Category Archives: brokeness

daniel

It was a little over three weeks ago when he stumbled into our church. I say that because he really wasn’t in the best of shape and had trouble walking. But he came and I greeted him in the normal fashion and gave him a visitor’s packet and told him it was nice to have him in church. It was a different kind of Sunday as we had a special speaker and at the end when we had an altar call Daniel came forward. I went down to pray with him and he confessed that he hadn’t been in church in probably about twenty years. We then prayed together for his re-commitment to Christ and to following after Him. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a new friendship for me.

I saw Daniel a couple of more times that week as he attended our Sunday evening Bible study and our Wednesday night gathering. I came to find out he was proficient in Biblical Hebrew although we was self taught…who teaches themselves Hebrew? He was very Biblically knowledgeable, but he had also had negative experiences with the church before, so he was a little gun shy about getting involved. Daniel also struggled with self worth because of his health issues and had several struggles because of that. But I reassured him that at our church that wasn’t something that we based your value on and we were excited to join with him on his journey of restoration and wholeness in Christ.

Another week went by and occasionally I would get calls from Daniel. Wanting to talk or see if he was doing ok with church (he honestly wanted to make sure he was doing it correctly). He was even worried about the sharing he did at our Sunday night Bible study when he floored us all by reminding us that we relate the love of Christ better to one another out of our brokenness instead of our piety (perhaps he should have been the one leading the group). One night he called around the time I was putting the kids to bed, and even though I was tired, I took his call anyway. He was having a pretty rough day and he referenced an illustration I had used in church about needing God, but needing someone with ‘skin on’. Without really thinking about it I got his address, drove over to his house and when he answered the door I gave him the biggest hug I could muster (it might have even gotten awkward). But then we spent almost an hour just talking about life, philosophy, music and more. I think he was surprised to learn that his pastor was familiar with punk bands from the 90s. We even talked about his upcoming baptism as he had requested to be baptized after coming back to Christ.

Unfortunately he missed our next Wednesday and Sunday because he had gotten sick and then Sunday afternoon he called to apologize for his absence. We talked a bit as I was preparing my Sunday evening study on the book of Daniel, his namesake. We even made plans for his baptism and he had made peace with the idea of pouring for his Baptism as our baptistery would not have been very accessible for him. We talked a little bit about his health and weight and I reminded him that his worth was not determined by those things, but by who God saw in him and the journey he was beginning anew with Christ. After a while I assured him that we would look towards doing a Baptism service in a couple of weeks and then we got off the phone.

The next day of the week is one I always look forward to as it is my day off. While the rest of the world hates Mondays, I love them. I am never able to sleep in so I usually have my morning coffee by 6 AM at the latest. As I was finishing up my coffee the phone rang and I saw it was Daniel’s number. But when I answered…it wasn’t Daniel. It was his mother and I sat there numbly listening as she explained that Daniel had had a heart attack the night before and had passed away early that morning. I tried to summon up the correct pastoral response for her, but I was just floored and immediately sick at my stomach…I’m sure I said something like, “I’m so sorry…let us know if we can do anything…” But I know it wasn’t enough.

I found myself going to the shower and just weeping. Why? Why so soon? God he was making changes. He was going to be better. He was going to do better. He was going to be my friend.

And honestly I don’t have any answers. I know he wasn’t in good health and I understand how human biology works and what had taken place. And in my spiritual frame of reference I know Daniel is now made whole before his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that one day I will see him again as God has always seen him. But I miss him. And I wish I had more time. I still do.

So hug your friends. Kiss your spouse and kids. And know that this life is short and we never know what tomorrow may bring.

Advertisements

overcome

Yesterday on the drive into school my kids and I ended up on the subject of death. Now granted, this isn’t a subject that often enters our realm of family discussion, but for some reason it came up yesterday. And in my fatherly wisdom I found myself saying these encouraging words, “Well, we all die someday”. Fortunately my son quickly interjected, “That’s ok. Because that’s the way we get to heaven.” (Luckily my kids somehow survive despite their dad’s morbid view of reality). But let’s face it. We all know the two things we are guaranteed in life are “death and taxes”. And sometimes we in the church struggle with our mortality and how to relate it to our immortality. We sometimes think that the blessings of the life to come aren’t real if they don’t somehow resonate in our current setting…but this isn’t really the gospel.

In some of the last teachings we see Jesus delivering to His disciples before his trial and death we read these words from the book of John, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 Oftentimes I think we misread this verse. We see ourselves as the “overcomers” of the world when we are really are only guaranteed to “have trouble”. The word in the verse above we read for trouble or tribulation is the Greek word, thlipsis. It’s most literal translation is “pressure” and it comes from the idea of ruts being worn into a path/road. Tell me that’s not encouraging. In this life you will get potholes. And really it’s the one thing we are guaranteed…this world will eventually end us if Jesus doesn’t return first.

Luckily that’s not where the story ends. Although we may lose, although we may be overcome, beat down, pressured, etc. this is not the End. Jesus tells us to be at peace as he has overcome the world. He has claimed victory over the temporal limitations of this world and made a way through death into life. And so we find peace. Truthfully this isn’t easy. When the ruts worn into us come through things like sickness, brokenness, bills, debts, familial discord, job loss, and grief we long to be the ones who overcome. But at the end of the day we don’t overcome…we take comfort in He who has overcome and speaks these words to us in the final book, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” – Revelation 21:4-5. The faith that we hold onto places it’s confidence in a God who has not only overcome but promises to make all things new. This is how we are not overcome ourselves and find peace even in the midst of the storms of life.

And truthfully, we who are called of Christ are also called to comfort and proclaim good news to those who have been overcome by life and it’s troubles. Our calling is not simply to look to the life to come but also to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. Often times we find peace in serving those who themselves can’t find peace.

So may you take heart today. May you find peace and bring peace to others through Christ our Lord; the one who has overcome.


not so blind

It’s funny sometimes how ideas come to me for my blog. It can happen while teaching students. Sometimes I am playing with my kids and I have one of those aha moments. Or sometimes the ideas come to me while I am deep in thought early in the morning…hey, it happens. But this one happened while I was pouring out my soul to a friend over coffee. We were talking about life and the curve balls that it sometimes throws your way and then I made this posit, “What if the goal of this life is simply to learn to trust God so that it will make sense in the life to come”. Now I know for many of you this may not be that ground breaking of a thought and maybe many of you had even thought this before, but for some reason it really stuck me.

I don’t think trust is something that comes easy. Sure we operate with blind trust all the time. We trust that the chair we are about to sit in will hold our weight. We trust that the other motor-vehicle operators on the road don’t want to play bumper cars. We even trust that when we wake up there will be breath in our lungs and the sun will rise again (granted some of us wait until the sun is up to rise ourselves). But trust in our future? Trust in God’s best regardless of what is going on around us? I don’t think it’s that easy. And I am pretty sure we can’t call it blind trust at that point.

There was a verse from Proverbs 3 that many of us learned when we were little, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” But what does trusting God with our whole heart look like? Does that mean we trust God with our families, finances, health, career, safety, etc. etc.? I think so. And in a world of violence, hatred, oppression, brokenness, slavery, and just all out sin I don’t think this comes easy. Life itself can beat us down, hurt us, hurt those we love and in the midst of this we are called to trust with our whole heart.

Maybe that is why that thought the other day for me was so monumental. Because in this life I don’t think that this trust comes naturally. I think we are constantly called to renew our trust in God and in His goodness. And I always find the need to remind myself that the trust I am placing is in a God so big He was willing to become a crucified criminal for me. And then all of a sudden the worst life can throw at me doesn’t seem as bad. So my challenge to us today? Keep going, keep moving and keep learning to trust in a God in this life who will be more than we can ever comprehend in the life to come.


busy spirit

I love summer. You have warm weather, longer days, and sun! Summer is one of those times of the year where people are supposed to unwind, vacation, stick their toes in the sand and in general relax. But I have been examining my own life and the lives of those around me and nothing seems further from the truth. People are bustling from one place to the next; creating memories, crafting experiences, waiting in lines, traveling in cars, filling schedules and ultimately being more busy than they were before the summer. And honestly I don’t blame anyone. For just a few months (at least in Michigan) we get beautiful weather and sun, so why not make the most of it? But I find myself in an almost frantic pace and standing ultimately in need of repentance.

Let me explain. In Psalm 51:10 we find the following, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” The writer talks about how God’s action in our repentant confession is not only to clean us, but to steady us. To help our spirit to be fixed. And honestly this is something I find myself struggling with in the midst of all this busyness. I feel like my spirit, my soul, that deepest part of me is getting pulled in so many different directions at times that I just feel hollow….maybe that’s just me.

But I can’t help but think that this might be a shared state. As I peruse social media sites and see all the stuff we are occupying our space/spirit with I wonder if there is not a need for God to renew our spirits to be a bit more fixed, a bit more steady. And maybe this isn’t accomplished through travel, vacation, or more events and activities, but maybe it is through insane honesty before the Divine. In the latter part of this same Psalm the writer declares that God will not “despise a broken Spirit and a contrite heart”. In other words God honors our brokenness, our admission of frailty before him. And I think that sometimes the busyness, the noise of life is just another way we try to convince ourselves that we can be whole apart from God.

But I’m tired. I’ve been too busy. I’m broken and so I repent and long for my Spirit to be made steady again by God’s renewal. I pray that you find the space to experience that same renewal and maybe become a little less busy.


heh’vel

This last weekend I returned from a mission trip with my students to Guatemala. This was a unique trip as it focused, by design, on experiencing as many different dimensions of missional opportunities as possible with what limited time we had in Guatemala. Little did I know how much this would wreck me; and is still wrecking me. In the short time we were there we participated in relief and mission efforts in a rural community, an inner city ghetto and the infamous Zone 3, the location of the Guatemala City Dump. We saw people who were starving, people who couldn’t rub two Quetzales (1/8 of a US dollar) together and those who rummage through others trash to try to scrape by a living. Those who lived in Paradise would work for sometimes 22 hours a day to earn a little more than a US dollar only to see the crops they spent their day picking (that easily could cure their families malnutrition) shipped overseas.* We saw extreme privilege and extreme poverty shaking hands in a beautiful country and it will not leave me alone.

And so now I come back to the US and I realize how lucky I am to have been born here. But I take a look, an honest look at all that surrounds me and I declare it to be “heh’vel”. If this doesn’t sound familiar let me try it this way, ““Meaningless! Meaningless!”says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless!Everything is meaningless.” – Ecclesiastes 1:2. The Hebrew word for meaningless/vanity is actually the word for breath, smoke, fog, air…I look around me and I see air. Really! If at the end of the day all of this stuff I am accumulating isn’t making a difference in the world for those who so desperately need a difference to be made then it is “heh’vel”. And what do I do with that? I honestly don’t know…

So right now, I tell the story, I pray, I seek the face of Heaven to show me how to escape this heh’vel. We are a ridiculously blessed people and we are called to be a blessing. The constant nagging in my head now is of course, how? The verse that continues to haunt me in the midst of all of this goes a bit like this, “f anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” – James 4:17. Now sin, I think fairly enough, is anything that separates us from God. And I know God’s heart is with the oppressed, the outcast, the destitute, the poor. And my heart continues to be broken for what I have seen and experienced. So my prayer is that I would reject apathy, that I would reject heh’vel and that I would find a way in the midst of all of this to live out the Heart of Christ. And I pray this same prayer for you.

 

* Guatemala’s chief occupation is agriculture of which they export 80% of their total product. 90% of all farm land is owned by about 25 families who enjoy the export spoils. Granted this is derived from a few conversations with some local Guatemalans.


sick

I am not even sure why I feel the need to blog today. I don’t really feel like doing much of anything. Truth be told I have been under the weather with Bronchitis since Saturday and it is hard to get motivated about anything. It is crazy how much a little infection in your lungs can take down your entire body. It just seems like everything begins to fail. You have trouble focusing and you can’t seem to get anything accomplished. It is almost as if your entire body is rebelling against you. And so, as my doctor puts it, we send in the troops…antibiotics. Now I know there are arguments both ways as to the good or the bad of antibiotics, but you can’t help but be amazed at how they work. You are essentially ingesting a micro-poison that is directly targeting the bacteria that are causing the infection in order to rid your body of the sickness. I can almost imagine the miniscule battle raging as the antibiotics race to the defense of the body and start trying to take down the invading bacteria (yes my brain works like that).

It kind of has me wondering if this is what the affects of sin look like personally and corporately. Does sin come in and wreck the entire system? Does it inhibit our ability to accomplish good for the Kingdom and for our fellow man? And if all of this is true how is it taken care of? 1 John 1:8-10 reads like this, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” All of a sudden our individual sins become a corporate/systemic problem and we become broken as a people. But the writer here says that if we confess these sins (there might be need for personal and communal) that God is faithful to cleanse us from unrighteousness. And the Greek word for cleanse may look familiar: katharizō, from which we get the medical termcauterize. The filth, the sin is burned/stripped/cleansed out of us and it frees us to function as we are called.

The problem that still remains is the vastness of which we as the church and the world are infected. Stanley Hauerwas (an esteemed American Theologian from Duke University) once said, “To be witnesses to the world is to be truth-tellers.” And maybe this is where the greatest sickness lies. We can’t be honest with ourselves in the church as to the degree of our infection and therefore we have no witness. Without a witness we can never expect the world around us to get well. May we as the church come to grips with an honest recitation of that which is making us sick. And then as we are healed through God’s cleansing may we be a witness to the health that only God can bring.


most sensational

So last night I had the extreme pleasure of getting to watch the new Muppets movie with my family. For those of you who were in any way connected to what used to be a weekly schedule set aside for a frog, a pig, a bear and a gonzo you need to go out and rent this movie now. For any of the rest of you, you need to go and rent this movie now. The reason I say this is only because this movie awakened in me a magic that wasn’t necessarily dormant, but all the same needed refreshing. What is entertainment really all about? Why don’t we find things like The Muppet show and the magic and imagination of childhood captivating?

In one of the pivotal moments in the movie Kermit is singing a song about a possible reunion (this isn’t a spoiler for anyone who has ever seen a Muppets movie) and he sings the following, “Would anybody watch or even care? Or did something break we cant repair?” And I feel like he is asking a question we all need to ask ourselves. When did entertainment become so bent on shock and sensationalism that we can’t find delight in great stories about childhood, compassion and care? Did our taste really grow up or just become more base? The beauty of things like the Muppet show is that even though they had us laughing at puppets they also had us thinking about becoming greater. With songs like “Can’t take no for an answer”, “Together Again” and “Rainbow Connection”, they always had us dreaming for bigger and greater things without forgetting those around us who make us great.

But now look at us. We are entertained by sensationalism that doesn’t involve anything of substance. People who humiliate themselves in the tabloids and on YouTube have become our excuse for entertainment. When did shock humor become our standard? I think instead about the words of Paul to the Philippians church, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” – Philippians 4:8. Are the things we are choosing to “entertain” ourselves with worth praise? Is the stuff we call entertainment pure, lovely, right or noble?

I think all to often the loss of childhood involves a loss of innocence that we think justifies “mature” choices in what we allow into our thoughts, vision and hands…but is this really more mature? Or  are we really giving into more base desires that in no way validate who we should be striving to be like i.e. Jesus. I for one think that God took great joy in the gift that Jim Henson gave the world in the Muppets. All of a sudden adults and children were laughing as a family at the Most Sensational, Inspirational, Celebrational, Muppet-ational show ever to grace the television air waves…and that can’t be that bad.


%d bloggers like this: