Thursday, November 19, 2015

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

After a very enlightening visit to the dentist a few months ago, we were overjoyed to discover that Caroline (6 yrs) has a few of her baby teeth that are hosting a nasty cavity or 2 and it was going to mean fillings. So, a few weeks ago, we decided to up the ante  of tooth care and add mouthwash to the girls’ nightly bed time ritual of homework, showers, and brushing teeth.  

For Cadence (8 yrs), it was pretty easy going….for those of you that know Caroline, you know that very little with her is easy going.  We tell people that our girls’ personalities match their hair.  Cadence has straight brown hair, which means she is fairly laid back.  She really likes to be in bed by 8:30, and by 9:00 she begins to get very anxious about it being so late and then proceeds to go to sleep pretty quick.  Caroline, on the other had has curly blonde hair, and I’m pretty sure if we had had her first, we would have stopped there.  I’m reminded of an episode of her getting ready for preschool a few years ago.  After being told she couldn’t wear her special, ruby red, Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, church shoes to school, it resulted in a rolling on the floor, you’ve ripped my arms off catastrophe with repeated shouts of “I won’t be beautiful.”  So, needless to say, introducing something new like mouthwash, something you and I might find commonplace, for Caroline was in fact the end of the world.  

What started out as a small conflict of want vs. need, quickly shifted to a titan battle of wills that I refused to lose…but of course so did she.  She was hysterically terrified of this idea of mouthwash.  We explained how to do it, we both demonstrated how you take a little in your mouth, swash it around to wash all of your teeth, and then spit it out.  We even bought children’s bubble gum flavor! She was not having.  Caroline could not in any way move beyond the crippling fear that she could accidentally swallow the mouthwash and then it would make her sick or even worse.  

After a couple of hours of my wife and I tag teaming the grudge match, we finally decided the level  of Caroline’s hysteria had moved far beyond any chance of this being a fruitful venture and decided to let her calm down.  Then we tried to discussed with her in detail about the alleged poison and let her go to bed with the promise we would try again the next night.  (Which we did by the way and she was surprisingly immune to the arsenic laced substance.)

As she was beginning to calm down, I went into her room to try to console her and have a more rational conversation about the nights events.  I scooped her up  and held her in my lap amidst the sobs and whimpers and asked her, “Caroline, don’t you know that mommy and daddy love you?”  Yes.  “Don’t you know that mommy and daddy would never do any thing, or ask you to do anything that would ever hurt you?”  Yes.  “Then what are you afraid of?”  “I might swallow it.”  

Caroline’s fear of the the unknown, of taking the step to follow what Katie and I were asking her to do (which was undoubtedly for her own good, and for the health of her teeth) had nothing to do with her questioning our love for her.  She in no way thought that we would ever intentionally harm her or ask her to do something that would harm her.  Her fear stemmed from a lack of trust in herself.  She was terrified that her own body would somehow betray her and inadvertently swallow this substance that in her mind could harm her.  

Caroline didn’t trust herself or her body.  For example, when a bird lands on a tree branch I wonder if the little bird lands on the tree branch trusting that the branch is not going to break, or does the bird have trust that the wings that carried him to branch can carry him to safety if the branch does break?

Many times, our God calls us into the unknown, and many times our fear cripples us from answering the call.  Our typical indictment is that we simply do not trust that God can carry us through that which we are called.  However, in this line of thinking, we sell ourselves (and that which our Sovereign has created) short.  Our God created us, and our bodies.  These shells, mortal as they may be host a myriad of complex and fascinating systems and mechanics; not to mention the amazing gifts and graces that God has bestowed out of love for us.  I tend to believe that if God is calling us to something it is because God has gifted and graced us with the skills and abilities to achieve that call.  Does that mean that we can always see that?  No, and that is why often times with don’t answer the call.  We don’t trust ourselves, and all that God has created in us.  

So, today is a word of encouragement.  Ephesians chapter 2, verse 10 states that we are God’s craftmanship.  Other translations use the word, “masterpiece.”  Now this particular verse is in a much longer discord with the Church at Ephesus where the Author is proclaiming a great message of hope to the readers.  Because of their response to the Gospel, they are now experiencing a radical transformation of their personal and social identity.  For the Author,  they are in a way, being resocialized into God’s purposes and family.   But, I think it can also speak to this same notion.  God created us…. God knows us, and if God is calling us to it, then it must be because God has already created or is creating the tools needed.  

The Psalmist echoes this idea in celebration of God’s work in them.   So, I close with the words of Psalm 139:   “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful…

Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why Would You Do That to Me?!

        I remember the moment quite vividly.  A few short months after Caroline was born, we were sitting in the exam room at her pediatrician's office for a check-up and vaccinations.  This particular morning, Caroline was her typical cheery self (as long as we kept her belly full), and the well check-up went smoothly.  But, then it happened!  The nurse came into the room with a tray carrying a few syringes for Caroline's boosters.  Obviously Caroline was completely in the dark about what was about to happen, but she was soon to be made aware.  The nurse routinely prepared each shot, and alcohol swab and laid them each out carefully in preparation for the event that she somehow anticipated was in our near future.  It's almost as if she had done this before and could see the writing on the wall.    Believe it or not, children (nor their parents I might add) enjoy the feeling of sharp metal being thrust into their meaty flesh with the force of a speeding bullet.  (Yes, I'm exaggerating.....just go with it!)  So, the nurse proceeded in swabbing the spot on Caroline's plump little thigh and grabbed the needle.

       I have always felt that we learn best from messing something up.  In fact, when dealing with working on cars, or any home improvement project (please don't ask my wife about the latter subject), I have always felt that if you really mess something up you will never forget how to do it again.  While this is true, it is in the first months of our earthly life that we learn the most about the world around us.  Hot, cold, happy, sad, what tastes good, what doesn't, etc.  Even how to perform basic daily functions like walking and talking we learn in the first few years of our existence.  This was one of those times for Caroline.  As the nurse plunged the needle into Caroline's thigh, every nerve in that location of her leg sent a message to her brain of pain.  It was in that moment that I made eye contact with her.  I saw in her face a look of pain, confusion, and fear all at once. It's easy to dismiss these sensations when we have experienced them so often as to the point that a simple shot from our physician seems commonplace.  But for Caroline, this was a first, and she was not a fan.  If she could have spoken, I believe her words would have been, "Why would you do that to me?!"
       I remember in that moment a sudden feeling of despair and helplessness and it broke my heart.  I am her father, and it is my responsibility to care for her, provide for her, love her, and most importantly protect her.  This was a pain that I could not protect her from, a pain that I could not take away no matter how much I wanted to.  
        We serve a God that never, in any circumstance, desires for God's children to hurt.  While we do in fact live in a world that contains within it forces that are at the very least contrary to God, God never causes us to hurt.  God is a God of reconciliation and fulfillment, not of pain.  Personally, I have never understood how one can find comfort in believing that God would orchestrate, or cause hurt and pain in our life.  These things happen in our life because we live in a fallen world, more times than not, they are the result of our choices or the choices of others around us.  And...when they do happen, it is God grieving with us and for us as well.  God never desires for us to hurt.

       So, what do we do then with Good Friday?  Well, we could easily find ourselves in a heated theological debate as to whether or not God meticulously planned out all of the events surrounding Jesus' earthly ministry, death and resurrection.... Or, we can spend our time in these last days of Lent celebrating the hope we find in the reconciling act of our Redeemer.

       Yes, Jesus did in fact suffer and die, and was indeed resurrected!  This is the great truth of reconciliation and fulfillment of our God.  Paul tells us that it was a death and punishment in our place, to satisfy the impossible coexistence of our holy God, and a fallen world.  And, I might add, that in that moment that Jesus took his last breath, scripture gives us a few examples that God was grieving as well.

        As we approach this Good Friday and Lent comes to a close, spend some time in prayer and thanksgiving for the reconciling, redeeming, fulfilling act of our Creator.  I will leave you with these words from our Savior:

"...In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!  I have overcome the world!"

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The problem with ADHD and good TV

        I must confess, in case you were not already aware, I have just a touch of ADHD.  I know this will shock many of you, but it is indeed true!  When I am watching my favorite TV show, and I'm left with a cliff hanger revolving around a crucial character, I simply cannot wait a week to see if they survive.  I quickly hop onto my most used app on my phone (IMDB, it's great...check it out!), and look at the next episode to get a brief synopsis.  I must know what happens!  I have even been known to skip as far as the finale synopsis, or the ending of a book to see how it ends.  Then, I try to find joy in finding out how the creative writers have made the leap from point "A" to point "B."

        That being said, I am equally aware that in doing so I miss out on a bit.  All good writers (and composers) create great moments in literature by utilizing tension and release.  The great writers provide such a great deal of suspense by creating so much tension for the "hero" of the story that we even wonder how they will ever make it out alive.  By skipping ahead, I lose that tension because I know the end of the story.

       This week we celebrate the Triumphal Entry.  This is that great moment when Jesus enters into Jerusalem humbly riding a donkey while the multitude lays cloaks and palm branches at his feet shouting:

 "Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!  Blessed in the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!" Mark 11:11

        However, many times in churches we are so eager to celebrate the Resurrection, that we skip ahead to the end and miss out on the tension and release create by our Author.  This particular moment in Jesus' ministry is huge, because it speaks most clearly to one of his wildest and most politically explosive acts.  Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus spend a great deal of his time challenging the political powers and the socio-ecological status quo, and this moment serves as the culmination of that. 
        In Mark 11:1-11, Jesus lampoons the political powers through a carefully planned, carnivalesque "military procession" in Jerusalem. Everything about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem is used to create tension with the political powers.  For example, we know that every year at this same time, Herod had a grand processional through Jerusalem displaying all of his wealth and power with his armies and gold in full array.  Herod's message was clear, Herod was in charge and he had the power to squash any revolt or uprising.  If you dared to cross Herod, you might end up on one! 

        If we jump ahead to the end of the story, then we miss it!  We tend to lose the significance of what this meant to the people those with him.  For them it was the hope of liberation from the oppressive tyranny of Herod.  Many of you will remember in 2003 when the US entered Baghdad and US Marine Troops pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein.  The Sunday following this event, the church celebrated the Liturgy of the Palms using this specific text.  Below is a news broadcast of that event live.  As you watch the hope, joy, excitement, and gratitude of the Iraqi people, try to picture the people in Jerusalem as they celebrated with Jesus in direct opposition to the pompous procession of Herod at this same time.

        Don't skip ahead to the end of the story this Lent! Take some time to meditate on what Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on the day can mean for us today.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


       My daughter's are still young enough for me to get away with using them as illustrations, so I figured I would take every opportunity I get.  The following is one of my favorite stories from when Cadence, our oldest daughter was just a baby.  I call this, "The Everest of the Sippie Cup."  I was in graduate school, and had been in class all day, returning home around 10:00 that evening.

       Cadence was around 6 months old, and at the end of a p[articularly long and stressful day with our little bundle of joy, Katie had gone to take a shower and left Cadence with me. This would typically be fine except for the fact that Cadence had just awoken from a nap.  We were still working on building a more regulated schedule with her sleeping and feeding, and at this particular time, she was quite hungry. To compound the severity of the situation, at night Katie preferred to nurse Cadence because she seemed to sleep better. (Katie knows this, and is clearly enjoying the longevity of a hot steamy shower.) Now, at that time we had just moved to an occasional sippie cup of juice as a snack at various points throughout the day, and I thought this would serve well to distract her and hold her over until my most beautiful wife finished her increasingly elongated, seemingly (at the time) eternal shower.  So, I got the cup out of the fridge sank back into my recliner and proceeded to offer the sweet fruity sustenance to my daughter as her screams easily reached a double forte in volume. My offer was quickly declined with a series of squirms, grunts, and even more screams. In my frustration, I gave up and decided to just let her scream about it for the (hopefully) few minutes left of Katie's most wonderful shower, and set the cup on the end table next to my recliner. (Here's where the story gets interesting)

The cup is red, and looks like one of her toys which quickly caught the eye of my screaming daughter, in which case she decided she did want it but only if she could get it herself. The following series of events happened about 3 or 4 times in a row. Cadence would try to grab the cup that was just out of her reach, and after a few seconds I would try to lend a hand and get it for her.  How silly of me!  This only resulted only in squirms, grunts, and even more screams. Finally, she got the cup (on her own) and she was happy. And the screams subsided and turned to smiles, giggles, and deep concentration. Except now, she needed to figure out how to move the sweet fruit sustenance that was in the cup, out of the cup and into her mouth. And the process began again. She began to suck on the handle, and I would try to turn it over in an effort to help. I should have learned by now, but this was an obvious insult which only led to squirms, grunts, and even mores screaming. At one point, she was even sucking on the bottom of the cup, and looked at me with a very confused look when nothing came out. Finally, after about 30 minutes, she had the cup turned right-side-up, and was happily sucking the sweet fruity sustenance of the apple juice and was quite content. The road leading to this point was a rocky one. Any time I tried to help in any way, or touch the cup in any way, only resulted in squirms, grunts, and more screams. But if she did it herself, she was perfectly happy.........until Katie walked around the corner and Cadence recognized her as the source of her evening meal.

       If Cadence had simply trusted me, she would have had the pleasure of partaking in that sweet, fruity sustenance that lied in wait within the red cup.  But, instead she was determined to do it on her own.  Granted, she did learn a valuable lesson from doing it on her own, however, I would have much preferred to help if she would have let me.  

       Trust is the most expensive entity in existence!  It can take forever to earn, but can also be lost in an instance.  In 1 Kings 17, Elijah has been instructed from the Lord to travel to Zarephath and live for a bit.  When he came to the town he meets a starving widow gathering sticks at the gate of the town.  Weary from his travels, Elijah asks the widow for a drink and some bread to which she replied:

"As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug.  I am now gathering sticks so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die"

       The widow, striving so hard to be frugal with what she had left is on the brink of starvation.  To her, this is nothing more than a weary traveler asking for her last bit of bread.  

       Elijah responds:

"Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me al little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.  For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth."

We always have a choice.  Much like Cadence struggling with the sippie cup and the widow striving to make the last bit of meal and oil stretch as far as possible, we have a choice.  Trust or not.  If we are relying on our own means and our own abilities, much like the widow starving to death, the "meal and oil," will always run out.  For all she knew, that was their last morsel of food with no apparent signs of it being replenished.  Or, we can take that leap and trust in our Creator that there will always be enough!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Dem Dry Bones

In chapter 37 of Ezekiel, we encounter our friend Ezekiel in  a valley of bones.  While there, the voice of God inquires of Ezekiel, "Mortal, can these bones live?"  His response, "O Lord God, you know."  Then, the voice of God instructs Ezekiel to tell the bones to, "...hear the word of the LORD." So, Ezekiel obeys and speaks the words of God into these dried up bones and after a bit of commotion,  Ezekiel is standing face to face with a multitude of beings completely reformed.

But that's not the end of the story!  God explains to Ezekiel the analogy of the dried up bones with the children of Israel, and just like these bones, God will breathe new life into them as a nation.

"And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, o my people.  I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil;  then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and will act..."

What a great message of hope for us in the Lenten season.

One of my favorite tv shows is, "Bones."  If you are not familiar with the show, it is based loosely on the  life and writings of novelist and forensic anthropologist Kathy Reich.  The show follows Temperance Brennan, or "Bones," a Forensic Anthropologist from the Smithsonian that also works as a consultant for the FBI with her partner, Sealey Boothe.   Throughout the show, Boothe, Bones, and the rest to the team from the Smithsonian are repeatedly called upon to assist in solving murders or missing person cases in which the remains are so badly damaged that no other resources will suffice.  Upon her arrival at the crime scene, Bones can in a matter of seconds tell you age, sex, and ethnicity just from a quick gander at the skeletal structure.

Our bones and teeth tell everything about us!  In National Geographic,  an article entitled, "Lost Tribes of the Green Sahara" describes how archaeologists unearthed  roughly 200 graves near a vanished lake that indicated the Sahara was once a fertile area.  The skeletons buried there disclosed amazing information about 2 groups of people who had lived at least 1000 years apart.  The bones and teeth from the unearthed graves revealed sex, age, general health, diet, diseases, injuries and habits of the deceased.  The size and condition of the bones even gave clues to lifestyles, work, and living conditions of the inhabitants.

The point is this...

What would an analysis of our spiritual bones indicate this Lenten season?  If "Bones" were to somehow be able to examine our spiritual bones, what would they reveal?  Would our spiritual bones show a deficiency of a substantial diet of study, reflection, prayer, and a meaningful relationship with our Creator?  Or, maybe we are more like the dried up bones in the valley with Ezekiel and we need God to breath God's life-giving breathe into us.

As we continue through our Lenten Journey, examine your spiritual bones.  What words do we need to hear for our life today?  How can we open ourselves yup to that living breath of God?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Walkin in Sunshine!

Chances are that over the past week many you felt like our buddy Jack here!  It was cold, gloomy, and downright unpleasant.  It makes me wonder if Maltbie Babcock, the author of one of my favorite hymns, "This Is My Father's World," ever experienced a week like the one we had recently.  Studies have shown that, just like milk, a bit of sunshine does a body good!  When we go for a string of days without the warming glow of the sun, our sunny disposition begins to fade.  However, I find it to be an evocative image of our Creator's love and grace. 

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 19:
The heavens declare the glory of God;

    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The Psalmist here is meditating on all that God has created, noting that in all the world, all things point back to the Creator.  Much like Babcock describes in, "This is My Father's World."  

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

 Today, we find ourselves almost halfway through the Lenten Journey.  Lent, the time of self-denial, spiritual inventory, and general gloominess.  The one time of year when the organist gets to play all the music in minor keys they have been rat-holing all year.  In general, Lent can in many ways resemble the previous week of gloom we have all endured.  We proceed through the season awaiting the sunshine and restorative joy of Resurrection Sunday, just as we have spent this past week locked in the house with a couple of stir-crazy kids just begging to see a small ray of hope that the ice will melt. 

But that's not the end!  

As the Psalmist continues to meditate on all that God has created and how it calls back to God, the writer even talks about the sun.  

"It rises from one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth."  

What a message of hope!  Just as the sun reaches all that God has created, to provide warmth and restoration, so does God's love, mercy, and grace.  As we continue on in our Lenten journey together, it's easy to get bogged down and feel beaten in the frigid ice of regret and shame.  But, our God calls us into the sunshine of God's grace to reconciliation and fulfillment.  Take some time this week to celebrate and bask in the warm glow of sunshine that is God's grace as it melts the ice of regret that traps us.  Live fully into all that God has called you to be!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Just come...

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

What is your understanding of grace?  Among John Wesley views of prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace, Wesley understood grace as God's active presence in our lives.  What a liberating thought of God's reconciling and fulfilling grace!  In the 11th chapter of Matthew's account of the Good News, Jesus makes the statement, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."  In other words, "...just come to me as you are."  

As we move through the Lenten Journey, it's easy to beat ourselves up over our sins as we seek personal holiness in view of our Creator, but God's grace says, "come as you are."  We could spend our whole lives seeking perfection, but that's not what grace is about.   Our God is not a God of yesterdays, keeping a ledger of each act of sin.  If we truly believe in God's justifying and sanctifying grace, then these shortcomings become a "non-issue," and irrelevant.  Our worship team, Revelation has presented in worship a song by the band, Mercy Me titled, "Greater."  In the middle section of the tune, we have this statement, "There'll be days I lose the battle but grace says that it doesn't matter, because the cross has already won the war!"    While we, as disciples of Christ, do seek to live a "christ-like life" out of our love, devotion, and obedience to our Redeemer, it is never about gaining merit or favor with God.  Grace tells us that there is nothing we can ever do to cause God to love us any less, and there is nothing we can ever do that will make God love us any more!   If we are constantly working to achieve perfection in Christ before coming to him, we will never make it.  Jesus words resonate... "come to me."  

Take some time and listen to the song in the video above.  Are you heavy burdened today?  Come to Christ.  "Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal."   

"Lay down your heart, lay down your heart.... come as you are."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Journey Begins...

Today is Ash Wednesday, and it marks the beginning of the 40 days of Lent leading to Resurrection Sunday.  Traditionally, Lent is a time for Christians to enter a period of self-reflection, prayer, and preparation in anticipation of the celebrations of Easter.  The duration of the season, 40 days, carries a symbolism with many roots, including the flood and 40 years of wilderness wanderings.  The inspiration for this time, however, is most likely taken from Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness where he, like Moses and Elijah before him, sojourned in preparation for his ministry.

A common practice throughout the Bible, fasting was believed to be a humbling act of commitment or repentance that was intensified when combined with prayer, In contemporary Protestant religious practice, during Lent many persons practice some king of fasting, referring to it as "giving up" something for the duration. However, as the video suggests, there are many misconceptions around the notion of fasting.  The biggest misunderstanding about fasting is that many seem to do it boastfully, in an effort to gain some morsel of favor with God.  The reality is, that there is nothing we can do that can cause God to love us anymore, and there is nothing we can do that will cause God to love us any less that God already does!

The season of Lent begins with ashes, as we recall our mortality and fragility before God, but this does not mean it is a season devoid of joy.  Whatever we choose as a Lenten discipline, let it be part of a freedom journey, not wallowing in gloom but practicing justice and joy in fellowship with God and one another.  Let us make that journey together, exploring how we can turn the casual cultural concept of "giving up something for Lent" into a meaningful act of devotion.