Archive for January, 2011

Making Room for Life

Recently while working out I noticed that no one in the gym (and there must have been fifty people there) was talking with each other.  Yes, some had earbuds in place taking cellphone calls. Some were no doubt listening to music.  It struck me how much people hunger for community, but how we often replace it with pseudo-community.  There were interesting people we could meet, strike up a conversation, and perhaps develop a friendship with.  But, our attention is elsewhere.  We do those things that help us feel connected without really connecting closely with people.  That day in the gym I experienced a “crowded loneliness.”  This is what Randy Frazee discovered and documented in his book entitled Making Room for Life.  (And here you thought my title was original!)

Years ago Randy was on his first trip to Israel.  One day, the Arab tour guide riding on his bus pointed out a group of bedouin shepherds.  These men were huddling inside a tent-like shelter and they looked poor. The tour guide mentioned that most of the bedouins live to be a hundred years old.  He explained that their diet of fresh fruit and vegetables and little meat helps.  But, the greatest factor in their longevity is the almost complete lack of stress.  They shepherd their flocks and move their tents as needed.  They barter for food and other items they need.  Most importantly, they live in deep community with their family and friends. They do not live in a disconnected world of shallow relationships juggling the stress of work and home, traffic and shops.  The tour guide said: They would not trade their lives for yours.

Trinity depicted in community.

Randy’s experience struck a chord with me.  The best times in the last few weeks have been family dinner times.  A couple of weeks ago, I brought home a mess of stone crabs (which I felt I could afford since I bought them for $3.50 a lb.) and we spread them out on the table for dinner.  We cracked the crabs with juices and crab shells flying, dipped the meat in drawn butter and savored the evening conversation.  You can’t rush through a meal of crabs.  It takes time.  I loved it.  We shared our lives with each other.  It reminded me of the snow days we would have in the northeast when we lived there.  I’m not a big fan of snow.  But, I remember the feeling when we had a large snowstorm and all of our schedules were cancelled.  No school. No work (except for shoveling). We could go sledding or build a snowman.  What made these days special was time together.  It felt like God had to nix our schedules with a storm to get us together to enjoy each other.

This is what Randy was getting at as he envied the life of the bedouins.  So what’s the point in this?  We need to make room for life.  And, life is being with people.  God made us for community.  Even God does not live alone.  The trinity reveals the relational life of our God.  Each of the members of the trinity share life together.  One of the early church artists depicted God dancing, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit enjoying life in community.

All of this explains why we have worked so hard to develop community groups at Granada. We need to make a conscious effort to make room for life.  We can do this by committing to converge out lives for times of community.  Now of course, a community group meeting doesn’t make community happen.  It only provides an opportunity.  The rest is up to you.

Thank you, Lord

On the 21st of December, one of my best friends, Paul Kerr surprised us all by slipping away into the presence of God.  He died on his 55th birthday.  I thank God for Paul and feel privileged to be able to call him my friend.  We spent hours together sailing, fishing, hiking and talking ministry strategy.  He was passionate for the gospel and loved Christ and His church.  Paul had a pivotal role in planting Hope Presbyterian Church in Randolph, New Jersey.  He leaves behind his devoted wife Sandy and two daughters Kelli and Kristy, his sister Sharon and mother Dorothy.  Please pray for Paul’s family in the days ahead.  Losing Paul has been very painful for us all.  I was privileged to share at the funeral service held in New Jersey on December 28th. (It’s a long post, but I hope you’ll come away thanking God for Paul as well.)

Winter began with a deep chill this year, even in Miami. Shocking us as no one expected.  A moment can change everything in life.  Little did we expect that Christmas would be soaked in sorrow.

Along with my wife, her name is Sandy, I want to extend my love and thanks, Sandy Kerr, for the honor of sharing today. To Sharon, Kelli and Christy. You have invited me to one of the most tender and profound moments of your life.

Sandy, you say that Paul was the love of your life.  There is no doubt; you were the love of his.  In the beginning it was a crazy love that broke down doors and drove the streets in search of you. As Paul met Jesus and learned grace, it grew deeper and wider.  It resonated in

His desire to explore life and share it with you.

Deep times of intimacy and sharing.

Safety with each other, and enjoying God together.

An unquestioned faithfulness and commitment.

30 years God gave you together.  I pray that God will shower you with his grace and love.

No doubt you have heard people say:  You’ll get better. You will get past this.  This too shall pass.  It’s true; God will apply his healing balm.  But, I don’t think he intends us to get past this.  God’s greatest gifts are not to be gotten past.  We need to thank God for giving Paul to us and learn to live with his absence.  Just as important, we need to hold onto what God has given us through Paul.

Capt. Kerr at the helm in Alaska

Of course, Paul’s death floods our hearts and minds with questions. God invites us to bring all of our fear. Our anger.  Our questions.  Our complaints.  Our anxiety.  Our jumbled flood of emotions to him to untangle and make sense of and to bring into the light of a greater truth.  That’s what we do today. As the apostle Peter said to Jesus at a time of confusion and doubt, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Only the Lord can calm our hearts. Only he can minister to us in our need.  Losing Paul opens the door for fear to creep into our hearts. It shows us that the world we try so desperately to control we cannot.  It makes us feel weak and vulnerable.  Only Jesus can give us peace.

It’s impossible to gather up all the beauty and wonder and adventure of Paul in a few moments.   But I think that thanking God for Paul, and I shall be doing that for a lifetime, is what we are called to do today.  God teaches us that gratitude is a mountaintop we need to stand on to see the glory of God, and it is also a valley we must walk through to see his gifts in times of sorrow.  I invite you to climb the mountain and walk the valley with me by considering this man God gave to us.

My first memories of Paul date to over 15 years ago. I was pastor at Grace Church in Bridgewater. We began to pray about forming a new congregation in Morris County.  Paul responded to our ad in a Presbyterian journal. We were seeking people who live in this area to be part of the new church. Paul and Sandy were interested. We drove out and first met them at a diner near Newark Airport. Together, we discussed the possibility of them getting involved in the new church. They had never done anything like this.  For Paul, the wilder the opportunity, the more interested he became. Before lunch was over, Paul and Sandy said “yes. We’ll help.”

Little did they know that his “yes” would mean years of waiting for a church planter to show up, hosting scores of meetings for outreach, and years of setting up on Sundays once the church was begun…stuffing a trailer each week with church paraphernalia, and pulling the trailer to park over at the firehouse. Paul loved doing this.  He used the whole trailer pulling need as an excuse to get his new yellow truck.  “It’s ministry,” he said.

Paul loved flying and float planes.

I wondered in the beginning how Paul would do with church planting.   I didn’t know Paul well at the time, but I remember a day when my family visited with Paul and Sandy at their house.  It had been snowing that week and Paul had managed to make a huge heap of snow on his tennis court.  He said to us as we were departing that evening that he had made himself a snow cave and that he planned on spending the night there.  Sandy, you laughed that characteristic laugh of yours we have heard many times that means: “Okay, Paul, knock yourself out. You sleep in the snow cave.  I’ll be warm inside the house.”  Sandy told us later that he spent a few hours in his cave before showing up at the door wanting to be let in the house. At first, Sandy motioned to him to forget it. He could stay outside. She was kidding, of course.  Paul was a big kid.  He loved adventure. I knew if Paul was up for snow caves…well, he’d do fine with church planting.

Paul was a wild man when he came to Christ 25 years ago. Truth be told, he was in the hands of Pharisees in the beginning.  He lived law more than grace. He was tough minded and plunged headlong into theology. Even then, he loved ministry.  Like a young recruit, he handed out Gideon Bibles almost every day, and brought the love of Jesus weekly into the local jail.

But things really began to take off when Paul discovered grace. Sure, he believed that Jesus died for him.  But, he learned that God isn’t angry with us.  Quite the contrary, Jesus came to show us that God knows us completely and that he delights in us.

God knows what a mess our lives are but yet he came for us.

He knows how broken we are.  How our unhealthy our relationships are.

He knows we struggle with sinful attitudes and actions every day.

He knows our secrets and our shame, but he loves us anyway.

We don’t do anything to receive this favor from God.  He gives it to us for the asking.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

God created us because he loves us.  We say today, then if God loves us, why did this happen?  How could this happen?  Job asked God this question when his life was stripped away. Why? God did not answer that question for Job, who deserved an answer as much as anyone who has ever lived. Even Jesus did not attempt to answer the “why?” questions.  But, we do know with certainty how God feels.  The face that God gave us is streaked with tears.  Three times the Bible talks about Jesus weeping: when his friend died, when he saw the city of Jerusalem in its pain and lost condition, and before he went to the cross for us.

Jesus didn’t run from pain.  He came into the world to enter our pain, and take it upon himself.  To be with us.  To give himself on our behalf.  As Philip Yancey remarked:  God’s love is the foundational truth of the universe, and I pray that you do not let your grief obscure that fact.  God loves you.  It is this love that will sustain us today.  This is the gospel.

It was God’s love that changed Paul.  I feel like God invited me to watch him work in Paul’s life.  Year by year I saw Paul transformed.  Love flourished.  Generosity flowed.

He wanted to share what he experienced with everyone. Paul’s mind was chock full of ideas to share the message of grace.  Recently he and Sandy were in Miami for one of our church outreach events.  As he approached the food line, there were more than a hundred people ahead of him in line.  One of our volunteers told Paul: I’m sorry the line is so long.  Paul said: I’m not.  This is why we are here.  Paul loved reaching out.

One day he called me and said: Worth, I’ve been thinking you should start a sailing ministry.  Somewhere in Paul’s mind, all fun should be combined with ministry.  We should always be looking for a reason to get people together to introduce them to Christ.  Paul told me he bought his plane partially for ministry purposes.  If Paul were with us today, he would say, “Let’s have a barbeque and invite people in!  Why can’t it be an outreach event for the church?”  Paul loved this church.

The gospel of John tells us that one day Jesus was passing through Samaria. His disciples were hungry and went into town to get food for him.  After they left, Jesus met the woman at the well. He changed her life, and she went into town to tell her people about Jesus. The disciples came and found Jesus hungry and told him he needed to eat.  Jesus explained:

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. John 4:34-35

In other words, to bring people to the Father, that is my food.  That is why I am here. This gives me joy.  It fills me up.  Paul seemed to learn this way from Jesus. It filled Paul up as well.  He would regularly ask me:

How many new people are coming into the life of the church?

What are you doing to reach out?  What do you have coming up to share the gospel?

What are you doing in your benevolence ministry?  To help the needy? To help the poor?

This is the legacy Paul leaves with you, the people of Hope Church.

Paul tired from a day of fishing, bringing in the catch

Asking questions…. Paul loved asking questions.  Worthy, that’s what he called me, how is a church vision supposed to work?   Worthy, what do you think is the best training for evangelism?  Often, Paul would call me on the phone out of the blue with a question about theology or ministry.  We spent hours sailing and Paul had me captive.  He saw the time as his opportunity to talk through a particular ministry.  How do you train people to be leaders?

I am told that children younger than 5 years old ask on average more than 250 questions a day.  Adults ask between five and ten.  Men ask as few as possible because it can make us appear weak. Paul wasn’t concerned about appearances.  He really wanted to learn.  Sometimes he wanted me to think.  He was constantly giving me the gifts of friendship.

Paul had many gifts we appreciated.  He loved to create fun through embarrassment, your embarrassment.  We might be at a restaurant, and Paul would proudly report: I’m with a Presbyterian minister.  Do you go to church?  What do you think of Presbyterians? Of course, most people don’t know what a Presbyterian is.  This was reckless abandon and a little fun at my expense.

After Paul and Sandy came back from Israel, Paul posted his own YouTube video of the trip.  Giving Paul video capabilities proved to be a dangerous thing.  In the video, you can see what a good sport Sandy is. Paul seems to be expecting her to give a running commentary about how she feels visiting the places where Jesus walked.  Sandy, how do you feel standing on this rock near where Jesus walked?

Paul was incredibly generous.  I relearned how to sail after sailing with Paul one day.  He was bringing in the day-sailer we rented one afternoon when Paul ran the boat aground.  I jumped into the water waist deep to push us back into the channel and then crawled back into the boat.  Paul was supremely embarrassed. He explained that the rules of sailing were in this order. No. 1- Look good. #2- Return safely to the dock. We had definitely looked bad.  Paul felt bad about this and the next morning I found on my desk a gift of sailing lessons.  I got the message.

Paul often showed me the way of giving.  Our church owns an apartment building for housing missionaries who are passing through Miami.  From the beginning Paul has helped make this possible and also kept them in working order.  I would arrive at church to find Paul covered with mulch.  He was improving the landscaping.  Or, I would see him replacing the gutters or painting.  Paul loved to give.  He funded numerous outreach events for Hope Church here and Granada Church in Miami.

I pray that God will raise up women and men with the gift of generosity…who see their resources as a trust given to them by God.  Use their passion to bring gospel change to the world.

That’s the question: what will we do with what God showed us and gave us through Paul?

His love of life.

His generosity.

His longing to see people receive grace and come to the Father.

His love for the church.

His love for God.  How will his life change the way we live our lives?

We loved him because he loved life and he loved Jesus.  No better combination. He lived life with gusto.  Being with Paul reminded me that God created us to enjoy life: To live it to the fullest.  It’s why we enjoy experiences.  It’s why everyone on earth thinks about eternal life.  We don’t want it to end.  We would not have these feelings if God did not create us with eternity in our hearts.

God loves the world so much, the Bible tells us, that he gave us his one and only son, that who ever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

It is why, when his heart stopped beating, God tells us this was not his end, but a new beginning. His life wasn’t over but becoming even more fully what he was created to be.  In this we rejoice today.  We thank God for Paul.


Anniversary

This week we’ll hear scores of year-later stories about Haiti. The newspapers will remind us of the terror that struck our Caribbean neighbors and how many people died, how many bodies remain entombed in the rubble and how many people continue to live in tents.  We need to hear this.  We need to remember because we quickly move on when tragedy strikes. My friend pastoring in New Orleans and continuing the post-Katrina clean-up and rebuilding project knows well how people forget. It was the summer of 2005, and now these few years later, history and the nation has moved on. New Orleans remains distressed. Many thousands of homes remain to be rebuilt.  No doubt, Haiti is far worse. My latest visit less than two months ago was shocking. So little has been done to relieve the misery of our neighbors. I use the word ‘neighbor’ because Jesus often talked about our responsibility to extend our love beyond our own kith and kin.

Often people will ask, “What can I do?”  We hear of people in distress and we want to pitch in.  We want to come alongside them.  Herein lies the problem. Our Granada Serve the World leaders have discovered how difficult it is to assist the Haitian people. Government regulation, corruption, and the lack of infrastructure means that everything moves at a crawl in Haiti.  Immediately after the earthquake, Granada began gathering supplies and sent shipping containers of foodstuff to support our brothers and sisters there.  I had the privilege of visiting Haiti and working to provide support during those early days.  Right away, Granada’s leaders knew that the long-term issue would not be food but housing.  Men like Dave McCloud, Mario Trevilla, Daniel Nieda and Joe Muniz got into action drafting a housing plan for Haiti.  Architectural plans were created and the work of making the plans a reality began.  Today, we are poised to fulfill those plans.

We are not giving up.  The difficulty of getting projects completed in Haiti has caused us to scale back our plans, to begin smaller and see what doors God opens for our work to grow.  Originally we were looking to develop a large piece of property in the city of Mirebalais.  This project has been met with delay after delay.  Rather than sit on the sidelines while those obstacles are removed, we have directed our attention to assist brothers and sisters in Christ who have lost their homes close to the epicenter of the earthquake.  We selected prime building sites where church members’ homes were destroyed.  We are ready to return to build.

What can you you?  As always, pray for the people of Haiti.  They desperately need housing and clean water and jobs.  Much of the battle ahead is also spiritual.  They need hope. Second, you can give toward the work Granada in Haiti.  These funds are being used to support the building project in Haiti and will be used to construct homes for brothers and sisters.  I have been told that only 15% of monies pledged by supportive nations has actually been received for work in Haiti.  The church has the opportunity to show true generosity that flows from the gospel.  Jesus has given so much for us.  We should be the most generous people on earth.  Third, go. We will have a team going to Haiti to facilitate a home construction project in the next sixty days.  Contact the Serve the World office to indicate your interest in participating.  Finally, at the Serve the World Conference this year, we will have a pastor from Port-au-Prince with us to provide us an update on the work.  We will work alongside members of his church in Port-au-Prince.

I Quit!

I’m playing defense as we enter 2011.  Each year my wife–she is very disciplined and competent–makes a list of resolutions for the New Year.  To me it looks daunting, but she manages to follow through–something I have struggled with my entire life.  Months ago I was reading a wonderful little book by Geri and Pete Scazzero on quitting.  Yes, I know, all quitting is suspect.  But, they suggest that quitting can be good for your life.  What would happen if you quit living for everyone’s approval?  Or, if you quit trying to live someone else’s life rather than your own?  They suggest that quitting may be more important than adding something new to your life.  That is an idea that I can embrace. In 2011 I plan to quit.

As it turns out, it’s not easy.  Trying quitting over-functioning when you have thought most of your life that the world will fall apart if you stop.  Or, try quitting living for the approval of other people, when you know how painful it is to be rejected or pushed away.  The truth is we are doing these things because we think they will make our lives better.  They make our lives work.  That’s the lie we believe, of course.  The problem is our strategies are not working.  This is why we are angry, resentful, and why we struggle with an inexplicable grief.  We need to quit.  Quit pretending everything is okay when it is not.  Quit worrying so much about what other people may think or say about us.  Quit approval seeking.  Quit lying to ourselves and others about how we are doing. I know there are tons of books in the self-help section at the bookstore.  But, if those books worked there would not be so many of them and we would all be doing better.

I’ve re-learned that the cure can only come through the gospel.  We can only be our authentic, honest, human selves through a deep reception of the grace of God.  It is His unconditional love that alone can cure us.  Why is this the case? Because we are not okay.  Things really are broken.  We really do have shame and fear.  We really do feel alone and scared.  (Am I really letting a cat out of the bag here?  We all know this.)  It takes a great and unconditional love to bring us out of hiding and give us the freedom to be ourselves, by the grace of God, and enable us to connect to other people even though doing so subjects us to the danger of being hurt.

So welcome to another year.  What needs to stop in your life?  What do you need to quit?  Here’s to another year in God’s grace with less striving, avoiding, blaming, lying, and hiding.