Tag Archives: Stillness

Numb and Number

The other night, we had a drive-in experience in our backyard; a video screen, projector, a VCR and an extension cord enabled us to watch “Hercules”.  All the equipment was readily available to us, but until the other night, we had not taken the time to put it together.  This is just the latest thing we have done because we have the time to do it.  We have also spent time playing board games (my personal favorite has been “Ticket to Ride”) and card games (including the ‘oldie-but-goodie’ “Pit”, which our children had never played).  We have also spent time exploring the neighborhood by foot.  This pandemic has given us the opportunity to do things that we never get around to doing.

There are other things that have remained undone.  I still have boxes which are still unpacked or stored away from our move eleven months ago.  I still have books sitting on a radiator that I am intending to read.  I still have summer clothes in the basement that I have yet to put in my bureau.  I have a craft beer maker that is unopened (granted, I would still have to buy some yeast, which I have also yet to do).   Despite the fact that this pandemic has given me a great deal of time at home to do whatever strikes my fancy, there are still things I have never gotten around to doing.

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

I wonder how many times I said, prior to 2020, “I wish I had the time to __________.”   I wonder how many times I said, prior to COVID-19, “I will get around to _________ some day.”  Lord, teach me to number my days.  Lord, instruct me to calculate all twenty-four hours.  Lord, educate me on the usage of each cycle of 1,440 minutes.  Assuming I take 6 hours to sleep and 2 hours to address hunger and hygiene, that gives me 16 hours each and every day for my vocations and avocations.  What am I doing with that time?  Am I utilizing this precious resource for mindful productivity and recreation or am I wasting it on mindless amusement and entertainment?

Today is day 143 of quarantine; we have been home for 3,432 hours.  What have you been doing for the past 20 weeks?  The Psalmist has convicted me to redeem the remaining days and hours of the quarantine, however long it lasts.  I want to spend more time in constructing (building value into my life as well as the lives of others) and less in consuming (burning daylight in otherwise empty pursuits).   I want to cherish the time I have with my children and my wife.  I want to maximize this time of ‘voluntary seclusion’ so that, when I look back at this season of my life, I have no regrets.  Lord, help me to capture a moment today where I see and share just one of your many blessings.

Lord, teach us to number our (quarantined) days.

The Heat of the Matter

It has been hot in Massachusetts for the last few weeks, with heat indices approaching 100° on many days.  It has been so hot, in fact, that the new street in front of our home that I wrote about a few weeks ago has softened and now contains a good number of tire tracks.  We are fortunate; we have a few window unit air conditioners that can take the sting out of the oppressive heat and humidity.  But, under the shadow of COVID-19, there are a number of places we would have gone to beat the heat that are, this summer, unavailable.

In previous years we, as a family, might have gone to the local mall or the movie theater to escape the high temperatures and enjoy some climate-controlled coolness.  Our summers past have included visits to museums and dips in public pools to find some relief.  There is none of that this year.  The cinemas remain unopened, the malls are too crowded, the museums are not welcoming the general public and the pools are, by and large, closed.   Even the beaches, where it has also been unusually warm, are not completely safe as the sunbathers and swimmers contend with shark sightings and the lingering effects of this pandemic.

It is days like these that make a person ‘squirrelly’ – hot and bothered and itching to be somewhere else.  I imagine that most of us have had more than a few days like that.  What do we when we face times like that?  Simmer and stew?  Stomp and scream?  Toss and turn at night and pace and pout during the day?  It is not in our nature, I believe, to suffer in silence.  We need someone to know, someone to care, someone to assure us that things will improve.  Those are the days that I appreciate God’s gift of prayer, the blessing of conversation and intercession with the one who knows us best and cares for us most completely.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”   Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but the heat takes something out of me, and I am weary.  With the news of the spread of COVID-19, I am burdened.  I am grateful that Jesus offers to share His yoke with me (for those unfamiliar with the term, a yoke is a farming implement that harnesses two animals, presumably of similar strength, together).  I am offered to share my load with God incarnate, who declares that my contribution to the work will be easy and light.  When can we begin?  It makes me feel like that three-year old at the grocery store in the race-car shopping cart, thinking that he is exerting all the effort to move the cart, but the reality is that his father is pushing from behind.  Our Father in Heaven is pushing us along as well.

If you are weary and burdened, due to climate or contagion or some other catastrophe, come to him.  He will give you rest.

Felons and Felines

I read a news story about a prominent web security specialist who had his laptop stolen from the back of his SUV while he was out to dinner (mind you, this act of thievery occurred ‘b.p.’ – before the pandemic). This expert in cyber safety was perplexed by the thief, wondering how how they knew that the electronics were there, under a blanket and behind tinted glass?   The desk sergeant who took the incident report at the local police station stated what the victim had over looked, “Thieves are now using Bluetooth scanners on their phones; they can tell what is in the car before they break into it.”  It turns out that your electronics are continually emitting signals that can be paired with other wireless devices, and those signals alert these would-be robbers to the presence of our laptops, tablets and phones.

Those who seek to separate us from our stuff and certainly cunning and crafty.  If we are wise, we will be aware of their schemes and act in such a way to avoid their attacks.  If we are smart, we will be vigilant in locking our doors and well-versed in the latest security practices.  But that is still not enough; we need to fight complacency, that nagging temptation to let down our guard and assume that everything will be alright if we leave that back gate unlatched for one night (but that is the night that the skunk skulks in and strews trash all through the yard).

We all are prone to become complacent, whether it is ‘forgetting’ to wear a mask during this pandemic or ‘figuring’ that someone else will pick up your debris and dirty things.  We all are susceptible to being blissfully unaware of some potential danger or defect that is present in our life.  This is true in the physical world and true in the spiritual world.  We are inclined to sleep-walk through some situations to the point where Satan gains a foothold in his attempts to destroy us.  It is the concern that Peter addresses in the following verse:

Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)

The first step in overcoming the enemy is vigilance: we are called to be alert (to stay awake and aware) and sober-minded (to maintain clarity of thought and purpose).  The second step is knowing the nature of the enemy: a thief will thieve, a predator will hunt its prey, and the enemy will spew enmity.  Taken together, these words from Peter encourage us to be familiar with our surroundings and be clear about the dangers they contain.  We are not commanded to cower in fear, assuming the worst, but to commit to face all that seeks to rob us of our joy, anticipating the best God has to offer.  Every time we log onto the internet, we must be aware of the lion lurking.  Every time we engage with the culture, we must maintain a clear mind so as not to miss what might be hiding in the shadows.

Be careful out there and be caring for one another.  Friends don’t let friends be devoured by big cats.

Repairing the Road

As I write this post a team of workers with heavy machinery is replacing the sidewalks, curb stones and street in front of our house.  I am captivated by all the activity that is taking place: I am awestruck by the precision of the excavator operator, as he removes dirt and debris around valve covers and drains with no apparent effort; I am fascinated my those responsible for the placement of the heavy stones, leveling and tapping them expertly in a row; I have become mesmerized by the activity just outside our front windows as each person performs their role as if engaged in a synchronized dance.  While I do not appreciate the noise beginning at 7 every morning, I am thankful for the object lesson their labors have given me.

When we moved into our current residence 10 months ago, the water main had just been replaced.  Shortly after our arrival, the gas lines that run through the neighborhood were also replaced, leaving our street a mess of potholes and uneven patches.  The road surface would fill with puddles after a rainstorm and the sidewalks in spots were dangerously uneven.  This week, all that is beginning to change, as people who know what to do and have the time to do it well are restoring what has been damaged.   Assuming all the work is completed, our street will remain pristine for the next five years.

It all reminds me of what can happen when everyone does their part to build up what has been ravaged by time or trauma.  Whether it is public works or personal health, we all have a role in edification – the building up of one another – through acts of service, through words of affirmation and/or through time together.  There is no meaningless effort nor unnecessary task.  The business of building requires designers and architects, as well as vehicle operators and day laborers.  The business of edification likewise requires thinkers and planners, as will as skilled workers and heavy lifters.

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.  Ephesians 4:16 (NIV)

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Ephesus, describes the local church as a body.  This body grows when every part does its unique work.  In Paul’s analogy, the people of God are strengthened, in community, when the ‘hands’ do what the ‘hands’ can do (and only what the ‘hands’ can do), as well as every other part – eyes, ears, kidneys, and the rest – does what they are designed to do.  This imagery, for me, has two important ramifications: first, that each of us are essential for our effectiveness and health; and second, that we are effective and healthy when we only do what we are here to do.

Together, proximately or virtually, we will grow and build our body in love as each of us do what God uniquely enables us to do.  I have an asphalt, concrete and granite reminder of this reality just outside my door.

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.

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.

Great Equalizer

As I have been spending much more time at home, isolated for the health and safety of those I love, I have had a great deal of time to think about the health crisis we are all enduring.  I have come to see in a variety of ways that COVID-19 is a great equalizer.  The virus does not discriminate, as it has infected celebrities, professional athletes, politicians and royalty (as well as ordinary individuals) across the globe.  The WIFI networks that we are all using to communicate with the world has been equally spotty for those who are rich and those who are poor.  Frustrations over ‘stay-at-home’ orders have overwhelmed the introvert and the extrovert alike.  Our communal discouragement and feelings of inadequacy in home-schooling our children are universally sensed by democrats, independents and republicans.  We are, literally, all in this together.

It would be a relatively simple exercise for me to draw parallels between this virus and the prevalence of sin, and I am sure that a quick google search would take you to thousands of thought pieces about their similarities.  Certainly, we ought to take time to contemplate the universal reach of both and compare the consequential results of both.  However, if you are like me, you’ve been bombarded with troubling news for weeks and would appreciate a break from the barrage of saddening statistics and prevention protocols.  I want to take a few moments to share some encouraging thoughts instead.

One of the great equalizers I see in the pages of scripture is God’s gift of grace.  Grace, as the Bible describes it, is the blessing of unmerited and unearned favor.  It is the heavenly blessing of atonement and adoption that may be extended to all and experienced by all.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. Titus 2:11 (NIV)

Grace, the offering of a restorative relationship with the creator of the universe, does not discriminate, as it has reached celebrities, professional athletes, politicians and royalty (as well as ordinary individuals) across the globe.  Grace, the joy of knowing that God has given us much more than we deserve, is known by both the rich and the poor.  Grace, the kindness of forgiveness and forbearance by the one who knows us completely, is available to introverts and extroverts alike.

As I spend unplanned but precious time with those I love, I appreciate the grace that God has given me.  I do not deserve, but am grateful for, the network of kind people that surrounds me (I have been befriended much more than I befriend), the relative health I enjoy (I am healthier than my life choices warrant), the absence of consequence attributed to wrong-doing (I am pardoned much more than I admit) and the serendipitous joys that cross my path (many of which I fail to recognize).   My life is full of grace – undeserved, unearned, unexpected.

As we adjust to a present reality, let us, for the sake of those around us, remember grace: let us be open to experiencing that grace together and expressing that grace to one another.  We are all in this together.

Viral Grace

It is incredible what can change in a week.  Grade schools were still in session, restaurants were open and traffic into the city was bogged down with its usual congestion.  The developments and press conferences that we’ve watched daily have given new meaning to “cancel culture”.  We are now required to understand new terms like social distancing, COVID-19 and pandemic.  As we, together as a global community, deal with the ramifications of all these changes, join with me in praying for those most deeply impacted: those with fragile health, that the precautions we all take will protect those most in danger; those who own, manage and/or are employed by small businesses that cannot operate ‘from home’, that the economic realities of this crisis will not lead to financial ruin; students, school staffs, educators and administrators, that the ramifications of time away will be mitigated by online community and instruction.

I am aware that some are afraid – fearful of infection, fearful of loss, fearful in uncertainty.  I share your fears.  I am concerned that someone in my family will get sick.  I am anxious for the church and her continuing ministry should we be unable to meet for a month or more.  For me, this week has been like an unending snowstorm.   When it snows in greater Boston during the weekend, my anxiety level increases as I contemplate cancellations and the results of not gathering.  I somehow think that the faith of God in the congregation depends upon 70 minutes of impactful worship and if we cannot get together, all hell will break loose (literally and figuratively).

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  Matthew 16:18 (ESV)

The snow will stop falling.  The pandemic will end.  The world will go back to normal.  God will still reign.

So, I am choosing to count the blessings.  Blessing 1: political divisions have given way to community interest; instead of dividing over red and blue policies, we are uniting in our shared concern for one another.  Blessing 2: optional fellowship has given way to intentional connecting; instead of engaging with others on our terms, I am seeing more interactions motivated by love.  Blessing 3: a new appreciation for our schools and day-care providers; the creativity of emergency on-line learning, the providing of lunches and instruction and the healthy interactions of adults with our children are amazing.  Blessing 4: the advancements in technology; with live-streaming, video conferencing, on-line giving, telecommuting, e-commerce and news apps, most can stay connected even when we practice social distancing.  Blessing 5: free time with family for reading, recreation and rest.

As we continue to weather this storm, I encourage you to come up with your own list of unforeseen blessings this crisis has given you.  I also encourage you to be  a blessing to those around you – bring toilet paper to an elderly neighbor, order take-out to support a struggling establishment or call an old friend.

God will prevail.

 

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Heavenly Laughter

It was the best of plans: I had wrapped my son’s birthday present (his first cell phone) and placed it with the others on the dining room table, and then I typed up a text to the family giving out his number but was waiting until the right moment push ‘send’.  We proceeded with his party (the menu for our freshly minted 12 year-old’s festivities was Ring Dings and Wattamelon Roll), which we enjoyed before the opening of the gifts.  As we were about to get on with the gift-giving, there was a muffled ring coming from the pile.  It was the phone.  Had I mistakenly sent out the text? (I quickly checked, and I had not.)  It turns out a telemarketer had ruined our surprise, but in the process created an unexpectedly wonderful birthday memory.

“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” is a Yiddish proverb which means, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.”  No matter how much we plan, life is messy and things often do not go as imagined.  Josh’s birthday party made me think about Jesus’ birthday; the life his parents experienced was certainly not as planned.  There was an unplanned pregnancy (from their perspective), a thwarted divorce, a rejected reservation, an unexpected visit (or two) from strangers and an unforeseen move.  It was a year (or two) of chaos and confusion that neither Mary nor Joseph could have imagined.  Yet, God was with them and was creating something unexpectedly wonderful.

If ever there was a time in human history when God orchestrated a course correction in the affairs of His creation, the birth of the Messiah was that time.  God sent Gabriel to Mary to tell her, “Do not be afraid…”  God sent an angel in a dream to Joseph to tell him, “Do not be afraid….”, and another (also in a dream) to tell him to travel to Egypt to protect his family.  God sent angels to the shepherds to tell them, “Do not be afraid….”  God warned the Magi, in a dream, to return home by another way so as to avoid Herod and protect the Lord.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

As I see it, we all have a choice to make when things do not seem to go as planned: we can scowl and think that all is ruined, or we can smile and thank God for His intercession.  Our reaction when “things don’t go our way” reveals who we think is in charge of the details of our lives.  Especially during this season, we need to face the facts that our plans may not go as expected: cookies will burn, airlines will have delays, products will be back-ordered, illnesses will invade our homes and sentimental ornaments will break.  These things might be God’s way of correcting your course, adjusting your plans and preparing you for something unexpectedly wonderful.

“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht”.  I hope you hear Him.

Thirty Years

On Monday, my wife and I will celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary.  According to Hallmark.com (the worldwide source of information ‘when you care enough to send the very best’), the gift for this anniversary is pearls.  I find it funny how random some of these yearly suggestions are: wood is to be given on year 5; appliances are appropriate for year 18; tools are the traditional gift for year 29.  Jeanine and I are non-traditional in this regard, I guess.   We tend to mark the years of marriage by enjoying more sentimental gestures, such as thoughtful cards and fancy dinners without the children.

Truth be told, the gifts of a long marriage are not given on anniversaries, but rather every day in between.  Jeanine and I have been married for more that half our lives and, it can be reasonably asserted, we are not the same people who stood before a minister three decades ago.  We were bright-eyed and optimistic, confident that love conquers all.  Over the years, the light in our eyes has dimmed a bit and we are a touch more practical now, but with age comes the certainty that love does indeed conquer all.  That certainty, that calm assurance, that we have each other and know each other is, in my opinion, more precious than pearls.

A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.  Proverbs 31:10

I do not thank God as often as I should for Jeanine, this completely different-than-me angel who has blessed my life for more than 35 years.  I am so appreciative that she complements my weaknesses with her strengths and accentuates my abilities with her own.  She has lovingly challenged me to be a better man, a better husband and a better father.  She has willingly, with her typical encouragement, endured my career change and seven moves while raising four wonderful children without complaint.  God has given me an equal partner in life who has brought comfort and cleanliness and made our house a home.  Again, I do not thank God as often as I should.

As we age and mature, we change.  I thank God that Jeanine and I have grown together and not apart.  I thank God that we enjoy one another’s company more now than ever, appreciate one another’s voices more now than ever and savor one another’s refinement more now than ever.  I could not have imagined the beauty of our union when we first met at a Friendly’s in the early 1980s.  And I am not too proud to say that I have gained the most in our marriage (which compels me to strive to appreciate to an even greater degree this precious gift of my wife of noble character).

Finally, I thank God for the demonstration of sacrificial love that Christ provides which serves as a template for my wife’s and my relationship.  I thank God that we have committed to do the hard work of willful submission to one another.  I thank God for the challenges we have faced and the strength we have found in our bond.

My prayer is that we would all have occasion to celebrate these bonds.