Thirty years ago, when I was working as a teller for a local bank, we were asked to promote a new product to the customers that came to our windows: The Club 55. If memory serves, this was a fee-free account to our ‘senior’ patrons (those over 55 years of age). At the time, I thought that an account like this made sense; the bank was doing the right thing in offering those frail retirees financial benefits appropriate for their advanced ages. Now, having turned 55 this past Sunday, I take offense at the uninformed attitude borne by my 25-year-old self.
While I would not consider myself young any longer, I also would not consider myself old; my guess is that I currently find myself in the category of comfortably middle-aged – the reality is that there are a few generations before me and a few generations behind me. This contemplation of generations has caused me to give pause: what have I carried from those who have gone before me and what am I leaving for those who come after me? What have I gained from engaging with my mother-in-law (in her 90s, a member of the builder generation) or my parents (in their 80s, members of the boomer generation)? What am I handing to my children (in their teens and 20s, representing the millennial and Z generations)?
Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. Joel 1:3 (NIV84)
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV84)
These two passages form a framework for our intergenerational conversations. In Joel, the word of God commands the prophet to share with those coming behind him to share the devastation which disobedience delivers while holding out the hope of God’s restoration. In 2 Timothy, Paul is encouraging his young protégé to equip the next generation of leaders with the whole counsel of Scripture that he had heard from those more mature than himself. No matter what age we are, we are expected to be a pipeline of the unvarnished truth, from one generation to another, and not a pool of stagnant and situational knowledge.
As I stand today, in a stage of life that is not fully growing and not fully grown, I am reminded that we learn through experiences shared – knowing the consequences of the sins in our past so that we need not repeat them and knowing the blessings of the faithfulness in our past so that we can emulate them. As I get older, I want to share my story and hear your story, the story of rebellion and restoration, the story of hurt and healing. I want to listen to the wisdom of the older generations and relate that wisdom to the younger generation.
Standing here, in the center of middle-age, is a blessed place to be – old enough to know better and young enough to learn. Whatever our age, we all have something to share with one another and learn from one another. What can I learn from you?
Considering all we have been through over the last 12 months, I have come to the conclusion that New Year’s resolutions are, at best, aspirational or, at worst, futile. Perhaps you thought, on December 31, 2019, that this next year was the year you would get a gym membership and exercise more consistently but after 80 days all the fitness clubs closed, and you were left a little less resolute. Or perhaps you thought you would adjust that unhealthy lifestyle and [fill in the blank] less, only to discover that it was all you had to do during the quarantine. It is painfully apparent that there is no certainty to the future.
Yet, our human nature, or perhaps our spark of divinity imbued through the Imago Dei, longs for our improvement. Therefore, the Apostle Peter writes the following to the Church:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 2 Peter 1:5-7
Whether we are in the midst of a pandemic or in the center of God’s will (N.B.: these two places are not mutually exclusive), there are areas of our lives where we could be doing better. Honestly, I have learned a great deal about myself in the months of quarantine, and I recognize that there are things I desire to improve. I suppose January 1st is just as good a day to begin as any other.
Above all else, I desire this year to increase my perseverance, which Merriam-Webster defines as, “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition”. I long to be more patient, more forbearing, more tenacious. My trouble is that perseverance is not something that a gym or a grocery store can supply. Perseverance comes through faith in the promises and providence of God over the long haul. It means, for me, delighting in the delays as part of God’s design and rejoicing in the roadblocks as they work toward my refinement. For me, I will know that I am developing perseverance when I no longer experience opposition with annoyance but with amazement.
But that is my struggle. Your struggle is likely different. Why not make an effort this year to work on what is weighing you down? If you need accountability, I am available to provide an occasional prod. If you need prayer, feel free to reach out and we can bring these concerns to God together. If you need motivation for change, simply replay the past year in your mind and marvel at how much you have adapted, adjusted, and altered because of this disease; is not your health as important? You have shown yourself to be resilient. Let the changes you make this year be on your terms. Let me encourage you to read the Bible a bit more this year, attend worship a bit more this year, practice kindness a bit more this year, and marvel at God’s goodness a bit more this year. Clearly, COVID cannot constrict the construction of your Christ-like character; become what you believe you are this year.
Yesterday, our unexpected blessing, our bonus baby – a surprise to all but God – turned thirteen. My youngest, Joshua, following the faith of His savior, is now a man. If we were contemporaries of Jesus, yesterday would have been his Bar Mitzvah (bar [בר] is a Jewish-Aramaic word meaning ‘son’ and mitzvah [מצוה] is a Jewish word meaning ‘a commandment’). Joshua would have been seen not as a seventh-grader but as a “son of the commandment” – he would be responsible for keeping the Law of God. This leaves me, as his father, with a nagging question: have I done enough to prepare him for adulthood.
Thankfully, we do not live in a non-adolescent culture and Joshua will not be an adult for another 5 years (legally) or more (culturally). That said, I have been slowly realizing that how I see this boy – as my defenseless and impressionable baby and as my child in need of protection and correction – is not the way the world outside our front door sees this young man. While I would seek to isolate him from the culture of the age, the societal gates of social media have been, with the change of a date, opened to him with its beckoning siren song. In my head, I know that all these coming changes are natural and beneficial steps in his healthy maturity, but in my heart, I worry for he is still just a boy to me and his mother.
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6
The above-quoted verse is typically mentioned when the topic of parenting comes around. It makes sense since the command of training is good advice for new moms and dads and the promise of faithfulness is comforting during those rebellious stages. As my boy enters manhood, I ask, as I said before, if I did a good enough job training him? Ironically, that might not be the right question for the term Solomon uses for ‘train’ is not translated as ‘train’ anywhere else in the Scriptures; it is translated as “dedicate’. The four other times the Hebrew Bible uses the term חנך, it is in reference to the temple. This admonition is not, as I see it, to prepare my child for the world and hope that I have done enough, but to proclaim my child to the world and trust that he will remember who he is, and whose he is.
Today, I am wrestling with letting go of the precious blessing of my baby boy. Today, you may be struggling with letting go of another blessing. Can God be trusted to keep His word and continue to provide for His people? My friend, the answer is yes. As my son Joshua’s name declares, the Lord is salvation (or deliverance or redemption). The Lord will carry all of us who trust His promises and bring us safely through to the other side.
Happy Birthday, Joshua. Enjoy the beginning stages of adulthood. Remember who you are.
Can you feel the change in the air and, more specifically, on the air? Yesterday may have been Thanksgiving, but today is the beginning of the Christmas season. Overnight we went from enjoying the autumnal comforts of pumpkin spices and falling leaves to enjoying the winter delights of peppermint swirls and drifting snow. Yesterday may have been spent watching competing teams play football, but tonight we will be watching competing networks broadcast ‘specials’ featuring Frosty and Burgermeister Meisterburger. This weekend we will witness Christmas lights begin to twinkle on our front lawns and Christmas trees being set in front windows. I hope not to alarm you, but Christmas Day is exactly four weeks away.
But this year is different, isn’t it? Because of the travel and gathering restrictions many of us face, there will be much smaller lines at the big box stores this “Black Friday” and much longer shipping times from the online retailers this month. There will also be fewer ‘cookie swaps’ and Christmas parties (although “Secret Santa” gifts may be as simple as visiting Amazon). That may allow us the serendipitous blessing of more time to spend with those closest to us and more opportunity to stream our season’s greetings than in Christmases past. We will have to be creative, but we can still make this the most wonderful time of the year.
Besides, sometimes the crowds around us keep us from appreciating the gift of Christmas before us. We, too, are sometimes distracted by all the hubbub of the holidays to see the truth as it approaches. We are sometimes the “Inn Crowd”, the huddle of humanity in the Bethlehem of our day, too busy or too burdened to recognize the gift of God about to be given. We are sometimes guilty of misguided priorities and pointing the Savior to the stall in the back. The “desire of every nation” has been delivered to our doorstep, and we are in danger of dismissing him due to the distractions of the day.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20
But this year is different, isn’t it? The crowds have socially distanced and we have settled for a celebration in isolation. In the stillness of this strange and strained setting, can you hear the knock on the door of your heart? In spite of all the changes that COVID has brought (or maybe because of them), this year may be the perfect time to get out of the inn and away from all the revelry and travel back to the stable – to hear the shepherds and see the child, to marvel at his radiance and muse about the shepherds’ report. Do whatever you need to do to prepare yourself for the blessed arrival of God’s greatest gift: listen to a Christmas Carol playlist on Spotify, stream an Advent service on YouTube (might I suggest Calvary’s?), or watch “The Bishop’s Wife” on Amazon Prime. This Christmas may be the best chance our generation has to worship the newborn king together.
I pray that we all are enveloped by the enormous love we encounter at Christmas.
There is a ‘standing headline’ circulating through social and broadcast media: “Celebrating Thanksgiving to Be Quite Different This Year”. As a consequence of surging numbers of COVID-19 cases across the globe, authorities are recommending, at least in my area of the country, that our observances of Thanksgiving be limited to small – and preferably outdoor – gatherings, that our travel plans be curtailed or eliminated, and that our traditions take a hiatus. Under the circumstances, it seems to me that this is the most reasonable path to take, both for the sake of our loved ones and for the communities around us.
The requested modifications in celebrating this thoroughly North American holiday gives us an opportunity for beneficial correction. This year we will not have the chance to celebrate “Turkey Day” or “Friendsgiving” or “Football Day in America”. The Thanksgiving table may not, this year, look like the iconic Rockwell painting in its gastronomic bounty. The chairs may not, this time around, be filled with friends from work or church, or school recreating the warmth of community. The back yard or living room, this year, will not be shared by generations who enjoy tossing around the pigskin. This year we might only have the opportunity to give thanks – alone with the grantor of all good things or with those in our closest of circles.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. Psalm 95:2
Earlier this month, for another purpose, I formulated my list of ‘thanks’. I have modified the entries slightly, hoping that my touchpoints might stimulate your thoughts toward thanks. Today, I am thankful for:
TIME – I give thanks to God for the gift of time. I would have never planned to spend so much time at home and share so many little moments with my family. I cannot fully express the gratitude I feel to God for the ability to unexpectedly be together for much of the last year.
HEALTH – I give thanks to God for the gift of health. I consider myself fortunate that I have the availability of protective equipment and world-class care. God has truly blessed me with the accessibility of masks and wipes, medications and medical professionals that enable me to resist much of the ailments that in other places or other times would have diminished my quality of life.
AMUSEMENT – I give thanks to God for the gift of laughter. As dire as things are, there is an abundance of resources ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous that make me laugh. I give thanks to God for giggling babies, on-line videos, satirical skits, and dog sweaters, along with another million amusing moments.
NETWORKS – I give thanks to God for the gift of connectedness. I have been awed by the creative ways God has inspired others to engage with the community around them – Zoom, Duo, Facetime, YouTube, balcony concerts, calls, letters – and I am grateful to God for enabling me to participate in things I thought would be impossible to attend last Thanksgiving.
KINDNESS – I give thanks to God for the gift of love for one another. Through signs, parades, and deliveries, we have cared for one another like no other time I can recollect. This reminds me of the grace of God each time I see these expressions. Thank you, Jesus.
SALVATION – I give thanks to God for the gift of forgiveness. Countless times over the past year, as I reflect on the above-stated gifts of God, I have messed up: failing to appreciate what I have, ignoring the opportunities granted me, selfishly pouting for the things I am denied, or blatantly disregarding the Lord’s will and word. I am so thankful to God that my sins are forgiven and that I am a new creation, saved by the free gift of His grace.
For what will you be thanks giving?
Let us all agree that we will get together a year from now for “Turkey Day” and “Friendsgiving” and “Football Day in America”. But this year, in light of all we have been through, and continue to go through, let us all give thanks.
I did not know him at all. I had never met him in person. And yet, I was deeply saddened by the passing of Alex Trebek on Sunday. Like so many, I had invited Mr. Trebek into my home nightly to entertain and educate me through his engaging banter as the host of “Jeopardy” (which is, in my opinion, the very best gameshow ever created). I had regularly appreciated the humor and the heart of a man I had known little about, and I am now mourning his death as if a dear friend had departed.
I have been asking myself since I heard the news if it is appropriate to be so deeply sorrowful at the loss of a stranger. I suppose, with hindsight, that I have attended a few funerals for elderly family members that I knew only in stories. I can also remember times that neighbors that I barely knew by sight have died and I have expressed remorse. It is further true that I am given daily updates of the numbers affected by COVID-19 – which reported that 464 people also died last Sunday due to the virus – and I am grieved, even though I did not know anyone represented by this statistic.
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2
It is wholly appropriate to grieve the death of those who we know only in passing. In fact, it is wholly appropriate, and indeed beneficial, to grieve the death of those who have passed regularly. It is good to be reminded that life is short and remember that loss is real. It is healthy to consider, on a consistent basis, that we are mortal and thus are sorrowful with those in the grips of despair. There is benefit in acknowledging, as seen through the tributes that various networks broadcast for Alex Trebek, that the imposition of death and the confrontation of our own demise can lead to others seeking treatment.
It is when we are confronted with death, the final enemy of each human life, that we accept that we cannot escape the inevitable, and, in those moments, we turn back to our creator for comfort and cure. Death is indeed an immovable object; however, Christ is indeed an unstoppable force.
His death and resurrection afford all those who trust in Him unto salvation, by faith through grace, a victory over death; it affords us a conquering of the ultimate foe. Still, despite this gift of God in Jesus, the truth remains that many refuse to accept the reality of our own mortality. Perhaps, then, it is part of God’s mercy to confront our blindness with the passing of celebrity strangers.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the Trebek family and to all those who have suffered a loss in recent days. May the reality of Christ – and His resurrection – bring comfort and peace to all those who are saddened today.
In the days ahead, after the recounts and the legal challenges, one of the candidates for President will carry the requisite 270 electoral college votes and win the election. At that same time, approximately seventy million voters will be, to some degree, delighted with the outcome and a similar number of voters will be, also to some degree, disappointed. In many states, the margin for victory has been razor thin and large sections of our country are no longer ‘red’ or ‘blue’, but shades of ‘purple’ instead. Whoever is inaugurated next January, he deserves our prayers.
Where do we go from here? I believe this is a time for practicing the biblical behavior of reconciliation. Reconciliation, when mentioned in the Scriptures, is found in the Greek term καταλλάσσω (katallássō) which means “to change completely toward agreement”. Having an accountant at home, I know that the most common contemporary connection to reconciliation is related to the balancing financial records (i.e. to change the books to establish an agreement among diverse categories). But the words of God represent a deeper level of agreement amidst diversity: the positive, complete change in relationships between rivals.
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
The process of reconciliation begins and ends with our relationship with God. Despite the fact that we willfully and intentionally deviated from God’s desire, by actively sinning against Him, He has changed completely our relationship through Christ, not counting those sins against us. (Please note that there is no mention of excusing or eliminating those sins, nor that those sins were no longer grievously offensive.) God moved us from His ledger of opponents to His ledger of friends, based solely on the actions of Christ. This is the first step of reconciliation: to know ourselves, in Christ, as a friend of God.
Once we have accepted our new position in Christ, we can move to the second part of reconciliation, namely that God has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God has bestowed upon His friends that privilege of inviting others into God’s friend group, all on the basis of the actions of Christ. In this ministry, we are welcoming mutual friends to share in the celebration. Our shared relationship with God creates a shared relationship with one another, regardless of the diversity we express in our words and experiences. We are able to befriend one another because we have a friend in Jesus.
This ministry of reconciliation is what we need right now. Instead of dwelling on what divides us, we can rejoice in what unites us. Instead of debating policies and positions, we could work together to defeat societal ills we all abhor. Now is the time to focus on what we agree upon. Now is time to cultivate the mutual friendships we have through Christ. As we gather before the presence of God, we can share in the things we hold together: that we all have struggles, that we all have pains, that we all have gifts and that we all need love.
Now is the time to work together and trust Christ to heal what divides us.
Earlier this week I walked to City Hall and filled out my ballot for the upcoming election. I have always considered it a duty and a privilege to take part in the process which determines our representatives in government. Even in local elections where only incumbents are running, unopposed, I delight in flipping that lever (when I was younger) or filling in that circle (now that I am older), making sure that my voice and my choice is heard. I encourage each person reading this post, if you are registered to vote, to likewise engage in the process and cast your ballot for the candidates of your choosing.
Professionally, I am of the opinion that my position within the local church prevents me from divulging the candidates for whom I cast my vote. Personally, my preference is to remain neutral in politics, seeing the benefits of our multi-party form of democracy as it fosters a healthy exchange of ideas. In the days following this impending election, a winner will be declared in every contested race and our towns and cities, our states and commonwealths, and our country will move forward. Our choice, each day following the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, is whether we will move forward united or move forward divided.
I, as a pastor of a small church in Boston and as a follower of Christ, am concerned with the aftermath of whatever the Electoral College determines. It is for this reason that I offer the following observations for your reflection in the days to come.
I find it worth remembering that the course of history is long and the terms for our elected officers are short. As hard as it is to imagine today, 2020 will likely be simply a footnote in the annuls of time. How many of us could recall the details of the ‘Spanish Flu’ or the name of the President in 1918-1920 (prior to Googling it during the present pandemic)? Most of today’s headlines will be the source of tough trivia questions posed by our grandchildren. We, as human beings, are resilient, and we are capable of withstanding good and bad character, good and bad economies, and good and bad votes.
I also find it worth remembering that our hope is built, ultimately, upon God’s eternal nature (which we imperfectly reflect) not the political powers of the day (which imperfectly reflect us). A foundational truth that sustains me in these days of uncertainty is this:
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
Before there were people groups, religions, classes or governments, there was a male and a female who were created in the image of God. Somehow, somewhere woven among our DNA is a spark of the divine, which produces, among other things, a knowledge of moral excellence and a hunger for genuine community. It is this mysterious impartation of the Almighty that gives me hope, despite the tensions and turmoil of this present hour.
Whether or not our votes are sufficient to carry our candidates to victory, let us commit ourselves to call upon history and the heavens to grant us hope.
In the early morning hours of last Friday, the news broke that the President of the United States was diagnosed with COVID-19. After a whirlwind of breaking news reports, later that afternoon the Commander-in-Chief was flown to the hospital for treatment. Many people from all across the political spectrum expressed concern, most offering the cultural trope of “thoughts and prayers” for a speedy recovery. But, I wonder, what do we mean when we use the phrase “thoughts and prayers”? About what are we thinking and for what are we praying?
In a days after the diagnosis, I heard from more than a few people (in conversation and through social media) that we, as Christians, are commanded in Scripture to pray for those in authority over us (and it is true, for 1 Timothy 2:1-2 does say that). But what does the Bible teach through this command? Frankly, if we read these verses closely, we find that this directive to pray for kings and earthly powers is a specific example of a more general principle found in the very same scriptural reference: that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people. Indeed, we are to pray for our governmental leaders just as we pray for anyone and everyone else. Even more than that, Jesus, in Mark 5:44, teaches us to pray for those who persecute us. We are expected to be people who pray for the needs of people, all people, irrespective of their reputation.
And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. James 5:15 (ESV)
How, then, are we commanded to pray for one another? Thankfully, the Word of God is not silent about this subject.
- James 5:16 encourages us to pray for each other so that we may be healed. It is wholly appropriate to seek the Lord’s blessing so that people recover from illness. We can rely upon and request for others God’s mercy, His divine nature which reduces or removes the just consequences of our existence in this fallen world.
- James 1:5 states that, when we are in the grips of a trial, we can ask God for wisdom to grow through the process and challenge. In connection with this, Colossians 1:9 directs us to pray for God to fill us with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. We, too, can pray that these experiences of illness (physical, moral or financial) will all teach us the lessons of growth we need to learn in order to avoid the same trial in the future.
- 2 Thessalonians 1:11 teaches us to pray for each other that God may make us worthy of His calling. Further, Matthew 26:41 tells us to pray for one another so that we will not fall into temptation. We lift one another up so that we can remain faithful in the midst of any gathering darkness.
- Finally, Ephesians 6:20 instructs us to pray that we may declare the good news of Christ fearlessly. In the good times and in the bad times there are those around us that need to know that God cares and comforts, and despite our infirmities God can give us opportunities to offer hope.
God willing, these are the types of things I hope we are expressing when we offer our “thoughts and prayers”; Lord, help us not to voice an expectation of prosperity or success, but the blessings of mercy and guidance as we face affliction. So, I ask you to pray for our President, and to pray for all those you know, that God will be merciful to the downcast and that He will guide us to eschew the reckless behaviors that lead to the difficulties we face. May we all learn from one another as we pray with and for one another.
Earlier this week, my home was uncharacteristically quiet. The only sounds I heard were the soft taps of my laptop keystrokes and the rustling of Legos® as my son was building a masterpiece in another room. This unexpected hush was because we woke that morning without power. At first, I was concerned: My daughter requires electricity and internet to teach remotely and my son requires the same to be taught remotely. Eventually, we soon came up with a game plan – Rebekah would have to go to our oldest son’s house to teach and Joshua would have to attend classes via cell service on his phone. It was not perfect, but it worked for a while (cell service diminished as the neighborhood taxed the system and phone batteries do not last forever). Thankfully, by 8:30 the next morning, we had power in the house.
We all face inconveniences in life, whether it be a power failure or a road closure or a toilet paper shortage; and we all are forced to react to these (petty) annoyances in one way or another. One reaction is aggravation, where we focus on what we do not have and fume over the lost resource (whether it be time, opportunity, or possessions). The other reaction is acceptance, where we inventory what we still have and implement positive changes (with our time, opportunity, and possessions). As pastor and missionary William L. Watkinson wrote more than 100 years ago, “Yet is it far better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
Am I the only one, though, that feels like I am living in the center of a Yankee Candle store? I seem to be lighting an unprecedented number of candles this year. I have lit a candle for the pandemic, and another for the racial divisions, and another for the presidential election, and another for remote learning, and another for state college tuition costs, and another for the West Coast wildfires. There is darkness everywhere I look these days and I fear that there are not enough scented votives to disperse it.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
We, as a global community, need people to shine the light. We are in desperate need of someone to illuminate the terrain to guide our steps and guard our shins, to bring heat to the wounds we have inflicted on ourselves and others to provide purification and cauterization, and to offer hope in places of despair by declaring that the dreadful unknown can be defeated. We who know Christ as Lord and Savior have, in abundant supply, the radiant and radiating truth of forgiveness and restoration, and it is more than sufficient for us to share. In the places that are overwhelmed and powerless, perhaps your candle will make a difference.
I remember thinking, after the power had come back on and the technology was again available, “Lord, give me another minute to appreciate the quiet before the din of darkness creeps back in.”