The other night as I was reflecting on the fact that the New England Patriots had just won their fifth Super Bowl©, it made me think of God’s grace and guidance. Sure, as a Pastor, I often connect random occurrences in life with Biblical themes; the progression of Sunday’s game and its outcome makes my job easy. For the Patriots, this was a season which required the team to deal with consequences for bad actions, demonstrated determination when excuses might have been easier and exemplified fortitude and the discipline of finishing strong. These are things we all could afford to reflect upon, and learn from, as we face the struggles of life.
As even the casual football fan knows, Tom Brady was suspended for the first four games of the season ultimately due to his refusal to cooperate with the NFL Commissioner’s investigation into “Deflate-gate”. After a lengthy process involving the courts, Brady agreed to accept his suspension, albeit with no admission of guilt. He then was forced to sit out the first four games of the season. While we can argue, and many have, about the fairness of the Commissioner’s decision, it was what it was. Tom Brady, and the team, suffered the consequences of his actions. Then he was restored to active status and played the remainder of the season. As I saw the Commissioner shake TB12’s hand and later hand him the Super Bowl© MVP trophy, I thought about grace. To an even greater degree than the NFL brass and its players, God is correcting and rebuking His children and then, after confession and contrition has been made, fully and completely restores them, separating their sin as far as the east is from the west. Do the crime, do the time, receive forgiveness and restoration, and go back out and compete.
Before the big game was played, it was reported that Tom Brady’s mother had been battling an undisclosed illness for eighteen months. Also, the Patriots had suffered significant injuries throughout the regular season, including an injury which sidelined their most powerful offensive weapon, Rob Gronkowski. No one would have blamed the Patriots if they had said that this was not their year, that the obstacles were too great and the challenges were too overwhelming. Instead, the team worked hard, utilized “lesser” members, and seized victory. To an even greater degree, God is drawing together and equipping His church to claim victory over darkness. He has brought together a wide variety of people with a wide variety of abilities, all broken in one way or another, to become stronger together than they would ever be separately. Do your job, do it to the best of your ability, trust those around you and taste victory.
Even the most optimistic ‘homer’ in New England may have thrown in the towel at six and a half minutes into the third quarter when the Falcons took a commanding 28-3 lead. It is almost inconceivable that the Patriots (who had scored 3 points in the first 36:29 of the game) could score 25 points in the remaining 23:31 of regulation. It is almost equally inconceivable, given the difficulties they had on defense, that they could hold the Falcons scoreless for the remainder of the game. But that is exactly what happened – touchdown, field goal, touchdown, two-point conversion, touchdown, two-point conversion. Tie game. Overtime. Touchdown. Champions. The accolades and the prize goes to those who finish strong. To an even greater degree, that is the attitude God desires in us. God’s people ought not to start strong and ultimately give out, but finish strong and ultimately win out.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:24
Congratulations to the World Champion New England Patriots. I am grateful to God that He can use such an earthly endeavor as a football game to remind us of His great plans and hopes for us.
For three years my family lived above a lovely couple, Vin and Anna. For three years I worried about the noise and disturbances that six pairs of feet can make. For three years I asked my children to stop stomping up and down the stairs and jumping around the living room. For three years I was anxious about the impact that we were having on those who lived around us, thinking that we were too loud, too disruptive or too rambunctious for condo living. As it turns out, for three years I had nothing to worry about.
As it turns out, we were not too disruptive, too loud or too rambunctious. My wife, Jeanine, ran into Anna at the grocery store the other day and eventually the conversation turned to the new owners of our prior residence. Anna related that the only time she heard us was when the family went down the stairs in the morning. Anna added that we were at our loudest on Sunday morning when we all went to church (the silver lining to that comment for me was that she knew we went to church as a family every Sunday; the silver lining to that comment for her was that she knew we had gone to church and she knew she would have serene sleep for the next three hours). So, I worried about something that was not an issue – Anna told Jeanine that she missed hearing the kids.
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:27 (NIV)
Maybe it is not concerns over excessive noise from the family’s footfalls on the neighbors ceiling, but I’m sure it is something. We all worry. Some worry about health issues and others worry about finances. Some worry about what the future holds and others worry about what could be revealed about our past. Some worry about their kids and others worry about their parents (and some worry about both). At some point, our thoughts get the better of us all and we become anxious over some aspect of life that is beyond our ability to control. The Bible says worry is not the answer.
Throughout the Scripture we are given narratives which prove that the antidote to worry is trust in the Almighty. Abraham didn’t worry about his son’s future and instead trusted that the Lord would provide a lamb. David didn’t worry about his ability to complete the task and instead trusted in the Lord to defeat Goliath. Three Israelite boys didn’t worry about dying in the fiery furnace and instead trusted in the Lord to deliver them. Jesus reminded us that we ought not worry about what we would eat or what we’d wear and instead trust that His Father would supply what we lack. And if these accounts are not sufficient, read about Noah, Moses, Elijah, Peter and Paul. Don’t worry, believe.
I realize that all this is easier (for me, at least) to say than to do. But I am going to trust God to provide, defeat, deliver and supply. I am going to follow His leading in communicating my fears and frustrations with Him and with others. I am going to let Him handle the details while I simply focus on Him. And I do my best to refrain from making faces or erupting emotionally when my 8-year-old is clomping down the hallway. Lord, help my unbelief!
According to Albert Einstein, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” We all can remember times when insignificant details accumulate to significantly shape our lives. Coincidence often takes part in how we meet our soulmates, determine our vocations and develop our strengths. When it is looked at objectively, so much of each our lives are built on coincidences. Few of us who are married first laid eyes on our future spouse with the expectation of nuptials. Few of us had a detailed plan for our career and then worked the plan. Objectively, we should agree that the world is too random to assume that most of the major developments in life are left to chance. Objectively, it makes more sense that there is someone who has a plan for us, whether he wants to remain anonymous or not.
This truth became clear to me once again as I studied the second chapter of Ruth last week. In two places, the author makes the point, with cultural wordplay that God’s plan is so coincidental that it cannot be random. First, the author writes:
“So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.” Ruth 2:3 (NIV)
Then, one verse later, the author writes:
“Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The LORD be with you!” “The LORD bless you!” they answered.” Ruth 2:4 (NIV)
So Ruth just happened to stumble into a relative’s field at just the same time that this relative, Boaz, returns to check on that same field. Objectively, it seems too specific to be random.
Objectively, it seems more rational, and more honest, to acknowledge that the God who designed the orbit of planets, who placed every star in the sky and who builds and topples nations directs the path of each and every person in all creation, including the big pictures and small details of our personal histories. Since this is true, we ought to appreciate those big pictures that provide clarity as well as those small details that regularly go unnoticed. And since so much of our lives are shaped by the accumulation of individually insignificant events, it is in our best interest to occasionally take notice of the ‘coincidences’ that guide our lives.
Maybe God is guiding you when you see an old friend in a hotel lobby while you are on vacation so that you renew a relationship, so that you have that contact when a better job is available at that friend’s company. Perhaps He is guiding you through an article you read in a waiting room, then a conversation over the phone and then a relative’s diagnosis so that you make an appointment for that cancer screening and you avoid having to endure treatments. Then again, maybe He is guiding you to move so that your travel pattern to work is changed so that you share a smile with a kid who, unbeknownst to you, is going through a tough time at home and needed someone to give him hope. God is in it all.
Thank God that He is Lord of the details of life, whether He chooses to reveal His hand or not.
This week Jeanine and I have been looking at apartments. We need to move at the end of next month and we are trying to find a place where we can see ourselves and our children living for the next few years, God willing. It is a challenge – there are features in a dwelling that are necessities, features that are preferences and features that are luxuries – and these features interplay with cost and location. Do we live where we can comfortably afford the rent, even if it is in a less-than-desirable neighborhood? Do we really need a washer and dryer on property or a dishwasher in the kitchen (for those keeping score, one is a necessity and the other is a preference)? Can we survive without the luxury of a dining room so that we can enjoy the preference of four bedrooms? Where does keeping the younger kids in their present schools fall within our priorities?
Needless to say, these questions (and their gelatinous nature) and these decisions (not just on our part, but also on the part of the homeowners) are keeping my wife and me up at night with anxious thoughts. I’d like to say that I could be happy wherever we move, but I have a nagging feeling that I may not be happy just anywhere. I want to say that I am trusting in the Lord to guide our steps in the process, but I also feel that I am dragging my feet along the way. What can I do to lessen these feelings of dread and fear?
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7
Honestly, I simply need to release it. These concerns and apprehensions that I am holding onto like a child’s security blanket I just need to hand over to God, knowing that He will address these concerns and implement His loving plan for my future. This, frankly, is difficult for me: I find it hard to ride in a car that I am not driving; how can I be expected to give up control of my whole life? And that is the reason I have had more than a few sleepless nights recently. I am greatly concerned and anxious about things that are truly beyond my control. The tension in my life is not about moving (or about the logistics of trucks and boxes and calendars) but about seeking to manage what I cannot manage.
It is somewhat like what my wife and youngest son did the other day – they tried to finish all the puzzles in his room before they were packed into boxes. Some of the puzzles were missing pieces (including some of the ‘crucial to solving’ edges) and try as they might, their task could not be completed. Did they worry, fret or frown because the job was left undone? Did the unfinished puzzle consume their thoughts? No – those puzzles were simply set aside, destined for the recycling bin, and they moved onto the next ones. I can only work with what I’ve got and trust that God will allow me the pieces of this puzzle called life when He knows I am ready to place them in.
We will likely be making some decisions this weekend. If you are a person who prays, please consider lifting my family (and our living situation) before the throne. And if you are like me, trying to ‘cast and claim His care’, let me know how I can pray for you. It’ll give me something different (and better) to focus on should I find myself still unable to sleep.
Despite the fact that my family and I live in an urban area, we are regularly visited by more rural creatures. A few years ago, we had birds nesting in our window boxes. Then, the other night my wife told me that while I was attending the church’s prayer meeting, a family of raccoons (a mother and five babies) were stranded on our neighbor’s roof. Somehow they had climbed up but apparently they were now unable to go back down. Jeanine, David and Joshua were intrigued by the mother’s watch-care over her rambunctious litter as she divided her time equally between finding a safe path for her babies off the roof and controlling their rolling into the gutters and running around and over one another. Jeanine had no success at calling animal control and in the morning the newest residents of Nahant Avenue were gone.
As Jeanine recounted her observations of this family of raccoons, it was obvious that her concern was that one of those little babies, completely unaware of the danger, would playfully roll too close to the edge and plummet the roughly 20 feet to the ground. She identified with the maternal instinct of the mother raccoon as she would grab and pull back to safety her little ones. Through it all, the babies simply wanted to play – chasing one another and rolling around into cracks and corners, seemingly oblivious that trouble lurked just inches away.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Proverbs 14:12 (ESV)
In many ways, I am like one of those baby raccoons and God is that attentive mother. I am regularly courting danger, oblivious at how close my destruction may be. In hindsight, I can recognize places of reckless behavior: there are times that I drive too fast, lift too much, dabble with sin too carelessly and stand too close to the edge. It would be impossible to fully comprehend how many times I was ignorantly heading for death (at least spiritually if not physically), only to be rescued by the hand of my loving heavenly Father. When I was about to fall, the Lord interceded in my life and spared me the damages I unknowingly planned on experiencing.
Like I said, we do not know how the raccoons got off the roof; all we know is that in the morning they were gone and there was no sign of any negative outcome of their evening in danger. It is the same with all of us – not only do we rarely recognize the danger, we also rarely recognize the redemption. We remember the fun we had and forget the risks we took. It is unfortunate that we only occasionally sense the hand of God – redirecting, redeeming and reaching us – at our regular moments of needed rescue. Praise Him, He is always there, whether we know it or not.
I’d like to think that those five little raccoons are in a wooded glen, frolicking with their mother. I’d like to think that the real dangers they experienced on the neighbor’s roof are never realized. I’d like to think the same for all of us, that God will continue to guide us through the valley of the shadow of death while we fear no evil. I’d like to think these thoughts might make me rethink my own plans, which leads to destruction, and follow God’s direction, which leads to life.
About a month ago I received a belated fiftieth birthday present: a prescription for an ACE inhibitor (Lisinopril) for hypertension/high blood pressure. Because of this daily reminder of bodily deterioration, I have had to establish a new routine – every morning I take my pill before I do anything else. By maintaining this pattern, I don’t give a second thought to whether or not I have already taken it (although there are times that I still think I might have forgotten to take it, only to be reassured that I must have taken it at the start of my day). It is this type of personal discipline that will improve my overall well-being.
Now, if only I could maintain some discipline in other areas of life. How much better would my well-being be if I simply had the discipline to eat less at mealtimes and much less at other times? How much better would my day be if I added one hundred steps or a few flights of stairs to my daily exercise regimen? How much better would my health be if I committed to reducing stress and increasing my sleep? My hesitation arises from the knowledge that any beneficial discipline will require an amount of denial and denying myself is frequently painful.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)
The writer of Hebrews expresses the positive benefits of discipline – the production of righteousness and peace – and I have to wonder if a few extra bites, a few more snacks, a few quicker trips, a few more minutes of vacuous television is worth what is being forfeited. Just as I take something to control my blood pressure (and, I hope, extend my life expectancy to see my eight-year old’s wife and children), I need to practice other disciplines to procure an opportunity to live strongly as a good steward of the physical body I have been given by God.
And why stop at God’s gift of my physical health? What about my relational health, my intellectual health and my spiritual health? There are disciplines I ought to incorporate for my relational well-being (such as holding my tongue more frequently than I am now), my intellectual well-being (like reading something from a dead author instead of watching television) and my spiritual well-being (maybe spending an hour in silence instead of being surrounded by technology). Perhaps there is wisdom in the words attributed to a number of great thinkers:
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
If I believe that the practice of discipline will produce righteousness and peace (and I do), and if I can develop the pattern of thinking about these promises instead of the initial pain (and I can), perhaps I will begin communicating these promises and living better to the point in my life where I am no longer thinking about what I have surrendered. Then all that initial pain will give way to pleasure as I am afforded opportunity to spontaneously do things I would not have had the ability to do had I forgone the discipline in the first place.
All this heavy thinking has made me hungry…but I can wait until mealtime.
Earlier this week I met with a few colleagues in ministry. At some point our conversation turned to questions about how our respective churches would acknowledge Mother’s Day and the challenges that honoring mothers in worship entails. As a pastor, let me share that publicly recognizing mothers in the midst of a worship service is fraught with dangers. On any given Sunday a typical congregation includes single women of all ages longing to be married with children, married women who are facing infertility issues or stressed over an unsatisfying work/family balance, mothers who are overwhelmed with the needs of children with disabilities or raging hormones, women with expiring biological clocks, mothers of prodigals who haven’t shared a kind word with their child in years, mothers of the deceased and mothers of moderately well-adjusted offspring. What is the best thing to say before this varied audience who are all seeking comfort and strength before the throne of God?
First, we can affirm that God is sovereign. Despite the ubiquitous presence of sin, God remains in control of all creation. God is able to work through people “whose quiver is full” and whose “womb is closed” and His blessings are unrelated to any individual’s physical or relational condition. Certainly children are a blessing. So is the unconstrained time and treasure to serve others. God knows our trouble and is able to perfectly satisfy every longing heart.
Next, we can affirm that God is compassionate. Throughout scripture God is the champion of the widow and the orphan; particular to the subject at hand, God commands the people of God to care for those among them who are females without family. God hears the prayers of the childless and, occasionally, miraculously provides a child while, always, providing comfort. God promises to dry every tear shed by the faithful and replace what sin has consumed.
“And she made a vow, saying, “LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” 1 Samuel 1:11
Last, but not least, we can affirm that our greatest hope is never fully realized on earth. Not all pleas and prayers find a positive answer on earth. And all that God does provide – food, shelter, life (and even children) – do not truly belong to us; we are simply stewards of God’s blessings. Everything we possess is simply on loan from our Creator. All these temporary blessings develop a longing for God’s permanent and eternal blessings. One day, all that God promises will be realized by those who trust in Him, not on earth, but in the heavenly places. When we are gripped with longing, we can be encouraged that the Lord will satisfy our every pang.
Wherever you find yourself this Sunday and however you choose to identify yourself, allow me to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day. Join me in acknowledging the mothers among us and the blessings – of all kinds – that the Lord provides through them. And for those who will be hurting this weekend, I pray that the God of all comfort and hope will remain close to you as we acknowledge those who have been otherwise blessed.
Surprisingly, I was notified by WordPress after posting last week’s blog entry that it was my 200th. That means that during the period of nearly 4 years I have composed a little over 100,000 words into my ‘musings about ministry in the hub of Massachusetts”. Many more people than I would ever have imagined have been a blessing to me by reading my writings about the faith, the family and the frivolous. I appreciate all your comments and ‘likes’ that the posts have produced and am overwhelmed by all those who have chosen to follow the blog. Thank you for reading. I love writing these posts each week.
When I first started all this, a respected individual advised me to glorify God in all I contribute to social media. I have tried to honor and keep that advice, avoiding personal attacks and political hot potatoes. I have compared the faith to a buffet table, a balloon caught in a tree, a vison test and piles of snow. I have spoken about moving and parenting; I have shared about birthdays and holidays; I have written about biblical figures and human crises. Through it all, I hope and pray that you, the readers, have been encouraged by God’s grace, comforted in God’s sovereignty, equipped through God’s guidance and uplifted with God’s promises.
For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:5-6
God has continually provided fodder for my flights of fancy and, if this week is any indication, He will continue to supply things to muse about for some time to come. Just this week, I went to the doctor for the first time in eight years (and left the examination room with four referrals), we found out that our rental unit has been sold (and we will be moving at some point in the next 124 days), and God blessed the church with an unsolicited gift (and funded this summer’s vacation Bible school). All these things, and so much more, are cause to glorify God.
Whether you are reading because you are part of my family, part of the community of faith or part of our society that enjoys an occasional glimpse of the supernatural in the midst of the mundane, I hope you’ll continue reading. My children joke that I have the spiritual gift of connecting any object with the Bible (not a real gift, kids), so perhaps I will be writing about board games or potato chips in the near future. All I know is there is a great deal of darkness in the world and we need one another to turn on a light or two. That is what I’ve tried to do.
I will continue to write my thoughts and ‘publish’ them here every Friday morning at 9AM for as long as there are still people willing to read them. I pray that they will remain an encouragement to you and an exaltation of the Lord.
The older I get, the more impatient I have become. At times I think, and also at times I have been told, that I have no patience (which dictionary.com defines as “the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like). My ability to tolerate tardiness has been diminishing. My ability to stand in line is mostly non-existent. My ability to suffer fools is sorely lacking. This is a problem, because the fruit of the Spirt, the evidences that one is walking in flash and not flesh, includes patience. Christians, by nature, are blessed by God with patience, and yet I cannot seem to endure the simplest inconveniences of life.
The problem of impatience is not the petty annoyances like waiting for the utility company to fix a problem with my service or for the cashier to end her collegial conversation to ring up my purchase. The problem of impatience is the bigger issue of control of my time. Impatience reveals that we expect to be the trackers of our time; we want to be the masters of our minutes, the owners of our hours and the director of our days. We want to be in control of our lives. We want to be…but we are not.
Patience comes through our trust that God is in control. God knows the times that try our patience – the infernal moments at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the unending conversations with the opinionated uninformed and the sleepless nights after the interview or appointment – and God has some purpose in all of them. When we have the faith sufficient to follow God’s schedule, we will enjoy patience. There are more than a dozen references in the scriptures commanding us to ‘wait for the Lord’. The blessing of patience is found when we allow ourselves to remain where God wants us to be for as long as God determines.
…but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)
The remarkable dynamic regarding patience is that it is a gift that keeps giving. God the Spirit endows people of faith with the character of patience, the ability to wait, and then that ability to wait endows those same people of faith with unlimited strength (as we soar to the highest of heights, run without weariness and walk without weakness). Patient endurance prepares us for future productivity. Not only does God grant His children the character of long-suffering but also the stamina to accomplish God’s will when it is God’s time to do so.
The fear I have in addressing my lack of patience, and seeking to live in obedience by exercising the spiritual fruit of patience, is that my life will be filled with opportunities to express patience. I trust that God knows more than I do and that He will, as I wait, enable me to fly, run and walk without limitation. Perhaps there are even things I could do while I sit in the ‘waiting room’ – read, relate or rest – so that I can be ready when the time is right. I guess I will just have to wait and see.
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?