Banquet for the Broken

In the ancient world there was reciprocity when it came to dinner invitations. It was an occasion of social importance and power. You figured out pretty quickly your standing in the community on whether or not you were invited to a dinner party or not.

I apologize in advance for any trauma this might cause any of you, but do you remember going to Junior High lunch for the first time?

Our school at Westcliffe, Colorado, where I went to Junior High, was so small that the we ate in the same room and time as with the High Schoolers. One of the oddities and rites of passage in that place was if you got a roll, a brownie, or a sugar cookie the High School boys would steal it off your tray as you walked by. So, one of the tactics we developed was as soon as the roll or brownie was put on your tray, you picked it up and licked so that everyone would see.

As a part of the orientation, wouldn’t it have been helpful if there a heads up about the gluttonary practices of High School boys and we had been able to see a seating chart depicting where it was safe to sit and where it might be socially dangerous?  Because where you sit in a junior high lunchroom matters.

The Creator-God is about to throw a world-wide feast of grace for broken people, but there will be a great reversal regarding the guest list.  The singular dynamic of the life of people who follow Him is humility.

People who live to puff themselves up, will end up flat on their faces. But people who are humbled by God will be transformed to more than what they were before. A relationship with Jesus transforms us and exalts us by humbling us.

It’s the Jesus Way.

Despicable me and despicable you— with our hurts, habits and hang-ups, our pasts, our presents, our weirdness and our neurosis—we get a seat of honor at the dinner table of the Living God of the Universe all because that same God humbled Himself and came into this broken world as a baby named Jesus.

The one being in the entire cosmic universe who had no reason to humble Himself because He is perfect beyond comprehension, humbled himself to be born to poor peasant parents, worked as a calloused-handed carpenter in a backwater town in a no-name country and then began to go around from village to village inviting broken, wounded, misfit people to a great banquet.

Many people that I know spend vast amounts of energy, resources, and time to try to validate to someone that they belong; that they matter and are significant. So many people end up exhausting themselves elbowing their way to the table.

The good news about Jesus means that you can be honest with yourself and God that you are not Okay, but God welcomes you to the feast of love and grace anyway.  He makes you a very important person, though you bring nothing to the table for Him.

If you feel like you are on the outside of the family of God, you are invited to God’s Table.  You don’t have to wait until you feel Okay about yourself to come to the table of grace. Or you don’t have to wait until you have your act together.  In fact, the messier you are the better it is.

But for some of you are already at the Table of Grace, but you have forgotten your table manners. Many people sitting at Jesus’ salvation table are still exhausting themselves, trying to earn the approval of bosses, peers and critics—that they don’t even like—and they are killing themselves along the way.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you don’t have to prove to anyone anything about your value.

I spent the first 20 years of my adulthood mostly trying to prove that I was valuable to God. Then when I lost it all and was at the bottom, God came to me and said, “Are you hungry? Wanna come to dinner?”  I said, “I got nothing to offer you in exchange for the privilege of sitting at the table.” And He said, “That is what qualifies you to come. Besides, your place at the feast has already been paid for.”

And so has yours, friend.

So has yours.

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No Turning Back

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Matthew 13:44

Church Curmudgeon

The common impression that folks in our culture have of a Christian is that we are against a lot of fun things. Most of us are engaged in what the media has called “The Culture War.”  Word on the street is that we Christ-followers are angry, very angry. We are judgmental.

They think we are joyless.

That impression is not unearned. We come by it honestly.

But Jesus’ little story about the hidden treasure exposes that as a shallow caricature. It demonstrates worth life is Christian is a matter of infinite joy.

I like what Dallas Willard says about this,

“The Kingdom of God is present wherever what God wants done is done. It is the range of God’s effective will. The Kingdom of God is spatial and timeless — it is a wonderful place to be and to live and it is eternal. The kingdom of God is all around you. That is the meaning of the phrase, ‘The kingdom of the heavens.”

Doesn’t that sound good?

Thirty-seven years ago last spring, I met my first wife on a blind date as she was graduating college in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The date went well. I asked her if she would like to go out on a second date the coming weekend.

She said no.

Said she had a party to go to. Said it was an engagement party for her roommate. Wondered if I wanted to go to the party with her. Let me get this straight, you want me to go to a party of strangers, a party of choir people who belong to fraternities and sororities, who wear their sweaters tied around their necks like a bunch of preppies using them as superhero capes?

What is the Kingdom of God like? It’s like an introverted, rule-breaking, mountain-raised, red-necked, recluse guy who wanted a second date with a tall, long-legged blond so badly that he went to a nerdy engagement party for someone he didn’t know and certainly didn’t like.

What is the Kingdom of God like? It’s like a Lotto ticket that pays off. It’s like getting a letter from Ed McMahan that says you actually did win the publisher’s clearing house sweepstakes of 8.7 million dollars.

What is the Kingdom of God like?

“Like a man named Jed, a poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed, then one day he was shootin at some food, up through the ground came a bubblin crude. Oil that is, black gold, Texas Tea.”

What is the Kingdom of God like? When people finally understand what’s at stake—they want this more than anything they have ever wanted in their life. And they exchanged the plan they had for their lives for access to this Kingdom with great joy.

If you think about it, Jesus actually goes on to live out the details of this parable. Jesus will be delivered up to death. His body would be sewn into the cold hard earth. Jesus coming out that cold, dark grave on the third day infuses us with life! God would welcome us into his family.

The message of Jesus’ little story is that the God of the universe is glad to give everything to have you. And when that infinite love, when that expansive staggering love is at the center of your life, it is worth giving everything for.

Is it worth it? My personal answer is yes! Not because it is easy. Not even because it is the right thing to do. It is worth it because He is worth it—and we aren’t home yet.

He is worthy of every prayer.
He is worthy of every act of obedience.
He is worthy of every temptation ever resisted.
He is worthy of every song of worship ever sung.
He is worthy of every tear of repentance ever shed.
He is worthy of every ounce of labor ever expended.
He is worthy of my life.
He is worthy.

Life with God, life in the Kingdom of the heavens, is worth giving everything you have. Because you get Jesus.

Even when living as a follower of Jesus puts you out of step with neighbors or colleagues or friends. It is worth it. Even in the moments when your future seems uncertain and it’s hard to trust God—it is worth it.

Even in the moments when you feel all too small and all too ordinary. Why? Because you get Jesus, because you get God, you get infinite joy now.

Jesus tells us this life pricey but is precious it will cost everything, and it will be the best deal you’ve ever had.

At the end of the Council of Elrond in Fellowship of the Ring, there’s a moment in which the two main Hobbit characters, Frodo and Sam, realize they will undertake a quest in which they will endure more loss than they can even imagine.

Tolkien describes Frodo feeling all sorts of nostalgia for his family and friends that he’s leaving behind—all sorts of longing to simply go back to the quiet of the Shire where he’s from and enjoy a simple, predictable life—life that’s not risky, dangerous, and holds no dread for him.

Then almost to his own surprise, Frodo raises his voice in the middle of this circle of people and says:

‘I will go, he said, though I do not know the way.’

This is exactly what we can do when we see the staggering love of God in Jesus. When we see God spending everything to have us.

I will follow, even though I don’t know the way.

Even though I feel little and ordinary, even though it be costly, even though it feels like putting a part of my life to death. I will follow, though I don’t know the way.

When I was a kid there was a song we sang at church camp after e.v.e.r.y. service.

I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.

Tho’ none go with me, I still will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.

My cross I’ll carry till I see Jesus;
No turning back, No turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.

You can say this because Jesus has spent everything for you and did so in his joy.

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Tell it Slant

To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God. Mark 4:11

Would it surprise you that Jesus liked to tell secrets? Not exactly how many of us imagine gentle Jesus, meek and mild. And yet everyone loves to be told a secret. That is why gossip is so attractive.

Do you see that phrase kingdom of God? Jesus says there is a secret to be discovered about the idea of the Kingdom of God. The original hearers of this phrase were very familiar with it and understood it to mean that there was going to come a time when someone would come and lead the nation of Israel back into the golden age again. They wanted him to hold rallies, get T-shirts and ball caps that said, “Make Israel Great Again.”

They were looking for a military hero or strong leader that would kick out their oppressors, Rome, and give the people freedom again.

If you spend much time in the New Testament, you read over and over again that Jesus announces that he is that long-awaited coming King—but not the king for which they were looking. And he does it repeatedly through acts of secrecy.

Many times in the New Testament, He would heal someone and then tell the people not to tell anyone. He would cast out a demon and command the restored man to not tell anyone. Or someone would do the math and figure out that he is the Messiah and he would shhhh them. This happens over and over again, until one event—the cross.

The cross is the open secret of how God acts to make the world right again. The cross is the singular event that makes possible for you and me to enter into a flourishing life on this good earth. This is the punch line to the devil’s joke. This is the surprising twist.

Virtually everyone in those days was looking for a man who come along and they could make a king to solve all of their problems; but the God and King of the universe became a man. While they were waiting for someone to come along and fight a battle to throw off their foreign oppressor, Jesus gave himself up for those who loved him and the enemies who hated him.

And by his body being sewn into the rocky hard-pan of a garbage heap outside of Jerusalem, Jesus wins a victory over even older, and darker enemies than Rome—sin and death. We can’t understand God or life—without the cross of Jesus at the very center of it. This is the mystery that Jesus will make your life into a miracle harvest.

The invitation from Jesus is to live life the way he lived life. To apprentice ourselves to Jesus and live his pattern of life. And, as my father used to preach when I was a kid, we dare not enter that life lightly because it eventually led Jesus to die on a cross.

Are you willing for follow Jesus that far? The amazing thing is that when we follow our story-telling rabbi all the way to the cross, we find that what looked like a cul-de-sac is really a highway to a flourishing life.

Jesus said in the Gospel of John,

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before Jesus was to go to the cross, He was facing infinite suffering and cosmic abandonment—He was going to pay the penalty for our sins. And the very thought of that shocked Jesus so powerfully that He fell to the ground and began to sweat drops of blood, he looked up to heaven and plead, “Is there any other way?”

And the answer from heaven was, “My life cannot be released into them unless you become a seed, die and go into the ground.” And He did! He became voluntarily weak for us. And that is the secret of the kingdom; the power of the Word is the weakness of the Lord.

When you see Him doing that for you and the beauty of His weakness and that comes deep into your life…that will change you.

I love the way Emily Dickinson describes what Jesus does for us in statements about the mystery of His kingdom.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

This is what Jesus is with these cryptic statements and hangs willingly on a cross for me and you. He is bringing us God’s truth but bringing it in way that catches us off guard. He is bringing us truth but bringing it to us slant.

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Trust

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it (love) grows perhaps the greater.”  ― J.R.R. Tolkien

In today’s political moment fear is the M.O. of both sides of the political divide. In the September, 2018 issue of the National Review, a conservative magazine, author Michael Tanner writes:

The poets may say that love is the great motivator, but politicians know it is fear that turns out the vote.

Negative campaigning can cross a line into something more insidious, something that plays on atavistic emotions and tears at our social fabric. That type of fearmongering needs to be guarded against.

After all, the fact is that we really don’t need to be afraid.

Take terrorism, for example. Your chances of being killed by a terrorist are somewhat smaller than your chances of accidentally drowning in the bathtub. The chance of an American perishing in a foreigner-perpetrated terrorist attack on U.S. soil is one in 3.6 million per year.

The of fear-based politics is not just that it leads to bad policies but that it can change the very nature and character of the country. As we become more and more fearful of “the other,” we become both less tolerant and more willing to accept restrictions on our basic liberties.

Candidates who play on our fears are thus a far bigger threat to our nation’s short—and long-term health than any of the dangers they exaggerate in order to do so.

Companies capitalize on our desire for peace of mind to sell us anything from luxury automobiles, to credit cards, to supplemental insurance. Allstate Insurance Company’s logo is actually a pair of hands. And at the conclusion of every Allstate commercial you hear in the deep, baritone voice of that actor say, “You’re in good hands with Allstate.”

Most of us live under the illusion that we are in control of our lives.  But the fact of the matter is you and I don’t control our own heartbeat, breathing or bodily functions. We don’t control our spouses, and those who try, are high percentage candidates for a second and third marriage.

I used to say prayers with my sons when they were little every night. One night when it was my four-year-old’s turn to pray his voice was soft and quiet and I could barely hear him, so I leaned over to him and said, “Clinton, speak up, I can’t hear you.” He looked at me and said, “I’m not talking to you.”

Did you teach your children to pray at bedtime?

Young Jewish mothers would recite portions of an ancient poem to their little children to help them drift off to sleep. And one of the clips of verse they might have put to a tune to soothe their little ones was:

Into Your hand I commit my spirit;
You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth. Psalm 31:5

So, it only makes sense that 2,000 years ago in a humble home in Israel a very young Jewish mother would rock a little dimpled-handed and chubby cheeked baby, tuck him into bed, and say this prayer over him as his eyes closed in sleep. Then as he grew under her tender care they would recite these words together.

You remember the story of the crucifixion of Jesus and know that he had been beaten, brutalized, and abandoned on a cross. And as his last breaths are leaving his battered body, maybe he glanced at his mother when he closed his eyes and whispered to his heavenly father that famous prayer from the cross,

Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. Luke 23:46

Jesus puts himself into the hands of the God that he knows is trustworthy. He’d been singing that song all is life.

No matter how bad it gets, we have a promise from God’s Word that He will lift us up. The cross and the resurrection are God’s proof of his faithfulness.

When I was about 5 years old my family and I lived in Zephyr, Texas. The house that we lived in had a field out back that pastured two mean, old gnarly rams. My brother who was 4 or so and I were forbidden to play in the field with the rams. My dad reminded us that they were mean and dangerous. My dad knew about these things, for he knew all things.

We had a blast exploring the creek that wound through the mesquite grove. We fought epic battles and defended our positions and won the day. When our last foe was vanquished, we made our way back to the fence that bordered our back yard. In the corner of that part of the field there were two wooden pallets that were on their edge to form a solid corner and a makeshift ladder over the fence.

After my little brother had scaled the fence it was my turn. I had my hand on the top of the wood when I heard snorting from behind. I wheeled and saw that I was face-to-face with the old, mean, gnarly rams. They were mad. They shook their heads and blew snot out of their noses. I started to cry. For these were not pretend enemies, these were real. With his head lowered, the biggest one hit me full-on in the stomach slamming me against the wooden corner. I screamed as if this were a dragon blowing fire into my face. The ram backed up and charged again, slamming me for a second time into the wood.

I had never been attacked by a sheep before. I believed I was going to die. Suddenly in the midst of that horror, as the ram was charging in for the kill, I felt a strong hand grab the back of my collar and pull me up with such force that the ram missed me and head butted the wood barrier instead. I saw blue sky as I rocketed upward and then felt two strong arms squeeze me tightly until the tears stopped.

It was my father.

I don’t know what’s troubling you, but whatever it is tonight when you lay your head on your pillow maybe the Father is saying to you, “Child, just be still and toss those troubles up here and go to sleep. There’s no use both of us staying up all night.”

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Gratitude

What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me? Psalm 116:12

Parents have a question that they ask their children. All parents do this. After someone gives their child a gift or does them a favor, the parent will say to the child, “what do you say?” How is a kid supposed to respond?

“Thank You.”

What do you say to Aunt Ramona for her Velveeta Cheese, Spam, and Lima Bean casserole?  When parents ask that, they aren’t really asking a question. They are telling you to say the appropriate thing. They would be surprised if we would have said, “Aunt Ramona, what in the name of heaven were you thinking? Aunt Ramona you should not be allowed to prepare meals, someone should put you away.”

No. That is not the proper response. “Thank You,” is the proper response.

Our parents would have also been surprised if we would have said, “Aunt Ramona, I have a sense of awe and wonder at what I have just experienced. I’m a child. Without an adult providing for me as you have done, I would die, and yet you have done it freely as an act of love and service for me. Aunt Ramona, you are a humanitarian and in the name of children everywhere, I salute you.”

But parents know that even if a child doesn’t feel gratitude yet, we want them to learn to offer thanks.

Gratitude is really simple. What do you say?

The truth about gratitude is that none of us can force ourselves to feel grateful any more than parents can do that with little kids. But we can position ourselves for gratitude by paying attention to the grace that God has lavishly given to us.

You see the life of the Christ-follower is one large, vibrant, full-throated “Thank You!” for God’s staggering grace. We live lives of service to God, not out of obligation, but out of deep gratitude that swells and pulses through our whole lives.

All of our lives—every ounce of it—every dish that is washed, every wound that is healed, every nail that is driven, every note that is sung, every biscuit that is baked, every deed that is done, every smile that is offered—-every part of our lives is an offering of gratitude to the one who thought us up.

It is important to remind ourselves that we don’t keep the commands of Scriptures, we don’t do deeds of kindness, we don’t go to church and pray in order to get God’s favor. We do all of those things because it’s the language of gratitude to the God who sacrificed his son to save us.

The Jeep trail going to Hancock Pass in Buena Vista, Colorado.

If you are cynical of faith; if you could be completely honest perhaps it is hard for you to wrap your mind, much less your heart around the idea of faith at all. I wonder if you would do a little inventory of your heart and ask yourself what is that compulsion inside you when breathe the smell of summer rain, or you see the golden colors of the Aspen this time of year, or the laughter of a child. I wonder what you will do with the off chance that something that you have longed for to happen, against all odds, comes true for you.

That pull inside you when you hear a piece of music that makes you weep. What will you do with that? May I encourage you to process and puzzle over it before you move on to another task?

The Christian story will tell you that these moments are not utterly meaningless. They are generous gifts from a gracious God who longs to connect with you.

I love what G.K. Chesterton said, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.”

What do you give back to an omnipotent, omniscience, omnipresent God who has come down into the grave to rescue you from the Pit?

Years ago, when I was a very young pastor, I heard a sappy story in a sermon, but I’ve never forgotten it. Here is the gist of the story:

A nine-year-old boy from a very poor home came to church for the first time. He had no idea how to behave. The little kid just sat there, clueless of what was going on.  A few minutes into the service these tall unhappy guys walked down to the front and picked up some wooden plates.  One of the men prayed and the kid with utter fascination watched them walk up and down the aisles. He still didn’t know what was going on.

All of a sudden like a bolt of lightning it hit the kid what was taking place.  These people must be giving money to Jesus. He immediately searched his pockets, front and back, and couldn’t find a thing to give Jesus.

By this time the offering plate was being passed down his aisle and with a broken heart he just grabbed the plate and held on to it. He finally let go and watched it pass on down the aisle. He turned around to see it passed down the aisle behind him.  And then his eyes remained glued on the plate as it was passed back and forth, back and forth all the way to the rear of the sanctuary.

Then he had an idea. This little nine-year-old boy, in front of God and everybody, got up out of his seat. He walked about eight rows back, grabbed the usher by the coat and asked to hold the plate one more time.

Then he did the most astounding thing. He took the plate, sat it on the carpeted church floor and stepped into the center of it. As he stood there, he lifted his little head up and said, “Jesus, I don’t have anything to give you today, but just me. I give you me!”

When you begin to realize that every single breath you and I breathe, is because God wills it; when you understand that every selfish act, every evil thought, all of our sin has been wiped off the books; when you look at the cobalt blue sky over a mountain valley, when you watch a humming bird in flight, when you hear a baby laugh uncontrollably at the mere sight of a puppy, what can you possibly give back to express your gratitude?

You.

Give Jesus yourself. All of you.

And so, my friend, may you embrace the unfathomable grace of God in the cross of Jesus and the countless daily good things that come your way and live a good life of gratitude.

What do you say?

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Overcoming Despair

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God. Psalm 42:11

Many of you might have heard of the pastor in California that took his own life this week. Andrew Stoecklein, 30, lead pastor of the Inland Hills Church in Chino, about 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, had recently returned to his church duties after time away to deal with depression and anxiety.

Chino police said they were called to the church last Friday after the pastor made a suicide attempt inside the church. The pastor eventually succeeded in taking his own life the next day.

There is a despair that is circumstantial in its source. You lose your job. Someone close to you dies or gets a terminal disease or you don’t have enough money. This type of despair or depression typically respond to prayer, scripture reading, encouragement from friends.

But then there is a despair that is organic in its source, like hypertension, diabetes, and a thyroid problem. All the bible study and prayer in the world will not help you win that battle. This type of despair or depression needs medical and professional attention. If you struggle with this version of despair—seek immediate help.

(National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255)

The Psalmist reminds us:

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:8)

One of my favorite experiences is early in the morning as my wife is preparing for work; fixing her hair, ironing her blouse, pouring our cereal—there is almost always one of those dreaded contemporary “7-11” praise songs on her lips. She is not even aware of the song. But as I am sipping coffee and reading from another room, I can hear her quietly singing praises to the Lord.

That is a reminder to me of the steadfast love of God in my life.

Then I will go on my walk with my prayer partners, Dexter Dog and Bella the Wonder Dog, and see an eagle on a tall snag watch me walk pass and I am reminded of the promise from Isaiah, “but those 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.”

You know I’ve discovered that much of overcoming despair is simply putting one foot in front of the other day-by-day with the Lord. As author Annie Dillard has said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Nineteen years ago, this October, my life imploded because of my sinful choices and I nearly lost everything that was nearest and dearest to me. My life was a shamble and I needed to step out of ministry for a season to work on restoring my marriage.

During those days all I had to cling to was the love of my wife, sons, family, a very few friends…and my faith.

I’ve walked with more than a few people in my thirty-seven years as a pastor who have battled cancer—some winning the battle, and some losing. I’ve never had a serious battle with physical cancer, personally. But I will tell you that for three years I fought a darkness in my heart and soul that I never thought would lift. I would find myself sitting in unknown airports because of the secular job I had at the time, homesick, self-pity dripping from my pours like sweat on an July summer day—and tears flowing down my sad cheeks like rivulets of pain.

I went to counseling, I wrote in my journal, kept my repentance ever before me; and yet during all those early years of maintaining my integrity, doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with my God…often my heart was darker than black velvet.

But then that all changed.

If you would have come to me in those dim days and told me that one day a young pastor named Jason, would ask me to come be his executive pastor at a Church in Mukilteo, Washington; then we he left to pastor a Church in North Carolina, that Church would ask me to lead them and preach to them, and then there would come a time when ten young pastors might dare call me their pastor; then a beautiful church in the mountains of Colorado would unanimously invite me to come care for their souls…I would have laughed at you with a hellish laugh, “Not me! I’m finished. God has not forgotten me, but He certainly has no use for a broken-down retread like me.”

But sometime during those early days of pain, I started talking to God again and I began to remember His steadfast love.

The way he saved me at age seven, the way he called me to preach his Gospel at age nine, the way he restored my marriage and gave me place again in the Body of Christ. I remembered that my wife adores me,
my sons respect me, and my grandchildren want to sit in my lap and let me tell them stories. I found a way up and out of my despair because I started talking to God again, and you can too.

“Fidelity” by Briton Rivière (1869)

This week I found these words particularly profound from a preacher named George Lorimer. Lorimer was born in Scotland in 1838 and had ambitions of becoming an actor in America. When he arrived here he converted to Christianity and began to study to be a minister. He eventually became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Chicago and had a successful ministry.

One of the temptations we face as care-givers and Christ-followers is to always be ready to give a plucky platitude and say many words to those who are suffering from despair. Often, we sound like Job’s friends—many words, but little comfort. Listen to these old words from pastor Lorimer:

“Believe me, it’s no time for words when the wounds are fresh and bleeding; no time for homilies when the lightning’s shaft has smitten, and the man lies stunned and stricken. Then let the comforter be silent; let him sustain by his presence, not by his preaching; by his sympathetic silence, not by his speech.”(George C. Lorimer)

When the dark days come may you be silent before your God and ache for him, listen for his divine whisper, and offer him your feeble praise and wait for the sun to shine again.

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Hands of Hope

I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. ~ Psalm 16:8

All of us remember on January 28, 1986 the horror of seeing the Space Shuttle Challenger explode over the Atlantic Ocean. What you may not know is that seconds after the explosion the personal recorder of Christa McAuliffe captured another astronaut saying to her, “Give me your hand.”

Whose hand are you holding these days?

Through the person and work of Jesus, the living God takes frail and hopeless people like you and me by the hand and leads us through all of our uncertain “todays,” into our ultimate “tomorrows” with God forever—and doesn’t ever let us go.

About twenty-five years ago I took my oldest son Cole on his first backpacking trip.  It was dark on the Rainbow Trail that traversed the Sangre De Christo Mountains in Colorado. Six-year-old Cole followed close behind me.  After two miles he was struggling to keep up. I had to slow down. He kept asking if he could hold my hand, but the trail was so narrow he only could walk right behind me.

So, I grabbed a little stick for him to hold on to one end and me to hold the other—I chose one that would fit his little hand, that was not too heavy for his spindly arms, one that fit just right— then we started to sing a children’s song called Father Abraham over and over again.

Time flew as we sang, laughed and marched in the dark along that trail. Before we knew it, we were at the Lone Tree Meadow where we planned to set up camp and fish in some beaver ponds.

His uncertainty was intensified because he was little, and it was dark, but it was put at some ease because he was connected to his father—through a piece of wood.

How do I need to hang on to the hand of God in these uncertain days?

Are you concerned about physical issues that make tomorrow an uncertainty? You need to hold on to the hand of God that will never let you go. Are you slogging through marriage issues that make tomorrow an uncertain? You need to decide today to hold on with white-knuckle tenacity to the hand of God. Perhaps living alone in your latter years is not what you imagined when you walked down the aisle of a church many years ago. Hold on and find your shelter in the strong hands of God and know that because of the empty tomb every single uncertain “todays” and “tomorrows” are secure in the strong hand of God.

Maybe you have a child or a grandchild that has given up on faith and the church. Hold on to your Father’s hand and remember you once walked in darkness and your life was filled with uncertainty—and yet you found your way back to faith and consistently are found worshipping the Living God.

Do you remember Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities? It’s about Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay. They both love the same young woman, but she marries Charles. They get married and start having children, but this is the French Revolution, so Charles Darnay is arrested, taken to prison, and awaits his execution.

I’m paraphrasing, but on the night before his execution, Sydney Carton, who looks quite a bit like Charles Darnay, sneaks into the prison and says, “Look, Charles. You have a wife. You have a child. Let’s switch places. Let’s exchange clothes and I’ll die in your place.” Charles Darnay says, “No! I will never let you do such a thing!”

Sydney Carton drugs him and he puts his clothes on him. He has some people take Charles out, and he assumes his place in the prison, waiting to be executed.

There is a young woman, a seamstress, who is also about to be executed, and she knew Charles Darnay previously. When she hears he’s there, she seeks him out and starts talking to him. She starts asking if he remembers this, and if he remembers that.

Of course, Sydney Carton is looking away, hoping she doesn’t look too closely, and suddenly she sees. She realizes it’s not Charles Darnay, and her eyes get big, and she says, “Are you dying for him?” He says, “Shhh. Yes, and for his wife and children.”

She says, “Stranger, I have been feeling I am not going to be able to face my death, but could I hold your hand? Because if someone as brave and as loving as you held my hand, I think I’ll be okay.”

They hold hands through the night. And this young seamstress goes to her death with courage and composed peace.

Whose hand are you holding?

May you live your life with hope because you are connected to your heavenly Father through a piece of wood called the cross.

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