Tag Archives: Stillness

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.

Another Trip to College

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.  Proverbs 22:6

Monday morning at 10AM, Jeanine and I will be dropping off at college our middle son, David.  When we do, he will start his freshman year at Fitchburg State University.  This will mark the third time we have dropped off our child at college (for those unfamiliar with our story, seven years ago we abandoned to the world of academia a defenseless boy at Gordon College and three years ago we deserted in our nation’s capital a wide-eyed girl at American University).  For those wondering, repetition does not make the process of leaving a child to fend for himself any easier.

So, as David steps out of the shadows of our wings and begins to chart the course of his own flight, allow me to share a few words of wisdom for my own experiences:

  • First, I would want to tell him to allow seize every opportunity to accentuate all that is good within him. I want David to use these next four years to discover and define his passions and pursue them.  I’d want him to exhaust his electives with eclectic, not just easy, courses – art, drama, bocce, or women’s studies – with the intent on unearthing an unknown interest.  I ask that he join a club or society outside his field of study.  And, in the dining hall, I hope he expands his palate, eating more than just a backpack full of croutons.
  • Next, I would want to tell him to remember why he is where he is. He is there to get an education.  He is there to gain confidence in his independence.  He is there to shine like the sun in a world of darkness.  He is there to build life-long relationship with real people.  I’d recommend to him to maintain the discipline of going to every class every time it meets, of working hard and then playing hard and of partnering with like-minded individuals to prod themselves onto good works.  If his brother and sister are any indication of his future, he will return home a different, more assured, person; I’d want him to embrace that development.
  • Then, I would remind him that an elephant is eaten one bite at a time. As he enters the dormitory on Monday, I am sure that there are fears and trepidations that will cloud his thinking, as well as the worry that this undertaking is too much to handle – and in the moment, it will be.  But when he takes one step in the right direction, followed by another and another, before long progress will be seen.  I would tell him to keep moving forward, even if it is baby steps.

As my child steps out of the car and into a world of curated independence, I’d want him to know that he is capable of more than he thinks possible and stronger than he thinks necessary.

For all those leaving for college for the first time this week, and for their families who love them, I pray God’s richest blessing and watch care be upon us as we all pursue our dreams.

For those wanting to read my thoughts seven years ago, read https://calvaryboston.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/a-parents-hope-for-freshmen/ and for my thoughts three years ago, read https://calvaryboston.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/for-freshmen/

A Matter of Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unsung Heroes

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”  Abraham Lincoln

Sunday is Mother’s Day, when three out of four of us will purchase a greeting card and over two-thirds of us will buy flowers for our mom (or our children’s mom).  It is the least we can do for those who have given us so much of themselves.  There is something in our mother’s kisses that are more therapeutic than the best medicine and something in her voice that is more comforting than the best psychotherapy.  Mom was likely the first to read to us, pray for us and cry with us.  She made sure, for most of us, that we had a birthday cake on our special day and a new outfit for the first day of school.  It is right and good to honor and remember the ones who endured painful labor and sleepless nights for her children:  God bless Mom!

As I think about Mother’s Day, my thoughts come back to a commercial I recently saw for the Portal from Facebook.  In the commercial, actor Neil Patrick Harris decides to call and celebrate his mother on Mother’s Day using the Portal from Facebook.   He sees that she’s not alone; she has company: the mothers of Serena and Venus Williams, Odell Beckham Jr., Snoop Dogg and Dwayne Johnson among others.   While Neil knows who they are, most people watching the commercial are unfamiliar with the women on the video-chat screen and are given only a clue by Neil’s references – Odell’s mom, Jonah’s mom and the like.  These women, no doubt, have done great things in their own right but are willingly recognized as someone’s mom.  We ourselves may not actually know some women’s names, only that they are so-and-so’s mom.  God bless you, Neil’s mom.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.  2 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)

One of the moms of the Bible who lived a life of seemingly quiet obscurity is Lois – the mom of Eunice, who was the mom of Timothy.  All we know about this woman is what we read in the verse I have quoted.  All we have as a historical record is that a sincere faith lived in her.  There are so many unanswered questions: Did she have hobbies or a favorite story?  Where did she grow up?  How long was she married?  Was she like the Proverbs 31 woman and worked outside (as well as inside) the home?  Was she tall, attractive and wealthy or petite, plain and poor?  All we know is her name, her heart and her grandson.  But, in God’s economy, that is enough.  God has blessed us with moms like Lois.

Happy Mother’s Day to all those who are known by the world only as someone’s mom.  God knows you are much more than that: you are leaders of industry, educators, medical experts, investors, inventors and artists – and then you go out the front doors of your home and do even more.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Batter, Batter; Swing, Batter

Last weekend the Red Sox began their new season, exactly five months after winning the World Series, concluding their best statistical season in franchise history.  Throughout the season, they led the league in wins (108), RBIs (829) and team batting average (.286).  To top it all off, their star player, Mookie Betts, was named the AL MVP.  By all means of measuring success, the Red Sox had a historic season.  The city was blessed to enjoy a rolling rally throughout the streets and the sporting goods stores in the area sold a bunch of merchandise celebrating the team’s victory over every foe.

Last weekend the Red Sox began their new season and, as of this posting, proceeded to lose more games than they had won.  The good news in anticipating the current season is that most of the key elements in prior success is still in place for the present campaign.  The bad news in anticipating the current season is that past performance is no guarantee of success in the present.  The slate has been wiped clean and the wins of the past season no longer matter.  Every team, both winners like the Red Sox and non-winners like the Baltimore Orioles (who amassed a mere 47 wins last season), starts on Opening Day in the same place.

As I think about the Red Sox, I also think about myself.  I remember all the victories I won last season: I battled temptation and won more times than I lost.  I faced discouragement, home and away, and won the season series; I went into the stadium of sexual purity and came away with a win; I stood in ‘the box’ against the enemy’s strongest arms (hurlers with names like lying, cheating and stealing) and bested them with base hits and deep bombs.  There were days that I did not have my best stuff, but over the course of the entire season I ended up with many more wins than losses.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.  1 Corinthians 10:13

But, like baseball, that was last season and while I have many of the same tools and much of the same training, I still must engage the enemy.  And, like baseball, past performance is no guarantee of success in the present.  This season, along with the regular adversaries, the measure of victory I have enjoyed has made me vulnerable to other forms of attack from things like personal pride and common complacency.  I am going to take it one day at a time, one ‘at-bat’ at a time: I will have to enjoy the success of victory only for a moment, accept the sting of loss only for an instant, and fight the good fight each and every day.

There is no spiritual World Series and the faithfully obedient will not receive a trophy at end of each season.  Still, the one who resists and remains after going nine innings with temptation is not without reward.  There is, for that one, a crown – of life, of righteousness, of glory – that will never be taken away.

Have a great season!