportune times.  What did you do?  Did you cower in the corner or confront the challenges?  Did you sit silently or speak out?  Did you beat your chest and blame your biology or beg for forgiveness and bow before God?

As the pastor of a small church in Boston, I empathize with Moses.  God has called me to proclaim the truth of His word to worldly powers for the benefit of a people in bondage.  God has called me to minister amidst a few grumblers.  God has chosen to use me as His messenger despite my propensity to act rashly and respond gruffly.  I believe, though, that I am in good company.  Most Christians I know (and I know a few) have dark shadows in their past – some they were born into and some of their own design – that they’ve had to confront, face opposition from outside and (occasionally) from inside the family of God, and have something in their “makeup” that needs redemption.  Like Moses, none of us are perfect.

Like Moses, all of us can witness the miraculous, too.  While it is doubtful that the Statehouse will be filled with frogs or that the Charles River will part, it is certain that God will accomplish all His purposes and use people just like Moses, and us, to do it.  We have the added blessing of knowing what Moses only imagined – the full redemption of God’s people from every form of bondage brought on by humanity’s greatest oppressor.  As I learn in VBS this week, God has the ultimate plan and ultimate power, provides the ultimate rescue, deserves the ultimate trust and lavishes the ultimate love.  Through Christ we have been delivered from the bondage of sin and made free to live for Him.

I’m glad I spent the week at VBS with Moses, and the best bunch of kids in the world.  Thanks for all those who volunteered at and prayed for the SonWest Roundup.  Now, I feel I’m ready to speak for God – watch out “pharaoh”; here we come.

Circum-stance

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”   Colossians 3:17

It is hard for me to believe, but this post marks the one year anniversary of this record of life and ministry in Boston.  I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read these entries and follow our progress – many of whom I know and quite a few whom I hope to meet someday.  Each week I have undertaken to reflect upon the events of life in the church and in the home with two intentions: a) to glorify God, and b) to encourage and uplift those who will read these words.  I pray that I have been faithful to those goals.trusting

When I started this ‘blog’ a year ago, I had a vague idea what would transpire as the calendar progressed from week to week.  I knew that there would be major events in the life of the church (VBS, Christmas and Easter) and in my family’s life (birthdays, the 1st day of college and at least one wedding), but it is the unexpected developments that truly shaped the past 12 months.  Someone once said, “Life is what happens while we are making other plans,” and that was true this year, as we witnessed wonderful surprises (rainbows, reunions and new rides) and tragic developments (the Patriots Day bombing downtown, to name just one).  The only thing I can say is that through it all, God has remained faithful.

It all brings me back to Colossians 3:17; I cannot change my situation, but I can control my reaction.  I can, in good times and in bad, whether in word or deed, do everything in the name of Jesus while giving thanks to God.  I am not required to give thanks for everything (after all, some things are not good) but I can give thanks to God in everything (thanking Him for His abiding presence and His eternal hope of greater things, for example).  How I respond is the test of faith – will I speak and serve in Christ’s authority with gratitude or will speak for and I serve myself with discontent?  I am not suggesting we be foolishly optimistic as if simply showing a sunny disposition will make everything right; I am suggesting that we always act in accordance with the name we bear (“Christian”) and express gratitude to God in all things (even if the only thing we can think of thanking Him for is a future glory).

As I type these words, we who live in the Boston area are coming out of a fortnight of hazy, hot and humid weather, and the forecast is for more of the same in the week to come.  We’ve had the air conditioners working at the house and in the car and we’ve been able to stay cool.  You would think that I would put the words I’ve typed into practice and glorify God by thanking Him for the warmth (instead of the blizzard conditions we had 5 months ago) and the coolness of air conditioned air.  You would think that I would speak and act in the name of Jesus…but I grumble.  I thank God He is still working on me and giving me more to write about each week.  Perhaps this coming year’s worth of entries will mark greater progress toward making me who God created me to be.  I’ll let you know how it’s going…every Friday morning.  I’ll talk with you again next week.

Split-Second Timing

As a resident of Boston, I have been trying to watch the Stanley Cup Finals.  I say I have been trying because I just can’t keep watching.  It is too stressful – pucks hitting pipes and crossbars, numerous overtime periods, and the bounces and deflections inherent in hockey.  Because the teams have been whittled down by playoff rounds to the best two, arguably the best hockey of the season is being played this week in Chicago and Boston.   Because of the caliber of play, it seems that victory and defeat are determined in a split-second action, and in that flash the collective joy or dejection of the fans of those two cities are expressed.bruins

It is amazing how much can change in a flash or in the twinkling of an eye.  There are times that we close our eyes in a blink only to open them again in a different reality, a new set of circumstances.  A hockey game can be won in the twinkling of an eye.  People move from childless to parent and from single to married in a flash.  Communications can be made as quickly as touching ‘send’ in a text or e-mail.  Whether it is a car crash or a surprise birthday party, it is incomprehensible what can be contained in a single moment.  Are we aware of all that happens in a flash?

“…in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” 1 Cor. 15:52 NIV

The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about what else can happen in a flash or in the twinkling of an eye.  In a flash all believers in Christ living on the earth will be fundamentally changed.  The perishable will be clothed with imperishability; the moral will be clothed with immortality.  Death will be swallowed up in victory and the power of sin will be vanquished.  In the blink of an eye God will change His people.  In a flash we will realize the deliverance God has promised for four millennia and be transfigured for eternity.

I’d like say I can imagine the truth of Paul’s words, that I would close my eyes as a finite, flawed and fallen prisoner to sin and open them a split-second later imperishable, immortal and sin-free.  I not sure I can.  I can appreciate and embrace the truth of God’s word, though.  Everything can change in a moment, in a flash or in the twinkling of an eye.  This should create in me a sense of peace and a sense of urgency – peace in knowing that any moment I could be with Christ in Heaven; urgency in knowing that any moment I could be with Christ in Heaven without some of those I know and love.

Everything can change in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye.  I hope that I can live with that perspective (and that the Bruins and their fans can live that way as well!)

More Than a Misstep

As part of a roundtable discussion at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, I read the smgrace, open hand, free gift, blocks, God, Christianall book Speaking of Sin by Barbara Brown Taylor.  The premise of the book is simple – Christians use words that have specific definitions that the culture thinks have different definitions.  One such word is ‘sin’.  If I were to create a list of words our culture uses which it would consider synonymous with ‘sin’, the list would be lengthy:  a mistake, a misstep, an lapse in judgment, an error, a miscalculation, an unfortunate turn, a blunder, a character flaw, a quirk or a necessary evil.  But is that what God thinks defines sin?

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”  Psalm 51:1-2

God’s Spirit inspired David to use three words in poetic symmetry to define sin.  First, he uses the word transgressions (pasha in Hebrew), which has its root in the verb ‘to rebel’.  Second, he uses the word iniquity (avah in Hebrew), which has its root in the verb ‘to act wrongly’.  Third, he uses the word sin (chatah in Hebrew) which has its root in the verb “to miss the mark”.  If we were to take these terms together, as the parallelism of the poetry of the Psalms would imply, we could define ‘sin’ as “rebellious and wrong behavior which causes a person to fail in reaching their intended purpose”.   It is certainly more substantive than a simple mistake.

Since ‘sin’ is a symptom of rebellion, an improper act and something which thwarts our goals, it would behoove us to deal with ‘sin’ appropriately.  Rebellion is intentional and therefore dealing with ‘sin’ demands that we place the blame for our sinful behavior squarely upon one’s own shoulders – we are responsible.  We need to see sin as wrong by definition, not just subjectively or consequentially improper.  It is the nature of our human hearts that stunts our God given potential and prevents us from attaining the best God desires for us.

Thankfully, God is merciful.  John’s first epistle to the church states, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 Jn 1:9)”   We need to recognize our rebellious attitudes and wrong ways, confessing them as sin and allowing Christ to cover them in His blood, thereby satiating the appropriate wrath of God these attitudes and actions deserve.  The response to sin is to fall before God’s mercy, expressed fully through the crucifixion of Christ, and be cleansed.

I’m sure there are those who say, “Nobody’s perfect.”  I agree.  My trouble is the unspoken implication that either we or God would want us to maintain our imperfections.  We want to be better.  God wants us to be better.  He wants us to deal with our sin and be right before God.  Excuse me as I do just that.

Book Review of Humble Orthodoxy

Don’t let the size of Humble Orthodoxy by Joshua Harris fool you: this short work is jam-packed with Scripture and truth.  Harris takes Paul’s second letter to Tihocovermothy as a loose framework for his thoughts on Christian living.  In doing so, his thesis (that we are simultaneously commanded by the Lord to be orthodox in doctrine and humble in behavior) is strongly supported in God’s word.  Humble Orthodoxy does a superb job in fleshing out its subtitle – ‘holding the truth high without putting people down’.

What makes Humble Orthodoxy exceptional is its call for application in real world settings.  As Harris states halfway through the book:

“Do you want to keep your orthodoxy humble?  Try to live it.  Don’t spend all your time theorizing about it, debating it, or blogging about it. Spend more energy living the truth you know than worrying about what the next person does or doesn’t know.”

Harris is not content to share the truth while modeling humility; he wants the reader to practice the faith in this obedience as well.

This book, with its list of study questions for individuals and small groups, is ideal for discipleship groups, mentoring relationships and leadership studies.  I highly recommend spending an hour or so enjoying the feast presented in Humble Orthodoxy, but those who sit at the table with Harris should anticipate spending much more time digesting its contents.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Movies

I have written in previous posts that my wife has laid down the challenge that we see all 9 Oscar© nominated movies befoscarore Sunday’s broadcast.  Surprisingly, we may just accomplish the task – we’ve seen 7 and have the time (weather permitting) to see the last 2.  We’ve been to Louisiana, Philadelphia, Iran, Washington, India, Afghanistan, and Texas; we’ve witnessed life in the mid-nineteenth century, the late twentieth century and today; we’ve seen slavery, warfare and loss from different vantages.  It has been a great experience seeing life from so many perspectives and my life has been enriched by the experience.

These past three weeks have been fascinating, but not because of the movies.  Every few weeks in a book or magazine I come across the concept of “married couples date nights” suggesting that husbands take their wives out somewhere regularly.  Well, four children and life’s obligations crowd the calendar and my wife and I rarely ‘date’ – except this month.  It began with a bit of guilt (“we can’t leave the kids that long”) and has now become an adventure (“maybe we could see every movie in a different theater!”)  We’ve now departed in rain, snow, and bitter winds and travelled into town and out to the suburbs.  We’ve reclined in overstuffed chairs, ate popcorn in an art-house theatre and experienced the splendor of Hollywood in every imaginable way.

But the greatest blessing for me in all this movie watching is sharing the time and conversations with Jeanine.  What began as an exercise in entertainment became a gift of relationship.  Sitting in the dark engrossed in cinema, quoting memorable lines to one another and then carrying the conversation long into the night about what we witnessed (“which of Pi’s stories was true?” or “did Lincoln really have an anecdote for every situation?”): these are the things that I will remember about this adventure.  We’ve been acting like teenagers, joking about the fact that we’re the only ones at the showing and rushing around together, and it has been great.

I went to the movies this month and rekindled my love for my wife.  This Sunday, when the awards are presented, I will watch and know that the real winner is me.

Love Punctuation

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It is a bit belated, but my sentiment is genuine – to all those I love, I wish you a moment knowing that you are loved.   conheartsMy Valentine’s sentiment is more than that of a conversational heart (“Be Mine” and “TXT Me” are too trite) and more than that of a greeting card (even the schmaltzy $6 varieties).  My sentiment cannot be contained in a box of chocolates or described by a floral arrangement.  (For the record, I DID purchase a $6 card and a nice assortment of milk and dark chocolates for my sweetheart). My sentiment is the handmade and heartfelt variety, a heart cut out of red construction paper with a crayon colored verse – I LOVE YOU.

Punctuation on our Valentine’s Day expressions is crucial.  Some of us experience ‘comma’ love (“I love you, but…” or “I love you, until….”).  “Comma” love is nice, but not fully satisfying; it is qualified.  Some of us experience ‘colon’ love (“I love you: you are….”).  “Colon” love is also nice, but necessarily defined by what comes after the dots; it is conditional.  Some of us experience ‘period’ love (“I love you.”) “Period” love is the ultimate expression; it is unqualified and unconditional.

“Period” love is the love of the Bible.  God loves us with unqualified and unconditional love.  Jesus commands his followers to love one another unqualified and unconditional love.  In their letters John and Paul remind the church that real love is unqualified and unconditional love.   “Period” love is what makes us different.  Wouldn’t be nice if we loved without qualification and eliminated the ‘ifs, and or buts’ from our conversations?  Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we loved without condition and we eliminated the ‘just, could and should” from our romantic affections?

Try it.  Tell someone today, “I love you.”  JUST say those three words – nothing else.  And accept it.  If someone shouts or whispers those three words to you, and just those three words, believe it without condition or qualification.  Finally, if you don’t hear those three words today, allow me to give you three words, and only three words – unconditioned and unqualified – GOD LOVES YOU.