Tag Archives: joy

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.

Going Beyond with Boldness

At Vacation Bible School earlier this week, one of the lessons was about ‘going beyond with boldness’.  As I taught the seven 3rd through 6th graders in my class about courageously trusting in the Lord, about doing and saying what is right even when it is hard, we explored the life and faith of Esther.  According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Esther, the beautiful Jewish wife of the Persian king Xerxes I, and her cousin Mordecai persuade[d] the king to retract an order for the general annihilation of Jews throughout the empire.”  Esther is the supreme example what God can do through a person who demonstrates boldness.

With a twenty-first century worldview, it might escape the awareness of the casual reader of the Old Testament that speaking to your husband about a decree would require extreme boldness.  But the author of the book of Esther, in the first chapter, tells us what happens when a queen displeased King Xerxes: during a party with his friends, Queen Vashti was summoned in order to show her beauty; the queen refuses to go; so, the king exiles her from his presence and procures a new wife.  If that is what happened to the queen after an informal request, what would happen to Esther when she decries an official proclamation?  Yet, she courageously stood up for what was right.

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”  Esther 4:14

Esther is a role-model for all the spine-deficient among us.  After deciding that God, in fact, raised her to the position of queen for just this purpose, she devises a plan and musters the strength to speak of this injustice perpetrated against the people of God.  But when she had an audience before the king, she buckles and only invites him to a banquet.  She chickens out, reminding us all that even the strongest sometimes shiver before they shine.  Then, after two days of drinking, Esther speaks up and secures the safety of her people, boldly proclaiming the truth of God.  Despite the real possibility of losing everything – even her life – she courageously stands up for God.

We are not that different from Esther.  We see and hear of injustice and wrongdoing every day.  We, too, may have come into our position – a place of power and prosperity – for such a time as this.  We could speak to the authorities of today and address the issues of today.  We could go beyond what we think is possible with boldness.  We need modern-day Esthers, those who are apprehensive but aware, and tentative but trusting.

One final word from the lesson plan: the name Esther means ‘star’.  Just as there are stars in the night sky that have died centuries ago and their light is still reaching the earth after travelling for thousands of years, so too the examples of ‘stars of the faith’ may have died long ago, but still shine today.

Where Were You?

Over the past few days, I have had people tell me where they were on July 20, 1969.  They shared what they were doing the moment that Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  I was told that I watched it on television (truth be told, I was 3½ and cannot remember; but my mother texted me the following message last Saturday: “50 years ago I sat you in front of the TV and said, ‘You may not remember this, but, I want you to be able to say you saw the first man land on the moon.’”)  We all have stories of what we were doing during the watershed moments of history.

Some of these moments are global (for a previous generation it might have been D-Day or the falling of the Berlin Wall), some are national (the assassination of JFK or MLK or 9/11) and some are personal (wedding days and birth days).  Some moments, like the Apollo 11 moon landing, can be anticipated; others, like attacks of 9/11, are shockingly unexpected.  It all makes me realize that sometimes we recognize when our lives (and history) are going to change and sometimes we are caught completely off guard.

However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” – the things God has prepared for those who love him….  1 Corinthians 2:9

The apostle Paul tells us that the most remarkable events of life (and history) are still to come.  These events are impossible to imagine: everything we have seen in the past, however spectacular, is nothing in comparison; anything we have heard in the past, however earth-shattering, is of no significance in retrospect; whatever we might conceive in our minds, however incredible, it is nothing like what God has prepared for His beloved.

Perhaps that is what Jesus had intended us to envision when, teaching His disciples to pray, he said, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’  The appearing of God’s kingdom will be more marvelous than the moon landing and the accomplishing of God will will be more incredible than the invention of the light bulb.  There will come a day when everything in heaven and on earth will pivot and all the ravages of sin will be eliminated, and there will no longer be death or destruction.

This all leads me to a question: what are you going to do with the single most life-changing moment in history; what are you going to do about the hour of Christ’s crucifixion?  What were you doing when you realized that Jesus paid the price for your transgressions and the penalty for your disobedience?  Where were you when you witnessed the grace and mercy of God that forgave you of your sin?  These other events – wonderful and terrific – are worthy of remembering, but the cross is worthy of deep reverence.  That moment at Calvary was truly when everything changed.

A Matter of Course

How does that old saying go?  “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Seems that my family is entering another season of transition: Joshua is entering his Middle School years, David is off to college, Rebekah is finishing college, and we are moving (again).  As we navigate these changes over the next few months, we are seeking God’s wisdom and provision.  We are asking questions that will only be answered by some sort of divine intervention.  I write all this not to solicit advice, but rather to seek prayer for His provision and direction in the days ahead from those who are so inclined.

Transitions come in all shapes and sizes.  Everyone goes through times of relocation, recalibration and recuperation.   We cannot eliminate transitions, but we can anticipate them and appreciate them.  Transitions offer us all the opportunity to eliminate the clutter that accumulates in life and acknowledge the course corrections that every life must experience.  Transitions provide us with times to cleanse ourselves from the toxins that sap us of life and place us in environments for growth.  Transitions, like every form of change, are truly challenging, but when navigated properly they can be a blessing.

The author of Hebrews has wisdom from God for all those entering into a season change:

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Hebrews 12:1-2

We need heed God’s advice to run the race of our life with perseverance.  According to Merriam-Webster, perseverance is the continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.  Life is fraught with difficulties, failure, or opposition that can either frustrate us or fuel us.  God’s encouragement to all of us is to continue exerting the effort necessary to accomplish our goals.

We need to contemplate that there is a course marked out for us by the creator of the universe.  We each have a unique path, filled with peaks and valleys, that we are called to complete.  We could, I suppose, choose to run someone else’s race and reach a place that will not fully satisfy, but it would be better to remain on the road that God has established to bring us where we ought to go.

We need to fix our eyes on Jesus: He has run this race before and now waits for us at the finish line.  He is the pioneer (or author or source) of our faith – He is the one who is trustworthy and reliable.  He is the perfecter of our faith – He is the one who teaches us how to finish strong and avoid the distractions that drown our dreams.  He will lead us to the right and proper places when we trust in Him.

Would it be easier if life was absent of adversity, where we all were following the same formula and where it all works out in the end?  Sure.  But life is not like that.  Our lives are continually in flux and difficulties and detours must be expected.  Thankfully, we have a focal point, our Savior, who waits for us at our ‘forever’ home.  All we need to do is stay on course until we reach the finish line.

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.