Tag Archives: hope

Free Delivery

Unless you yourself have been living in a cave for the past three weeks, you know about the rescue of the dozen Thai boys and their soccer coach.  This rescue can be only described as miraculous.  On Saturday, June 23rd, the team was reported missing, their bicycles found at the mouth of a cave as monsoon rains poured down.  Search and recue teams were dispatched, but the flooded caves proved too treacherous for the local authorities.  National and international divers were recruited, and, despite the odds, the whole team was found by a diver on July 2nd, nine days after reported missing.  Weak from starvation and compromised by low oxygen levels in the cave, the team was cared for (underground) as the rescue team formulated an extraction plan.  Ultimately, with the use of a ‘buddy diver’ system, the boys and their coach were rescued six, seven and eight days later (on July 8th, 9th and 10th).  After more than two weeks of darkness, for the boys and their loved ones, they all were safely resting in a hospital located 37 miles away from that murky cave.

To many observers, lost in the details of this miraculous delivery are the fatal circumstances of Major Saman Gunan, the former Thai Navy Seal who died when his oxygen ran out while navigating the path in and out of the cave on July 6th.  Without the sacrifice of a few, there would not be reason to rejoice.  The good news – that the boys were delivered from certain death – is undergirded by greater news – that there are always some who will be willing to die that others may live.  The good news celebrated by ordinary people is secured by extraordinary people amongst us: fire fighters, police officers, rangers, soldiers, sailors and more.  Join me in celebrating the ones who dare to face death for the sake of others.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:6-8

Saving innocent good boys is commendable work.  Saving guilty troublemakers (the neighborhood kids that are throwing rocks at houses and cars while calling our parents terrible names and stealing their property) is another matter.  While no one would say, “Let them die!”, that same ‘no one’ will not risk their very lives, instead doing what they can, to save them.  No one simply human, that is.  The one who is fully human and fully divine would not only risk His life but will give His life to save all those who oppose His Father.   He gave His life for you and me.

We all have been driven deeper into darkness through the chaos of the rising waters and were at the point of death, needing deliverance.  Thank God that He bought us into the light, giving His own life as a means of our rescue.

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Carpe Æstatem

By the time you read this, summer will have arrived for my family.  The younger boys will (finally) be done with school and our summer plans will have begun.  These plans include Calvary’s Splash Canyon Vacation Bible School, many of the Free Fun Friday events funded through The Highland Street Foundation, visits to Nantasket beach, and getting ice cream at Sully’s  on Castle Island.  We will also be taking a road trip to visit friends and family along the East Coast, spending time in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington DC.  Finally, our summer will be filled with late mornings, long walks, and plenty of summer fare (steamers, corn on the cob, watermelon, hamburgers, potato salad).  Sadly, before we know it, it will be September 6 and school will begin again.

Summer vacation will be just ten weeks (sixty-nine days to be exact) for children enrolled in Boston’s public school system, which includes my school-aged boys; ten weeks of unstructured play, ten weeks of daytime television, ten weeks without homework or studies.  This well might be my middle son’s last unencumbered summer vacation, as we are prayerfully anticipating his graduation from High School this time next year, and at that time he may be too old to hang out with the family.  My wife and I will have a number more summers with our youngest, but he, too, is getting older and may not want to visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum or sit in the sand with mom and dad.   I feel that we must seize this opportunity to spend this extended time together as a family before it is too late.

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  Psalm 90:12 (NIV)

I am asking the Lord to teach me, enabling me to gain wisdom, as I number the next sixty-nine days.  I am numbering eight days of vacation: sixty-one days; five days of VBS: fifty-six days; nine other Sundays: forty-seven days.  Help me, Lord, to spend some part of these next forty-seven days together with my family.   Help me, Lord, to make a memory every day this summer with my wife and with my children; actually, help me, Lord, to do this beyond the summer – on day seventy and day eighty and day eight hundred, if God should grant it possible.

I wonder: what memory could we make today with a loved one, or what recollection can we plant for another day in our intervening hours with a friend?   Truth be told, we are not guaranteed tomorrow, let alone a whole summer vacation: all we have is now.  Some of the things I put off until another day may be lost altogether as preferences change and people mature.  Will you join me as I carpe æstatem (which is Latin for ‘seize the summer’)?   Perhaps that means consuming a pint of whole-belly clams at The Clam Box or spending the night under the stars at a state park.  Whatever it means for you, do it; don’t wait for a better day or a warmer night.  Summer memories await… carpe æstatem!

What The World Needs Now

During a recent Bible study, the following question was posed:  Who has been an example of Christlikeness for you?  The question was asked as part of the larger context of the great commission where, in part, Jesus directs His followers to make disciples by “…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Since we can only teach what we already know, implicit in the commission is each disciple’s obedience to Christ’s commands.  Wisdom further implies that Jesus’ disciples would utilize and model the knowledge we have acquired.  Essential to making disciples, therefore, is exemplifying Christlikeness, and thankfully, I have plenty of people who demonstrate obedience to Jesus.

Since this blog is written for public consumption (and once it is posted, it can never completely disappear), I am not going to include names.  That being said, I have mental pictures of numerous people who regular live out Jesus’ great commandment:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37–40 (NIV)

While no one is perfect, I can picture in my mind many who love the Lord with all they are: they give sacrificially to His work, they meditate daily on His word, and they share consistently His transforming power.  I can also see in my recollections many who love their neighbor as much as they love themselves: those who have crossed cultural boundaries to tell others the good news of Jesus, shared time they didn’t have to care and comfort strangers in need, and spoke words of truth to those who needed a dose of reality.

All these things, and more, exemplify Christlikeness in a world that desperately needs neighbors with a character akin to Jesus.  We are constantly bombarded by accounts on our newsfeeds and newscasts of inhumanities perpetrated against the least among us.  Because we are a nation of laws (and those laws are subject to interpretation by politicians and pundits), we need people who choose to live, however imperfectly, according to a higher standard: God’s law.  We, as a society, need individuals who are willing to love God wholly and love their neighbors indiscriminately.  We need people who are willing to exemplify Christlikeness, even at great personal cost.

So, I return to the question I began with:  Who has been an example of Christlikeness for you?   My answer is simple: All those who choose to express sacrificial love instead of selfish self-interest.  In saying this, my answer is also complex:  Those who are an example of Christlikeness can be found anywhere, since they have no other commonalities outside of love (as there is no experiential, economic, political or ethnic indicators of a disciple of Jesus).  While not everyone is an example of Christlikeness, anyone could be.  Anyone could follow the law of sacrificial love rightly expressed to God and others.

Dad, Just Believe

This Sunday is Father’s Day, the time when we celebrate the dads in our lives.  Being the father of four, I can attest that being a dad is not a undertaking for the faint of heart.  Generations ago, men had it easier, if Ward Cleaver or Mike Brady of classic television sitcoms are any indication – work every day during the week, escape to the home office when you are home and play golf on the weekends; the only time a dad interacted with their children was to dispense disciplinary chastisement or moral clichés.  Today’s dads are expected to work inside and outside the home, attend a fair number of their children’s extra-curricular and school events, and spend quality time with their family.  As I reflect on these things, I realize that being a father is one of the hardest and greatest roles God has blessed me to perform.

There is a man, a father, in the Bible that inspires me as a dad.  His name was Jairus.  He was a synagogue leader (and therefore a man of faith) and the father of a 12-year-old daughter.   But he was a father in crisis: despite the religious practices he, no doubt, engaged in (praying, offering sacrifices and fasting), his daughter was dying.  What would you do if your baby was deathly ill?  If you are Jairus, you go to an itinerant rabbi whom you heard had accomplished miracles.  However, before he could return with the man of Galilee, a servant of his tells him that it is too late: his daughter is dead.

Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”  Luke 8:50

Instead of giving up, Jairus gave his troubles over to Jesus.  He continued the long walk home and, instead of trusting the eyes of his servant, he trusted the words of a stranger.  As he came into his home, there was weeping and mourning appropriate to the circumstances.  But Jesus would not have any of it.

He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing?  The child is not dead but asleep.”  But they laughed at him.  Mark 5:39-40

What is a dad to do?  You take a leap of faith and everyone you care about thinks it is a joke.  But, then again, what did he have to lose?  If Jesus was unable to do anything, his daughter was still dead…but what if HE WAS ABLE to do something amazing?

There are days that I feel like Jairus, asking Jesus to secure a healthy future of my child.  I have nothing I can offer but trust: trust that my 10-year-old will safely navigate the streets of Boston from school to home, trust that my 17-year-old will pass that difficult class, trust that my 20-year-old will be protected from the dangers prevalent in our national capital and trust that my 23-year-old will arrive home safely from that job 131 miles away.    People may say that my intercessions are realistically useless or that my circumstances are ridiculously hopeless.  Still, the dad in me will trust in the one who is able to do immeasurably more than I can imagine.

Happy Father’s Day to all those who are blessed to be called “Dad”.

B.H.A.G.s

As I was following a digital ‘rabbit trail’ this week, I came across Volvo’s mission statement: “Vision 2020 is about reducing the number of people that die or are seriously injured in road traffic accidents to zero.”  Volvo has embraced what business leaders call a B.H.A.G. – a big, hairy, audacious goal.  They developed an emotionally compelling and strategically bold trajectory for their company.  Volvo and other business who develop these B.H.A.G.s challenge themselves, their employees and their consumers to imagine a future that is bigger than their individual efforts could produce, scarier than their comfort levels would allow and bolder than their frames of reference should expect.

B.H.A.G.s are nothing new.  In fact, when Jesus sent out his disciples to minister to the needs of the world around them, as recorded in Matthew 10, he commands them:

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.  Freely you have received; freely give.”    Matthew 10:8

In my humble opinion, those are some big, hairy and audacious goals.  How would it be possible for that rag-tag band of fishermen, financial agents and farmers to be able to do these things?  Raise the dead?  B.H.A.G.s are great, as long as they are achievable.  When Jesus gave them a humanly impossible task to accomplish, thank God he also equipped them to accomplish it.  Matthew tells us:

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.   Matthew 10:1

The Lord still gives his disciples B.H.A.G.s.  The Lord also give them the ability to accomplish these B.H.A.G.s through his equipping.  

I wonder what B.H.A.G.s the Lord may be calling us to aspire to accomplish in our communities today.  Without diminishing the power of God at work through us (it seems unlikely that we’d be commanded to raise the dead), He is challenging us attempt more than our ability enables, our comfort allows and our logic expects.  He may be calling us to completely love those who make different choices than we have made.  He may be calling us to comprehensively care for those ravaged by the consequences of sin, regardless of whether this sin is theirs or another’s.  He may be calling us consciously give away all that He has generously given us – everything from grace to garage space.  He may be calling us to compassionately speak the truth that others need to hear in a way that they will hear it so that the healing of hearts and relationships may take place.

Whatever we might think God has called us to accomplish, Matthew 10 challenges us to think bigger, think hairier, and think more audaciously.  If we think we can help ten people, God may be enabling us to help a hundred.  If we think we can encourage someone living on our cul-de-sac, God may be enabling us to encourage someone NOT living in our neighborhood.  If we think we can teach the kids at the church, God may be enabling us to teach the kids at the public school.  God is the originator of B.H.A.G.s.  What is He able to accomplish through ours, were we willing to give Him the opportunity?

Community

This coming Sunday, June 3rd, our community will gather along the length of Dorchester Avenue to celebrate Dorchester Day and commemorate its incorporation on June 1, 1630 with a parade of police cars, floats and local politicians.  So, after church on Sunday, we will sit on the curb with our neighbors to be (hopefully) showered with candy and treated to skilled performances by dance troupes, martial arts schools and school marching bands.  Despite being firmly within the city limits, we will, for an afternoon, adopt the feel of a small town as we wave our tiny American flags and put aside our differences in order to enjoy all our community has to offer.

It is good to get together with people every once in a while.  Having a sense of community is important.  But, don’t take my word for it; these are the words of Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States:

We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s.  Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher.

We are, despite all of our followers on Twitter and all our friends on Facebook, a bunch of lonely people.

I wish that all our neighbors – irrespective of economic, ethnic, racial or age-related distinctions – would have a parade to attend every weekend.  I wish there were a regular event where we all could enjoy community.  Rarely do we get together with someone somewhere outside of our well-defined demographics; that is, except for one particular occasion.  God’s word has a remedy for this epidemic of loneliness: the family of God.   That’s right, the church.  If you are feeling isolated, attend a service of worship this weekend.

… not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:25

Accept the challenge to be counter-cultural.  Be willing to gather for an hour to hear music that you haven’t chosen and reflect on topics you haven’t selected, surrounded by people who are not completely like you.  Be willing to engage in prayer and praise with those who have more and with those who have less.  Be willing to share your story with those of a different culture and with those from a different upbringing.  Be willing to rejoice with those who have something to rejoice over (even when it is something you might not celebrate) and mourn with those who have something to mourn over (even if you cannot sympathize with their pain).

If you are uncomfortable around people who are not quite like you and are a little scared to enter the doors of a church and be surrounded by strangers, come to the parade and look for me (I will be the only guy standing near Ashmont station in a suit and tie).  I would be blessed to celebrate the community with you and develop some community with you.  Maybe we can shake the mayor’s hand as well.

Calling Janelle

Earlier this week, I felt like a was in a bad comedy routine.  At 9:18AM on Tuesday my cell phone rang and a telemarketer asked for Janelle.  I politely told the caller that it was a wrong number and thought nothing more about it.  It happened again, from a different number, ten minutes later.  And again.  And again.  All told, I received a total of ten calls, all from different numbers and different companies, throughout the day.  I thought that surely the last call I received was going to be from Janelle, asking if she had any messages.

My life was briefly interrupted by telemarketers, each one offering some great thing to someone I never met.  Ten calls throughout the day, all looking for someone else, were a major nuisance.     In the end, I never got an answer to my question of where they got my number; I can only speculate that, perhaps, Janelle entered a contest at a mall or visited a time-share presentation.  Whatever the reason, intentional or unintentional, ten people reached out to me, thinking me to be someone I am not.

As I was answering all these calls, it struck me that there are those in our culture that will exploit one fact about us to gain access to our lives.  These telemarketers had a valid phone number and tried to take advantage of whoever would answer.  They took one vital statistic, one entry point into my life, and tried to get more.  I am relatively certain that these calls were benign, but in a world where identity theft and cybercrime is rampant, one can never be too cautious.

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.  Ephesians 4:26-27

While I am in no way equating telemarketers with the satanic (after all, I was a telemarketer for a local newspaper for about three hours), these ‘wrong numbers’ did make me think about the devil and his tactics.  As Paul’s letter to the Ephesians tells us, all it takes is a foothold, a crack or crevice in our stony exterior, for the enemy of our soul to scale our defenses and access our vulnerable spirits.  All it takes is one truth for the father of lies to breach the doors and take our lives – an embarrassing action, a hidden temptation, a word of anger, a troubled past.  The devil takes what he knows and tries to get more, just like those pesky callers to my cellphone.

The remedy to both the telemarketers and Mephistopheles is to refuse to reply.  We can, empowered by the Spirit, refuse to take the bait.  We can tell them, strongly and simply, that it is a wrong number, that the one they seek is not found here.  We can do this because one fact about us is not our identity and one forgiven action is not our lifestyle.

Now, if I could only figure out how to end those calls informing me about an urgent public announcement regarding my energy service I would be blessed beyond measure.

Heck of a Good Family

I was introduced to Mike and Frankie nearly nine years ago.  While their situation was different than mine (they lived in a rural middle American suburb and we lived in an urban neighborhood of Boston), our similar family dynamic made them special to me.  We would spend 22 minutes together each week and they would share their lives.  I would identify with their frustrations in raising their oldest through High School and college and beyond.  I would sympathize with the challenges of raising an optimistic but clumsy daughter who tried everything to fit in but never quite succeeded.  I would commiserate with the difficulties that come from a unique younger son, complete with quirks and tics.  But next week they are departing and I will miss their stories of their ordinary life of ordinary struggles.

My favorite show, The Middle, will broadcast its series finale on Tuesday, and I feel like I am losing a friend.  Something about the Hecks from Orson, Indiana always rang true for me.  They didn’t have a ‘very special episode’ but instead relied on real life circumstances — a folding lawn chair at the dining room table, floating anniversaries, kids fighting in the backseat and ‘borrowing’ the church van for months.  The kids made holes in their walls, their computers couldn’t access family photos and they ate fast food in front of the TV.  It was a pleasure to watch a family on TV that was much, maybe too much, like my own.

There was a comfort in tuning in every week, sending that someone understood your struggle.  It was a picture of life rarely seen on television today, a situation-comedy where episodes revolved around the challenges of the ordinary: living on a budget, dreading the school conferences and bake-sales and loving one another through the trials of life.  There were moments of passion (for things like the Indianapolis Colts and the Wrestlerettes) but little politics.  There were tears of joy and tears of sorrow.  Through it all, there was an underlying theme of familial love – even in the midst of familial discord.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.  Romans 15:30

I believe it to be a blessing to God to be understood, to know that there is someone somewhere that ‘gets’ you.  That was what God did for me through The Middle.  Although they were not an actual family but a fictional clan with great writers, they were real to me.  Their struggles were real.  Their victories were real.  I know, for their life, in many ways, is mine.  Their life is the same as many in the church: those who love their kids and can’t stand their kids, those who have broken dishwashers and broken dreams but refuse to give up, those who are simply doing their best even when their best is not great.  Thank you, Frankie, Mike, Axl, Sue and Brick for joining so many in the struggle.

I am sure that I will see the Hecks again as The Middle is already in syndication.  I will sit and remember that there are people, real and make-believe, that share my values and concerns and dreams.   Perhaps there will be another family I can befriend next season.  There are the Ottos from Westport, CT that might remind me that we are never alone.

Mother of All Moms

According to the National Retail Federation, the average Mother’s Day shopper will spend $180, or a total of $23.1 billion.  That is a lot of flowers and jewelry.  It seems that we all want to celebrate the blessing God has given us through giving us mothers.  In recognition of Mother’s Day on Sunday, allow me to share the story of a remarkable mom who lived a few thousand years ago.  She was poor, widowed and responsible for a child.  Things have gotten so bad for her that she had given up hope.  But God has other plans for her and her child.

We really know little about this mother.  While we do not know her name or her lineage, we do know she was married, but her husband died and left her with no source of income: according to the scriptures, all she had to her name was a jar of flour and a pitcher of oil.  We also know that she was not part of the “People of God”: she was an “unclean” Gentile.  Lastly, we know that she was commanded by God to help a certain prophet of God named Elijah: she was commissioned to use that last of all she had to feed this stranger.

Before I conclude the story, allow me to digress.  I am not at all surprised that God used a mother, especially a single mother, to save Elijah.  Is there any other class of human being so willing to sacrifice as a mom?  When there are five mouths and four slices of pie, it is the mom who says, “I’m too full from dinner for dessert; you guys have it.”  When it is three AM and thundering, it is the mom who gets displaced so that her child can be comforted.  She picks up the underwear, wipes up the barf and cleans up the bathroom.  There is seemingly no need too demanding or distance too far to travel for a mom.

Getting back to the story, this mother prepares her last meal for herself, her son and her visitor.  But the flour and oil never run out.  She and her household (including the guest) were fed for three years, miraculously.  Despite the fact that they were in the midst of a global famine, God was able to meet her needs.  Just when one might think everything is going to get better, tragedy strikes when the son of this woman becomes ill and stops breathing.  No one would blame her for her outburst:

She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God?  Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”  1 Kings 17:18

After all she had sacrificed, was this really how her story was going to end?  No.  Elijah immediately cries out to God and her son’s life is restored to him.  Then they all lived happily ever after (though not together).

I thank God that the mothers I am most familiar with (both biological and metaphorical) have yet to lose hope.  They sacrificed for the sake of those they loved, expressed outrage when something hurt those they loved and never gave up hope for those they loved.  Some of that has to do with their personal resolve – they are all formidable people of character – but some of it has to do with their faith in the God who can resource and restore them as He did for a Phoenician widow, her son and her house-guest.

Happy Mother’s Day to all those who have given more than they will ever get back from their families.

Inconvenience Store

There was an article in the New York Times that opined about the costs and benefits of present-day conveniences.  According to columnist Time Wu, conveniences are “more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks”.  Conveniences come in a nearly endless number of forms, everything from appliances (washers, dryers and microwaves) to technologies (digital streaming, cell phones and search engines).  They save us time, toil and treasure.  The world of my childhood would be foreign soil to my ten-year old son; the convenience of debit cards instead of cash or checks, the convenience of homework at home with Google and Wikipedia instead of researching at the library with the World Book Encyclopedia, the convenience of GPS and EZPass instead of glove compartment maps and a cupful of quarters.  Conveniences make life better.

However, there is another side to conveniences, a less beneficial side that warrants our attention.  As Wu writes, “With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life.”  Ultimately, there is a benefit to inconvenience, whether it is getting lost and discovering the pathway back to civilization or baking a pie from scratch instead of ordering one online through Uber Eats.  It is rewarding to toil and use reason.  We might become better people because we are required to wait or, worse yet, to go without.

In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.  Luke 14:33

Discipline is never convenient.  Eating healthy takes effort: making a salad takes longer than tearing the foil off a Pop Tart.  Exercise takes effort: spending time at the gym will be more demanding than spending time on the couch.  Education takes effort: solving a pesky equation with a pencil will take more time than watching a YouTube video of someone else solving for x.  The Christian life is no different.  When Jesus taught about the demands of discipleship, He told his followers to consider the costs.  He called His followers to live a life which included inconvenience.  He told them to give more than demanded, work longer than most and sacrifice greater than merely necessary.

Most of the things that make life easier are convenient.  Most of the things that make life better are inconvenient.  The question for each of us is whether we want easier or we want better.   Do we want the ease of microwave turkey or the goodness of Thanksgiving dinner?  Do we want the ease of hearing an explanation or the goodness of researching it ourselves?  Do you want the ease of activism by hashtag or the goodness of laboring for righteousness?  When we are passionate about something, the Cliff Notes will not suffice; we will want to invest our blood, sweat and tears to pursue it.

Evan Williams, a co-founder of Twitter, was quoted in Wu’s piece as saying, “Convenience decides everything.”  Maybe he’s right in general.  I do that hope he is wrong about us.