Tag Archives: good

The Watering Whole

Last week Jeanine and I went to the Open House at our son’s school.  At that time, we met all his teachers and sat in all his classrooms.  Throughout the night, we listened to each teacher share her grading policies and educational expectations.  We exchanged contact information and were apprised of the school-wide disciplinary structure.  All in all, it was pretty much what we’ve heard every other year.  There was one thing, however, that struck me as curious: Joshua’s math teacher pointed us to two websites (www.khanacademy.org and www.ixl.com) which would provide instruction and exercises for those students (or parents) needing extra help.  I was struck at that moment that this teacher had put the needs of her students above her own expertise.

As I thought about those two websites, I thought about all the avenues of instruction available to anyone with an internet connection.  There are websites that can improve family recipes, Youtube videos that can equip the viewer in anything from auto repair to graphic design and podcasts that inform us in nearly every school of thought.  Those two websites also made me question my willingness to share, or curate, electronic resources within the church.  Am I as willing as Josh’s math teacher to share duly vetted and beneficial resources so that those needing spiritual instruction and exercises can get additional help without me?

The scripture our church read the Sunday following that Open House was Acts 18:23-28, a passage that deals with an eloquent Bible teacher named Apollos.  These verses conclude with the statement that Apollos traveled to the city of Corinth and strengthened the church there.  The Apostle Paul was also ministering in Corinth and eventually the question of who to listen to arose among the believers.  Here is Paul’s response to that inquiry:

For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?  What, after all, is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.  1 Corinthians 3:4-6

If the best Bible teacher in history is willing to forego the credit so that God may be exalted, who am I to resist doing the same?  So, following the lead of Ms. Corbo, allow me to recommend a few resources for extra help in spiritual development.  I would recommend every smartphone user download the YouVersion Bible App – so that you have the Bible with you everywhere, complete with reading plans and study tools.  I would also recommend The YouTube videos produced through www.thebibleproject.com, which has short (5 minutes or so) animations about a great many biblical themes.  Finally, if you are interested in thought-provoking interviews with a variety of godly voices, I recommend the weekly Vox Podcast with Mike Erre.

These are simply a few of my suggestions.  What e-resources would you recommend for spiritual enrichment?  Is there a devotional or an online study that edifies your soul?  Is there a newsletter or blog that you find beneficial?    Perhaps if we share our resources, God will make it grow.

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Thirty Years

On Monday, my wife and I will celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary.  According to Hallmark.com (the worldwide source of information ‘when you care enough to send the very best’), the gift for this anniversary is pearls.  I find it funny how random some of these yearly suggestions are: wood is to be given on year 5; appliances are appropriate for year 18; tools are the traditional gift for year 29.  Jeanine and I are non-traditional in this regard, I guess.   We tend to mark the years of marriage by enjoying more sentimental gestures, such as thoughtful cards and fancy dinners without the children.

Truth be told, the gifts of a long marriage are not given on anniversaries, but rather every day in between.  Jeanine and I have been married for more that half our lives and, it can be reasonably asserted, we are not the same people who stood before a minister three decades ago.  We were bright-eyed and optimistic, confident that love conquers all.  Over the years, the light in our eyes has dimmed a bit and we are a touch more practical now, but with age comes the certainty that love does indeed conquer all.  That certainty, that calm assurance, that we have each other and know each other is, in my opinion, more precious than pearls.

A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.  Proverbs 31:10

I do not thank God as often as I should for Jeanine, this completely different-than-me angel who has blessed my life for more than 35 years.  I am so appreciative that she complements my weaknesses with her strengths and accentuates my abilities with her own.  She has lovingly challenged me to be a better man, a better husband and a better father.  She has willingly, with her typical encouragement, endured my career change and seven moves while raising four wonderful children without complaint.  God has given me an equal partner in life who has brought comfort and cleanliness and made our house a home.  Again, I do not thank God as often as I should.

As we age and mature, we change.  I thank God that Jeanine and I have grown together and not apart.  I thank God that we enjoy one another’s company more now than ever, appreciate one another’s voices more now than ever and savor one another’s refinement more now than ever.  I could not have imagined the beauty of our union when we first met at a Friendly’s in the early 1980s.  And I am not too proud to say that I have gained the most in our marriage (which compels me to strive to appreciate to an even greater degree this precious gift of my wife of noble character).

Finally, I thank God for the demonstration of sacrificial love that Christ provides which serves as a template for my wife’s and my relationship.  I thank God that we have committed to do the hard work of willful submission to one another.  I thank God for the challenges we have faced and the strength we have found in our bond.

My prayer is that we would all have occasion to celebrate these bonds.

The Long Way Home

For me and my family, the last 6 weeks have been a lesson in trust.  It included answering a Craig’s List ad for an apartment rental, reserving a truck from U-Haul during their busiest weekend of the year, taking one son to freshman orientation 50 miles away and registering another son for Middle school in a new town.  At every step along the way I worried that I was just building what amounted to sandcastles as I waited for the tide to come in and wash our plans away.  My mind ran through every negative scenario that would leave us without a truck or a roof or an address necessary for school enrollment.

While my thoughts spiraled downward, every single detail relative to all these moving parts of our life had positive outcomes; truth be told, most of the details were actually more favorable than I could have anticipated.  The realtor handling our new apartment offered (without provocation) to reduce both his fee and the monthly rent.  The representative at U-Haul made available (with little provocation) the truck for an additional 18 hours.  The college orientation was so well-structured that David was moved in about 15 minutes after we arrived on campus.  The placement exam and enrollment process for Joshua was flawless.  At every turn, we found blessing where I was fearing barriers.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”  Genesis 12:1 (NIV)

Looking back over what has transpired over the past few months, I am yet again confronted with my own weaknesses: that I trust God too little and fear uncertainty too much.  This is all in direct contradiction to what I have experienced over and over again: God continually allows my feet to fall in favorable places – through the lights and through the shadows – and consistently teaches me that I am wasting too much energy worrying about things I ought not contemplate.  God is faithful even when I have little faith.  God is trustworthy even if I have trouble trusting anyone but myself.

God is good, whether I know it or not.  He knows where we are, He knows where we are going and He knows how He will get us there.  He knows our worries and concerns and provides comforts and consolations.  My trouble is that I trust what I can see.  I am a master of the short game and I think that life is a sprint.  If it is right in front of me, I can accept it.  But God plays a long game and life is a marathon.   There are aspects of my life that I know nothing about (things that are miles down the road and years from materializing) but that are perfectly ordered by our omniscient and almighty God.

I thank the Lord for the lessons I have learned in recent days: that I am woefully inadequate to attend to all the details of life, that God has unfathomable blessings in store for those who obey Him and that I need to trust Him more.  O Lord, help my little faith.

Another Trip to College

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.  Proverbs 22:6

Monday morning at 10AM, Jeanine and I will be dropping off at college our middle son, David.  When we do, he will start his freshman year at Fitchburg State University.  This will mark the third time we have dropped off our child at college (for those unfamiliar with our story, seven years ago we abandoned to the world of academia a defenseless boy at Gordon College and three years ago we deserted in our nation’s capital a wide-eyed girl at American University).  For those wondering, repetition does not make the process of leaving a child to fend for himself any easier.

So, as David steps out of the shadows of our wings and begins to chart the course of his own flight, allow me to share a few words of wisdom for my own experiences:

  • First, I would want to tell him to allow seize every opportunity to accentuate all that is good within him. I want David to use these next four years to discover and define his passions and pursue them.  I’d want him to exhaust his electives with eclectic, not just easy, courses – art, drama, bocce, or women’s studies – with the intent on unearthing an unknown interest.  I ask that he join a club or society outside his field of study.  And, in the dining hall, I hope he expands his palate, eating more than just a backpack full of croutons.
  • Next, I would want to tell him to remember why he is where he is. He is there to get an education.  He is there to gain confidence in his independence.  He is there to shine like the sun in a world of darkness.  He is there to build life-long relationship with real people.  I’d recommend to him to maintain the discipline of going to every class every time it meets, of working hard and then playing hard and of partnering with like-minded individuals to prod themselves onto good works.  If his brother and sister are any indication of his future, he will return home a different, more assured, person; I’d want him to embrace that development.
  • Then, I would remind him that an elephant is eaten one bite at a time. As he enters the dormitory on Monday, I am sure that there are fears and trepidations that will cloud his thinking, as well as the worry that this undertaking is too much to handle – and in the moment, it will be.  But when he takes one step in the right direction, followed by another and another, before long progress will be seen.  I would tell him to keep moving forward, even if it is baby steps.

As my child steps out of the car and into a world of curated independence, I’d want him to know that he is capable of more than he thinks possible and stronger than he thinks necessary.

For all those leaving for college for the first time this week, and for their families who love them, I pray God’s richest blessing and watch care be upon us as we all pursue our dreams.

For those wanting to read my thoughts seven years ago, read https://calvaryboston.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/a-parents-hope-for-freshmen/ and for my thoughts three years ago, read https://calvaryboston.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/for-freshmen/

Wanting “Less Change”

It all started with a simple exercise during our Sunday School class: write down one thing you think you need but do not have.  My sweet and kind-hearted eleven-year-old boy, in tiny letters on his paper wrote two words which broke my heart – ‘less change’.  Those in the class quickly offered consolation, telling one another that change is inevitable and can lead to positive things.  But for at least one pre-teen, this is all too much: moving to a neighboring town, changing schools, having a life-long roommate go off to college and watching other family members transition to places of their own.  It makes me sad that my son, despite the brave face, is hurting.

Yes, we are moving again.  For those keeping score, this is the 7th time in our thirty year marriage that we are packing boxes and renting trucks.  After 20 years (and 1 month) in Boston, we are moving 2 miles south of the city to Quincy.  [As a side note: if you will be in the Boston area on Friday, August 30th, or Saturday, August 31st, we could use some help.  Contact me.]  For the only time in any of our lives, Jeanine and me included, one of us will be required to change school systems and make new friends and adjust to new paradigms.  I am confident that God will order Joshua’s steps and that he will thrive in this new adventure, but I still worry.  If you pray, would you pray for Josh?

This move has forced Jeanine and I to make necessary, but personally difficult, decisions.  Certainly, we are determining what possessions we are moving, what we are donating and what we are tossing (and for all those Marie Kondo devotees out there, nothing in this process is sparking joy).  But there are other decisions that have been made: we decided that our budget could only afford three bedrooms in our new living situation, and so our three oldest children, over the next month or two, are transitioning to college and beyond.  In this, too, I am confident that God will guide my family into blessings I cannot yet comprehend.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. Psalm 37:23-24 (ESV)

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read the Bible that God uses the process of change to bring about our maturity and development.  Abraham was told to move.  Mary and Joseph were led to relocate.  Peter was commanded to change careers.  It should come as no surprise to any of us that God may lead us in similar ways.  New jobs, new schools and new homes may cause worry in the strongest of hearts, but when we know it is a part of God’s way we can take delight in knowing that whatever comes, He will uphold us.

For all those who feel that they need ‘less change’, hold out hope in knowing that the Lord will be with you on the other side of whatever change you are experiencing.

The Way of Lament

In recent days I have been wondering what the appropriate response might be for a follower of Christ to have in addressing the pressing concerns reported through news outlets.  I have been asking myself what Jesus might do and say in the aftermath of mass shootings (and the correlated issues of gun-ownership and our cultural love of violence) or child detainment at the borders (and the correlated issues of asylum and systemic racism).  My response cannot be simply adding a hashtag to social media posts or offering “thoughts and prayers” – although thinking about these issues and praying for their rightful resolution is a good first step as long as other steps follow quick behind.  But where are my feet to fall?

There are two things I know:  that I cannot do nothing and that I cannot rely on political powers to legislate a solution.  If I have learned anything from expositing the “One Another” passages of the New Testament each Sunday this summer, it is that God commands us to care deeply for one another, so doing nothing in light of real suffering is not an option.  I have also learned that soundbites and speeches rarely foster compromise, so waiting for Washington is also not an option.  I have decided instead to turn to God and His word to find wisdom in this time of need.

Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.  Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.  Psalm 5:1-2 (NIV)

According to the Dictionary of Bible Themes, a lament is “a song of mourning or sorrow.”  The scriptures are rife with lamentation, typically taking a particular form: a crying out in sorrow, an acceptance of evil, an acknowledgement that things are not following God’s will and a trust that God will ultimately be glorified.  I reckon that the right response is to offer up to God a lament, just like David, Solomon, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Amos did in their day.  We, as the people of God, need to cry out in mourning, acknowledging that these acts of violence and exclusion are not part of God’s created order and accepting that God is our only hope of resolution.

“Lord, hear my cry.  Weapons of war have been amassed by individuals with the sole intent of bringing havoc and harm.  Small but vocal portions of Your creation are intent on dividing us through irrelevant distinctions and minimizing the intrinsic value of all those who bear Your image.  This is not what You desire; our hearts are broken because Your heart breaks over our sin.

“Lord, hear my cry.  I seek Your beauty and Your glory in these days.  I know that You are close to the widow and the orphan, and that You have regard for the plight of the sojourner.  I long for my spirit to reflect Yours.  I know that You desire that Your children repent and turn away from evil.  I know that we who are inhabitants of Your kingdom are aliens and strangers in this foreign land.  Enable us to turn from our sinful ways and honor Your purposes for us.

Lord, hear my cry.  You alone can change the human heart.  You alone can turn us from hostility to hospitality.  You alone are our hope.  Help me to no longer rely on human strength or invention to solve what only You can make right.  And while I wait for Your hand to make all things right, equip me to obediently carry out Your redemptive plan among those with whom You have blessed me.  In the name of the Lord, I pray.  Amen.”

Nail’d It!

Recently, I have been watching a captivating show on Netflix called “Nail’d It!”  According to the streaming service’s website, the program is described in this way: “Home bakers with a terrible track record take a crack at re-creating edible masterpieces for a $10,000 prize.  It’s part reality contest, part hot mess.”  Here is what happens during each 30-minute episode: three amateur home cooks, with limited time, resources and experience try to copy baked goods worthy of Pinterest created by professional bakers with unlimited time, resources and experience.  The facsimiles never quite match the originals, but that is what makes the show so delightful.  The home bakers work so hard and fail so often, incurring the good-natured ribbing of the diverse panel of judges.  Yes, the end-products are woefully awful in comparison, but they are also delightfully ambitious.

This show appeals to be because it turns a particular cultural fascination on its head – capturing perfection through a post on social media.  There are millions of selfies that go unposted because of some imperceptible flaw that the sole picture posted does not contain.  There are hours devoted to staging furniture and furnishings so that uploaded photos of real estate are displayed in the best light.  We rarely expose our sub-par efforts, let alone our failures, to the scrutiny of public opinion.  Unless it is perfect, we are left to assume it is without value.  Social media has created a cultural expectation of quality where ‘good’ is rarely good enough.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15

I think Paul would have a tough time adapting to our culture, replete with social media’s expectations of perfection.  When he wrote to Timothy, he encourages him to give his best effort and, therefore, never feel needless shame.  He did not say that Timothy should cover the façade of life’s messiness with a veneer of superficial perfection, pretending that he could master every aspect of life and ministry.  Perhaps there is a blessing in knowing that we cannot do everything perfectly, but that we can always do our best.  Life is not expected to look like a magazine photo-shoot.  Life is often troubling to look at and imprecise, and that should be okay.

One of the more redemptive aspects of “Nail’d It!” is that the judges place a value on presentation, but they also value taste.  If it doesn’t look pretty but is delicious, the judges may still declare that entry the winner.  Mastering the fundamentals of baking counts for something.   Mastering the fundamentals of life and living counts, too.  This is true when it comes to relationships, service, ministry, faith, communication, compassion and about a million other things.  There is something deeply biblical in that.  Life does not always look pretty but treating the ingredients of life and living properly will, at worst, make it palatable.  Handled properly, it may even be delicious.

The cake with the elevated teapot is not the norm.  The photo of the beachside sunset is not typical.  The brochure with all the smiling faces is probably not real.  But the simple cake, the salt air and the full spectrum of human emotions are what life is composed of…and often times it is delicious.

Running After More

 

Like many smaller churches, we have trouble meeting our ministry budget.  In the past, we have engaged in appeals and fund-raisers, but still our revenues are insufficient to cover our expenses.  Last week we discussed converting some of our land into a revenue source, but the scope and size of the project were not ideal.  We voted not to proceed with this project, but we know something needs to be done.

As the meeting progressed, the words Jesus spoke to the crowd, known as the “Sermon on the Mount” reverberated in my mind:

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Matthew 6:31–33

We know that God knows what we need – food, drink, clothes – and that we ought not adopt an earthly obsession with chasing down these things.  We know that God instructs us to instead engage in heavenly pursuits and chase after the kingdom and righteousness of God.  This proper perspective leads the heavenly minded to gain the promises of God’s reign, as well as satisfaction of all their earthly needs.   One application of this portion of scripture is personal: in a culture of “keeping up with the Joneses”, we must not get caught up in running after the trappings of earth and instead seek the treasures of heaven.  Another application is ecclesial (church-related): Calvary ought not focus our energies on account balances but on kingdom building.

But what does it look like to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”?   Unpacking the biblical meaning of the “kingdom” is as hard as nailing Jello© to the wall.  Understanding the kingdom of God is akin to defining the United Kingdom: it includes both a reality (an actual place) and a conception (the nature and ethic of the ruling crown).  When we are told to seek this kingdom, we seek the habitation of heaven (for ourselves and others) and we seek to demonstrate the culture of the King.  We get a glimpse of this kingdom – the dwelling place and desires of the king – toward the end of Revelation:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look!  God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  Revelation 21:3-4

Perhaps this means we are supposed to seek the presence of God (through worship), the removal of suffering (through instruction and service), the elimination of death (through prayer and evangelism) and the end of mourning and crying and pain (through fellowship).  These are the pursuits of those seeking His kingdom.  If we can do that, while maintaining what is right, just and true for ourselves and others, all His manifest blessings for this world and the next will be given to us as well.  Then, whether we balance our budget or blow it all, we will give honor and glory to God.

Plans for the Summer

Last Monday, Memorial Day, was the cultural beginning of summer and tomorrow, June 1st, is its start, meteorologically.  While I do not consider it summer until the air conditioners are placed in the windows (alas, no central air for us), I realize that it is that time again when we ask one another if we have made our vacation plans yet.  For those of us in New England, it is the time we take the ice scrapers out of the car and replace them with beach chairs; it is the time when we begin to enjoy ice cream in cones while on a walk rather than in bowls while watching TV.  It is a time for cookouts and campouts.

I hope you have plans for the summer – going to the lake or the mountains, spending time in the nation’s capital or at the in-laws, visiting a newest theme park or watching the latest blockbuster.  I hope that these plans for the summer, whether at home or away, includes the worship of the Lord.  I hope that your summer plans at your home church and the places you visit while on vacation allow you to offer our whole selves to God in grateful praise.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.  Romans 12:1

As Paul says to the church in Rome, this offering of ourselves is primarily a sacrificial act intended to glorify God.  The imagery he uses is one of an altar, the sacred place of righteous giving.  As a way of responding to God’s mercy, we give ourselves – our time, talent and treasure – with gifts that are of varied amounts (some can give an hour or a dollar, while others have more to give) in completely voluntary ways.  In light of all the blessings you enjoy because of God’s kindness, could you spend a bit of your summertime resources appreciating Him?

This offering, however, will have consequences.  When we agree to offer our bodies, we offer all its parts.  This act of generosity effects our talking, for our tongues have been offered.  This act of generosity effects our toiling, for our hands have been offered.  This act of generosity effects our traveling, for our legs have been offered.  There may be plans, on vacation or at home, that will need to be curtailed or delayed because we are offering our resources to Him.  The beach and the barbeque will have to wait.  It is always better to exercise your faith in flip flops than to forgo the blessing of gathering altogether.

Our rightful response to the blessings God gives us – our vacations and vocations, our purses and our purposes – is to be living sacrifices.  We are living sacrifices: continually, in every season and on every day, offering what He has given us to share.  We are holy sacrifices: set apart for His purposes.  We are pleasing sacrifices: demonstrating what is appropriate for Him.  I hope that this attitude is the highlight of your next season.

Together Together

Last week, a number of people in my family, including me, watched the series finale of “The Big Bang Theory”.  It was a fitting conclusion to the show, as we witnessed one of the main characters, Sheldon, uncharacteristically consider others more highly than he considered himself and utilize the spotlight afforded him through professional success to speak words of affirmation and appreciation to his typically disregarded friends.  It was an exceptional picture of the concept of community.  Those watching the program, 18.5 million in all, including the people in my home, were much less a demonstration of community: while we were all doing the same thing at the same time, we weren’t truly together.

‘Together’ is a word we like to use in the church.  We gather together, worship together, pray together, serve together, learn together, and rejoice together.  But is this togetherness similar to the relationships portrayed on television or to the relationships displayed in millions of homes on a Thursday night?  What does being together, from a biblical standpoint, look like?

All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts….  Acts 2:44-46

The other night, as part of a Bible study on Acts 2:42-47, we were discussing the word ‘together’.  The word is used twice in the passage, but two different Greek words are utilized: ἐπί (epi) is verse 44 and ὁμοθυμαδόν (homothumadon) in verse 46.  These two Greek words mean two very different things.  ‘epi’ is a preposition meaning ‘with or upon’, used to describe location or geography: in the context of verse 42, the disciples were in the same place or were locationally close.  ‘homothumadon’ is an adverb meaning ‘having or sharing in the same strong emotion’ and is used to modify an action emotionally: the disciples were sharing the same passion or were emotionally close.

The togetherness that the church aspires to experience includes both proximity and community.  It requires both being in the same place (proximity) and having the same heart (community).  We need to be together in the same place: we must see one another and breath the same air as we hear and do the same things; we cannot help one another if we do not know one another and we cannot know one another if we are never with one another.  We need to be together in the same spirit: we must embrace the same passionate pursuit – to know Christ and to make Him known – as we practice the disciplines of faith; it is not enough to do things together if we do it individualistically.

Spiritual growth and maturity require both proximity and community.  We need to be close geographically and close emotionally.  Think about that when you are making your plans for the weekend, and perhaps choosing to get together with others and be together with others at a church in your neighborhood.