Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Irene in the Going

I’ve been thinking about this storm and the stories we are telling. What’s striking is that I can almost guarantee that my experience of Irene and someone else’s experience right around the block from me are going to be wildly different. Instead of widespread paths of destruction it seems as though we have pockets of wreckage; so clearly marked that you can see where things begin and end and begin again.

Trees that have fallen through houses, cars and trailer homes. Root balls the size of houses. Creeks and streams flowing over roads. Power lines tangled and suspended overhead even though the bottom 10 feet of some poles are missing. And then you turn the corner and see a block of houses untouched.

Remarkably, at our house we rode out the storm and never lost power. Three days after Irene and I know of many who have been told that it will be days more before power is restored. About all we had to deal with was the cable going out – so insignificant that I feel guilty mentioning it in light of what others are dealing with.

The stories I’m enjoying hearing are the way neighbors have pulled together and helped remove downed trees and limbs. People who had power restored opening their homes to neighbors who need a place to stay. The church in Dundalk who is feeding over 80 residents of a senior apartment complex that is without power. Irene is uncovering a goodness in people that we often gloss over. Its there, we usually just see the dross that’s caked over it.

In times of crisis like this most people pull together and they remember something thought long forgotten – community. Not just people living in proximity to one another, but people doing life together. That’s what we mean in the church when we talk about being part of a fellowship. Deep, abiding, lasting community. Fellowship like that has little or nothing to do with coffee and donuts.

At its core, its something far deeper. It means life lived together. Its living into the idea that my life’s wreckage can flow into those places where your life has been relatively untouched and together we can put the pieces back together again. It’s the believe that your broken places can meet the grace I have to offer and you can find healing. All of this because we believe that God wants us to be whole. That God wants us to experience shalom; a word that means so much more than simply “peace.” It more properly means something like “well-being” or “completeness.” And we believe that God wants that for us.

Typically, after an event like Hurricane Irene, some time will pass and then we will all go back to our routines and retreat back inside our houses. The connections that we made this week with neighbors will become moments we look back on with fondness and say, “Remember after the hurricane when …” but we won’t do much to maintain the community we’ve started to rekindle.

More’s the shame for us; especially for the Church. This is an opportunity for us to do the thing we’re supposed to be really good at – community. Doing life together not because of a storm, but because of a Story – “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” I don’t care whether your church is big or small, real community is something you can do. Should do. But will you?

Don’t let this be another woulda-shoulda-coulda moment. We’ve stirred up something. Something good. What can you do to make sure it lingers?



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Calling Back

The Word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah and in Chapter 2 he says: What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? For several more verses God laments that the people have turned away and then in verse 8 God says …

The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me.

The people forgot all that God had done for them and so had turned away from God. They forgot about Egypt and the Red Sea. They forgot about the pillar of fire and the pillar of smoke that guided them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. They forgot manna, quail and water from rocks. They forgot a land flowing with milk and honey.

As bad as that was, I feel like there was something worse. Israel’s leaders never stepped up to call the people back; to remind them of the things that were fading from their memories. To remind them of just who their God was. “The priests did not ask …”

Part of a leader’s deal is to hold the flag high; to be the bearer of God’s standard. To ask the question “Where is the Lord?” even while pointing to the answer! It’s a role that leaders better take seriously.

It’s why I think Jeremiah 30:21 and Jeremiah 2:8 are related. If you are a leader and you plan on holding God before people you better draw close to the Lord. You need to devote yourself to being near the Lord. There’s danger in forgetting for each of us as individual disciples. But the danger for leaders and the people we lead is supremely higher – whether you lead a church, a small group, your kids, a Sunday school class or whatever.

I’m not always doing this perfectly and neither will you, but I want to develop a lifestyle of singular devotion. If you’re not reaching for it, you’ll never grasp it. And if you’re not reaching for it, you probably shouldn’t be leading.



Monday, August 22, 2011


I’m intrigued by this verse I “discovered” in Jeremiah the other day.

“Their leader will be one of their own; their ruler will arise from among them. I will bring him near and he will come close to me – for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?” declares the Lord. – Jeremiah 30:21

What a great question! We are invited to make seeking after God a life-priority. We are welcomed into a relationship that puts into practice a lifestyle of devotion; a hunger to live completely for God.

I’m reminded that I can’t serve two masters. I can’t be devoted to God and to another Lord. God, so worthy of my trust, wants to be not only number 1 – God wants to be my only One!

God’s working this verse into my life. I may have many loves, but I want one devotion.

More from Jeremiah later this week.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ancient - in Hebrews 11

In the course of the reading and reflecting on this chapter, I’ve read some writings from the Early Church Fathers. Church Fathers usually refers to a group of influential teachers, theologians and pastors whose writings were used as the foundation of Christian theology for centuries. Reading what they wrote as they reflected on Biblical passages gives me a lot insight about what the church thought and believed at its beginning. I want to share some of what they said as they reflected on Hebrews 11.

“Rejoice that whatever the shadows of the Old Testament used to veil beneath testimonies of prophets has been brought out into the open through the mystery of the Lord’s passion.” Sermon 69.2 by Leo the Great. {Leo was the Bishop of Rome from 440-461. He was a key figure at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.}

“For it is not possible to become a believer otherwise than by raising one’s self above the common customs of the world.” On the Epistle to the Hebrews 22.1-2 by Chrysostom {John Chrysostom was the Bishop of Constantinople and lived in the late 300’s through the early 400’s. He was known for his eloquence in preaching. That’s why he was given the Greek surname “Chrysostom” which means “golden-mouthed.}

“Please do not be ungrateful to the one who made you able to see; this is why you are able to believe what you are not yet able to see. God gave you eyes in your head, reason in your heart. Arouse the reason in your heart, get the inner inhabitant behind your inner eyes on his feet, let him take to his windows.” Sermon 126.3 by Augustine {Augustine lived in the late 300’s through the early 400’s. He was the Bishop of Hippo, a city near the Sea of Galilee. He is sometimes called the greatest theologian the church has ever had.}

~ Godspeed

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What About When God Doesn’t?

Yesterday I was reading Psalm 103, especially verses 1-8. The psalm begins with praises to God: "Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart ,I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me.”

In verse 3, the praises shift and become a litany of all of the reasons we praise God: “He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!”

Its in this litany of reasons that I started to ask questions. Let me explain why. But first, an affirmation: I have experienced so clearly in my life the forgiveness of sins that the Psalmist is talking about. I have every confidence in that. In many ways that’s a faith statement, but in many other significant ways that’s also a statement based on reality. The guilt of those sins is gone. I can feel it and I know it. The weight of them is gone and for that alone, I would praise God from now until the end of my days.

But … the rest of this litany gives me pause. “He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.Let’s be honest. We know God doesn’t always heal. So what do we do when God doesn’t heal diseases? What do we say to a family when sickness and disease linger?

What about those times when we aren’t rescued from trouble? (That word redeemed in verse 4 could just as easily get translated as rescued.)

As Followers of God, what do we say about those times when there is little or no love and compassion?

What about those times when we aren’t satisfied (filled with good things) or when our youth is not renewed?

When I’m struggling with anything – sickness, depression, finances, work, relationships; its hard to rely on platitudes. “Trust God.” “It’s God’s Will.” “It will all work out.” “God’s in control.” Even if those things are true, they sound trite and dismissive. They don’t help. They sound like the person saying them is trying to keep their distance because their afraid something I have will rub off. Like I’m contagious.

When people have tough questions you better have tough answers – answers that are tough enough to hold up under pressure.

What about those times when God doesn’t heal? When we aren’t rescued from trouble? The Psalmist says: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.”

What about days devoid of love, compassion and satisfaction? When renewal and hope seem far off? The Psalmist says: “From everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him.”

Sometimes rescue simply means drawing close. It means, “I’m here with you.” And you can’t love from a distance; not in a crisis. When things get tough for someone you love and you’re far away, your first instinct is to get to them. You want to close the distance. Love draws close. That’s what God does. God draws close. God loves.

So, the answer to the question: “What do we do when God doesn’t come to the rescue?” really depends on what kind of rescue you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for a God who will come to save you from pain, loss, death, disease, misery and suffering – I have to be honest and tell you I’m not going to be much help. BUT, if you’re looking for a God who will draw close to you in those very times and love you like no other can – I know just where to look for that kind of rescue.



Monday, August 15, 2011

Better – in Hebrews 11

Following on the heels of verse 13 about aliens and strangers, are these words: People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. Since we are aliens and strangers here, we’re looking for where we do belong – a country of our own. And its "a better country - a heavenly one" (verse 16).

Another phrase (or two) that stick in my mind. Looking for a country of their own. A better country.

It says something to me about citizenship. About priorities. About hopes and longings. We get so tied to here and now. To things and circumstances. I may be an alien, a foreigner and a stranger here, but I have a country of my own. A better country. One I’m looking forward to.

God has something else for us if we will look up!



Thursday, August 11, 2011

Strangers – in Hebrews 11

"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth." – Hebrews 11:13

I’ve always been drawn to this image of “foreigners and strangers” or “aliens and strangers” as I’ve heard it put. It was an especially appealing thought to me as a teenager. I felt like an alien and a stranger. I felt like I was on the outside looking in. I just didn’t fit. In this verse I found permission not to fit. In fact, I wasn’t supposed to fit.

As an adult, I find that I try too hard to fit. It’s nice to be reminded that I don’t need to try so hard. In fact, Jesus didn’t fit. He was comfortable with that. In some ways he relished that. If our goal is to be Christ-like a little more “foreigner and stranger” would be a good thing, yes?

On Only Visiting This Planet, Larry Norman said, “This world is not my home. I’m just passing through.” That’s the way foreigners and strangers talk!



Monday, August 8, 2011

Dying – in Hebrews 11

It says "All these people were still living by faith when they died," in verse 13.

I want that. I want a lifetime of long, steady obedience in one direction.

This verse reminds me of some precious people in my life. Dwilla McIntyre who came to faith as a teenager, was baptized on her uncles farm in a horse trough. She passed away last month in her mid-nineties. She always had a smile, had a growing faith until her last days and had a huge heart for people. Her birthday was December 24th and every Christmas Eve after our church services were over … we had cake. Not for Jesus; for Dwilla. Our church family gathered around one of our precious saints and sang “Happy Birthday.”

I met Bill at my church in Frederick. I’m extremely extroverted. Bill … is not. He is a quiet, confident man; full of God and God’s Spirit. He’s been following the Lord longer than I’ve been alive. So, when Bill talked; I listened. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received as a pastor (and I get a lot!) was from Bill. I was in a dry place and struggling with calling, relationships and leadership. As I shared this with Bill, he listened and remained silent – to a point. Finally, when I ran out steam he quietly said, “John, you have to decide who you are trying to please.” Me, speechless; doesn’t happen often. But he was right and I’ve never forgotten that moment. Bill’s not dead yet (and hopefully won’t be for a long time), but he’s living by faith and will be when he dies. And he’ll touch a lot of lives before his road is finished.

My mom is in her 60’s. Being my mom has probably been one of her hardest jobs. She’s not dead yet either, but there were times when I pushed it. People always underestimate her: always to their detriment. She’s a lot stronger than she looks! She came to faith in her late 20’s. After early years in the Moravian and Methodist Churches, her faith drifted for a bit. Then when I was 8 or 9 – her life changed. She met Jesus. And from that moment to this she’s never let go of him. Almost 40 years later and she’s still living by faith. Her influence on my life and my sister’s life is immeasurable.

Everyone has an aunt that isn’t their aunt. You know what I mean; a close family friend who you end up calling “Aunt so-and-so.” My Aunt Florence died 15 years ago. When God made my Aunt Florence he left parts out. Parts like jealousy, bitterness and hate. She was one of the most Christ-like people I’ve ever known. When the ground was shaking and the world shifting under everyone’s feet, Aunt Florence was unflappable. “Who’s on the throne?” she would ask. And we knew the answer. God. God is on the throne. I still miss her.

There are so many more names. Saints who lived and are living lives of faithfulness. That’s a lofty, but good goal. To come to the end of our days “still living by faith when [we] die.”

Friday, August 5, 2011

Forward – in Hebrews 11

I love verse 10 – "For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” I especially like the phrase “looking forward.”

FORWARD was the theme of a capital campaign at the church I pastor in 2010. We quoted this verse a lot during the month and a half or so of the campaign. I haven’t grown tired of it. It says two very important things.

First, vision if forward. Life should be lived forward. The things you can change, effect, influence are all forward. Backwards doesn’t get you anywhere. Today and the days after are all you really have to work with. Do it! Look forward. In Philippians, the Apostle Paul says, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead." Forward is really where we belong.

Some versions of Philippians say “casting off” instead of “forgetting.” I like that. I suspect most of us have more casting off to do than we have forgetting. What do you need to cast off (not just let go, but cast off)?

Second, looking forward is where we find God active and alive. When we look forward our vision doesn’t randomly wander, we are looking for something in particular. We are searching for a “city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.” Paul talks about “straining toward what is ahead.” What’s ahead is God!

And when we look, we find him! He’s preparing the way. There is a city he has designed and built for us. If we’re looking we can see hints of it all around us.

There are some things I wish I could go back in my life and fix. I can’t. There are some things about my present circumstances I wish I could change. I’ll do my part in making that happen, but a lot of that isn’t up to me. Ultimately, I’m looking forward. I see God there. And he’s been busy.



Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Home - in Hebrews 11

Now, I’ve read this chapter before; but today? Wow! Lots and lots jumped off the page. So much in just a few verses, I could probably do a series of posts. *Hmmmmm.*

In verses 8-9 God is calling Abraham. He is “called to go,” but the verse makes it clear – “Even though he did not know where he was going.” He is ready to go where he is sent even though he doesn’t have any idea where that will be. Unsettling? Yes. But it also says that when Abraham got to the place God showed him that he “made his home” there.

Remarkable. Go where I tell you to go. But, I haven’t told you where that is just yet. Start walking and then I’ll tell you. And when you get there … that’s home. Make it home.

I wonder how many of us are someplace, somewhere – but not home? Even though its where God wants us to be, where God has called us to be, we haven’t made it home. We want where we are to be temporary. We are waiting for God to make a better offer. We can’t really enjoy where we are because we’re too busy looking for the next thing. We haven’t made it home.

Stop waiting and start living. God led you there, God’s with you there. Relax, okay? “You’re home.”