Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Next weekend will hold a lot of heavy emotions for me. September 11th is my mom’s birthday. It also happens to be the day of one of the greatest tragedies that our country has ever experienced. This coming September 11th marks the 10th

anniversary of that devastating day when four hijacked planes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and a field in rural Pennsylvania.

In many ways, September 11th has become to the younger generations what John Kennedy’s assassination was to the older generations. Most of us can probably remember where we were and what we were doing when we got the news, turned on the TV, looked on the internet, or heard on the radio about these attacks. The above image of the Twin Towers conjures up so many different emotions within me.

We are people whose lives are embedded in story. Many of us, when asked questions, will answer with our own form of a story. To some of us, the term “story” means that it’s made up, but that’s not what I am talking about. I am talking about the story of our lives, the events that have come together to shape us and make us who we are. All of us have stories to tell, it’s just a question of whether or not we will be bold enough to tell them and share them with others.

I have a picture on my work computer desktop of my mom with my oldest son. Every time that I login to my computer and see the picture, it’s painful. The pain of loss is still very fresh to me. But what happens when it is no longer painful? It will still serve as a reminder to me; it will help me remember Mom and how much she meant to me and my whole family. As long as I have a way of remembering, I will not forget.

We are forgetful people. After the terrorist attacks on September 11th, it was pretty neat to see what happened in our country. Having been born in New York and spending some time there in my formative years and beyond, it’s pretty easy to notice the “New York State of Mind.” There is always an attitude among New Yorkers that is unparalleled anywhere else. On the street, no one looks you in the eye. If you have ever seen the movie “Crash” it could be compared to Don Cheadle’s introductory monologue and his experience in Los Angeles. But after 9/11, things changed.

People would look each other in the eyes. There would be more personal greetings. There were words spoken with simple head nods and glances. People actually seemed to care for each other. There was a genuine love and concern for our fellow man and woman. There was a patriotism that happened in the past when major wars were waged. The country came together, we were united.

We also began to see our own mortality. We sensed that there was something more than just us. People began to take a second look at faith, reconnecting with what had been instilled in them when they were younger. Life had gotten in the way though, and they had neglected what had once been important to them.

But it didn’t take long for us to forget. It didn’t take long for us to begin to think that we really could do it on our own. We no longer needed our neighbors. We no longer needed our God. We no longer needed anyone else but ourselves. We could be independent. We could kick evil’s &%$ if we wanted to, we didn’t need any help. The sense of community that had been renewed in all of us started to take a backseat to what seemed to be more important in life.

We need reminders. We need to remember how it felt in those first days when the pain was still fresh. Not to be sadistic, but to help us to live. Just like a scar reminds us of an injury of days gone by, so reminders give us a glimpse into the past. If we do not remember, we forget. If we forget, we are destined to let history repeat itself. If we forget, we have learned nothing and we have not changed, have not been transformed.

I am a different person than I was 10 years ago. Some people have told me recently that I look 10 years younger since I cut my hair, but I wonder if they would say that I act the same as I did back then. I hope not. I hope that I have changed, that I am less like me and more like Christ. I hope that I have set up reminders for myself, reminders of who I used to be so that I will not be destined to revert back again.

The act of remembering is not always the most pleasant experience in the world, sometimes it hurts. But it is essential for us as we grow. Reminders are not just for the past but for the future as well. We enter into community with one another so that we can be reminders for each other, that is the beauty of community and the accountability that it creates.

I don’t ever want to be accused of being the same person that I was. I always want to be changing. The moment that I stop changing is the moment that I think I have arrived, when any sense of humility is thrown to the pavement. May we all continue to remember so that we do not forget and so that we will continue to change and be transformed. Always remember!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Nothing like a few days without electricity to get a person thinking. The saga of 2011 has continued this week. After a rare 5.8 earthquake in Virginia, we were hit with a tropical storm which seemed to have surprised everyone although it had been forecast for well over a week. In the aftermath of the storm, the power company did its best to restore power to the neighborhood that I live in as well as the other surrounding neighborhoods. We were without power for just over 48 hours.

In some ways, I was surprised at how much the lack of power impacted me. I guess a better way to say it is that the things that I expected would bother me were not the ones which really did. I was more consumed with losing all of the food in both of my refrigerators than I was with having air conditioning.

Even as I read that last sentence, I realize the gravity of what it means. I didn't say refrigerator, but I used the plural, because we have two. Wow! Do I really have a right to complain? How dare I even think about it? The conveniences of life were briefly taken away from me and there are people who are living without these "conveniences" every day of their lives. Do we fully understand how much we have and how many privileges we have?

Storms in life have the potential for throwing a wrench in our plans. They inconvenience us. For some, they do more than that. All along the path of the hurricane, there are stories of the damage that it caused. Some people even lost their lives. As I drove out of my driveway, I saw the bradford pear tree that once stood in my yard. It was now laying across the road having done no damage but inconveniencing me. I drove down the road and came to the entrance of my subdivision. As I looked across the street, I saw that two large trees has come down right on top of the house across the street. The roof was destroyed and in major need of repair. Did I really have a right to complain?

As I drove around and assessed the damage, I continued to count my blessings. I didn't have power, I had lost a tree, and there was a very small leak in my house, but overall, I was fortunate. I had withstood the storm. My house was still standing. My family was safe. Aren't those the blessings that I need to be taking into account every moment?

We gathered for church on Sunday, even without electricity. In some ways, I was more excited about the potential for the services without electricity than I would have been had power been restored. In fact, power was restored between the services and I simply walked to the back of the sanctuary, turned off the lights, and pretended that nothing had ever happened. We gathered together as a community of faith and worshipped without power. And it was good.

Over and over in 2011, I have been forced to unplug and restart. Circumstances in life that have been out of my control have forced me to change things around. Medical emergencies. Cancer diagnoses. Earthquakes. Hurricanes. They are outside of my control. I can do nothing to change them. My frustration over their inconvenience is futile, it won't change anything. All I can do is adapt, move on, and restart.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:12, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." It's hard to think about being joyful in the midst of trials and inconveniences. But joy and happiness are not the same thing. Happiness is based upon circumstances, joy is not. Experiencing joy comes from hope, just like what Paul says. If I were to base my joy on the things that happen throughout life which inconvenience me, I would be gravely disappointed. There is a bigger picture to be seen, there are greater blessings that outweigh these inconveniences.

I keep laughing to myself throughout this year that I cannot say, "What next?" Whenever I think I have had about as much as I can possibly take, something else happens. My perspective needs to change though. If I think that I can handle all of this and that I can maneuver through all of these storms in my own strength, I am grossly mistaken. I am still standing because of the grace of God. My family still has me because of grace. I am incapable of handling this on my own, and that is not a sign of weakness. In fact, I am stronger for being able to admit that.

God has blessed me beyond compare with many things. I have a family, a house, a community of faith, and some really incredible friends. I have experienced the love of Jesus Christ in a very real way. Just those few things are more than many people have or experience.

Today, I wake up and look at my day as a restart. There is only what is ahead of me. I can look behind me, but I can't rest on what's there or allow my past failures to dictate what is in front of me. I am blessed and today, like Joshua, I can choose who I will serve. We all have that choice for today. Who will we serve, what will we do, will we be grateful. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord, not with our own strength, but only with the strength of the One who saves us. Every day!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ongoing Thoughts About Church

With the end of seminary in reasonable distance within the next year and a few months, I have been continually introspective about what I have learned up to this point. I have encountered some people who have become more dogmatic in their own beliefs as a result of seminary, not having gone to expand their horizons or learn new things, but just to solidify their already weakly constructed theological system. Not that this couldn’t happen anywhere, but I think there are particular seminaries that may have a propensity for this as that has been my experience.

There is also another school of people who have undergone some major deconstruction on their journey through seminary. The system of beliefs that they had once held onto has been completely deconstructed and they are not even sure that they believe in God anymore. In my experience, it hasn’t been so much a result of the particular institution that people have attended so much as the approach towards discipleship up to that point. That’s a subject for another post…or even a book.

When I made the decision to go to seminary, it wasn’t because anyone was telling me that I needed to. I already held an ordination in a nationally recognized denomination, which was enough for me to call myself a “pastor.” Problem was, I had encountered too many so-called “pastors” who held ordinations and degrees and yet when it came to actually fulfilling the calling and responsibility of being a pastor, they…..well, there’s no other way to say this…but they stunk. So, my decision to go to seminary was really for my own benefit and fulfillment. I knew that if I approached my seminary education with humility and openness, God would have the chance to continue to shape and form me to be the pastor that he wanted me to be.

My first class of seminary was taught by a professor who was somewhat non-traditional compared to what I was used to. He is an advocate of the house church movement and holds some different viewpoints about the church in America. I was thrust into a deconstruction of my own from the very beginning, but it was a very good thing.

As I approach the end of my seminary education, I just completed another class with this same professor and it has been interesting to be a part of his class after 3 years in seminary. It has become apparent to me that the aspect of my beliefs and theology that has changed the most over the last few years has been in the area of ecclesiology, or the study of the church.

The funny thing is that it was in that area that deconstruction had started many years before I started seminary. In fact, that may have been one of the main things that led me to seminary. I had been trained and educated as an engineer and felt God calling me into full-time vocational ministry after nearly a decade of engineering and my first few years in ministry were…interesting. They lead me to read a lot of books, continue to search Scripture, and build lots of relationships with people who held differing ecclesiological views than I did.

I have always heard it said that the more you learn the more you realize how much you don’t know. I have found that to be very true and I hope that it has cultivated humility in me as I have learned more. I never want to be the person who claims that he has it all together or knows all of the answers. Anyone who tells you something like that is selling something or wants to use you. But I do feel that I have begun to understand that in regards to the Church, Christ’s body on the earth, there is as much gray as there is black and white.

I have often found myself frustrated over the administrative responsibilities that I have, especially when they take me away from relational aspects of my job. One of my biggest struggles since being in ministry has always been maintaining relationships with people who don’t hold to the same belief system that I do while still caring for those who fall under my care. It gets particularly frustrating when people who already know Christ begin to complain that they are not being cared for, calling for additional time spent on them and less time spent cultivating relationships with people who have not yet met Christ. There is not enough time in the day to do both well and if I had a choice between one or the other, I would most likely choose cultivating relationships with those who don’t yet know Christ. Of course, if I had the choice between keeping my job and losing my job, I’m sure you know which one I would choose as well.

The Church has come a long way from the 2nd chapter of Acts. The western culture and mindset have heavily influenced the way that we think, talk, and act about Church. We do things in a way that makes sense to our culture and yet doesn’t always make sense in light of Scripture. Some try to reckon the two while others take the “black and white” approach and abandon all efforts to make sense of it.

I don’t have the answers, but I am continuing to dig deep and search. I do know that I have not been satisfied with the way that things have gone in the American church. Instead of railing against it though, I figure that the best way for me to change it is by allowing myself to be changed first. If I can be influenced and then influence the people with whom I interact, then change can have a ripple effect. I can’t change others, but I can change who I am and what I do. That’s the best place for me to start.

As I approach the end of seminary within the next year and a half, I don’t know that any of the answers will be clearer, but I think that my approach is clearer. I don’t want to make Church cool or hip. I don’t want to dress Jesus up in clothes that make him acceptable to our culture. After all, the message of the Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing. At the same time, I will not limit the creativity that God has given me but will do my best to communicate the Gospel in as effective and creative a method as possible. I pray that I would continue to speak the truth in love, not holding back from what Scripture says. If I allow Scripture to speak to me, change will take place within me and I can only hope that the change that takes place in me might influence others as well.

The journey is long and tedious at times, but the end result is not always the most admirable of goals. Sometimes, it’s the journey that makes the difference; it’s usually way more formative than the end goal. If it’s as formative as my journey has been so far, than greater things have yet to come.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthquakes...hurricanes...oh my!

I have been laughing to myself as I consider that a hurricane is heading towards the east coast of the United States which bears my mother’s name. As a friend reminded me, mothers are a force of nature to be reckoned with, not necessarily a destructive one though. Knowing what my mom was capable of, I can’t help but smile as I think about this impending hurricane. It’s also funny to know that this hurricane has been called “Irene” considering that the name means “peace.” Interesting choice.

Yesterday afternoon, as I was driving the 3 miles back to work from my house, my car seemed to have lost its alignment and I thought that my wheels were going to fall off. I held tightly to the wheel in hopes that I could make it to the church, bracing myself for what might happen. In a moment, my car’s alignment seemed to be fine again and I thought, “that was interesting.”

When I got to the church, some of the ladies who work in the office were standing outside and they looked a little disturbed. It was at that moment that I realized that something else had happened that had nothing to do with my car’s alignment. They began talking about the experience of being in the building when the earthquake hit.

Cell phone service was spotty at best. Landlines were not functioning properly either. Thankfully, texting seemed to be fine and my wife and I were able to text back and forth with some people to let them know that we were all right. At that point, I began to appreciate social media and the internet even more as it was an efficient way to communicate to multiple people that we were all right.

One of my friends who I had spent a week with recently wrote on my Facebook wall, “What. A. year. I really hope 2012 is less exciting for you man.” That sort of seems to be the way of 2011 for us. I keep joking about writing a book because you just can’t make this kind of stuff up. I guess the best fiction is non-fiction, there is power in story, even more so when you know it is true.

In the midst of all of this, I couldn’t help but thinking about Romans 8. I read Romans 8 aloud on the car ride to Williamsburg on the day of my mom’s funeral. Over the last few years, I was really led to this chapter in Paul’s letter to be reminded of the impact of “The Fall.” I would encourage a thorough reading of the entire chapter, but here are a few verses from the middle of the chapter.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

There are some who are quick to point out that natural disasters are a sign of the end times. Jesus’ own words in Matthew 24:6-8 were, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.”

To be honest, Paul’s words in Romans signify to me so much more than the “end times.” Without getting into an eschatological debate or treatise, we have been in the “end times” since Jesus ascended to heaven. The instructions that he gave to his disciples and followers are 2000 years old, which doesn’t make them any less relevant, but those instructions were imminently lived out then and should continue to be imminently lived out now. If there was an urgency that Christ’s return was soon back then, that same urgency should exist today.

I say that not to instill fear into anyone but to evoke a sense of urgency in all of us who consider ourselves followers of Christ. Are we urgently sharing the hope that is within us to those who have not experienced it? Do we allow for others to see that in spite of natural and even man-made disasters that we experience?

In light of Romans 8, all of these things that we experience, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, they are a result of creation groaning to be the way that it was created to be. As long as we live on this side of fallen creation, we will continue to experience these things, whether Christ returns tomorrow or 1000 years from now. Until creation is re-created, restored, and redeemed, it will groan, sometimes louder than others, for redemption to occur. In the mean time, what will we do about it? Will we pack our bags and wave our signs about the impending judgment? Or will we get to work, letting others see the hope that we experience in Jesus Christ, letting them see the light that has shone brightly to the darkness of our world? What will you choose? As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord…and get off our butts and get busy, not waving signs, but spreading hope.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

One Month

Yesterday marked the one month anniversary of Mom’s death. It seems hard to believe that it’s been a month. Some days it feels like yesterday while other days it feels like years ago. Carrie and the boys marked the day by heading to Williamsburg to have dinner with Dad. It was a good chance for us all to be together and have our minds on each other, thinking about Mom, but not wallowing in our loss.

One of the greatest challenges that I daily face is filling my mind and heart with the good memories of 38+ years rather than some of the chilling images of the last week of Mom’s life. There was a moment a few days before Mom died when my brother, aunt, uncle, and I needed to move her. I won’t go into detail except to say that we made our attempt and what followed seemed like something out of a horror film. Having had conversations with my brother and my aunt, the images that we saw in those moments will not soon be erased from our minds. Those images coupled with others are burned on my mind and will haunt me for years to come.

As I have reflected on everything that has happened in the last eight months, I began to realize that things could have been a lot worse. Up until the week before she died, Mom stayed pretty self-sufficient. She did not need much assistance and was able to do most of the things that she had always done. Her energy level was down, but she continued to push herself. The last week of her life, when she was unable to care for herself, I don’t think there was a great awareness of her inability to do so.

I thought through my 38 years of life and realized that the majority of those years were spent with her feeling pretty good. We had the privilege of spending time together and enjoying one another’s company. Although it’s inevitable to wish for additional moments to say things that you wished you had said, I can honestly say that’s not a dominant thought for me. While I’m not sure whether or not she hears, I still talk to Mom and know that she sees things not in part, but in full. She no longer sees through a mirror dimly lit, but everything has been revealed to her.

Everyone faces grief differently and everyone’s journey is different, but there are similarities in each and every one of our stories. There is comfort and solace in seeing the overlap, there is a sense of peace in knowing that we are not the only ones who have experienced this nor are we the only ones to travel through the valley of the shadow of death. As I hear the stories of others, I realize that others have faced situations that are far worse than my own. Nevertheless, it doesn’t change the fact that I grieve and sorrow over the loss of Mom.

When it comes to memories, I have been finding myself thinking about many sweet moments that we shared. Mom and I shared a moment the day that she came home from the hospital for the last time that I will not soon forget. As I look through pictures, I remember the day that she held her first grandchild, the days that she danced with her sons at our weddings, and the many times that she told me how proud of me she was.

Some of the images that I experience are ones that I have not seen but simply imagine. I imagine when she came face to face with Jesus, her savior. I imagine the tears of joy that ran down her face as she could finally say “Thank you” to him in person. I imagine her seeing her parents, her brother, her sister-in-law, her nephew, her best friend, reunited with them forever. I imagine her at the banquet table, breathing a sigh of relief as she realizes that the dietary restrictions that she was held to for a good part of her life were unnecessary because all things have been made new. Those are the images that bring a smile to my face and replace the images that are not as pleasurable for me.

I miss Mom terribly. I reach for my phone to call her so many times until I realize that the effort would be futile. My brother and I talked the other day and I told him that we had the opportunity to be for others what Mom had been for us. We can make a difference in the people around us the way that Mom made a difference in us. My dad, my brother, and I have lost something special that we had relied upon, but the legacy of Mom is for us to be that to others.

I look at my two little boys and wish that they knew their grandmother for more years than they did. I listen to my nearly 3 year old pray and talk about missing grandma and how grandma died. Those are the moments that hurt the most. I look at my dad and wish that he could have enjoyed retirement with his wife. I know that it’s not easy for him to go out into public places and see so many people enjoying life together. I look at my brother and wish that Mom were able to see how much of a change has occurred in his life.

We went to Cracker Barrel for dinner with Dad. The country store there reminds me of Mom because so many of the things there are things that she enjoyed. As I looked around my parents’ house yesterday, I could see Mom everywhere. Her hand was all over the place. Even though she’s not there, I can almost hear her and what she would say. Her smell still lingers. I look around, half expecting her to walk through the door at any moment, but she doesn’t.

But what I said to my brother is right, we can be to others what Mom had been to us. She left herself in us in so many ways. I might not physically see her every day, but when I look in the mirror I know that I see….Mom.