Why the Pain, God?

If you’ve seen the movie American Sniper, or if you’ve read any books on the rigorous training that Navy Seals endure, then you know that becoming one of the world’s most elite soldiers is no walk in the park.

Navy Seal recruits are not only subject to torturous physical training, sleep deprivation, and exhaustion, but psychological strain that leaves them frustrated, angry, and confused.  At the height of their training they routinely ask what this preparation has to do with winning battles and how near-hypothermia and peer humiliation will make them better soldiers.  This is why most recruits quit.

The U.S. armed forces purposely put their most valuable and talented recruits in scary, uncomfortable places that leave them lonely and confused. This produces the best soldiers.

God does the same thing.

The call to discipleship is not primarily about happiness, comfort, or self-actualization. It’s about understanding that God has called the Church to do something at least as important as guarding borders and attacking enemies.  Discipleship is about continued self-sacrifice and denial aimed at improving the lot of the poor, hungry, and suffering. It is about witnessing to hope in a hopeless world. It is about cultivating peace in the midst of chaos.

So are you like me – questioning why God allowed something to happen that has been painful, confusing, and frustrating? Maybe it’s a business deal that went south, a relationship that never materialized, a health problem that seemed so senseless, the untimely death of a loved one?

Take heart. Your suffering does not go unnoticed. In some way, Jesus is with us. He knows our pain and frustration. And just because he doesn’t take it away doesn’t mean he doesn’t love us. It means that he’s using it in ways we will never understand to do things we can’t conceive. Take heart and be of good hope, my friends, today’s present sufferings are the stuff of redemption.

Ears to Hear

My five-year-old has a hearing problem.

Actually, he has a listening problem. There he sits, on the counter, so totally absorbed with eating, playing, watching a video, or talking to himself that I have to ask him two or three times if he wants more milk, to read a book, or to help clean up. He’s not deaf. But he’s deaf.

This Sunday you and I will hear a story about Jesus healing a deaf man. While it’s a literal healing of a medically diagnosable condition, it is also a metaphorical statement regarding our own human state: there are a whole lot of things that plug up our ears and keep us from hearing.

In my son’s case it’s the obsession of exploring a brand new world (remember, he’s five). But for you and me what makes us deaf usually revolves around the three A’s: achievement, acquisition, and appearance. Read that again.

While we were created to achieve, acquire, and look good, our society’s obsession with them routinely spills over and can become our fixation as well. Thoughts and strategies around achievement, acquisition, and appearance routinely clog up our ears and keep us from hearing the things of God.

Jesus’ healing, then, has to do with unplugging our ears – helping us put into perspective who we are and what we’re called to do.

Jesus does this by calling us to himself – often through prayer, quiet times of meditation, and pondering on the words of scripture. It’s reminding myself of who I am, who God is and what really matters. This unplugs my ears what works for you? 

If God Isn't Enough, What Is?

Living in the richest country that’s ever existed, along with its relative safety, abundance in food, clothing, and shelter, not to mention opportunity, it may be hard to imagine that a whole lot of Americans suffer from an anxious soul condition of wanting just a little bit more. We set goals and ambitions that produce nervous hearts and we crave what we don’t have and are thus less than happy with what we do have.

Pharmacies are filled with elixirs to calm us down and psychiatrists are booked with appointments to help us cope. And the irony is that deep down we know the answer is not getting more of what we don’t have, but finding contentment in what we do have.

On Sunday we will hear the familiar story of Jesus sending out 12 disciples to continue Jesus’ work. He will tell them to pack lightly. He will strip them down to the essentials - then give them even less. What he will give them is what they need. He will give them all of him. For they will travel with the Spirit who is watching their every step, providing food, shelter, and every necessity that appears.

It is in this radical asceticism that we discover anew that we already possess all we need to make ourselves happy. For happiness does not come from acquisition, but awareness. It is an awareness of God’s deep love and provision for us. It is an understanding that nothing happens to us outside of God’s providence. It is a deep knowledge that we are loved and worth loving. It is gratitude.

When God is not enough to satisfy our desires, it’s a good time for us to ask questions about our desires; what is it about that new home, car, outfit or even the longing for our loved ones to meet our approval, that must be acquired in order to complete us? Are we going too far in seeking cultural, familial, and self-approval for the goals we set and the people we aspire to be?

The most important gift many of us can give ourselves is gratitude. What might we do to make this the telos of our life’s trajectory? Can we imagine that the attainment of a grateful heart might hold the key to the contentment we seek? What steps can we take today to make gratefulness a deeper part of our lives?

When Hurt Becomes Healing

After 64 years in the same house, it was time for Jack the Hoarder to move.

But Jack did not want to go. Even though his children, neighbors, and Social Services had visited the home repeatedly, to urge Jack to leave behind the mounds of newspapers, rotting food, Styrofoam containers, and other assorted clutter. “This is my happy home, since 1950,” he would tell them, “Why must you torment me?”

Those with Jack’s best interests at heart were certainly not out to torment him. And eventually they won, and he left.  Jack went to a brand new assisted living apartment where, remarkably, 6 months later he was happy as a clam, “They make meals for me, change my sheets, and I don’t even have to go shopping,” he told his niece. What we may think of as hurt often turns into the healing we never knew we needed.

This Sunday we’ll hear a familiar story about a mentally ill man who urged Jesus to go away – not to heal him, ‘Do not torment me,’ he exclaimed. But Jesus was not out to hurt; he was out to help. And by the end of the story we find that Jesus knew better, and the man became well.

You and I frequently do things like this. We look at life’s torments as malicious. We look at those who criticize us as way off base and we rationalize. Yes, we see the bankruptcy, the illness, the bad review, the dashed relationships as torturous episodes we fight tooth and nail to avoid. We forget that God is the benevolent force of love who is working hard at every turn to not only make us our best selves, but to bring about changes in the world for the better.

What seems like criticism and pain is often a passageway to becoming a better version of ourselves. So let’s not shun the tough decisions, hard words, and cutting advice. Hurt often turns into healing.

When God 'Doesn't Care'

When the pink slip comes, the spouse announces an exit, the kids get slammed with an illness that we can’t do anything about – our first reaction, conscious or unconscious, is often anger against the Almighty. It may drive us away from prayer, from church, from God. Most of us have been there.

As time passes we might stay in that dark, distant place. Or we might soften. We might begin to see that God is not the one causing these things - that these things just happen – and that our anger against God is not helpful.

This Sunday we will hear a familiar story about Jesus sleeping in a boat when a storm comes along. We will hear the passengers’ first reaction as one of anger, as they awaken him with the words, ‘Don’t you care God?’ Jesus’ reaction is to calm the storm – and then to remind these onlookers that God not only cares, but comes to the rescue.

For whatever reason the way God rescues us is usually very different than the way we envision being rescued. How has that been true for you? When things bigger than ourselves hit us our knee jerk reaction is to blame. However, we’re better off when our blame is aimed in the right direction. 

Friends, God is on our side. Pause when tempted to blame. Sit tight. Avoid the hasty reaction – for we know in our hearts that we weren’t created to be tormented. Take heart, stand firm, carry on – we all want to avoid taking a swipe at the hand extended to help.

All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
Mark - Morna Hoker

Why God Picked You

Imagine being one of the 12 disciples who agreed to follow Jesus.

“He was probably impressed with my organizational skills,” thought Andrew the fisherman.  “No doubt he needed some accounting help,” surmised Matthew the former tax collector. “I’m sure he wanted to tap into my managerial expertise,” thought Peter, the former small business owner.

We may think that God calls us because he is interested in the skill set we’ve honed – that God is in need of certain abilities and we bring them to the table – orator, writer, teacher, etc. – and so God calls us because of what we have on offer.

However, were that the case, Jesus would’ve gone to 100 other places of commerce, business schools, and centers of power before he would have plucked up a dozen subsistence-level laborers and miscreants to form his inner circle. It is clear that:

We are not chosen for what we see in us, we are chosen for what God sees in us.

God is up to something big and when we sign on to participate we lose the right to tell God what to do (as if that ever got us very far anyway…).

God chooses us because God sees in us things we don’t. We often fail to access our skills, and the skills of others properly - routinely underestimating our abilities and over-estimating the abilities of others. Even the things we’re best at are not void of epic fails and head-hanging regrets.

Accepting the call of Christ, then, is not about commending God for his great taste, it’s more about opening ourselves up to a wider vision - understanding that there is order, reason, purpose, and incredible value in who we are and what we do.

And while we may be tempted to live as if everything was random, nothing mattered, and that life would be perfect if only I could reach my goals, it’s as if God is saying, ‘It all matters. It’s all important – because I have goals more vast and beautiful than you’ll ever know. Trust in me. Aim higher. Know that you’re watched and cared for. Don’t be afraid of mistakes.‘

Why God Likes You

Ever wondered why God would be interested in you?

Of course, you’re smart, witty, and well known for dependable companionship at cocktail parties – but God is not simply interested in you as a friend. God is interested in you as someone much more – business partner, co-pilot, disciple is the Bible word.

“But I’m such a _______” Now fill in the blank with a litany of adjectives on why you are incapable, ill-suited, and otherwise a really bad choice for this role. And when you do this you will join the legions of Moses’, King Davids’, St. Peters', and essentially every other human being who has ever signed up for this

The point is that you’ve been called to follow because of something God sees in you. Most of the time you will not see this. In fact, you will argue against it. “Why not choose someone more pious, more devoted, or who can at least find John 3:16?” But God doesn’t work that way. God does not call the equipped, God equips the called.

So go ahead and get over yourself. Quit complaining about what a bad judge of character God is. And let’s get on with the work we’re called to do. God is interested in you – much more than you’ll ever know.

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
The Juvenilization of American Religion – Thomas Bergler

Alexander Hamilton – Ron Chernow

Jesus Didn’t Have a White Board

Jesus didn’t have a white board.

He didn’t have a smart phone.

He didn’t carry a calendar.

At New Year’s, our pinnacle time of resolutions, new leafs, goal-setting, and high-hoping we can’t help but be reminded that Jesus was never described as one for whom planning was a huge priority. Jesus wasn’t known as a plotter. He wasn’t a schemer nor did he seem to hold marathon strategy sessions.  In fact, the most extended time of preparation we find him engaging in was in the Garden of Gethsemane when he pulled an all-nighter… praying.

For Jesus, to plan was to pray.

It was to put aside his program in order to ask and accept God’s program.

Most of the people I know spend more time planning than praying.  Maybe it’s our insecurity – our need to feel more in control. Maybe it’s laziness Maybe it’s because we might be scared of what we’ll hear.

This New Year’s I’m hoping to take time to pray. I hope to lay my calendar before God’s feet and ask him to fill it in.

What would more praying and less planning look like for you?

Messages from Angels

If an angel appeared with a message from God just for you - what might it be? Here are some possibilities:

Dream bigger.
Push limits.
Press on.
Let go.
It’s going to be alright.
Forgive yourself.
Don’t demand perfection.
Dance with your fear.
Think about the poor.
Obsess over others.
Ask yourself how well you’re living.

Don’t wait for an angel to hear from God. Listen to your heart. God’s got a message there.


Pistis Sophia - GRS Mead
Mark - Morna Hooker
Sermons - Peter Gomes

Out of the Wilderness

When the dictionary defines wilderness as an, ‘inhospitable, uncivilized, and uncultivated region’ I can’t help but think about life in the 21st century. Inhospitable in the way we routinely lock doors and view strangers with suspicion. Uncivilized regarding the ways capital punishment, genocide, aggression, and violence are condoned. And uncultivated in the way all ranks of immaturity in entertainment, economics, and morality are promulgated.

So when John the Baptist declares his identity as, ‘the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,’ I can relate – I’m crying out in this wilderness too. 

And my cry is like yours - we long for a world that’s more hospitable, civil, and that lovingly cultivates the gifts that surround us. We sorely desire a safer, more welcoming, more peaceful world that celebrates the diversity of our gifts and supports the creativity with which we’ve been blessed.

Call us out of that wilderness, O Lord. Take us to that place of hospitality, civility, and maturity. Help us figure out what’s gotten between your voice and our ear. Re-instill a holy longing. Stir up our Spirits. And don’t just call us out of the wilderness help us transform it, so that everyone else who’s stuck in here with us might see what you’re really up to.