Tag Archives: maturity

The Rights of All

I am sure that you are aware that the 2nd Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence 244 years ago tomorrow.  This rather short document, signed by 56 colonial delegates, is a masterful work of art.  One particularly poetic sentence is as follows: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  If you ask me, this is what we celebrate with our flag waving, parades and pyrotechnics.  Unfortunately, as we endure this pandemic, most (if not all) of the pageantry of our nation’s Independence Day will be cancelled, but there is still much in which we can rejoice.

These God-given rights of all people – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – have been ‘works in progress’ since they were first penned by Thomas Jefferson and then edited on the Congressional floor.  While, in 1776, the term ‘all men’ meant ‘all white property-owning males of mature age and education’, we have worked hard in the intervening years to secure these rights to all the citizenry of the United States of America, irrespective of skin-color, financial means, gender, age or perceived intellect.  The news of the day reminds us that we still have miles to go in our journey, but let us, this weekend, celebrate the ideals we collectively embrace and strive to realize.

Let us also ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, what we can do to secure these rights of life (to conduct our affairs free from governmental interference), liberty (to enjoy a simple existence free from oppression and characterized by justice), and the pursuit of happiness (to have the opportunity to live a life that brings both contentment and pleasure) for all those who call this parcel of earth their home.  Let us ask the question that caused a revolution in the first place: if anyone in the land of the free and the home of the brave is unjustly oppressed or silenced, are not we all?  As we celebrate our nation’s Independence Day, let us also rejoice in our interdependence with one another.

“…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Matthew 6:10 (NIV)

I am grateful that I was born in this country.  I am thankful that I am an American.  As I write this, I recognize my own privilege in these statements: as a white male of mature age and education, I have always experienced the American Dream in all its shining greatness.  I also recognize that the experience of many of my neighbors and friends is not the same.  That is why, as much as I celebrate this great day in American history, I anticipate a greater day in human history – the realization of the kingdom of God and the culmination of our citizenship in it.  As I await Christ’s return, I will strive to do God’s will here in the great U.S. of A., advocating that all men people are (not ‘will be’) endowed by their Creator (God Himself) with certain unalienable (eternally irrevocable) rights (legal entitlements), including, but not limited to, life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  This ideal is surely worth celebrating until Christ calls us home.

Happy Independence Day!

A Stranger Place

[Jesus said,] “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”  Matthew 25:35–36 (NIV)

I have been thinking about this passage for the past few weeks.  Specifically, I have been ruminating about the Lord’s self-description as a stranger.  What did Jesus mean that he was a stranger?  Isn’t he better characterized as a friend or a sibling?  Isn’t he immanently known by those who follow him?  How could we possibly engage in a relationship with the Living God and not recognize him as a stranger?

According to Walter Brueggemann, strangers are “people without a place.”[1]  Strangers are those who enter into a community devoid of basic support structures – they are separated from familial, vocational, financial, religious and political networks.   This, I believe, is the underlying truth of Jesus’ self-expression: part of the human condition is enduring times of placelessness and part of the life of the church is inviting the placeless in.

My musings about the stranger began about a month ago, when my daughter travelled to Washington D.C. to pack up her college apartment.  About 70 miles from anyone she knew and more than 100 miles from her destination, she experienced car troubles and found herself broken down on the side of a rural road.  She was placeless – alone and separated from everyone and everything she knew.  Thankfully, she had AAA and a cousin to rescue her, but she still was stranded for more than an hour.  She was placeless, a stranger.  And God is good: the hours she spent in Mullica Hill, NJ were warm and sunny and throughout the ordeal a number of women from the community inquired about her well-being.

My musings continued over the next few weeks as our city and our nation witnessed demonstrations against, among many issues, what I would call ‘systemic strangering’: the pervasive displacement of our black and brown siblings through the misuse and abuse of authority.  Because many had nowhere to go to alleviate their suffering and address their basic needs, they assembled en masse across this nation to shed light on their exclusion.  But God is good: conversations of engagement and songs of lament are now taking place among His people.

My musings also encompass our current pandemic.  As disease and death unite the world in our common crisis, we are sorrowful that there is nowhere we can go and no one to turn to find complete relief.  We are all placeless together.  Even in this, God is good:  in the midst of our strangerness, we find collective common ground in our community walks and our mutual  disappointment with those still refusing to consider the needs of the vulnerable, the real strangers in our midst.

Do you have room in your heart, or in your schedule, to invite in the stranger?  Do you recognize the divine gift we have to offer, a place of belonging (figuratively in the present and literally before long)  to those who have nothing to offer but themselves?  When you do, you are welcoming in the Lord.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation and Obedience (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) 294.

Treasure Hunt

I read a story of some good news earlier this week.  According to ABC News, it seems that over 10 years ago, Forrest Fenn, a wealthy and cryptic New Mexico art dealer, hid a treasure chest with gold and gems estimated to be worth millions of dollars somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Well, it was reported that someone finally found the fortune after more than a decade of intense searching.  The treasure hunt was not without danger and, in fact, over the years, authorities say five people have died trying to find the hidden riches.  Fenn has confirmed that a man has discovered his hiding spot, but nothing more about the new millionaire has been discovered.

Imagine hearing that someone has hidden a vast fortune in a specific, yet equally vast, area.  What would you do with that information?  Would you proceed with life as usual?  Would you satisfy your curiosity and spend your weekends and vacations solving clues and searching for gold?  Would you quit your job and sell your house, devoting all your attentions to unearthing the bounty?   Would you be willing to risk your life for the opportunity to secure your future?  Would you dismiss the possibility as an elaborate hoax or a sensational publicity stunt?  I, too, wonder what I would do had I known what had been hidden in the hills.

[Jesus said,] “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”  Matthew 13:44 (NIV)

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden….”  This shortest parable of Jesus reminds us that the reign and rule of God Almighty is present in our everyday life, yet it is also hidden.  However, evidences of God’s sovereign majesty are also discoverable.  This is certainly good news for us today; this pandemic may obscure God’s sovereignty and ongoing racial tensions may camouflage God’s kingdom, but they cannot eliminate the presence of God which is all around us.  It can be seen in the acts of compassion performed by essential workers every day.  It can be heard in the voices of young people declaring justice for all.  It can be felt in the pains of all those who sense that more needs to be done.

“When a man found it, he … sold all he had and bought that field.”  This is a simple story which is easily applicable:  you strike oil in a vacant lot; you do whatever it takes to buy that lot; you enjoy the riches that lie beneath.  The Bible declares that glimpses of the kingdom of heaven are all around us.  We are therefore obligated to unearth these glimpses wherever we discover them and, by extension, bless those around us with the goodness, greatness and glory of God’s reign.  There is a treasure awaiting all those willing to work for it; the kingdom of heaven – the perfect plan and purposes of our Sovereign Lord – is available to all who seek it.

What will you do with this information?

Needed Change

Allow me to state, up front, that I cannot understand, as a middle-aged white man, the frustrations and fears which are associated with being a person of color in America.  I cannot honestly declare that I know what it feels like to be stopped by the police based primarily, if not solely, upon the color of my skin.  I have no frame of reference where I am able to equate walking in my community with the possibility of being attacked.  While I cannot express empathy (where we would share in a mutual emotion) with those mourning and protesting across the country, I can and do express sympathy (where we come alongside one another as we share our unique experiences).

What I can do, as a minister of the gospel and pastor of a city-cited church, is listen to the voices of the oppressed and marginalized.  I can also share relevant and revelatory biblical truth.   To do that, I would like to share something that someone smarter than me has said:

The Scripture is what tells us that the idolization of the flesh is sin (Gal. 5:16-24), that hatred of those made in the image of God is sin (1 Jn. 3:11-15), that mistreating people with the justice system is sin (Prov. 17:15; 23:10), that ignoring the cries of those being mistreated is sin (Deut. 23:14-15; Jas. 5:4).  And the Scripture tells us that that sin, without repentance, brings the judgment of God (Rom. 6:23).  That is true not only for those who personally rebel against God’s holiness and justice but also those who “give approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32).  That is a dreadful reality, to which those of us in Christ are called to serve as ambassadors pleading, as though Christ were pleading through us, “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).  – Russell Moore

Each and every human being is made in the image of God.  Each and every human being is fearfully and wonderfully made by the Almighty.  Each and every human being is God’s handiwork and created in Christ Jesus to do good work.   While holding tight to these truths, we also hold onto the biblical mandate to care for and champion the cause of those whose voices have been silenced: in the time of Christ and the apostles, the voiceless were the widows and orphans, the sick and unclean, the Samaritans and the Gentiles; in our day, they are people of color, as well as the homeless, the hungry and the trafficked.

To follow Christ means to follow Christ.  Jesus was a member of the favored demographic, albeit from a back-water region of the nation, who confronted injustice and spoke for the down-trodden.  He had his own challenges (he had no place to lay his head and was harassed by the authorities) but remained diligent in making sure that the issues and concerns of the dismissed were addressed.  We are to follow Him along that same path.  We must stand in opposition to injustice, hear the cries of those who have been silenced and labor to ensure that the dividing wall of hostility, which Christ destroyed, remains dismantled.

May the needed changes come through the people of God.

Hearing and Caring

It has finally happened: the Governor has announced the beginning of our state’s phased re-opening plan.  This week, we found out that places of worship are included in phase 1.  This means that we are allowed to meet for worship with specific restrictions (we must remain under 40% occupancy capacity, restrict seating availability to social distancing standards, and refrain from pre- or post-ritual gatherings, among a number of other things).  It will look very different for a season, but we are able to come together – separated by no less than six feet – to praise the Lord on Sunday.

That being said, other considerations come into play as we move forward.  I am wrestling with the tensions inherent between ability and responsibility.  We are able to gather, but would it be responsible for all of us to immediately attend?  Those over 65 are still at risk, even when precautions are taken.  Those with compromised health are still advised to remain ‘safer-at-home’.  Front-line workers (those providing health, safety and food services) may not feel comfortable putting others at risk.  For us, as a church, therefore, we will continue, for the foreseeable future, to provide digital options for all our programs and ministries.  If you would like email updates regarding what is available and where it can be found, please comment below with your email address or visit www.calvary-boston.org and click on the ‘visitor’ button.

And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. Acts 5:42 (ESV)

The Bible tells us that ministry can take place in the ‘temple’, the house of worship, as well as the ‘house’, our residences.  Perhaps we can learn a lesson from the early church and continue the teaching and preaching of the truth of Scripture wherever we find ourselves.  As I have written previously, we are not required to be in a building to be the church; we can worship at a tabernacle or at a table and we can praise and proclaim Christ sitting on a couch as well as a on church pew.  For the immediate future, we ask that you join us for worship however you feel is best for you – in person or online.

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.  Acts 20:28 (ESV)

While the building is now open for worship, we are still not able to minister in all the ways we did before the pandemic.  We cannot offer in-person Sunday school or Bible studies, we cannot provide child-care or communion, and we cannot host coffee hours or pot-luck dinners.  But we can still, and must still, care for one another.  If you are in need, let me know – I am willing and able to meet with you via Zoom, Google Meet, FaceTime or Duo.  If you are celebrating, let me know – we would love to rejoice with you (in fact, send me a 15- 20 second video via email and we will include it in our Sunday service).  If you are grieving, let me know; we need not bear our burdens alone.

While this summer will be unlike any one any of us can remember, we still have one another.  As we insulate ourselves from the harm of COVID-19, may none of us isolate ourselves from the hope of Christ.  We are here for you.

Share the Good New

We, as a family, had a busy weekend.

Despite the fact that we were still under a ‘stay-at-home’ advisory, we were blessed on Saturday to attend the college graduation my daughter, Rebekah.  We listened to a powerful commencement address by noted scholar and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. (live from his home in Cambridge, MA) and witnessed the conferral of degrees by American University President Sylvia Burwell.  We even saw our daughter’s name printed on the screen as her school and degree program was listed.  After the digital festivities, we enjoyed cake and dinner as a family.  While it was much less than we all dreamed, it was wonderful in its own right.

Sunday was Mother’s Day and we celebrated the mother of 19 Vassall Street, Jeanine, with our family’s tradition of feasting on Chinese food (although this year it had to be take-out).  This was followed by phone calls to the grandmothers, Carolyn and Pauline (both being hundreds of miles away), and then we concluded the day playing some family games (namely, Clue and Jackbox).  It was a blessing having all six of us together for both these special occasions.

Before I go on, know that I want life to return to some semblance of normal as soon as possible.  That said, I am going to look back at these days (at some point in the distant future) and miss some of the repercussions of sequestered living.  I am going to miss the sheer amount of time I am engaging with those I love: I am seeing my children and wife more and making more calls than usual.  I am going to miss the collective compassion of the community: we are supporting charities and offering kindnesses to a greater degree than any other time I can remember.  I am going to miss the ingenuity of so many in celebrating life: the creativity exhibited through the ideas, activities and resources that are being initiated (drive-by birthday parades, apartment complex concerts, miniature golf courses in hallways and back yards, proms / graduations / weddings / recitals held together at home) is staggering.

And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.  2 Thessalonians 3:13 (NIV)

Can we agree today, before we move on from this horrible season of death and disease, that we will continue to do what is good.  Will we agree that we will still check on the vulnerable among us when we no longer need to?  Will we agree to prioritize time with loved ones once we can devote our attentions to professional sports or work obligations?  Will we agree that we will remain creative and unique in our expressions of joy even after we can once again host a party at “Chuck E. Cheese”?  Will we agree that walking and hand-washing is beneficial in every season, not just now?

I am sure I will once again cringe at the suggestion of ‘F.G.N. (Family Game Night)’, a particular delight of my youngest child; but for now, I hope they regularly occur forever.  While we await the world to get back to its regular cycles, let us also remember the good of these days and commit to continuing these blessings when might be tempted to do otherwise.

The Wait of Motherhood

Let me start off by saying that I hate to wait.  I know that waiting – for the train or for the kids or for doctor – is a part of life, but that does not mean I have to like it.  Despite my personal preference, I am required, as are we all, to patiently endure a prolonged season of waiting for ‘life-as-normal’ to resume; eventually academia, commerce, recreation and church will return.  Until then, we wait.   As I write this post, it is Wednesday, May 6th, and it has been fifty days since the governor of Massachusetts implemented the ‘stay-at-home’ advisory, although it seems to me much longer.

God created a world with waiting woven into its fabric.  God, it seems, designed us to wait.  Creation includes the sabbath, a day set apart every week to refrain from our work.  God led His people through the wilderness but delayed their entrance into the promised land for 40 years.  God structured the agricultural schedule of the early Israelites with a 50-day waiting period between the gathering of the first fruits and the reaping of the harvest.  God had Jesus and His earthly parents wait in Egypt for three years before the family could safely return to their hometown.  God develops His gift of patience in us when we wait by Jesus’ tomb at Easter, when we wait in the upper room at Pentecost, and when we wait for His promised return on that great and glorious day.

“From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks.  Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD.”  Leviticus 23:15-16 (NIV)

As I think about what I know about myself and my disdain for patiently abiding, as well as the celebration of Mother’s Day this weekend, I realize how good and godly the moms in our lives must be.  I deeply appreciate the contributions of the moms in my life.  Honestly, I couldn’t do it.  From the first moments of our existence, the waiting began: the two hundred and eighty days of our gestation, the hours waiting at the OB/GYN office, staying up in anticipation of the late night feedings, watching for the firsts (first smiles, first words, first steps).  As our children grow, the waiting doesn’t abate, as moms of adults remain vigilant as they await word of their children’s arrival at home or their departure from vacation.

I am so grateful for the women who have waited for me and have made my seasons of waiting a bit more bearable.  I appreciate that I am still able to see and speak with my mom and my mother-in-law, even though it must be through cell phones this year, and I pray for God’s hand of comfort for those who no longer have this ability.  I pray also for all the mothers I know, especially the new moms and those with children still at home – those providing guidance, recreation, education, nutrition, lasting good memories and stability in this time of such uncertainty.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of you.

And as we wait for that time of blessed reunion, either in this realm or the next, I hope we can take some time this weekend to thank God for our moms.

Can We Go to Church Yet?

As I sit at my dining room table (a.k.a. my ‘home office workspace’), I ask the same question I have asked in one form or another for the previous 45 days: when do things go back to normal?  More to the point, as a pastor of a small church I have a more specific query: when can we go back to church?   At first blush it is a simple question: when will the stay-at-home advisory be lifted and on which Sunday will we be able resume meeting at our selected house of worship?  As I contemplate this conundrum, my thoughts race to all the precautions and safeguards that would need to be considered and implemented for a resumption of corporate ministry.

As my mind performs what can only be described as mental gymnastics, twisting and bending various bits of information and analysis into a cogent plan, I find myself distracted by a song, first recorded in 1991 by AVB, that keeps repeating in my head.  Its chorus reminds me: “You can’t go to church as some people say – the common terminology we use every day.  You can go to a building, that is something you can do, but you can’t go to church ‘cause the church is you.”  Perhaps I have been asking myself the wrong question.  Perhaps a better inquiry is this: ‘How can I be the church today?’

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.  Colossians 1:18 (NIV)

The church is not the building, nor is it the activities that take place in the building.  The church is much more than an hour-long celebration of Christ centered around some songs and scripture.  The church is the body of Christ – a metaphor describing the people who have been brought together by God’s grace to glorify Him (in word and deed)  and have been scattered throughout every segment of society to declare His praises (again, in word and deed).  If you know Jesus as Lord and Savior, that is who you are.

So, in this season of scattering, we need to be the church.  We need to declare His praises with our conversations, within our household walls (delighting in and doting on our loved ones) and beyond our habitations (uplifting our local ‘heroes’ and offering hope to the discouraged).  We need to demonstrate our trust in His promises (sacrificing our self-interest and securing the needs of those without essential resources).   Until the doors to public spaces are opened, we can enter into private spaces through telephone calls and hand-written letters.   We can engage one another through video chats and ‘yelling-from-across-the-street’ interactions.   In these days of discouraging news and depressing distancing, we need the church to be the church, full of all her light and joy.  We need you to be you.

I assure you, some weekend soon we will be able to go to church.  Until then, we can do church; we can be church.

Not Good But Great

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  These words, first spoken by John Heywood in 1546 and considered the oldest idiom in the English language, may not be true; they do, however express my reality.  Nothing I have gleaned from my seminary education or my more than twenty years of pastoral experience has prepared me for ministry during a pandemic.  I am finding that I have been forced to ‘master’ a number of new skills and, in the process, I am also finding that I am quickly reaching my mental capacity for new processes and programs.  It turns out that I might be an old dog and, while I can learn new tricks, that I might be having trouble performing.

This old dog/new trick paradox rubs raw against my desire to “give of my best to the master.” God deserves our very best, so I want our Sunday morning livestream (which until 4 weeks ago I had no frame of reference for achieving) to go out flawlessly.  I want the YouTube videos (again, no frame of reference) to look professional.  I want my Zoom meetings (I had no idea what zoom was a month ago) to feel like face-to-face meetings.   None of it, honestly, is great: some of what we are producing is passable, at best, and some of it is not.

Maybe you are feeling the same way I am feeling.  Maybe you are sensing that you are not doing anything well.  Maybe there is someone reading this that is thinking that changing from PJs into sweats was your only accomplishment today (let me be the first to say, “GOOD FOR YOU!”).  Allow me to offer you a word of encouragement: you are doing a great job at holding it all together during this time of unprecedented confusion.

But he gives more grace.  Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6 (ESV)

Perhaps, in part, this is happening (in my life) so that I can learn humility.  Shocking as it might sound, I am not great at everything.  I am learning through this pandemic that ‘okay’ is okay.  I am reminding myself the same thing I wrote about in August 2017, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly (G.K. Chesterton).”  If there is one thing I have learned from the last month, it is that good news can be captured and shared via video clips of subpar quality.  Those who are recording recovering patients leaving hospitals or grateful citizens banging pots out their windows to appreciate healthcare heroes could not care less about the pixelization or poor sound quality of their contribution toward our collective goodwill.

Give yourself a break.  Give those around you a break.  Practice humility.  Accept limitations.  Delight in sufficiency.  Celebrate little victories.  Immerse yourself in good news.  Release the frustrations associated with perfection and embrace the joy attributable to the ordinary.  Do your best and attempt the rest.  Enjoy the grace of God that He gives to the humble.  Keep on doing what you are able to do until we can do it altogether all together.

The Cost of Compassion

A particular scene from my favorite movie (“It’s A Wonderful Life”) has been playing on a loop in my mind.  In that scene, there is a run on the banks and the Bailey Bros. Building & Loan is filled with people wanting their deposited funds.  George Bailey, our protagonist, explains that this is not how the banking system worked; he tells them that they would get their money – which had been loaned to others – in 60 days.   This arrangement is not workable for some, so George gives away his honeymoon money to tide the community over, to save his company and to rescue the town.  The first withdrawal is for the full amount of the account, $242.  The next asks for $40, and the following seeks $20.  Then there is Miss Davis:

George: “What do you need, Miss Davis?”

Miss Davis: “Can I have $17.50?”

I wonder what calculations were made to come up with Miss Davis’ figure.  Why not simply go along with the rest and ask for $20?  What was she doing without so that another person in her community might have $2.50?  I am now, in this time of ‘social distancing’ and ‘stay-at-home’ advisories, doing some quick math myself.  What do I need?  What am I entitled to?  What can I survive without so that another might have what they need?

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4

As I walk (and I am walking alot these days), I come across people who are not maintaining six feet distance between themselves and me.  On those rare occasions that I venture into a grocery stores, I find that some of the shelves are bare of ‘essential goods’, and I am required to go home without purchasing such things as food staples and tissue of every variety while others have been able to maintain a stockpile of Charmin inside their front porch door.  We need more people with the heart of Miss Davis, those who know the extent to their need, acquire just that and conscientiously leave enough for the needs of others.

No one is advocating that we do without what is needed.  No one is seeking to infringe on your rights as an individual to amble where you want and accumulate what you want.  What is being advocated by governmental leaders and healthcare providers is that we practice humility; that we value those around us as much as we value ourselves and look to their interests as much as we look to our own.  As hard as it might be, we all will be better off if we use only what we need and leave the rest for others.  Perhaps that $2.50 could provide 2-ply for an octogenarian or hand sanitizer for the pizza delivery driver.  And besides, ‘social distance’ is free.

As we face another month (or more) of voluntary sacrifice, my prayer is that we will find that it would not be burdensome to keep the wise principles of God’s word (whether they are found in the inspired writings of Paul or the inspiring movies of Frank Capra).  Rather, may we find these truths to be liberating in our lives – body, soul and spirit.

 

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