Tag Archives: joy

My Goodness

All my life I have been encouraged to be a good boy (or a good man).  Growing up, I must have heard the command to “be good” a thousand times, whether it was just before visiting a friend’s house or the local library.  After I was particularly incorrigible as a child, I was warned that I might be dropped off at the “bad boy store” by my frustrated mother – in hindsight, I recognize the absurdity of the reality of this establishment, but at the time the notion that I could be chattel for this nefarious business worked well in keeping me on the straight and narrow.  However, I was not always a good boy.

As I grew up into manhood, I have tried to be a good man.  I think I have succeeded, to a greater of lesser degree.  However, “the bad man store” may have a new item for sale.  In my defense, the event I am about to describe occurred during the Patriots game on Sunday.  As I was watching the game (the outcome of which at the time was still in question), trouble came to our house.  As she was making sure our youngest was ready for bed, my wife hit her head – hard – on the upper bunk of the boys’ bed.  While there was no blood, there was a bump.  It least that is what I was told.  I had little compassion and provided no care.  I was not a good husband or a good father.  I was wrong, and I sincerely apologize to my wife for my lapse in judgement.   I am not always a good man.

When I became a follower of Christ, I tried to be a good Christian.  I have a long list of good and godly behaviors – with appropriate measures of church attendance, charitable giving and acts of service – but I am not a good Christian.  I am in danger of being shipped off to the “bad Christian store” because my practice of the faith is incomplete, my priority of Christ’s lordship is inconsistent and my passion for the gospel is anemic.  I continue to sin.  I continue to fail.  I do not pray as much as I should nor share my faith as frequently as I should.  I am not always a good Christian.

But who can discern their own errors?  Forgive my hidden faults.    Psalm 19:12

My problem is that I am lulled into believing that I am (overall) good.  I compare myself to others and I see myself as measuring up pretty well against the competition.  But, as the Psalm above states, I am unable to rightly evaluate my own goodness.  I need forgiveness for the things I cannot see in myself.  I need the truth of God to be my standard and not my own heightened sense of self.   In comparison to the standards of the Scriptures (which are beneficial for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness), I am, by nature, a bad boy, a bad man and a bad Christian.

But that is not how God sees me: because I have trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior, I have been justified (declared not guilty by God through His acceptance of Christ’s sacrificial satisfaction of God’s wrath) and sanctified (anointed, appointed and equipped to accomplish His will).   I am seen by God as good, and that motivates me to demonstrate this divinely imbued goodness.  It also motivates me to remember that this goodness is not from me, but from the one who redeemed me so that I might do some good.  I thank God that He enables me to be a good person, a sinner saved by His grace.

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Triumph Over Tragedy

My heart remains heavy as I process the events of Sunday morning in Sutherland Springs, TX.  According to numerous news sources, a man parked his truck at a gas station, walked across the street with a number of weapons and then opened fire on those around and within the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs as they gathered for the 11AM worship service.  Twenty-six men, women and children were killed and more than 20 others were injured, leading to the pastor’s wife, Sherri Pomeroy, saying, “Most of our church family is gone….”   The only word I am left with is this: tragic.

In the aftermath of this ever-increasingly common tragedy, numerous ‘shapers of culture’ (celebrities, politicians and media consultants) have said many things about many topics, and I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about the details of this event nor of its legal implications to offer my commentary.  What I do know is this: there is no place on earth where we will be perfectly safe.  We deceive ourselves if we think that churches or schools or country music concerts make those therein impervious to danger and risk.  We are being unrealistic if we imagine that locks and detectors keep us far from harm.

(Jesus asked,) “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”   Luke 13:4-5

The bad news is this – bad things happen every day.  Disease of the body and disease of the spirit is present in every place humanity dwells.  There are earthquakes and hurricanes that devastate vast areas.  There are wildfires and droughts that destroy lives and livelihoods.  There are acts of violence that damage souls and bring death to innocents.  There is little we can do about these things and nothing will prevent them from happening should they seek our demise.  The bad news is that we cannot prevent what is evil from being evil.  The bad news is that we are not safe.

However, there is good news.  While we cannot prevent bad things from occurring, we can prepare for them, so that death by whatever circumstance cannot rob us of our relationships and our life.  We have nothing to fear since we can claim the promise Jesus has made to all those who trust in Him

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”   John 11:25-26

While it is true that life on earth is not safe, it also true that the God who loves us has provided us with blessings that can never be taken away.  There are blessings beyond this physical realm – redemption, restoration, reunion and resurrection – that no act of violence or “act of God” that can rescind.

I hope and pray that the odds fall in your favor, that life-taking evil does not visit your camp.  I also hope and pray that should your last day on earth occur much earlier than you planned, you will have prepared for this eventuality and placed your full faith in the One who provides life after death.

Image by DAVID J. PHILLIP / AP

Setting the Standard

For those of you discouraged by a 4:32PM Sunset in Boston on Sunday, you will be glad to know that an 11-member panel, created by the Massachusetts Legislature last year, spent months examining the pros and cons of effectively establishing daylight saving time year-round and eliminating the practice of setting clocks forward and back twice every year.  Their decision: move the Commonwealth into the Atlantic Time Zone (aligning ourselves with the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) if all the Northeast region (including New York) agrees to change their time zone with us. 

This strikes me as nothing more than a hollow victory.  The commission’s trouble with “going it alone” is that transportation, broadcasting schedules and sporting events could all be adversely affected.  I, for one, could get used to The Tonight Show at 12:35AM, football at 2PM and early flights from Logan at 7 in the morning.  It would be a challenge calibrating ourselves with the rest of the country, but I would be willing to try.  But, because it is nearly impossible to buck the cultural norms, we in the Northeast will not experience a sunset after 5PM until February 4th; the groundhog may see the sun before I will during my drive home from work.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  2 Timothy 2:24

Speaking of cultural norms, we were discussing the above referenced verse of scripture and my wife remarked at how difficult it is to keep the little details of this passage.  If you think changing your Time Zone is counter-cultural, try not quarreling or being kind to everyone or releasing resentment.

  • Anyone familiar with social media knows that quarreling (or fighting) is our national pastime: there are posts (and then comments about those posts) that are divisive and combative, attacking the “opposition” both personally and indiscriminately. A follower of Christ ought not engage in these senseless squabbles.
  • If you are a driver, you know that kindness is in short supply. I realize that someone allowing me to turn into traffic is unrealistic, but I do wonder if honking the horn as the light turns green or passing on the right (through unoccupied parking spaces) on a single lane street or ignoring the ‘right lane must turn’ sign and weaving to the left at dangerous speeds are necessary.  A few verses after the above passage, Paul tells Timothy that he should be gentle with those who oppose his teaching; a follower of Christ should be restrained in exercising whatever power that follower has.
  • Life, no matter how it is lived, will contain times of deep disappointment. All but one team finishes the season without a title.  Every person will find oneself in one sort of line or another, and whatever line you find yourself in, the other one is moving faster…and has fewer bitter and angry people occupying it.  A follower of Christ should release resentment as soon as it is sensed.

God has called us to – and equipped us for – better than our culture prescribes.  No matter what time we find ourselves in, we are called to be counter-cultural: peaceable, kind and hopeful.  I suspect those godly attributes will be highly regarded during the long nights ahead.

Truth Unmasked

There has been a series of conversations at our house about what costume our 9-year-old son will be wearing on Halloween.  He has decided that his costume will be made from a cardboard box (he feels that it is tradition: in past years, he has been a Lego®, a birdhouse, a television, and a clock).  Beyond that, the options are incalculable: he could go out into the neighborhood disguised as a board game, a rocket ship, a refrigerator or a hundred other ‘boxy’ things.  For one night a year, my son will get the opportunity to pretend that he is someone or something else.

When he gets older, he will get the opportunity to pretend that he is someone or something else all the time.  Lord willing, he will learn how to fashion and wear a mask to disguise his true self in the business world, the social spaces and marketplace.  We all, as we mature, put on masks to protect our frail vulnerabilities and preserve our fragile sensitivities.  We all learn that there are things about us that we choose to keep to ourselves: we temper our opinions, our preferences and our accomplishments to avoid being rejected by those around us.  We all wear masks and pretend that we belong.

Except, we cannot wear the masks all the time.  They chafe upon us and distort our vision.  They prevent us from expressing our emotions and enjoying nourishment.  So, we take them off and show ourselves to those we love and to those who love us.  In those moments we find comfort and strength in being know as we truly are.

Beside all this, there is one who knows us, whether we don our masks or not; the one who created us knows us completely.  We cannot hide our thoughts from Him.  We cannot keep our opinions from Him.  We cannot shield our motives from His eyes.  It serves no purpose to wear a disguise in His presence, as He see through our cardboard boxes and knows who we are.  There is a word in the New Testament that describes our attempts at pretending we are someone or something else, a word which literally means ‘a play actor’: hypocrite.  It is this word that Jesus uses to describe those who perform a role in public places to protect themselves:

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others.  …  And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.  … When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting.”  Matthew 6:2, 5, 16

One night a year is sufficient time to wear a costume and pretend that you are a superhero or a celebrity or a washing machine.  Perhaps you will need a disguise at the next corporate outing or family reunion.  You need not wear these things just to make people like you.  You need to know that the One who made you knows what is behind your mask, and loves you just as you are.

No More Doorbells

There is an ongoing effort by Millennials and Gen Zers (those 35 and younger) to eliminate doorbell usage.  They argue that these bells, chimes and buzzers have become: a) unnecessary, since most young people now use their cell phones to text or call and announce their arrival at your door; b) dangerous, since one might be seeking entrance into the wrong residence, which might be followed by incurring the wrath of frosty (and often annoyed) neighbors; and c) panic-inducing, since we all know that ‘no one’ uses the doorbell anymore, we can only imagine what awful form of old person or sales rep is the cause of that startling and unexpected buzz or bell.   I have experienced this change in practice myself every time the pizza delivery person calls from the car in front of our house or my teenage child’s friend texts from our front porch.

The world is constantly changing.  Fifty years ago, you’d expect people to occasionally knock on the door or ring the bell; people would “drop by” unexpectedly, so the sitting room or parlor or living room needed to be always ready for guests and mother had a tin of cookies hidden for “company”.  Now, no one comes to visit unannounced, partly because people today are so rarely home (what with work and the gym and the kids’ sports and PTA meetings) and partly because people today cherish their privacy (we let others know about us through social media or over coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, not through visitors being allowed to rummage through our medicine cabinet or magazines).  We know the rules of the cul-de-sac: if the garage door or the window shade is down, do not ring the bell unless you’ve been invited over.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.    Luke 10:38

It seems to me that since we no longer want people to come to our home unannounced, we ought to consider the practice of inviting them over for a meal, a cup of coffee, a game, a party or a chat.  Perhaps you could have family dinner with a college student you met at church or watch the Patriots play with the older gentlemen across the street.  Perhaps you could have coffee with the mother of one of your child’s friends while they played video games or let the single mom you are friendly with when you are both at the grocery store wash a load of clothes in your machine while you talk about “This Is Us”.  Be like Martha and open your home.

One last thing about “dropping by” and doorbell ringing: remember that October 31st is Halloween, and if you have a bell, let it be rung.  Take advantage of the fact that kids in costumes will be ringing your doorbell eleven nights from now.  Introduce yourself to the parents you haven’t met and give out the big bars to the little children – especially if the neighborhood knows yours is a Christian home.

Fasten Your Seatbelts

Members of my family recently had occasion to fly ‘home’.  Whenever anyone travels the friendly skies, others will invariably ask, “Was it a good flight?” What we are typically wondering is if it was bumpy or smooth – was there the dreaded turbulence.  Patrick Smith is a commercial airline pilot, contends that the number one producer of flight anxiety in his passengers is that pesky turbulence.  We who have never attended flight school, assume the plane’s ability to remain aloft is at risk.  But in an article he wrote for Business Insider, Smith argues that from the perspective of the pilot, turbulence is often a mere blip:

For all intents and purposes, a plane cannot be flipped upside-down, thrown into a tailspin, or otherwise flung from the sky by even the mightiest gust or air pocket.  Conditions might be annoying and uncomfortable, but the plane is not going to crash.  Turbulence is an aggravating nuisance for everybody, including the crew, but it’s also, for lack of a better term, normal.  From a pilot’s perspective, it is ordinarily seen as a convenience issue, not a safety issue.  When a flight changes altitude in search of smoother conditions, this is by and large in the interest of comfort.  The pilots aren’t worried about the wings falling off; they’re trying to keep their customers relaxed and everybody’s coffee where it belongs….  In the worst of it, you probably imagine the pilots in a sweaty lather: the captain barking orders, hands tight on the wheel as the ship lists from one side to another.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

That pretty much sums up the way life is: a great majority of us are cowering in our seats, concerned about things that will never happen, while the few who know the truth carry out their duties, unaffected by the reality of their circumstance.  We fret over our kids climbing trees and our lug nuts coming loose.  We worry over lightning strikes and dog bites.  We lose sleep over the national debt and the Red Sox prospects in the playoffs.  Instead, we would rest easier if we trusted those who have the expertise to handle these matters to handle these matters.  We would be less anxious if we let the pilot fly the plane.

My heart is not proud, LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.     Psalm 131:1

My problem, and the problem of my fellow inhabitants on earth, irrespective of demography, is that we concern ourselves with matters ‘above our pay grade’.  Beyond the troubles of turbulence during our flights (or elsewhere), we regularly engage in forming opinions on matters about which we have little or no knowledge, the things that only God can fathom.  Imagine the peace we would gain when we do not concern ourselves with great matters of God – the lengths of grace, the depth of  mercy, the fullness of compassion, the vastness of forgiveness – and simply trust the one who is an expert in these things too wonderful for us.

As we travel, we will be required to endure bumps and tossing caused by the winds we encounter.  At those very moments, we need to trust the One who directs our path, the Lord Almighty.

Playing Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time Flies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crash Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doing Good Badly

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  2 Corinthians 4:7

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

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