Tag Archives: Brokenness

Future Glory

My sermon from this past Sunday. Text was Romans 8:12-25.

Henry was a fellow that I knew on the South side of Milwaukee. Henry lived outside, underneath an overpass which went over the Menominee Valley. Henry was a good guy, he had a good heart. He, of course, had demons with which he fought. He drank to excess, he was almost always in a some state of drunkenness.

Henry smelled bad, due in part to the fact that he lived on the street, and due in part to the fact that after a bender, he would sleep where we fell. He had no one to bring him into bed, or to pull him into a bathroom, or to change his clothes. He wanted to give up drinking, he really did. But he didn’t. In the winter it is hard to sleep, and so Henry, like so many other people in a similar situation, finds that drinking helps him get some sleep at night when the mercury drops dangerously low. Additionally, things were so incredibly miserable for him, that drinking is the only way to numb himself to the pain of it all. So in trying to escape his problems, he caused a whole new set. And in doing so, he entered into a cycle of destruction from which he would never escape.

He would spend his days going canning, that is, going around the city collecting cans into big bags, he would have a couple of secret places to hide his stash, and then when he had enough he would turn it in for scrap. Some times it would only be enough to buy a 40, but there were many other times in which he would have some left over and he would usually give it to the church.

Typically we only think of the cold when we know of people who stay outside, but that isn’t even the most dangerous part, the most dangerous part is the continual risk that one is at when they sleep outside. Every night Henry would try to sleep not knowing if he would get mugged or robbed or killed during the night. He would often keep a club next to him while he slept in case he was attacked during the night. Several times this would happen, and he would find that his ID card and his money was gone. We can lock our doors at night, but when you sleep outside, there are no doors to lock.

Henry was also an easy target for people who go out looking for trouble. On days when he gets some money and he drinks, his reactions are slow and he would often get beat up, sometimes to steal from him, other times just for the sick enjoyment out of it. But in spite of all of this, Henry would walk around with his snow shovel in the winter and shovel walks in the neighborhood, and especially of people he knew, and during the fall he would often find a rake and rake leaves for others.

Henry was the last person to leave after lunch after the service. Many times he would fall asleep and sometimes this would be frustrating, but as I reflect on it, it became apparent to me that it would likely happen because in the church he felt safe, he knew that there were people watching over him, and he could rest in relative safety.

But we would have to wake him, and so often I was the one who would be charged with that task, and I would help him up the stairs, not only because he was intoxicated, but also because being in his late fifties and being on the street for the last decade, it took a toll on his body.

As we would walk up the stairs toward the door to send him out into the world, he would express his frustration at the way that he would try to help people and in return they would steal from him (he would carry around all of his worldly possessions in a ripped backpack) or beat him, or some other way take advantage of him.

He would express his sense of utter hopelessness, that he wasn’t sure if there was a future for him, and if there was it likely would not get better. Henry had a lot of demons with which he battled, but the most significant one was this sense of utter hopelessness.

Henry was in bondage to decay, as the apostle phrased it.

There are roses outside of my office window here at church, and I greatly enjoy looking at them. But after too long, they begin to darken, and it seems that they have been ravaged by insects and they can’t keep going. The roses which were once beautiful become wilted and eventually the petals fall off.

Buildings which are vacant for even a short time begin to fall apart, literally decay before our eyes.

We have experienced, in the recent past, very personal examples of how we are in bondage to decay. Our congregation has lost several people recently. We have lost friends and family members in our own lives.

When we are sick or hurt, and family members and friends try to cheer us up by assuring us that things are going to turn out okay, but you still have that ever present realization that you are in bondage to decay.

“For the creation waits with eager longing,” the apostle writes, “for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

All of creation is in bondage to decay, and in some way, the earth knows this, the animals know this.

Not long ago I was standing by the kitchen window and there was a spider web outside right in front of the window. An insect had the misfortune of finding itself stuck in the web and it struggled to free itself from the sticky web that it cannot even see, to no avail. As it struggled, the spider masterfully walked along this web and approached the insect, and injected it with paralyzing venom, and once the thrashing stopped, the spider grabbed the insect and began the process of wrapping it in the silky fibers of the web.

Studies have shown that plants have a defense mechanism that releases chemicals when they are being chewed on that change the taste of their leaves so that they no longer taste pleasant. Recently a study was released that showed the same response when a recording of a caterpillar chewing on a leaf was played to the plant.

While this may sound strange, I think that the creation knows that it is in bondage to decay and it groans. The earth rips itself open with earthquakes, it hemorrhages lava from volcanoes. Hurricanes and tornadoes and floods and droughts damage and harm all that is, but these pains are not death pains, no they are birth pains. The creation groans.

And it groans because Creation waits with eager longing.  You see, it is not just humanity that suffers from the broken state of the world, but the creation itself suffers as well. In the third chapter of Genesis, which we often refer to as the Fall of Humanity, but it is not just the fall of humanity, but the fall of creation. In the curses that are pronounced on the serpent, the woman, and the man, God says to the man, “cursed is the ground because of you…” Adam and Eve sinned, but all of creation paid the price.

The creation is groaning in great pains, but they are not the pains of death, but the pains of birth.

The creation groans because it waits with eager longing. It may seem odd to think of birds and ants and trees looking forward with longing, but is it so strange?

In scripture trees rejoice (Ps 96:12), floods clap their hands (Ps 98:8), the wilderness can be glad (Is 35:1), mountains and hills can burst out into song (Is 55:12), and stones can shout (Lk 19:40. Why should not birds and trees and roses and insects look forward with longing?

The creation groans, but not only this, but we also groan inwardly while we wait for redemption, for restoration. After all, our bodies are still subject to death.

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time,” the apostle writes, “are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”

You see, it is not just the sorry state of our present condition that the apostle so beautifully speaks, if that was all he was trying to get across, he would be preaching to the choir, as the saying goes. You see, Christians live in a world between worlds. Sometimes theologians will refer to this as the “already but not yet” It is the idea that with Christ redemption has already come and restoration has already begun but these have not yet fully arrived. It is a time of tension, it is a time of upheaval, in a true way, it is a time of cosmic revolution.

And it is important that we live in this tension, and neither become too “this worldly” that we forget that there is something more than what we can see or touch or experience, or become too “other worldly” that we forget that this life has meaning, this life is not just a waiting room, but this is the only life that we have. After all, this is not waiting for the main event, this is the main event. The new heaven and new earth is not the goal, it is the rest which comes after a life well lived, a race well run, a journey well trod.

So we must remember the hope that the apostle gives us, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”

So while it is true that this is the only life that we will live, and this life is in bondage to decay, we must also remember that this is not all that there is from a cosmic view. There will be a point of restoration and redemption when all of creation will be loosed from its bondage and will be granted so great a glory, of which all of the great sufferings in this present world cannot even compare.

***

I wish that I could tell Henry that things would get better. There were times when he would sober up and clean up, and it was wonderful to see him in a better condition, but he couldn’t stay that way for long. I wish that I could tell him that if he sobered up that things would get better, but I didn’t know that. It was very likely that Henry would stay in this destructive cycle and eventually it would be the death of him.

And it was. After years of living on the street, of drinking so much, of being in and out of the emergency room from freeing cold, illnesses, and all the rest, he ended up dying after a short stay in intensive care.

And now, he can live into the hope that I had for him, that beyond the sufferings of this present time there would be immense glory, and there would be a time when he, along with all of creation, would be freed from this bondage to decay and can be restored to the glory for which we were originally intended. And this is what is in store for each of us, and the roses and insects and plants. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Wounds in the Body of Christ

Oklahoma City Bombing National Memorial

(cc) Tabitha Kaylee Hawk

Eendracht maakt Macht

These words adorn the banner at the bottom of the crest of the Reformed Church in America. Often the translation into English is, “Unity makes strength” but, as I understand it, a better translation is “Concord makes strength” — a pulling together like a team of horses.

***

The Christian church today is fractured, but it has not always been. For nearly a thousand years, the Christian church was essentially unified throughout the world. This changed significantly with the Great Schism of 1054 when the Eastern church (Orthodox) and the Western church (Roman Catholic) excommunicated one another. For another five hundred years these remained the primary divisions within the Body of Christ.

The Western church experienced yet another major fracture when Martin Luther, in his attempt to reform the church, found himself considered to be a heretic and was cast out of the church. From this moment, the Protestant branch of the Christian church was born and continued splitting and fracturing over significant things such as the Doctrine of the Trinity and more trivial things such as the introduction of hymns in worship alongside the Psalms.

I, myself, am also aware of my own history and I, too, am involved in the fracturing the Body of Christ. In the nineteenth century, there was a split in the Reformed church in the Netherlands. As some of the Dutch immigrated to the United States, the Reformed people joined together and several then joined with the established Reformed Church in the United States. For a number of them, however, this union was short lived and they seceded and came together to form a second Reformed denomination on this continent. It is into this latter denomination that I was baptized and raised, and it was here that I learned the essentials of the faith. My ancestors were secessionists and it is through them that I participate in this…

Today I’m at That Reformed Blog. Head over there to finish reading…

When you can’t find the words

My calling is centered around language, as language is the way to communicate, to express. In my pastoral role, it is my charge to speak to the community and for the community — to express the experiences and life of the community and to help us all find meaning in our individual and shared experiences. But yet, for myself, I often lack words, I lack the ability to sufficiently translate my experiences into the limits of language. This is especially so in my attempts to speak with God.

Much of this Lent has been spent in the hospital, periodically standing on the boundary between this life and eternity. As I have recently written, nighttime was particularly isolating. When the doctors go away, when the tests and scans and procedures are done for the night, and all that surrounds me is the sound of monitoring machines and the hiss of the oxygen tube, I am left without anyone to which to speak or for which to speak. There is no communal life or experience to articulate. It is just me, overflowing with fears and worries and pain, none of which will abate, and I lack words to offer to God.

***

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
   my eye wastes away from grief,
   my soul and body also. 
For my life is spent with sorrow,
   and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
   and my bones waste away.  
(Psalm 31:9-10, NRSV)…

 

I’m over at That Reformed Blog today, come on over to read the rest…

Waiting for the Mail Carrier

There is nothing like the excitement of waiting for a package to arrive in the mail. Internet tracking allows me to see exactly when it is going to arrive, and it is a day which brings eager anticipation.

The items in the package are not that exciting, simply utilitarian items. I know what they are, after all, I ordered them. But the excitement is not about the items themselves, it is about the experience.

The experience of hearing the knock on the door, or arriving home and seeing the brown cardboard box leaned up against the door, is an exciting one. Although knowing what is on the inside, seeing the box — sealed, opaque — there are endless possibilities for what it could contain. There is something, at least somewhat unknown, that will likely contain something good, something exciting, something new and fresh. Something with potential, with possibilities, something that has yet to wear out or break — something which can offer a new future.

***

As I was waiting for my package, however, the mail was late, and I had to catch my bus. I walked down the stairs to the sidewalk, and over to the bus stop. After all, what I am truly waiting for — hoping for, longing for — won’t arrive in the mail.

Hump Day Hymns: If Christ is mine, then all is mine

Hymnal

If Christ is mine, then all is mine,
And more than angels know;
Both present things and things to come,
And grace and glory too.

If Christ is mine, let friends forsake,
And earthly comforts flee;
He, the full source of every good,
Is more than all to me.

If Christ is mine, unharmed I pass
Through death’s dark dismal vale,
He’ll be my comfort and my Stay,
When heart and flesh shall fail.

O Christ, assure me Thou art mine;
I nothing want beside;
My soul shall at the Fountain live,
When all the streams are dried.
Benjamin Beddome (1717-1795)

Last week, in Hump Day Hymns, I reflected on a question which is also pertinent for our hymn for today: Is God enough for me?

This is a question that is becoming increasingly more relevant.

We are witnessing the end of Christendom, and I think that this is a good thing. Our social fabric is becoming closer to that of the early church, when Christianity first flourished. After all, Christianity grew up in a the pluralistic culture of the ancient Roman Empire. It was only later that Christianity became a state religion, became synonymous with riches, power, authority, and empires.

In the days of the early church, Christ was all that they had to offer. Missionaries could not woo people with offering them status, power, or opportunity. There was no special status for Christians, in fact, for quite some time, it could actually work against them. All that they had to offer these people was Christ and the community of Christ.

I welcome the demise of Christendom because Christendom presented an idol. It presented power and strength, it attempted to present an alternative to the one whom we follow, who died naked on a cross.

This is what is so wonderfully formative about this hymn.

If Christ is mine, let friends forsake,
And earthly comforts flee;
He, the full source of every good,
Is more than all to me.

When it comes to my congregation, Christ is all I have to offer them. We are a poor church in a poor community. We aren’t a status church, our building isn’t beautiful, by being a part of our church community it will not give them anything to talk to their friends about (“Oh, well I go to the basilica down the street”). We don’t have a lot of programs for people, we can’t pay their rent. I still have people say to me, “I’ve been going to this church for years…!” But we don’t have anything to offer, except for a deeper understanding of and relationship to the triune God.

This is a question that we wrestle with all the time: Is God enough?

Our ministry can offer nothing except for Christ, is that enough?

This is a very real question for me as well, as I see no stability or security for my own livelihood either.

Like many hymns, this also invites the singer into the famous line, and existence which we all inhabit, “I believe; help my unbelief!” At the same time that one sings, “If Christ is mine, then all is mine,” we pray, “God, help it be so!”

When we sing these words again, and again, they will begin to sink in.

O Christ, assure me Thou art mine;
I nothing want beside;
My soul shall at the Fountain live,
When all the streams are dried.

God, let it be so.

A Brush With Grace

20130121-181438.jpg

I was almost in tears.

“It’s just a jelly roll” my beloved attempted to console me.
“It’s not about the jelly roll,” I responded.

We sat quiet for a few minutes as we drove over the high point of the bridge crossing the port. The bridge is the best place to get a view of downtown, and at night I find it particularly beautiful with glowing streetlights dotting the panorama, and high-rise buildings with a random pattern of lightened and darkened windows. Although I’ve lived here for over a year already, it is a sight that I still love.

“I’m sure the cheesecake is fine too.”
“No, the cheesecake was messed up and so is this janky jelly roll,” I responded with a mix of anger and fear.

We were on our way to do something that we do not often do: Spend time with some people with whom we are building a friendship. Even though we have been beginning to make friends, we have found it particularly isolating here. I don’t have any co-workers, my beloved works out beyond the suburbs, and we don’t have many people from those usually natural connections with whom to spend time on the weekends.

But this night was different. We were going to spend time with people, and I wasn’t there as a pastor. I was just Matthew, which happens extremely rarely, and I was incredibly excited. We were charged with dessert. Dessert is up my alley. I love baking, and I’m told that I’m not too shabby at it either.

I was convinced that I needed to impress them. I needed to make a good impression, to give the impression that I can do things, and that I’m worth having as a friend because I have things to offer.

A marble cheesecake was the verdict. I worked all day whipping and mixing and measuring, and packing, and browning, and melting, and marbling, and baking, and cooling. After nearly six hours working and waiting it was cool enough, I needed to examine my work to ensure that it was a worthwhile offering. It wasn’t. It did not bake evenly and wide swaths of it were underdone.

Knowing I could not present this, I scrambled for something else that would be tasty, not from a box, and, most importantly, able to be completed in the short time that remained. A jelly roll was it.

I measured and beat, and whipped, and mixed and poured, and baked, and rolled, and unrolled, and slathered, and rolled again.

As I was rolling for the final time, the beautiful golden crust from the top of the sponge cake was coming off, sticking to the parchment that it had been turned out onto. Knowing full well that nothing could save it and I had no other options, I continued rolling and attempted to make the best out of my second failed desert of the day.

As we drove to our destination, I held the jelly roll. I glared at it in disdain. This “Plan B” desert was equally a disaster. My desire to impress was over. I would stand at their door holding this humble jelly roll and I was going over explanations in my mind.

“I made a cheesecake, but it didn’t turn out,” I would say. “Sorry that this didn’t turn out,” I would say. “Bad Day,” I would try to explain.

“I can’t believe this!” I said.
“It’s just fine,” my beloved replied.
“This is a perfect metaphor for my life,” I said, “I spend a lot of time and effort trying to make something, and trying to do it well, but it all just falls apart.”

A tear streamed down the cheek of my beloved as she listened to my newest installment of my verbal self-flagellation.

We rode silently for the rest of the trip across town.

As I rang the door bell, my heart sank as I looked upon my broken offering and disfigured addition to our meal, desperately hoping that it did not reflect poorly upon my prospects for friendship.

As one half of our host couple opened the door, I forced a smile, said hello, and held out my now-hated jelly roll.

Before I could apologize for it, she pulled my beloved and I in for a hug.

“It’s so good to see both of you!” She said.

I tried to coolly apologize for our contribution.

“Don’t worry about it one bit,” she said, “we’re just glad you’re here.”

***

This was a brush with grace, and I think, a brush with the Divine.

Perhaps this is what we are like in front of God. We stand and hold our best efforts and best intentions in the form of a broken and far-from-perfect offering, and God gives us a hug, saying, “I’m glad you’re here.”

Advent in Tension

The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso

Many of my parishioners walk to church, as most of my congregation does not own a car for financial reasons. One of these was walking the two blocks from her home to church. In that short distance she was struck by a car and died as a result of the impact.

All of this while she was walking to church.

***

Advent is a time in which we prepare ourselves for Christ, not only the first coming, but also the second. Advent is a profoundly conflicted season, and a profoundly conflicted orientation for life. For those of us who have wonderful memories of the holiday season, Christmas is a wonderful time. For others of us who have bad memories of the holiday season, it can be incredibly painful.

Advent is a time in which we can understand most clearly the tension of the in between in which we live. We celebrate Jesus’ birth but we also look forward to Christ’s return.  We sing about the coming of Emmanuel and this is a cause for rejoicing. Yet we also face the stark reality that redemption is not yet complete.

A perfect example of this is a mother in her 40’s who gets killed because a car ran her over.

The already-but-not-yet is a difficult place to live. It is hard to sing “Rejoice! Rejoice believers,” while at the same time grieving the fact that life continues to be but a shadow of what it was intended to be.

In her book, Deeply LovedKeri Wyatt Kent bravely takes on the aspect of the walk of faith that few Christians dare speak of: depression and its relatives. Although “‘happy, happy, happy, happy, happy all the time,;” is popular in religious talk, it is often not rooted in reality (Kent). The good news, that she brings out, is that when we express our depression, our melancholia, our blues to God we follow in a long line of the faithful. Kent notes, “The Bible is full of stories of victory, but also of struggle” (Ch. 15, para. 12).

If the Christian life eliminates a place for sadness, suffering, and mourning, then the gospel ceases to be good news for real life. If God is only present with us in good times and not in bad, then God ceases to be good. If God forbids us from expressing emotions and thoughts from the shadow side of life, then God is not a refuge for us. If the Advent focus is too much on Christmas and not enough expressing a longing for the kingdom of God, we do ourselves and our spiritual formation a great disservice.

I always take Advent seriously, but this year, my Advent is more than simply sober, it is also somber. It is a time in which I can rejoice because Christ has come and I can mourn because the restoration is not complete. I can hope because the Kingdom of God is at hand, and I can despair because there is so much to the world which is in need of redemption. I can look back to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and I can look forward to Christ’s return.

This Advent, I am living in the tension of in-between the two comings of Christ, the tension of joy and sorrow, of hope and despair, of celebration and mourning.

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This post is in the Deeply Loved Advent Blog Hop Series hosted by Angie Mabry-Nauta

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Living with what used to be

It was a large square brick building painted grey, about six stories high. It used to be some sort of a manufacturing company, at least that is what I gathered from the remnants of the painted sign on the facade. The days for productivity for this building are over, at least that is what I gathered from the boards over all of the windows, or at least where the windows used to be.

I wondered what was inside this old building. Was it completely empty, or where there still remnants of its previous life? Was there still equipment that could tell stories about how materials were transformed into something useful?

Living in a hard-hit rust-belt city, I have learned a new vocabulary. The vocabulary of “used to be”. This used to be a factory. That used to be a warehouse. Those used to be railroad tracks. There used to be jobs. We used to have hope.

The language of “used to be” is the language of no longer. It is the language of the past, it is the language without much of a future.

People also use this language about themselves. I used to have a job. I used to have a home. I used to have a family. I used to have a future. It is language of despair. Of things gone wrong.

I wonder exactly what this building used to be, and who used to be there.

I continued walking by many other used-to-be’s. This looked like it used to be a beautiful house. That looks like is used to be a corner store.

I walked down the next block and I saw what I thought were used-to-be’s but as I came closer, I saw that they are the “are-nows” — things which used to be something useful and have been transformed into something else useful. I stopped and looked at the new-found sight. I saw was used to be a tannery complex, but is now refurbished space for offices, social service agencies, and commercial space. All of this just a few blocks down from a sea of used-to-be’s.

I think about myself, and I see a lot of used-to-be. It’s hard to identify as a used-to-be. It cuts deep into one’s soul as one reflects on what and who one used to be, but is no longer. It is a great sense of loss, it involves grief, and it can involve a bleak future. Many days I feel like I am running in a hamster wheel forced to watch a never ending film of all that I used to be.

I begin to wonder if perhaps the used-to-be’s are more than just this. Perhaps they are actually “could-be’s.” Those things which used to be something but are simply waiting to be transformed into something else useful.

This is why I identify as a Christian. When I read scripture, I hear one message over and over: God telling the used-to-be’s that they are actually the could-be’s and that one day they will be the are-nows.

…God First Loved Us

Baptismal Font

By brandsvig on Flickr

I had the privilege of administering my first baptism yesterday.  It was an infant who was recently born of one of the families in our congregation.

It was a wonderful celebration of the sacrament of baptism.  The liturgy is beautiful, the child was adorable and dressed in this lovely white dress.  She fussed a little bit but it was not like the weeping and gnashing of teeth that sometimes occurs.  As a fellow pastor friend of mine once told me, “If the baby doesn’t cry you’re not doing it right.”  Which refers, of course, to the fact that in baptism we symbolically die with Christ, and as such, there should be at least a little bit of fussing.

The moment was a wonderful celebration of God’s grace, and God’s love for us even when we cannot yet love.  There is a portion of the liturgy when the minister speaks directly to the person to be baptized immediately preceding the administration of baptism with the Trinitarian formula.  In the case of an infant, it reads like this:

[Name],
For you Jesus came into the world;
For you he died and for you he conquered death;
all this he did for you, little one,
though you know nothing of it as yet.
We love because God first loved us.

We love because God first loved us.  That is, of course, quote from 1 John 4:19.  This is also where the theology behind infant baptism all comes together.  I cannot find a better defense of infant baptism than this.  After these words were spoken, and I dipped my hand into the water, I felt as though we were all in the very presence of God.  I wish that we could have stayed in that holy moment forever.

However, that moment did not last.  Shortly after the service, the sinfulness that pollutes the world reared its ugly head.  Divisions, anger, self-centeredness and greed invaded the aftermath of this holy moment. It had been a very difficult couple days leading up to that day, and I felt as though I was delivered from the inferno to the very presence of God and then immediately dragged back to the inferno.  I quipped to my wife after we returned home that this experience is what Dante saw in his vision when writing the Inferno.

We love because God first loved us.

Perhaps, however, this was somehow a gift, it is an example of life in this world.  Our world is grossly imperfect, polluted by sin and evil.  Much of life is filled with trials and sufferings, but these are always punctuated by moments of heaven.

We baptize infants not because they are perfect, not because they are faithful Christians, not even because they are good.  We baptize infants because God first loved us, and therefore we are able to love God because God loves us first, and we are able to love others because God loves us first.

We love because God first loved us.

Perhaps it is fitting to experience both the heights of the experience of God’s grace and the depths of depravity.  This is, after all, what we experience in this life.  We have experiences when love is easy, when we feel loved.  We also have experiences in which love is difficult, and we have to love in spite of the fact that all we may receive is hate, anger, and bitterness.  We do not love because the other is nice, or because they are even deserving of our love.  We love because God loved us first — God loved us despite of our anger and bitterness and hate, and God requires that we treat others in the same way.

I wonder what that child thought of all that was going on.  I do know that she rubbed her forehead onto my shirt to dry it during the prayer after the baptism.  I’m sure she had no idea what was happening, and I am certain that she has no idea what the future holds for her.  I do know, however, that God’s grace is not ultimately dependent on what we can understand with our minds, but God’s grace is stronger than all of our weaknesses.  My ability to love people is often times weak, and I continue to hope and pray that God’s grace will not only transform the life of that child as she grows, but also transform my life as I am still in the process of becoming a Christian and learning how to truly love.

We love because God first loved us.

A Cross in my Hand

I have a cross which is designed to be held in one’s hand. It was given to me when I was installed as pastor and teacher at my church. It has rounded corners and it is smooth to the touch.  It is unfinished and it is designed to absorb the oils from hands over time.

The cross is a somewhat strange symbol to wear and to put on our walls and to hold in our hands, but it is a fitting symbol.

The cross is not a symbol of death, but it is a symbol of new life.  It is not a symbol of defeat, it is a symbol of victory. It is not a symbol which is exclusive to Christianity, but when viewed through a Christian lens, it becomes a wonderful symbol for the life of faith.

The cross is an object which helps me to reflect on the words of Jesus, “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38, NRSV).

This is an interesting theme in Christianity: those things which often seem to be defeat, those things which often seem to be death, those things which often seem to be destruction are not ultimately what they seem — they lead to something much greater: life more abundant, victory more victorious, re-creation much more beautiful.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death…” (Phil. 3:10, NRSV).

The cross is a symbol of our walk with Jesus and the road which is often laden with sufferings and trials.  I am learning that the point of the journey is not to avoid sufferings, but to learn to see God in the midst of them and to give thanks.

The cross is not simply a bridge to heaven, as some describe it.  It is an affirmation that we too must take on things which do not seem to be life-giving, we must take on suffering at times (not simply for the sake of suffering, but following God’s calling for us, even if it may lead to temporal suffering).  The cross is a symbol of the affirmation that “I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ” (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1).

It is a reminder that things are not always what they seem.  It is a symbol that life and liberation are what God desires for us and are what God will accomplish, but that sometimes they come through the guise of suffering.

It is a reminder to me that God has called me to be faithful — not happy.

It is a reminder to all of us that there is more at work than what we can see or understand, that God has desires which are slowly unfolding, and that we all play but a small role in this narrative.

I hold this cross in my hands, hoping for the glory of God to be revealed.  Hoping that God will bring peace. Hoping that God will bring resurrection and restoration to this lost and broken world, and my lost and broken life.