Posts

Showing posts from October, 2017

Cardinal

Image
The hiddenness of God is often a challenge to our faith.  

Philip Yancey once wrote, "If we insist on visible proofs from God, we may well prepare the way for a permanent state of disappointment."  I find that statement a bit pessimistic.  I feel like that miracles are all around us all of the time--we just aren't paying attention.  

George Bernard Shaw once wrote: "Creation is a miracle of daily recurrence. 'A miracle a minute' would not be a bad slogan for God."

In the weeks leading up to my mom's passing, I had been praying fervently for God to miraculously "show up," and in a way, perhaps God did.  

When my parents moved into the house we all share in Texas, my mom fell in love with the idea of having multiple bird feeders in our back yard so she could bird-watch.  We positioned a variety of bird houses and bird feeders across from her living room windows where she could easily see them. 

Her favorite visitors were the few cardinals who wou…

Grace

Image
This Saturday was one of the hardest days of my life.  

We said our final goodbyes to my mom at her funeral as we celebrated her life among family and friends from around the country.  

Throughout this grief-filled journey, I have had some fairly raw and honest moments with God. 

Most of my raw honesty was due to the fact that on top of everything we were going through with my mom's death, we had a miserably sick kid on antibiotics (and another one who caught it later), a massive plumbing issue at my house, a host of other issues. 

And then we got word that my cat ran off, and hadn't been home in two days. 

This cat and I have had a checkered and complicated relationship, but we have bonded.  I love her aloof, queenly attitude.  Even when she escapes and stays out all night, I am usually certain that she'll be there at the door in the morning.  

So on the morning of my mother's funeral I was getting dressed, and asking God a raw and honest question, "Seriously? After al…

Complete

Image
This week as I have been reflecting on the loss of my dear mom, I've had occasion to remember the words that I have shared with so many grief-stricken families.  

You see, each time I officiate a funeral, I say the following words in the sermon: 

"Death for the Christian is a bitter-sweet experience.  It is sorrow mixed with joy. There is the emptiness in the day to day absence of someone who is never coming home again; There is the pain of a relationship, which is broken, and in this life will never be mended.  And so we mourn." 

And then I say: 

"But there is also comfort in knowing that because of Jesus Christ the one we mourn has passed from dreaded death into everlasting life; comfort in being sure that healing is now complete and there is no more sickness, pain or fear..."

There have been times when I've said the words, "healing is now complete," and I've looked down at a grieving family to see them nodding and smiling through their tears. 

No…

Suffering & Hope

Image
Fredrick Buechener once wrote, "For people who don't believe in God, suffering can be understood simply as part of the way the world work.  For people who do believe in God, it must remain always a dark and awful mystery."  

Since my mom's passing, I have been thinking deeply about suffering, and it's role in faith formation.  

The Apostle Paul (who knew a little about suffering) wrote that: 
"...suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope." Today I re-read a passage of Scripture from 1 Peter chapter 2 that says this about suffering as a Christian: 
This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.So all that is well and good, right?  It makes sense.  And totally sounds like the kinds of things that are written by people who have seen suffering and come t…

Concert

Image
Yesterday was a hard day. 

I had to write my mother's obituary.  I haven't sent it to anyone yet, but it's written.  

I sorted through hundreds of photos to find just the right ones to use for a slideshow being created by a friend for my mom's memorial.  

There were moments yesterday when it felt like I was sleepwalking.  

And then we were reminded in the middle of everything that my son had a band concert in the evening.   So we all went to see him perform--all of us that are left.  

My mom never missed one of Jackson's concerts if she could help it, and her absence was deeply felt.  Still, we piled tiredly into the car, arrived a bit late and had to search for a seat in the gymnasium bleachers. 

When the music began, however, we got lost in it.  We felt joy again.  I heard the notes my son had been practicing for weeks joined together with all of the notes from all of his bandmates---and it was beautiful.  

I recently read an interesting quote from author Brene Brown.  …

Angry At God

Image
Some years ago, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross put forward the notion that there are five stages to grief that virtually all people who have suffered loss go through as they grieve. 

The five stages are:  Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance.  

What I have learned over the years is that those five stages might very well exist, but it's a crock that we all feel them the same way, and in the same sequence.  

My mom passed away two days ago at the age of 73.  Her beautiful, sweet, grace-filled life ended far too son.   

I have to be honest.  I am feeling more than my fair share of anger right about now.  I think I skipped on by the first two stage of grief and went straight to being ticked off. 

I'm not exactly mad because I think God caused my mom to die.  I have never believed that God worked that way, and I am not about to start now.  

I also don't believe that God wanted Mom to be in heaven more than he wanted her here with us, either.  That kind of sentimentality is com…

Different Week 4 - "Surrender"

Image
Let's say you are driving down the road in your car, listening to Steely Dan and singing passionately about how "Ricky" better not "lose that number," when suddenly you hit a pothole and lose control of your ability to steer.  

As a result of this, you discover that Jesus has not taken the wheel, and that it is now spinning wildly in your hands as you careen headlong toward a minivan full of nuns.  

Here's a question for you... 

Is the ensuing accident your fault?  Removing the obvious mortal sin of listening to and enjoying Steely Dan---most people would tend to say, "Absolutely not!  It was the pothole's fault."  And by extension, then we would go on to blame the municipality that allowed said pothole to exist.  

And we would be wrong.  The accident would still be your fault.  Your insurance would increase, you would get the ticket, you would be to blame.  In most states, it is your duty to report potholes when you see them, and it is the munici…

The Other Side

Image
As I write this, I am sitting by mother's bedside as she slowly slips away.   She's fought hard these past few weeks, but this morning she was weary of fighting and slipped into a coma.  We were told that her time with us is measured in days.

It's late and everyone else in the house is asleep--most of them exhausted from a long and emotional day.  I volunteered for this "shift."  

Over the course of my pastoral career, I have done hundreds of funerals and counseled hundreds of families at the time of their grief.  

I have lost count of the number of beds I've stood beside where a church member's loved one was in the last days (and in some cases, the last moments) of their life.  

The view is a lot different from the other side.  

I see so much more clearly how important it is to know that you are not alone.

When the Apostle Paul wrote that those of us who follow Christ do not mourn as those who "have no hope," he definitely was referring to the Resurr…

Know Peace

Image
I have known what it's like to feel perfect peace about a decision I've made, a problem that is before me, a crisis that I have to face.  I know that feeling, and it's amazing.  

But sometimes in the midst of dealing with decisions, problems and crises, I find myself having a hard time connecting with that feeling of peace.  

And most of the time the reason why I struggle to connect with that feeling of peace (one that should be familiar) is because I am trying too hard to control the outcomes.  

The Apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Philippians:  
Do not be anxious about everything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which passes understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)E. Stanley Jones once wrote, "We are not meant to be reservoirs of worry.  We are instead channels, attached to infinite resources."  I love that quote.  The feelin…

Sadness

Image
I'm having a difficult time writing today.  

We've been going through a sad season in my family's life.  

Sadness can weigh heavily on you.  It can cover you like a heavy, grey shroud that keeps you from feeling the warmth of the sun, or seeing the bright colors all around you. 

It can also permeate the nooks and crannies of your home like a fog, touching everyone who lives there, and making it difficult to see one another clearly.  

Sadness is an unwelcome, but familiar guest for many of us.  

When Sadness makes it's way into your life, you find yourself wavering between holding on to it in a desperate embrace, and violently shoving it out the door.  

Some days you wish you could banish it forever from your life.  

Other days you wonder if you'll ever be able to live without it. 

One of the most important verses in the Bible (John 11:35) is also one of the shortest. It's just two words:  "Jesus wept."  Jesus was at a funeral for Lazarus, one of his closest f…

Like A Dove

Image
Several years ago, my wife Merideth and I visited Rome and spent some time at the Vatican.  

At the time I was feeling a bit dusty and dry spiritually. I figured that if there was anywhere on earth that I might experience a sign from God it would be in St. Peter's Basilica in the center of Vatican Square.  

As we waited for Mass to start, Merideth and I went into a gift shop.  Merideth hates to shop, but I love it.  Merideth got tired of shopping and went outside while I stayed inside poking around for gifts. 

Suddenly I heard a commotion outside and went to investigate.  Merideth said, "You're not going to believe this!  A perfect white dove just flew down into this square, hovered over everyone who was here and then flew away!  It was amazing!"  

I was dumbfounded.  I'd been searching for a sign, and I had missed the one that God had sent.

We went inside to attend Mass.  I was beating myself up, and wondering what was wrong with me, why I always seemed to be missing…

One-Upper

Image

Different - Week 3: "Speech"

Image
I have a list of words that I would like to see eradicated from our cultural lexicon.  I don't ask for much--perhaps issuing hefty fines to people who use them until they learn not to would be a good place to start. 

Honestly, if everyone listened to me on issues like this the world would be a better place. 

So... to the words:

"Bromance" - This is a word that is used to describe the affection that exists between two dudes who want to ensure that no one mistakes their relationship as something other than manly friendship---and so they use a word that combines "brother" and "romance," which honestly just makes the whole thing worse.

"Foodie" - This word is used to describe someone who really, really, really likes food.  People will use it in a pretentious sort of way, "Oh, I really don't care to eat at Chipotle--I'm kind of a foodie, you know."  Oh, you like food?  So does everyone.  Find another word. 

"Irregardless" -…

Taco Dreams

Image
I'm on day 13 of The Whole 30 diet, which is designed to eliminate sugar, gluten, dairy and alcohol from your diet.  In other words, all of the things that are enjoyable and awesome. 

I know I may have mentioned this in a previous devo, but I'm suffering and need to share.  

The instruction manual for this diet states the following about the phase of the diet I am happen to be inhabiting at the moment: "This is the part of the program where our brains are desperate to drive us back to the comfort of the foods we used to reward ourselves with."

I know this is true because I was watching a Taco Bell commercial last night and I had this vision of sitting down with a 12-pack of those tacos with the Doritos shell and eating every... single... one.  

At this point, I am doing this diet because I have to make some changes in my life.  I am not feeling joy about it.  There is no happiness here.  I am told that it gets better, but right this second, I am putting one foot in front…

Stumble On.

Image
When I was a kid, I remember being asked to ponder a question that was frequently posed in sermons, youth meetings, Sunday school and a host of other church environments.  The question went something like this:  

"How's your Christian walk?"  

In the faith communities of my youth, that was church-y language for "Are you living up to the standards?  Are you keeping the rules and regulations?  Are you checking all the things on the checklist?"  

But at some point in those early years of trying to follow Jesus, I realized that my "walk" had become more of a "trudge."  I was trudging along after what I thought was a Jesus path, but found I was barely able to pick up my feet. 

Oswald Chambers once wrote: 
"It's difficult to get into stride with God, because as soon as we start walking with Him we find that His pace has surpassed us before we have taken three steps..."  It took many years and more than one crisis of faith, but I finally c…