Be Ye Glad

We’ve been on quite a ride, haven’t we? A couple of weeks ago I was checking plane fares for two upcoming trips…a wedding in Arizona and a board meeting in Ohio. I was helping organize a part of our neighborhood service project, looking forward to the start of baseball season, and watching the weeds grow in my backyard because it was too soggy to mow.

Just a normal spring here on the Grand Prairie. And then everything changed. Like. Everything.

People have used words like surreal. Strange. Weird. Scary. A nightmare. But no matter what you call it, it’s our new reality. A least for a while. Maybe a long while.

I said tonight in my “North Point State of the Fam” address, I am an optimist. And not just any old optimist. I’m a glass half full, rose-colored glasses, full on, card-carryiong Pollyanna kind of optimist.

Not that there won’t be any problems or heartache or confusion or pain. No. I believe there’s a lot of that. More than enough to go around. And then some. I just happen to believe there’s way more than enough of the presence of God to overcome all the mess we find ourselves in. And then some.

When you’ve been on earth as long as I have, you get to reminisce. It’s my prerogative. I’ve been doing that some this evening.

In the 80’s, I was definitely a youth pastor dad who was way into rock and roll. Wanda would regularly call me out for the music I would let my little rocker protege’s listen to on the car stereo or the yellow walkman. Was I worried? Pfft.

In spite of my love of loud and my general disdain of christian bands that sounded more like cheap knock offs, there was a song that changed everything for me. A christian song unlike any I had ever heard before.

And no, it wasn’t the music. And it wasn’t rock. It was actually an acapella hymn by a little known and barely remembered band that made it’s rounds in 1982. And it was the lyrics.

I had never heard lyrics so deep, so painful, so hopeful, so theologically rich. I don’t think I ever really played the song for anyone else. I just listened to it. All the time. I could never let go of it. It framed my heart for ministry and my love of theology.

More than that, this song called me to live for something greater.

And though I’ve never forgotten the song, I had lost sight of it…until it popped into my head as an unexpected gift from God this week. It’s an anthem of truth and hope for these times we are facing.

So put on your wayback hat and let yourself appreciate a style of music we know nothing about. But more than that, let the lyrics give sight to your blind eyes.

Maybe they will do for you a little of what they do for me.

Be Ye Glad

In these days of confused situations.

In these nights of a restless remorse,

When the heart and the soul of the nation,

lay wounded and cold as a corpse.

From the grave of the innocent Adam,

comes a song bringing joy to the sad.

Oh your cry has been heard and the ransom,

has been paid up in full, Be Ye Glad.

Oh, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad,

Every debt that you ever had

Has been paid up in full by the grace of the Lord,

Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad.

From the dungeon a rumor is stirring.

You have heard it again and again.

But this time the cell keys are turning,

and outside there are faces of friends.

And though your body lay weary from wasting,

and your eyes show the sorrow they’ve had.

Oh the love that your heart is now tasting

has opened the gate, Be Ye Glad.

So be like lights on the rim of the water,

giving hope in a storm sea of night.

Be a refuge amidst the slaughter,

for these fugitives in their flight.

For you are timeless and part of a puzzle.

You are winsome and young as a lad.

And there is no disease or no struggle,

that can pull you from God, Be Ye Glad.

The Waiting Room

The waiting roomI visit hospital waiting rooms more than most people.

(Somewhere along the line, visiting people in the hospital got rolled into the job description of the minister.  There are probably some good reasons for this.  There is also some really faulty thinking, both theological and practical, associated with this practice.  I’ll leave that discussion for another time.)

I’m camped out in a hospital waiting room again this morning.  It’s packed with people waiting to hear news about their loved ones.  I’m sitting next to a man about my age.  His wife is having some pretty serious surgery and he’s scared.  I can see it in his body language and I can hear it in his voice.  He’s been on the phone to another family member most of the time we’ve been here.  Maybe we’ll talk later.

There’s another familywife, kids, both sets of grandparentswaiting on news about their husband/dad/son.  They are masking their concern with lots of “family” conversation.  The kids are buried in their computers with headphones on.  I wonder what’s really going on in their hearts.

There’s lots of hugging and soft words.  Nervous laughter and stretching and yawning and pacing back and forth to the coffee machine.  Waiting room hosts try to make it feel like home.  Nice try.

All who are here share one thing in common:

We are all completely out of control.  Sitting in hospital waiting rooms, family can do nothing.  And they know it.  Their loved ones are in God’s handsor doctor’s hands…depending on how you look at it.  Some are praying.  Some are trying to think positive thoughts.  Some are avoiding thinking at all.

Hospital waiting rooms are where people are forced to face what they believe.  About God.  About death.  About hope.  About fear.  About the future.  For some, the waiting room is embraced.  The wait is good and the unknown is not the enemy.  For others, the wait is dark and lonelyeven if they are surrounded by friends and family.

The hospital waiting room exposes people.  Maybe not to those who are sharing the space with you, but you are exposed none-the-less.  Your fears are laid bare.  Your powerlessness is magnified.  There is nothing you can do butwait.  Oh, you can pray and read or write, but more than anything else, you are left to be reminded about what you believe and where you place your trustwhile you wait.

That’s why it’s called a waiting room.

Letters to Holden and Nolan

H&N FBHolden and Nolan,

I’m pretty excited this morning.  I’m going to get to see you guys tomorrow.  You have no idea what it’s like for me and Mimi when we know we are going to get to spend some time with you.  We’re kind of like little kids getting to spend the day with our best friends…

When I was your age, I only had one grandparent…and she lived in another state.  I only got to see her a few times in my life.  My other grandparents didn’t even live long enough for me to meet them.   I’ve always wondered what their lives were like and what was important to them.

Your daddy didn’t really get to know his grandparents very well, either.  Mimi’s mommy and daddy died long before he was old enough to know them at all.  My mommy and daddy lived a little longer, but he didn’t get to spend very much time with them at all.

I wish my mommy and daddy would have lived longer.  They would have been so proud of your daddy.  I wish they could have watched him grow up…and seen him play ball…and heard him play the guitar…and cheered for him as he got his diploma and walked down the aisle when he married your mommy.

I wish they could have seen what kind of man he’s become and what he has done with his life…what a great teacher and father he has become.  I wish they could have seen the two beautiful little boys he is raising.  They would both be crying with joy.

I also wish he could have known them.  I wish he could have heard their stories and asked them questions about what life was like as they grew up.  It wouldn’t have bothered even if they would have have told him stories about me, when I was growing up…no matter how embarrassing it would have been for me.

This is one of the reasons I write to you guys.

None of us has a guarantee how long we will live.  Our days on earth are numbered.  You can’t understand that now, but it won’t be long until you have to face some of the difficult things in life.   As weird as this sounds, I hope I’m around to hold your hand and pray with you when you face your first broken heart.

I hope I get to see you score your first goals and get your first base hits and hear your first music performances.   I hope I live long enough to see you walk down aisles on the most important days of your lives.  And I hope I get to be around you when you are old enough to let me tell you what are the most important things in life to me.

I don’t know exactly what my life will look like as time passes, but I hope we will get to walk some of the same paths together.  I love where God leads me and it would be pretty awesome to tell you what it’s been like.

I hope you will never fear the future.  I don’t.

Grow wise, grasshoppers.

Papi

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2this is not pretty.

i know of a handful of marriages that are really struggling right now.  a couple of them could make it through the battle.  a couple of them probably won’t.  it’s just the way it is.

the fact that i’m sad about those marriages…or that i seem to have more hope than they do…doesn’t matter at all.  it’s their deal.  it’s their lives.  i wish i could lay in front of the bus, but i can’t.

as i think about marriage tonight, the issues become pretty black and white to me.  i hope this doesn’t come across too calloused.

marriages don’t fail because people are ignorant.  marriages don’t fail overnight.  marriages fail because bad decisions begin to outnumber good decisions.

it starts slowly.  most of the time, it goes unnoticed.  thoughtless responses.  careless acts of self-centeredness.  inconsiderate scheduling.  insensitive reactions.  a lack of sympathy here.  a rash word there.  alone, they mean nothing, really.  but when they start to add up, they begin to chip away.

trust erodes.  kindness is forgotten.  thoughtlessness becomes the norm.

for a time, both are equally to blame.  after a while, one wants the marriage more than the other…and the other has stopped caring.

the damage is done.  the relationship has been redefined by months and years of bad decisions that seemed so innocent and harmless at the time.  and once the foundation has been eroded,  simple thoughtlessness is replaced a hardening of the heart… and barring a transplant, death is imminent.

i’ve seen it many times before.  sadly, i will see it again.

so here’s my advice to you who are young and married:  make right decisions.  you’re not stupid.  you know when you are doing things that hurt or frustrate your partner.  so stop it.  if you’ve already made a bad decision, talk about it and apologize.

rinse and repeat.  everyday.

if you are deep into years of bad decisions and calloused behavior, there’s still hope.   as long as you’re still together, change in your marriage can happen.  if you have already developed a pattern of “going through the motions”, it won’t be easy.  it definitely won’t be pretty.  but there is help around the corner.

you just need to throw up the white flag.

somebody will see it.

i promise.

Doing the dance with doubt

doubti’ve never experienced a sunday morning quite like yesterday.   at least not during a sermon i preached.

look, it’s no secret that i’m at odds with the role of the modern-day, preacher, prophet, let’s-sit-at-the-feet-of-our-spiritual-authority-figure, pastor, boss thing that goes on in most churches these days.  even so, i still believe preaching and teaching play an important role in our church family.

normally, preaching at north point is pretty predictable.  i talk, people text.  i talk, people get up and go to the bathroom.  i talk, people talk to each other.  i talk, people talk back to me.  i talk, people laugh.  i talk, people watch what other people are doing.

i’m not saying people don’t listen to me.  i think they do on most sundays.  i’m just saying our group usually does some serious multi-tasking during that thirty minutes…and i always have the best seat in the house.

but yesterday was different.

from the moment i started, people were quiet.  attentive.  there was no texting (that i could see)…nobody got up and left.  there was no talking and none of the usual banter i get.  eyes were straight forward.  heads were motionless… almost like people were afraid to be the first ones to break the silence.

even my  few funny statements or attempts to lighten the moment were greeted with nothing more than smiles and subdued chuckles.

it’s not like i don’t understand why.  i actually anticipated the moment to be serious.  i hoped people would be attentive and introspective.  i knew my sermon was going to be out-of-the-ordinary.  but the response still caught me a little off guard.

i’m pretty sure most people were not expecting me to stand up in front and confess to my own doubts.  i’m definitely  sure nobody was particularly ready to hear me say there are times i don’t believe everything i say at a funeral or at somebody’s hospital bedside.

“owning” my doubts in such a public fashion has a way stripping you.  as i stood and talked, i felt naked and defenseless.  but i was still convinced i needed to do this.  i certainly didn’t feel authoritative.  i didn’t feel like a shining example of spiritual strength and determination.  truth is, i felt pretty weak.

when i retold the story of confessing my doubts and spiritual struggles to my closest friends nearly 25 years ago…only to be told not to go down that road again as their leader…i started to feel some of the same insecurities.  i began to question my decision to be that honest.

did people understand?  would the risk of admitting my intellectual frailty make connections with people who were having similar thoughts and struggles?  or would my honesty just undermine my credibility and push people even farther into darkness or despair?

ultimately, i’m at peace with what i said.  it is my prayer that people were encouraged, not discouraged in their spiritual journeys.  my hope is that people will not see doubt as an enemy…but rather a close ally in the pursuit of truth.  doubt and questioning are the fuel of intellectual integrity, because without them, we will never own the answers we find.  they will always belong to someone else’s pursuit and wholly inadequate for our battle.

finally, if my doubting and my questioning and my struggle to make everything line up perfectly in a world that requires faith is a stumbling block to you, i would say i’m probably the least of your problems!

my faith will not make you right with god.  my faith will not be sufficient in the storms that you have to face.  my faith will not answer the skeptics where you walk.  only you can own your faith.

…and the same is true for your doubts.

Today

today-i-willi’ve looked forward to the space created after moving on from the events of earlier in the week.

monday, i insulated myself from the passions of people’s hearts and the openness of the public forum.  (tuesday was just another run-of-mill-out-of-control normal day in my week).  anyway, i love that we live in a country that gives people the freedom to speak their minds.  i love that technology now provides multiple pulpits for folks to express what moves them and what lights a fire in their belly.

i will exercise that freedom today.

today i am full of hope.  while others feel the darkness closing in, i see light everywhere.  i see a world full of possibilities.  even for the marginalized and oppressed among us.  because i believe that death was defeated that day two thousand years ago…because i hold to the preposterous certainty that the laws of nature were suspended that black weekend on the outskirts of jerusalem…because my rational sensibilities have not been flushed down the toilet… the empty tomb keeps me from every being overwhelmed by my circumstances.

today, anger and frustration will not control me.  frankly, it will never control me.  my thoughts and attitudes will be surrendered to the one who has taken up residence inside me.  today i will live for his pleasure, not my own satisfaction.

today, i will not obsess about losing what i call my own.  i will not con myself into believing that what i possess is mine because of my hard work  or my ingenuity or my privileged status.  i will remember that i am but a steward of what belongs to god and that i am a caretaker of what he owns.  if i squander it by my own foolishness or self-centeredness, shame on me.  if it is taken from me, i will trust that god knows best.

today i will pursue joy.  it is no secret to anyone who reads what i write that i have battles with a darker side of my emotions.  depression is a cousin of mine who never moves completely out of the neighborhood.  so i must “choose” joy.  i must willfully climb back in the cage everyday and fight for what i prize the most.  some days, when i look around at those things i have little or no control over,  joy seems untouchable.  because i know that joy is promised to me, today i will grasp it for all i’m worth.

today, i will not even be tempted to believe that i am smarter than others.  i will listen carefully to what people say.  i will look for common ground.  i will try to see and feel what motivates people to believe what they believe and act the way they act.  i will give grace to all i come in contact with.  i will speak kind words.  i will be patient with those who would ordinarily push my buttons.  i will obey the command of my master to be a peacemaker in everything i do.

today, to the best of my ability, i will be to others as christ has been to me.

it seems only reasonable.

and i’ll worry about tomorrow if i make it.

Don’t shoot the messanger

ac_treeif you’ve followed my writing much over the past seven years, you know there is seldom much of a flow to what i write.  it’s almost always what i’m thinking (or feeling) at the moment.  kind of a what-you-read-is-what-you-get deal.

more often than not, writing is therapy for me…especially when i find myself in a dark place.  writing becomes prayer for me.  writing (and the inner dialogue that comes with it) becomes the light to see my way out.  most of the time, it’s where i reconnect with the leading of the good shepherd.

hey…it works for me.  and i need to go there right now.

over the past decade, my struggles with melancholy and even depression seem to surface more during december than they do during the rest of the year.  some of this makes sense to me…

preaching every sunday, every year during the christmas season has made me super aware of the extreme sadness that many people feel at this time of year.  frankly, the christmas season is an emotional killer for many, many folks.  the loss of loved ones…painful memories of broken family units at their worst…the crushing disappointment of not having enough money to make christmas merry for little ones… and so much more.

i preach about the savior of the world born to bring peace on earth and goodness to all.  we sing of wonderful promises and wholesome traditions.  christmas television shows and movies conjure up “joy to the world” and festive cheer.  and all the while, i live with the deep awareness that all is not well for so many.

the dichotomy wrecks me inside.

the sadness i feel for those who live in fear and hopelessness and grief is something that i have just had to learn to deal with during the holidays.  it wasn’t that way when i was young.  it wasn’t that way when our kids were growing up.  but it surely is now.

i think i’ve changed some over the years.  i’m more aware of the needs of people around me.  i feel deeper.  i act more, but it is never enough.  i try my best to balance the guilt i often feel for having so so much, while so many people i rub elbows with every day have but a fraction of my bounty…or for having such an amazing life, while others seem to live under layers of problems that beat against their foundations relentlessly.

depression is such an enemy.  it’s confusing.  it’s deceptive.  i feel like most everyday is a full-on collision of joy and sadness…hope and despair… fear and optimism…faith and doubt.  these december days i am  always duking it out…my emotions sparring with my intellect or my fears clashing with revealed truth.

it leaves me weary.

but it will not beat me.  faith, hope and love will win out.  seasons of depression are just that…moments that pass.  i am grateful for the awareness that there are real problems in the world…in my community…in the lives of my friends and acquaintances.  it keeps me from ever blowing the pettiness of my self-imposed crises out of proportion.

the pain of the temporary world around me cannot rob me of those things that are eternal.  it can mess with my emotions, for sure.  but it cannot steal what i love.

or hinder the One who was born to die for me.