Archive for December, 2016

Unveiled Faces and the Power of Community

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

I was addressing Christmas cards for my dad to send out just this week when we came across a stack of pictures of him with my mom. (My mom was promoted to eternal glory on May 30th of this year. After over 60 years of marriage, you can imagine how much he misses her and how lonely he is at times. All of us miss her.) As he looked at the picture of the two of them, I noticed right away that his countenance changed. His face tightened with a bright smile reflecting what he was seeing in her face. Even though her presence was mediated through a photograph, the connection was there. In a sense, she was present. For him, there was recognition and joy.

img_0991I couldn’t help but reflect on how much my mom impacted our lives, how important each person is in shaping us, how we really live in community, all dependent on each other in our belonging and becoming. The people in our lives are more than co-rememberers of the events that take place. They actually form part of the canvas of who we are.

This whole idea of us as individuals really on our own in the world doesn’t quite square with the way life really works, who we actually are. None of us is on our own. We came to be through the union of lives, and we grow in the context of community, of relationships.

Every fiber of our faith leads us toward community. First, there is the community of the Trinity. The Godhead is not a power or force at work in the universe but the divine dance of three persons loving each other and sharing in everything, in person three, but in essence one. Then, there is Jesus who came for us. When he speaks of his body, he speaks of himself in community with those he loves, his brothers and sisters. Finally, there is the Spirit of God who binds us together in community with each other and with the Lord.

And that leads me back to that photograph of my mom and dad. That picture is really a dim expression of what happens when we see each other in person. Then we are not looking at a static thing, but instead, we enjoy the unveiled face of each other where we are changed by what we see and what we share. Yes, for you know, we are changed just by looking into each other’s faces.

This is why we need each other for life. This is how we can change each other for good.

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A Promise Kept

I’ve stood with scores of couples through the years as they shared their vows with each other. I was prompted through them by my pastor in 1983 when Sandy and I exchanged vows…

In the name of God,
I, Worth, take you, Sandy
to be my wedded wife,
to have and to hold
from this day forward,
for better for worse, for
richer for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
till death do us part,
This is my solemn vow.

When we exchange our vows, it is easy to dream about love that will last a lifetime.  But, what about the true cost of walking together for a lifetime? At the time we exchange vows we do not know what the future holds and all of the ways those sacred promises will come under attack.

keptYears ago, I had the privilege of reading Robertson McQuilkin’s book entitled: A Promise Kept.  Robertson and his wife Muriel spent over a decade as missionaries in Japan. Then Robertson became president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina.  Things were going along swimmingly in their marriage until Muriel began to repeat stories she had already told. Her memory was slipping away. Robertson could not believe the diagnosis when he was told she had Alzheimer’s.  She seemed to most of her abilities, yet her ability to remember was slipping away.

Of course, husband and wife rallied together to cope with the changed circumstances.  Robertson can keep working though she was struggling.  But, he noticed a change in her. When he would leave for work, she would become more confused and unhappy. When he was present she seemed calm and peaceful.

Then Robertson did the thing that shocked everyone.  In the height of his career and the success of his leadership, he resigned.  When he spoke to the staff and leadership of the college, and to the community, he said:

My dear wife, Muriel, has been in failing health for about eight years, and so far I have been able to carry both her growing needs and my leadership responsibilities here at the school.  But recently, it has become apparent that Muriel is contented most of the time she is with me and none of the time I am away from her…. So it is clear to me that she needs me now full-time.  The decision was made to stay with her forty-two years ago when I promised to care for Muriel in sickness and in health… She has cared for me fully and sacrificed as my wife all these years.  If I cared for her for the next forty years, I would not be out of debt.  Duty, however, can be grim and stoic.  But there is more.  I love Muriel.  She is a delight to me—her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, an occasional flash of wit that I used to relish so, her happy spirit…I don’t have to care for her.  I get to.  It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person.

Everyone was stunned.  In our world of individual rights and personal accomplishments, here was a man loving his wife, being faithful to his promise. It was beautiful.

Why was it beautiful? God planned marriage as the place on earth that we humans can get the closest to reflecting the love of God for us.  Maybe, just maybe when there is love that is faithful like this we will be able to get a small glimpse of what Jesus has done for us.  Maybe from this high vantage point, we can see the Lord himself, that his promise is our life, and that he is faithful not because he has to, but because he really does love his people.

Christmas is the story of God’s promise kept.  This is why Jesus came, and why Jesus did what he did for us, laying aside his rights and choosing instead to lay down his life for us.  And yes, all of this rests on something as fragile as a promise.  Of course, a promise is as strong as the love of the one who makes it.  That is why we can feel secure.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;I have summoned you by name; you are mine. Isaiah 43:1

In this, we rejoice this Christmas.  We have been loved by Love Himself.  And, we live every day in this promise.

Granada’s Vision – Changing the Way We Think

screenshot-2016-12-01-18-38-53This summer we had a team of Granada elders, staff, and leaders revisit our church vision. (Our church vision functions as our road map for our congregation helping us chart the way we are going.  It is the way we think about ministry going into the future, our intentional focus for planning how to serve Christ in our community.)  Here’s part of what we found. People in our city feel increasingly isolated and alone.  Yes, there are plenty of people here, but real meaningful connection is not happening as we would like.  In truth, many people come to Miami for financial opportunity, but in the process, they experience social detachment.

We make these decisions for good reason. This country was built by people who left home for the hope of a better future. We love the old stories like Little House on the Prairie that tell how a small family can make it on their own.  We tune in to watch American Idol or similar shows that showcase self-made superheroes.  We extol the lone ranger standing tall on his or her own, not needing anyone’s help.  This is the American experience we have imbibed and we truly believe.  As one writer put it:

We seek a private house, a private means of transportation, a private garden…self-service stores, and do-it-yourself skills of every kind. An enormous technology seems to have set itself the task of making it unnecessary for one human being to ever ask anything of another in the course of going about his daily business.  Even within the family Americans are unique in their feeling that each member should have a separate room, and even a separate telephone, television, and car… We seek more and more privacy, and feel more and more isolated when we get it. (You may be shocked to find that these words by Philip Slater were published in 1970!)

The problem is that the living this story makes us feel isolated. The truth is that it doesn’t work. It is as if we are actively seeking the things that make us unhappy.  So as we were looking at our city and the gospel and our church, we began to envision a different future.  A future where people find support and can share their lives in authentic community, a community of grace.  As we looked deeper, we found that this is what the gospel is about.  What Jesus has done is about bringing us back to God, and joining us to a living community of faith.  When we look at the first days of the church that sprang from the ministry of Jesus, we find an extraordinary sense of community.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

 Now, I find it difficult to relate to such a community of mutuality and connection.  But, I believe this is what we were created for.  This is where we thrive and flourish as people, where we can enjoy God and also each other.

screenshot-2016-12-01-18-38-08Now, here’s the hard part.  For this to happen here and with us, we have to change the way we think, from thinking only about me, and to thinking about ourselves in community. This means measuring life in ways we are not accustomed to, and giving ourselves to each other in community.  Changing the way we think is tough for any of us to do. But, this is the journey we are on together.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be talking more about this and the direction Granada is going in 2017.  I look forward to sharing the journey with you.