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Grateful

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.  IN CHRIST ALONE” WORDS AND MUSIC BY KEITH GETTY & STUART TOWNEND

 

It’s been a tough week for all of us.  As a pastor, outside of election week, I’m not sure I’ve heard more political discussion and seen more political intensity than I have this week. I’m reluctant to speak when so many other voices fill the room. This is a meditation more than a statement or prophetic word. First, I feel grateful, no, deeply grateful.  Over the complete course of my life, Jesus has been lovingly leading my heart to see my need for grace—that I am a great sinner needing a great savior.  You see, my sin detector works really well for other people, but has never really worked well in exposing my heart.  Jesus has persistently and lovingly held up a spiritual mirror to reveal the depths of my soul. I say lovingly because he reveals that he might apply his love (while the sin I detect in others often provides me the vantage point from which to judge harshly and without mercy). This week Jesus gently revealed my heart showing me that I might not hate people of different ethnic backgrounds, but that I might be tempted to hate the haters and to judge them as beyond the reach of God’s grace. I’m grateful for grace, for the persistent love of Jesus.

Second, Jesus exposed the foundations I’ve built on. The events of the week left me feeling discouraged and afraid for the country. It was more than concern over division and racism. It was a feeling that the foundations were being shaken.  I was left wondering, “What have I built my security on?”  I remember the time when King David’s advisors told him he was in danger and he had better run for his life.  He asked the question: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3) David tells us that at that time he could see God in his temple and on his heavenly throne completely unshaken by what was happening.  This is where our hearts should be, where I want my foundation to rest. Are the events that are unfolding driving me to Jesus, to a deeper trust and dependence on him? I am grateful for a security in Christ more than sufficient for the day.

Finally, do I see the beauty of the gospel and how much our world needs grace? From the beginning of Jesus’ movement of grace, people have been brought together humbled by their sin and equipped with Jesus’ love. There has been nothing like it in the world.  Jewish people and gentiles and people of every nation have found a new identity as children of God and members together of Jesus’ body. He has brought a peace that will never come by shifting the balance of power from one group to another. We do not know the way of peace. This is why Jesus came and what he came to do.

Sharing this grace is a desperate need today. Of course, it always has been, but God has been pushing me to see this more clearly.  This means loving our neighbors and thereby showing them Jesus. It means laying aside the empty and divisive promises of power and taking up the towel to wash feet. It means refusing to join the angry refrain and instead mingling our voices in the beautiful chorus announcing freedom for captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and the day of the Lord’s favor.  We have the privilege of doing this in a unique city where division can be dissolved by the love of Jesus! He has made the way for us to love and extend our hands to those most hurting, most feeling outside, and most in need, to show that the Lord does not show favoritism, and that everyone needs grace. Everyone. I’m grateful that Jesus has invited us to share in his mission.

So that is the journey my heart has been on this week. Humility. Dependence. Trusting the loving way of Jesus as the hope for our world.  Lord, teach us how to love one another, how to love our enemies. To do good to those who hurt us. To trust in You. Amen.

Happy Mother’s Day! and…

This weekend in many if not most churches in America there will be the celebration of Mother’s Day. It sounds like a Hallmark holiday, but it arose from a service of thanks and remembrance in a Methodist church in West Virginia back in the early 1900s.  Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her mother who had cared for wounded on both sides of the American Civil War.  The remembrance was not only about mothers but also about the beauty of sacrificial service. From there quickly the celebration took off and became a national holiday.

Origin of modern Mother’s Day

But, here’s the thing.  This celebration presents a conflict for the church. First, we want to thank God for mothers, those who have been faithful servants of God by raising children, by being God’s ambassadors in the lives of the next generation.  Serving in this way is a high and holy calling, reflecting the love, patience, and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. Mothers bear the realities of life, and they need support and care themselves that often is in short supply.  Our church has been blessed by gracious servant-moms that reflect the nurturing love of the Lord. We want to stand with the mothers of our community of faith.  We thank God for them.

Additionally, because the church of Jesus is an extended family, all of our women become surrogate mothers.  Often Sandy and I have remarked at how our children have been loved and encouraged by other women and men in our church.  In a Sunday School class or through friendship or simply through modeling, every woman is called to be a mother and every man a spiritual father.  We thank God that as parents we are not alone in the nurturing of our children, but we have a whole congregation alongside us.

Two moms I love the most: Sandy and my mother…

This past year, not long after Mother’s Day, my mom passed away. As a result, I find that Mother’s Day holds a poignancy this year that it has not in the past.  Yes, I miss her. How she brought out the spirit of adventure in my brothers and me. How she helped anchor my life in Christ and fulfilled her mission to love and nurture me. My response this year is to walk in gratitude and to remember.  Many of us will be doing this this year as we miss our moms.

But, second, I also feel a deep concern over Mother’s Day.  For some of us, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of an abusive mother or a mother that was not in the picture or not supportive. You may not want to remember your mother.  So, we must always be sensitive and desire that this time not wound anyone but instead bring peace and healing.

Here is an even deeper concern I have. Through God’s grace, I am repeatedly reminded that my identity is in Christ, as a child of the living God.  This means that every aspect of my life, as a husband, a father, a pastor, a friend, a son, and so on has to be seen in the light of who I am. I am not first any of those.  I am God’s child bonded to Jesus.

The danger is that I can find my identity anywhere else, in being a husband and father, or for you being a wife or mother.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not any less grateful for my mother, or for my wife who is also a great mother. It means that your value, your identity, your worth is not derived there. There are women that have remained single that have lost children or are infertile. For them, Mother’s Day may magnify their pain.  Here is the good news: Your value and significance are found in Jesus.  Whether you are a mother or not has absolutely no bearing on your intrinsic value as beloved of God, and found in Jesus.

This is such good news. How many of us have staked our own identity, our own sense of value on how well our children were doing at some given moment? (Or, how well we felt we were doing in our calling, whatever it was?) The results can be devastating if we feel we have failed or if we feel we have succeeded because it is always unhealthy for us to build our identity on anything so unstable. Instead, God wants us to build our lives, whether in mothering or fathering or whatever our calling may be, on the foundation of our identity in him. 

(This is why on Mother’s Day, we’ll be celebrating with all the women of our church! I hope you will join us for worship!)

 

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.

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.

It Keeps Popping Up

Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths. Joseph Campbell 
The last episode of the latest season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with one man giving his life to save the world (and the woman he loves). That man, Lincoln Campbell (played by Luke Mitchell) is an inhuman (a human being with enhanced powers derived from the fact he has become part alien) who has the ability to manipulate electrical charges. Among the many sub-plots of this season that tell stories of sacrifice, the major plot-line is the most powerful. Daisy Johnson, the one Lincoln loves, played by Chloe Bennett, is gripped with guilt over those she used her special powers to hurt during the time she was brainwashed by the evil force in the world named “Hive.” (“Hive” sorta sounds like “Legion” in the New Testament, that overwhelming demonic force that showed up in great numbers and destroyed a man’s life.) The “Hive” of this story intends on destroying the whole world by robing people of their humanity and creating legions of zombie-like creatures willing to serve him. Because she served “Hive” for a time, Daisy is so racked with guilt she can not forgive herself and she absolutely refuses to accept forgiveness from her team when it is offered to her.

As evil as “Hive” is, he seems also to be indestructible. The agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are no match for him. The whole story turns as one agent, the newest agent of all, Lincoln, realizes that he can destroy “Hive” at the cost of his life. Lincoln can take “Hive” into space and detonate a bomb on the ship that will destroy them both.

It is a touching scene as Daisy realizes what Lincoln is doing for her, for the team, and for the whole world. Here is part of her last exchange with Lincoln as the craft heads into space:

Daisy: It should be me to fix the damage to my friends, to you. You can’t just die for me like this. It’s wrong.

Lincoln: Saving the girl that I love and the world at the same time. Feels pretty right to me.

Within a few moments, communication falls silent. The ship is in space away from the earth’s atmosphere. There it explodes, destroying “Hive.” The world is saved by sacrificial love..

Joseph Campbell would love Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because it retells a story he found in cultures all over the world. Campbell was a mythologist known for studying the great stories of the world. He found an amazing story repeated in diverse cultures, even in those that had no contact with each other. His explanation of this meta-myth is found in his little monograph entitled: The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The story he found so oft repeated tells of a hero, one who saves his people. All of these stories are filled with wonder and heroism.

Campbell’s works begs the question: why do so many cultures tell the same story? Why does this story resonate so deeply in the human heart? Why do we love this story?

I believe our hearts love this story because it is the story all of us are living in. We need to be rescued. Our world needs to be saved. Evil appears so powerful we find it hard to believe it can be destroyed. We are no match for it, really.

It is said that J.R.R. Tolkien (writer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) and C.S. Lewis (writer of the Chronicles of Narnia) were talking about the “myth” that seems to be repeated in culture after culture. It keep popping up. During that talk, Tolkien told C. S. Lewis that, yes, the story of Jesus was a myth like this, but this was the time when the myth actually happened in human history, not just in a story.

Yes, it actually happened. A hero appeared, entered into our world, and took death upon himself to redeem us. Not just. Fairy tale, but a flesh and blood savior. Jesus.

For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

This latest season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. powerfully shows the lure of happiness and pleasure, the grip of addiction, the deep guilt of sin, the paralyzing prison of shame, and the power of sacrificial love.

Transforming Victories

Christian love aims beyond “this world.” It is itself a ray, a manifestation of the Kingdom of God; it transcends and overcomes all limitations, all “conditions” of this world because its motivation as well as its goals and consummation is in God. And we know that even in this world, which “lies in evil,” the only lasting and transforming victories are those of love. Alexander Schmemann, in Great Lent

schmemannThere are times when I doubt the power of love and grace. I don’t think I’m alone. I doubt it when violence springs up in airports and train stations. I doubt love’s power when conflicts seem intractable and endless. I doubt it when more people are hurt, and become afraid. I doubt that there is any love strong enough to pierce the darkness of it all.

I think that is how we must feel as this week, Holy Week, progresses. As we walk with Jesus who arrived in Jerusalem out of love as the religious leaders conspire to take his life. Jesus is willingly giving it up, laying down his life. Perhaps, we must feel hopeless to let such love in.

That is what happens as Jesus goes to the cross. He puts love to the test. Is love strong enough to provide forgiveness for the worst that we can do? Is love enough to staunch the flow of wrong and bring healing in the face of generations of division? Is love stronger even than death?

Jesus’ answer is the cross and the empty tomb. The cross shows us that there is no place God will not go to love. The empty tomb proclaims the victory of love, God’s love, and it invites us to live this new way of love that can only come from Jesus. This is the love that can love one’s enemies because we were God’s enemies and he loved us. This is the love that lives beyond death because Jesus came from the grave.