The Red Sox are rebuilding, again. On Monday, they exited the playoffs with a season-ending loss at the hands of the Houston Astros. On Wednesday, the organization and the field manager parted ways, effectively ushering the hometown team into a season of transition and change. Rumors have already begun about trades and free-agent signings; only time will tell who will stay, who will go and who will join the team. Despite their recent successes (winning the American League East Division title for the last two seasons and winning the World Series five seasons ago), the team’s inability to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs was unacceptable. The front office personnel at Fenway Park has decided that the answer to “what have you done for me lately?” is “not enough”.
I am thankful the God does not have the same business plan as the Red Sox. I am grateful that a few seasons with less-than-optimal results (despite a modicum of success) does not disqualify me from being part of His team. I rejoice that when my production or power has waned, He will not replace me with someone who could do better. As opposed to a sport where, in 2017, a batter is nearly as likely to strike out (21.6% of all plate appearances) as get a hit (22.8% of all plate appearances), it is remarkable that the Lord allows us to miss the mark so frequently without relegating us to the bench.
…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12
While most of us have never played baseball professionally, we all have our list of failures. We all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. We all have stepped out of bounds and trespassed against one another. We all have made mistakes, lapses in judgement, erred and fouled up. We all have reasons why our dismissal would be warranted. We all have places in our track record where our disappointments greatly outnumber our successes. What does God offer us when we are in the midst of these less-than memorable moments? He offers us yet another chance to get it right.
The struggles of life and the challenges of baseball are surprisingly similar. I have never faced a 100mph fastball, but I imagine that making contact with the curveballs of life is equally difficult (considering how often I have swung and missed them). I have struck out relationally, flied out morally, grounded out conversationally, and fouled out professionally. I have never stood in front of the Green Monster at Fenway, but I have misplayed routine interactions and lost my focus while fielding temptations. Through it all, God has encouraged and corrected me, discipled and guided me, so that I would do better the next time.
The results of following the Red Sox and following Christ could not be more different. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I am used to saying, “wait until next year” – when (hopefully) the big bat arrives, when the ace pitcher performs and when they win the pennant. As a Christian, I am used to saying, “forgive me” (as I strike out, underperform and fail) – which results in (certainly) His restoration of my soul and refreshment of my spirit. I will take God’s comfort over a hometown championship any day.
Twenty years ago today (September 1, 1997) I began serving as the pastor of Calvary Community Church in Dorchester. I have been thinking about this day, and this posting, for quite a while, wondering what I would say about my tenure as a minister of the gospel in the greatest community in the world. I thought about the numbers relating to ministry – attendance figures, baptisms and weddings I had performed, babies I had dedicated, or sermons I delivered – but, to be honest, these numbers would be unimpressive. I thought about sharing interesting anecdotes about the church, but I have already shared most of these stories with those reading this and my remaining stories would be uninteresting. In the end, all I have are the lessons I have learned over all these years.
First, I have learned to cherish the relationships that God has given me while I am blessed to have them. While the numbers of worshippers have not appreciably changed in the last two decades, the people have; in fact, I count three (and 8/9th) people that were present on my first Sunday still regularly attending worship. Some have gone on to glory, others have moved out of the area and others attend other churches. Yet, through all the transition, God has blessed us with visitors, musicians and co-laborers who have expanded our world, challenged our complacency and enhanced our worship. I praise God that so many have called Calvary home for a week, a season, a year or longer.
Then, I have learned to seize the opportunities that God has given me when I recognize them. While I have not been given a city-wide or national stage to proclaim the gospel, I have been blessed to share God’s love with our neighbors. Praying at a Flag Day program, talking in a front yard, serving water at the Dorchester Day Parade and welcoming the community for public events are just a few things that come to mind when I consider how God is working through our church. I praise God that we have impacted so many lives, inside and outside the walls of our building, in so many interesting ways.
Finally, I have learned to appreciate the faithfulness that God has lavished upon me all the time. While I have never, in my tenure at Calvary, enjoyed an abundance of resources, God has always given me and my family (immediate and church) what is sufficient for my needs. We’ve paid our bills (mostly on time), had the volunteers and musicians, maintained a residence and been cared for. God’s faithfulness is ever-present – in forgiving my sin and fixing my lapses in judgement, in bringing in saints every single Sunday, in always giving me a word to share. All that I have done is because God has enabled me. I praise God for all of it.
Praise the LORD, all you servants of the LORD who minister by night in the house of the LORD. Psalm 134:1 (NIV)
So much has changed over the last two decades, but then again, so much remains the same. God is still drawing wonderful people to our little church, still affording us opportunities for gracious interactions and still showering us with His great faithfulness. Until that changes, I will be here wondering how God will next work among us. I hope you will be here, too.
In our church’s most recent newsletter (found at http://calvary-boston.org/newletter.pdf), I wrote about my reservations about public praise and my resolve to increase that praise in light of Jesus’s admonition on Palm Sunday. “If the people won’t cry out, the rocks will,” Jesus told the Pharisees. This rebuke of the religious elite has challenged me to praise God so that the Lord need not replace the praise that I ought to be offering with that of a stone. Part of Palm Sunday is celebrating the triumphal entry of the conquering king, knowing that He has conquered sin, death and the Devil.
But this is only part of the Palm Sunday narrative. The Gospel of Luke begins the day we know as Palm Sunday with a conversation between two unnamed disciples and Jesus. Jesus commands these two to enter into town and secure the services of a donkey. It was an important task, as it would fulfill a Scriptural prophecy about the Messiah. But it is just “transportation” ministry – two of the divine dozen, the chosen students of the Lord, being asked to call for an Uber® instead of doing something more important. Maybe they struggled with a temptation I occasionally face: thinking that they had been called to greater things than this.
“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Luke 19:30-31 (NIV)
Imagine you were walking in the sandals of those two unnamed disciples as they witnessed the triumphal entry. Would you be tempted to say, “Hey, none of this would have been possible without me”? Would you want Jesus to acknowledge your contribution to the parade? Would you, at some later date, tell Matthew (your fellow disciple) to make sure he mentions your name when inspired to write about Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem? We can wonder how we might react to such a request from Jesus, but there is no question how these two unnamed disciples reacted – with humble obedience. They did what they were told without question or credit, pure and simple.
Knowing what transpired once Jesus mounted the donkey (the praise and adoration of the crowd), it makes me think that there is a link between obedience and worship. There must be something that connects our sacrifice and our singing. It seems that we cannot fully rejoice in the Lord until we have first committed our lives to the Lord. We praise Jesus – His power, His protection, His provision and His prodding – because we have seen Jesus. We have seen the evidences of His mighty acts and heard the expressions of His salvation. And having seen and heard what the Lord can do, we are willing to follow Him wherever He leads. Then, as we follow Him wherever He leads, we witness the praise and rejoicing He alone deserves.
It is good to know that all our efforts – our deeds and sacrifices – will produce, on earth and in heaven, glorious praise to our King. That is ultimately our greatest reward.
Today is Saint Patrick’s Day and, thanks to my father’s recent genetic profile from ancestry.com, I will be celebrating the holy day with the newfound knowledge that I am 2% Irish. There is much to commend Maewyn Succat (thought to be Patrick’s name at birth) to all believers: he was born into a religious family, with his grandfather serving as a priest; he suffered great adversity, having been kidnapped by pirates at age 16 and then living as a slave in Ireland for 6 years; he was miraculously rescued by God, to whom he had been praying fervently for deliverance, when he was told in a dream that his ship had arrived and then walked more than 200 miles to set sail; upon reaching England, far from home, he survived starvation when a wild boar wandered into his camp; at age 40, God told him in a dream to return to Ireland with the Gospel and build His church. He gives us all a testimony of what God can do through a person committed to trusting in the Lord.
There are a number of the interesting truths about Patrick’s life. First, he rejected the beliefs of his family for many years, but the great difficulties of his early life drew him to God with a fervent faith. Second, he was not the first missionary to Ireland, as he succeeded another man who had come to Ireland five years before he returned to the island. Third, one of the Patrick’s first converts from Druidism to Christianity was Milchu, the tribal chieftain who served as his master more than 20 years earlier. Patrick was used by God in mighty ways and He utilized every aspect of Patrick’s life (both blessings and burdens) to glorify the Lord.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
Saint Patrick reminds me that anyone can do great things through God. Anyone can endure a horrible past when they trust in Him. Anyone can show the power of forgiveness when they know the forgiveness of God. Anyone can mightily share their faith when they have experienced the grace of the Lord. Saint Patrick reminds me that nothing is impossible with God – He is able to reach anyone through anyone by any means. So, whether you are in the ideal location or the worst place imaginable, among the most wonderful people or the dregs of society, confident in your abilities or concerned about your inabilities, know that God can still be glorified through you.
Perhaps you will enjoy a bit of green lager or some corned beef and cabbage today. Maybe you will wear green or kiss someone who is Irish. Wherever and however the day finds you, I pray that we all remember the witness of a special man who God used to reach ‘the ends of the earth’ over 1,600 years ago. And I hope in remembering his story we are reminded of our story as well. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4
It may be culturally ‘old-fashioned’, but let me extend a belated “Happy Thanksgiving”. I hope you were able to spend a few precious moments with loved ones yesterday expressing your gratitude to God. Although mainstream advertisers may have wanted me and mine to celebrate “Friends-giving”, “Thanks-gathering” or “Thanks and Giving”, I am unashamedly and uncompromisingly sharing my “Thanksgiving” this weekend. I am committed to using my words and taking my thoughts captive with the specific goal of giving thanks to God – the One who gives every good and perfect gift. I want to be not only thankful but thanksgiving.
My thoughts and expressions of thanksgiving are framed by four words that have occupied my prayers since Sunday – wealth, health, hearth and dearth.
- Wealth is defined as “an abundance of valuable possessions or money”. Being in the northeast region of the most prosperous nation on Earth means that God has given me much more than most. I am blessed by God with a peace that comes from needn’t worrying about clothing, food, shelter or transportation. I am also blessed with a wealth of non-monetary possessions – vocation, friendship, education and liberty, just to name a few – for which I am grateful.
- Health is defined as “the state of being free from illness or injury”. This year I reached a ‘milestone birthday’ which meant that I was required to endure more than an annual physical exam. I thank God, as I had appointments with four specialists, all of whom, after poking and prodding, gave me a clean bill of health. I am also blessed with health in other areas of life – spiritual, mental and relational – for which I am thankful.
- Hearth is defined as “the floor of a fireplace”. I am thankful for those that surround the figurative hearth (and the fact that we have a figurative hearth at all). I praise God for my wife and children. I praise God that we celebrated birthdays, graduations and holidays together with love and laughter. I am also blessed for the ‘hearth’ of Calvary Community Church and the brothers and sisters that God has given me – for them I am also grateful.
- Dearth is defined as “a scarcity or lack of something”. There were challenges this year (a requirement to move, a daughter departing for college, family members battling cancers, and more) that brought me to the needful point of prayer and contemplation of God’s word. I am thankful that God supplied and continues to supply in these darker moments, teaching me to trust in Him more and rely on earthly pleasures less. I am blessed for the trials we are enduring through which God is triumphing – and for all these I am thankful.
Whether you are enjoying a banquet of leftovers or a list of bargains this weekend, I hope that you will also continue to give thanks to the Lord for all the blessings He has showered upon you. And after all the food and extended family have gone and all the touchdowns and sales have been scored, remember that every day is a good day for thanksgiving.
A number of years ago I gave a small group of men who attended Calvary a book as a gift. We were about to study its themes and thought it would be a nice thing to hand out this inexpensive resource. One of the men, who will remain nameless, asked me as I gave him one, “How much do I owe you?” I simply said that he owed nothing, that it was a gift. “I can’t accept that; I can buy my own,” was his reply. Later on, I found out that he had, in fact, ordered his own copy of the book and paid for it himself.
It was a small thing, but the ramifications of that interaction have remained with me. As we enter into another gift-giving season, I am thinking about the difference between a gift and an acquisition. We, as human beings, acquire things from many sources – some things are inherited, some are purchased, some are salvaged and some are made. A few things we acquire are given as gifts, an extension of someone else’s kindness toward us. Most acquisitions are practical, secured in one fashion or another based upon necessity. Gifts are relational, received unsolicited based upon generosity.
“And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:14-15
As we approach Christmas, we have a choice: Do we accept God’s gift of grace, best demonstrated through Jesus, as an unsolicited expression the Creator’s kindness or do we attempt to acquire this immeasurable resource by any other avenue? Are we willing to receive a gift (an outpouring of the relationship God desires to cultivate with us) or not? Are we able to see that the incarnation of Christ at Christmas is an indescribable gift?
The New Testament records a number of gifts that have been given by God, including the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), the gift of life (1 Peter 3:7) and a myriad of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1). It seems foolish to me to reject the offer that the Almighty has made or, looking at the Savior resting in the manger, ask of God, “How much do I owe you?” The wise among us know that there is no such thing as compensation for a gift, for it is an expression of unmerited favor restoring a relationship we cannot repair with our own power or at any price.
Imagine that there is a present, simply wrapped, beneath your tree with an announcement accompanying its arrival stating that the gift is for you. Don’t say that you cannot accept it because you have nothing to give in return. Don’t say that you will pay for it and in so doing reject the gift. Don’t say you don’t deserve it because a gift, by its very nature, is undeserved. Accept the gift of Christ – and with Him the forgiveness of sin, eternal life, spiritual guidance and the hopeful peace of reunion with the Father. Who wants a gift they could buy for themselves, anyway?
Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. 1 Chronicles 29:13 (NIV)
As I approach my birthday (I turn 50 in 58 days), I have been ‘suffering’ from a mild mid-life crisis which reveals itself in moments of regret. At those times I have voiced to my loving wife the things that I wish I had acquired by now and the things that I wish I had done by now. She graciously hears my whining and graciously responds, “You should think about all that you have; you have a lot to be thankful for.” So, as we celebrate Thanksgiving next week, allow me to share fifteen things for which I am thankful to God in 2015:
- I give God thanks for the people in my life who are better friends and better family than I am;
- I give God thanks that a relative’s 13-month prognosis has been extended to 23 months and beyond;
- I give God thanks for those who lavish me with gifts;
- I give God thanks for the soft jazz stylings of Weatherscan© that sets my feet to dancing many mornings;
- I give God thanks for the smell of spring rain, the feel of beach sand between my toes, the sound of fall leaves crunching under my feet and the sight of new-fallen snow;
- I give God thanks for a stable and rewarding position within a wonderful church in an extraordinary neighborhood in an extraordinary city;
- I give God thanks that I learned how to play the saxophone and the guitar;
- I give God thanks for the current gastronomic trend of gourmet burgers;
- I give God thanks for my ability, with simply my cell phone, to capture quality photographs of everyday delights;
- I give God thanks for gas that can be acquired for less than 2 dollars;
- I give God thanks for wonderful colleagues and the blessings I receive monthly discussing books I would never choose to read on my own;
- I give God thanks for twenty-six years of marriage, twenty-one years of parenting and about a million pleasant memories,
- I give God thanks for blue jeans and sweatshirts;
- I give God thanks for nine world championships in New England in the last 15 years;
- I give God thanks for Thanksgiving, that North American invention that allows me to stop and consider all that God has given me.
With all seriousness, I live a blessed life. I am grateful for a wonderful family of origin, blessed with a woman who married me and gifted with four children who love me. I am grateful that I have a good job that provides for my earthly needs. I am grateful that I live in the United States and under a benevolent government. I am grateful that I have a roof over my head, keys to a vehicle in my pocket and food in the fridge. I am grateful because I have much more than enough.
What about you? What can you share as we celebrate and practice Thanksgiving?
Today is my mother’s birthday…and, no, I will not reveal her age. As I think about Mum, I realize that, while she is many things, I tend to see her only as a mother. She is smart (valedictorian of her High School class, I believe). She is hard working (a master in as varied fields as retail, design, banking and insurance). She is a college graduate (receiving a B.S. in sociology ‘later in life’). She has marvelous culinary skills (being able to prepare dishes that rival those of master chefs while maintaining a tight budget). She has been a member and leader in the church (serving as secretary, clerk and substitute teacher). She is a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a cousin, a grandmother and a great grandmother. But, to me, she is simply my mother.
All accomplishments in the real world aside, I know her as the one who kissed my boo-boos and soothed my rashes. She is the one who took her boys to ride go-carts and swim in the ocean. She is the one who forgot to save room for dessert when there wasn’t enough to go around. She is the one who comforted my broken heart and confronted my stubborn streak. She made birthdays and Christmases special despite the limitations of her financial condition. She went to football games in November in New England to see her kid in the marching band. She attended concerts, plays and courts of awards and cheered on a child with more passion than ability. All this was done with little recognition, at least from this child, of the sacrifices she made for my benefit.
“Honor your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Ephesians 6:2-3 (NIV)
Much has changed in the nearly 50 years since I first met my mother: we now live 1,300 miles apart, we don’t speak every day and I have a wife who will kiss my boo-boos. I am tempted to say that I don’t need her anymore, but I know that would not be true. I guess you never outgrow your mom: you never get so old that you no longer need the cheerleader in the stands, the champion in your corner or the virtually unconditional love that is found in a mother’s presence. I am so grateful to God that He blessed me with such a special mom.
So, I appreciate the opportunity to indulge a selfish impulse in writing this week’s post. Allow me to conclude by encouraging those who are reading this to contemplate God’s hand of blessing in granting you your mother. If she is living, might I suggest you give her a call? If she has passed, might I suggest you tell someone around you how wonderful she was? God truly made something great when He made ‘mother’.
Happy Birthday, Mummy. I pray that God will bless you as greatly as you’ve blessed me.
Before I was called to ministry, I worked at a local bank as a trust officer. Trust departments, for those who don’t know it, administer funds to beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of executed wills and trusts. At the time, I was responsible for distributing and/or managing large inheritances. It was, in many ways, both wonderful and wearisome. Typically, when a person receives notice that they have been named in a trust or will there is excitement and gratitude. After a time, those feelings of delight often devolved into attitudes of entitlement and expectation.
As a young man in his twenties, I never could understand the desensitization my clients experienced. Surely, if a loved one bestowed upon me a vast fortune I would never forget where it came from and would always display humility in accepting this generosity. I would not become angry if my request for discretion was denied. I would not demand to speak to the Senior Vice President about the rudeness of a rejection. I would never take for granted the generosity of the one who gave me so much. I would simply be glad for what I had been given.
“…and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.” Colossians 1:12
It is important for me to remember that my heavenly Father has given me an inheritance. Am I still appreciating the riches that have been bequeathed to me, or have I begun to feel entitled? According to the Scriptures, the children of God inherit His kingdom, a reality where God makes His dwelling place among His people and provides comfort, strength and security for all who are His. As royalty (a child of the king) very need is supplied by my Father, the king, simply because He desires to provide for me. When was the last time I paused to offer thank for this immeasurable gift?
Honestly, thanksgiving is not as prominent in my conversations (with my Father or with others) as it ought to be. I complain when my requests for discretion are denied and I am not granted whatever whim I want. I pout when my perceived ‘needs’ are exposed as the luxuries they truly are. After figuratively throwing myself on the floor and pounding my hands and feet into the carpet, I eventually come to the conclusion that my Father is a better manager, a better judge of need, a better provider than I am. He has given everything I need and more. For that I am increasingly grateful.
Sunday is Father’s Day, a day to appreciate and recognize the one who provides for and protects his children. I am blessed to have a father who provided for me and my siblings, who equipped me with a strong mind and a strong will and who remains a source of support to me today. Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I am also blessed with a Father in heaven who has given me a hope and a future that far outshines any trouble the world may deliver. Happy Father’s Day, Abba! For all who father children – your own or the offspring of others – whether you are a single mother, a foster dad, a big brother or a proud papa, Happy Father’s Day this weekend!
Today marks a special anniversary. The year was 1875. Ulysses S. Grant was President of the 37 United States of America. It was a year before Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone, three years before the invention of the carbon microphone and four years before Thomas Edison’s patent for the light bulb. It was also the year that 1st Swedish Baptist Church of Boston was founded.
“On January 16, 1875, fifteen people gathered at the home of Pastor Johanson at 48 Shawmut Avenue and organized the First Swedish Baptist Church of Boston, Massachusetts.” Ebba Johnson, A History of Calvary Baptist Church; p. 2
Much about the church has changed in the last 140 years – we’ve met in three buildings and ministered under three names, we’ve had 20 men called as pastors and 9 serve as interim, and we’ve had people from more backgrounds and upbringings than we can list. The styles and the technologies used to reach people have changed – we have available to us video projectors, digital music and social media outlets – and I sometimes wonder what someone like Albertina Bergman Hanson (the woman who, in 1869, started the work now known as Calvary Community Church) would think regarding what we’ve become.
Then I read passages of Scripture like these:
The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). John 1:41 (NIV)
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” John 1:45 (NIV)
Andrew and Philip met Jesus and immediately told someone else. Albertina and Frank Hanson met Jesus and immediately opened their house to their fellow Swedes to tell them about Him. Every Sunday people from a variety of circumstances meet Jesus and bring their friends and family to meet Him, too. While things change, things stay the same.
Sure, the letterhead, the address, the style and the faces of the congregation change, but the message and the ministry remain the same. We still proclaim that we all, like sheep, have gone astray; we all have sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory. We still proclaim that God’s love is unending, without limit and is best demonstrated in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us; that Jesus of Nazareth – son of Joseph, Son of God and Son of Man – is the Messiah. We still proclaim that every single human being must give an account to God for all that they have done and that there are only two possible means of reconciliation – either we accept Jesus’ death as a payment of our debts or we accept the punishment ourselves and pay for our debts through eternal separation from God. These things never change, because God never changes.
May God continue to bless Calvary – and all His people who gather together in places big and small – with power and peace, with hope and health, and with love and life.
We, as a church, owe a debt of gratitude to these men of faith – and their families – for shepherding God’s flock with such grace:
Lauritz Johanson 1875-1878
Olaf Lindh 1879-1879
Axel Tjernlund 1880 -1885
Erik Lundin 1885-1886
Olaf Lindh 1887-1888
Axel Tjernlund 1888-1897
Alfred Lindberg 1897-1910
O. Backlund 1910-1915
G. Oster 1915-1919
Herman Litoran 1920-1924
J. Martin 1924-1927
George Ferre 1928-1931
G. Oster 1931-1938
A. Fernlund 1938-1951
Alan Olsson 1951-1957
George MacNeill 1957-1964
Stanley Anderson 1965-1968
David Frenchak 1968-1976
James D. Smith III 1977-1984
John Ensor 1985-1989
Colby Swan 1990-1996
Michael Ferrini 1997-