How can we live in Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow?

Consider this insightful meditation on time by Pascal:
"We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we wander in the times which are not ours, and do not think of the only one which belongs to us; and so idle are we that we dream of those times which are no more, and thoughtlessly overlook that which alone exists. For the present is generally painful to us. We conceal it from our sight, because it troubles us; and if it be delightful to us, we regret to see it pass away. We try to sustain it by the future, and think of arranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching.[Pg 50]Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end.[78] So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so." Blaise Pascal, Pensees 
We search the past, present and future for the means by which we can be happy - and a lot of anxious thought is expended in that arduous journey.

Rightly learning from the past, preparing for the future and living in the present affords the only opportunity to for joy - more enduring than happiness.

In the present we discover the simple and profound gifts we take for granted: breath, a beating heart, sunshine, the laughter of a child, the fragrance of fresh herbs. But not only does the present afford the opportunity to increase in gratitude, it also is a gateway to reduced anxiety over the unavoidable challenges of life as a human.

Jesus, the supreme sagacious one from whom Pascal draws his wisdom, taught us not to worry about tomorrow. Today has enough troubles, he said. The lillies and sparrows do not worry about clothing and food and our heavenly Father cares for them. How much more will he care for us - his very image bearers!

How much trouble have I caused my soul over worrying about the future, forgetting the lessons of the past and missing out on the gifts of the present moment.

We humans are truly unique creatures on this planet. As God's image bearers, we are able to live outside of time, as we think about the past, present and future, yet we are embodied only in the present. We have the oft-resented or misunderstood dignity of freedom which weighs heavy upon us.

Only by union with Christ will we be able to bear this mantle with grace and responsibility, to lean into the future with determined and righteous planning, to glean absolute truths from the ancient paths and to inhabit the present moment with gratitude and peace under the gracious, watchful care of our abundant Father who loves us more than we can imagine.

The Head of a Quarter Dollar

If the Federal Reserve can reach consensus, there will be a new face on the $10 bill in 2020. Not just any face. A woman. Gasp.

I’m excited about this, personally. I believe it’s time for the boy’s club to make room for a girl in the clubhouse. Countless women have proven to be pivotal in our history of forming a more perfect Union. Admittedly, the ranks of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin, Hamilton, Jackson and Grant seem hard to mess with, but let’s find a way.

With a 2020 redesign of the $10 bill in play, Hamilton’s head was naturally on the chopping block. The movement to displace Alexander Hamilton in favor of a woman had plenty of wind in the sails until Hamilton fever swept the nation. So, now we wait for the Feds to determine whether they’ll put a woman on the new $20 – which may not come until 2030 (apparently counterfeit proof currency creation is a mammoth endeavor these days) – or whether they’ll find an intermediate compromise. Personally, I like the idea of demoting Jackson. My Grandpa Pearl always said he looked crazy anyways, not to mention his regrettable penchant for slave-trading.

But it’s not the head of Hamilton or the head of an historic American heroine; it was the head of Washington that caught my eye today.

During my cool down walk, after a brief three miler, my head was filled with turbulent thoughts about, well, of all things, money. My tangled mess of thoughts about a recent expenditure unraveled into the exposure of my failed budgetary habits, resulting in a dampening of my mood and troubling of my spirit.

So, as I walked with my head turned downward, lost in anxious thought, there it was on the pavement before me.

A quarter dollar with Washington’s big head staring up at me.

“Hey, alright, twenty-five cents!” I thought. But, as I picked it up, it wasn’t the monetary value, or the head of Washington, or the 1987 minted age that caught my attention, it was four, short arresting words:

“In God We Trust.”

If the Spirit of God can speak through Balaam’s ass, he can certainly speak through a coin.

More than religious boilerplate (To venture into the other currency debate would be a journey too far down the rabbit hole), these four words seized my heart and called forth my attention. My anxiety over money revealed a present god over my heart: money.

It’s not God in whom I trust right now, it’s money, I realized. It’s not the “fear of the LORD” which is the wind in my sails, it’s this means of exchange that steers my course today. It’s not my gracious Abba Father whom I am confidently running to because of my standing in Christ, it’s my ability to perfectly manage money which I seek to control. It’s not the freedom of Christ I revel in this morning, it’s the tyranny of greed that rules my heart today.

Jesus said we cannot worship both God and Mammon. It could be easy to substitute the lower case, more innocuous “money” here, but Jesus prophetically names the god Mammon and its powerful reign over the kingdom of this fallen world. Mammon is a terribly unforgiving god who always demands more. God allows money to expose the idols of our heart and the jury has spoken today for this fellow!

After all, we’re anxious about what we adore and love, right? If I know anything about being human, it’s that we are hardwired to be worshippers. We will worship something. But whether that object is worthy of our worship is the question.

But, even in the dense fog of my anxiety about money today, the luminous warmth of my merciful and gracious Abba Father dawned upon my heart. The Spirit of God beckons the children of God to remember the gospel, to repent and turn from the tyrannical idols of the world and to receive the grace of my Lord Jesus who gave his life to set me free. By God’s mercy, he called me to the line today.

Religion says, “Obey. Do more. Then God will accept you.” Irreligion says, “You got this.” But the good news of the kingdom of God proclaimed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth says, “You’re accepted in Christ! Now, freely and joyfully obey.”

I’ve tried the first two paths too many times. Only the third way holds hope.

In God I trust.

Step into their world

"Step into their world..." goes one philosophy for Rules of Engagement with family members suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's. While listening to NPR's recent This American Life episode, "Magic Words", Act 2, I learned about the creators of, a couple whose mother fell prey to Alzheimer's.

Forgoing immediate correction, dismissing nay-saying and altogether disregarding the entrenched demand to get the facts straight, this imaginative and playful approach suspends reality in order to enter into the world of the family member whose memory has betrayed them.

I don't personally have any experience with this painful and confusing sojourn with a family member whose mind is unpredictable and unchartable. The merits of this philosophy seem to have warrant, though. Not that the affects and remedies of these painful tribulations can be so simplified into one simple rubric, but a "step into their world" mantra could be beneficial.

I can relate as a father and as a child in the kingdom of God. It gave me pause to evaluate "How am I doing at stepping into my daughter's world?" Her imagination is exploding right now: bears in the closet, make-believe friends who need prayer, surprise events from the day which never truly occurred, monkeys in the tree. When I step into her world, I affirm her dignity as a child, as my daughter. Her imagination afterall is the precursor to faith, faith which I pray grows like a mustard seed in her heart. If she learns to live a myopic and short-sighted life which can only be corroborated by the seen and tangible, then her heart will atrophy, wither and die. The rejection or loss of childlike wonder, imagination and helplessness leads to suffering for her and others. When I lose this wonder and imaginative play, I also lose out on relationship with her.

The Contents of my Refrigerator

"There's nothing to eat in the fridge," I said glibly and hurriedly in a passive aggressive tone to my bride.

"Oh, I'm not complaining..." I fumbled for a quick follow up for Amber who was in earshot, trying to cover my tracks with a healthy dose of self-deception.

After a few moments, the Spirit shone a light into the dark recesses of my soul where grumbling and complaining sit like stagnant water. Were the shelves a bit sparse? Yes. Was there food? Yes. More food and more diversity than most in the world enjoy? Yes. What I was really saying was, "I'm tired of eating what's in the fridge. I want something more exciting and comforting to act as a balm to my aching soul right now."

"Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks" - those are the sagacious, timeless and cutting words of my Lord.

Later that day as I was reflecting on this seemingly innocuous encounter with the contents of my refrigerator and the contents of my heart, I chuckled.

Earlier that morning while reflecting on the grumbling and complaining of the liberated people of God which we find in the book of Numbers, I took that as a nudge to pray and ask the Lord to aid me in not being a complainer like "those" short-sighted, ungrateful Israelites who had just been freed from slavery. How could they complain about God's provisions in the wilderness? How?! He had just performed the greatest liberation at that point in human history and they had the gall to complain about the food he was generating for them in the wilderness. Those ingrates! How could they be so myopic!

Oh, wait.

The Wonder and Power of Reconciliation

Take a mere cursory glance at the world around us and into our own hearts and we see division, opposition, hatred, hurt and broken relationships. The painful exposure of the racial divisions in America in recent weeks has reminded me of three things: how fracturous and diminishing this disunity is for our personal and shared human experience of life as imago Dei (made in the image of God), how much it grieves the heart of God who created us and how unique and singular is the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to bring true healing, reconciliation and shalom. We, as individuals and as communities, fall short of life that is truly life apart from the power of reconciliation - a reality born from the heart of God our Father, brokered to us through Jesus Christ and manifested today by the power of his Holy Spirit. 

Reconciliation is the restoration of relationship. Restoration implies a recovery of something which was lost. It is rooted in the past, present and the future; a former relationship of unity, a present reality of fracture and future promise of wholeness and peace. There are many apologetics for the uniquely Christocentric Gospel narrative - inked by the prophecy, birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth - but when I think about the Gospel story, I see a story which tells the truth about our human experience as it relates to fractured relationships and the promise of reconciliation. God's power is the only one able to cover that span of past, present and future. 

 The racial and ethnic divisions in our nation and in our world provide a commonly experienced place of reflection for this discussion on a uniquely Gospel-rooted reconciliation. If the world has a conversation about healing racial and ethnic divisions, I often hear it move only to the realm of equal rights and diversity. Yes, those are ideals born from the heart of God who made us equal in his image - and it is from a Biblical view of the the world that the African-American civil rights shouts of "I AM A MAN" and #blacklivesmatter have been justly born. However, if we stop at equal rights or merely celebrate multi-ethnicity we fall short. God calls us to unity, to reconciliation, not merely diversity. A snapshot from Scripture reveals his heart: 

 John the Seer's heaven-born vision of the age to come echoes the proclamations of the kingdom of God: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation." (Revelation 5:9) God is not a distinguisher of persons; he shows no favortism. 

And, Paul the Church-planter's exposition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ brought us this history-changing truth: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28) God doesn't just save people from sin/death and into heaven, he saves us into a new family where we are called to sit at the same table as folks we are much different from. 

 And, Jesus our Lord subverted everything we thought about how the world should work by telling us straight from the heart of God: "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Jesus doesn't call us to tolerate our enemies, or relegate them to the margins, but to press in and love them. 

So, at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ alone and no other place, we rightly see our common human experience: we are poor, incapable wretches bent on getting our own way - however slyly, subtly, cleverly or blatantly we may pursue it! We've offended God, each other, ourselves and creation. Broken relationships everywhere. But, by the grace and kindness of God our Father in Jesus Christ, we have been offered terms of peace! 

So, when I think about the racial divisions in our nation - be they at a personal, neighbor-to-neighbor level or at a systemic, national level rooted in centuries of oppression upon a minority people group - I ONLY see hope in the story of the King who came to redeem lost and messed up people by shedding his blood for us and restoring his rightful kingdom through reconciled relationships - firs to God and then to one another. 

I've had the privilege of spending time in to places in our world often known by the history of racial division - South Africa and Memphis, TN - and I will soon be traveling to a third this coming January - Rwanda. Whether it be Desmond Tutu's and the Church's "Truth & Reconciliation Commission" in South Africa which championed forgiveness as a means towards progress rather than "eye for eye" or mere tolerance of the "other", or Dr. King's Gospel-driven ethic of racial harmony and forgiveness for a racially-torn America or the application of the Gospel to the ethnic hatred and genocide in Rwanda, these are stories of the salvation and healing that only comes from God's grace and Jesus' call for us to "love our enemies." 

 We can rearrange the furniture all we want in our cities and nations (and I am certainly not diminishing intentional movements toward honest dialogue and more just ethics and laws - these things should be prayed for and championed by the Church, not relegated to "the world"), but until we are reconciled to God and to one another through Christ, the promise of lasting healing remains empty. 

This may all sound like hyper sentimentalism and idealism, but in the words of GK Chesterton: 'The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried."

Until we honestly see the extent to which we've each been an enemy to God our Father who simultaneously sent Christ to die for us "while we were yet sinners", we will treat the "other" as someone to be tolerated, tamed, manipulated or marginalized. Thank you, God, for your grace which saved us, is saving us and will save us!

Ferguson, John Perkins, Mockingjay and Race

Just prior to the recent Grand Jury announcement in Ferguson, we (the SOS Academy) wrapped up a collective reading of Let Justice Roll Down, a autobiographical memoir of pastor, civil rights leader and founding father of the Christian Community Development Association, John Perkins.

His book reminds me that we are not long in our tumultuous struggle of racial equality and reconciliation in this country; the wounds of the civil rights era remain tender in this nation. His story reminds me that we have very far to go in our sojourn towards reconciliation and justice in this nation which has witnessed a long history of one racial majority subjugating racial minorities. His testimony reminds me that both personal, moral accountability is a critical factor for all parties in the conversation, and his own experience tells me that simultaneously there are objective, systematic forms of racial oppression which must be confronted and dismantled, for all lovers of God are lovers of justice for the vulnerable and marginalized. Indifference is no option.

Lastly and most importantly, his story poignantly underscores the reality that there remains no hope for true racial reconciliation and justice apart from the scandalously good news of Jesus Christ. This good news comes to us in human flesh who emptied himself of the prerogative of his divine power and made himself a servant and sacrifice in order to bring about the end of the tyrannical rule of sin, evil and death - the worst form of oppression for humankind and all of creation.

Unfortunately, we as individuals, and as a nation, are far to adept at deceiving ourselves and taking a stance which serves to merely advance our own comforts. As I sat and watched the recent dystopian film, Mockingjay, my body pulsed with energy and elation as the impoverished districts fought the Capital (i.e. "the system"). The long oppressed citizens marched across a bridge towards the damn, arms filled with explosives by which they would decimate the very source of energy for the Capital. Every person in that room internally cheered for the end of the Captial's oppressive regime.

Stories like the Hunger Games simply highlight a common-grace thirst for justice for those who have long been weary under the thumb of the "system." The grand epic of The Exodus surely tells us this truth. When the credits of Mockingjay rolled, my mind immediately went to the events of Ferguson, and more recently to the #wecantbreathe tactics in NYC. Should we be surprised when those who've long received the short end of the stick rally together to cry for justice? Set your judgment of tactics aside and sympathize with those who have far too long seen the evidence in our nation that black lives matter far less than those of us who come from the privileged white majority.

In the aftermath of the untimely deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, we've all encountered a barrage of rhetoric on the tangled up subjects of racial inequality and excessive police force - this blog post included. In spite of the fact that we may have a non-white President in the oval office, we do NOT live in a post-racial society. Personally, as one who lives under the grace and authority of Jesus Christ and his revealed words of Scripture, I cannot sit idly by. God's heart aches for each life and for the racial wounds of our nation. I've posted several articles which I have found helpful as I reflect on the place we find ourselves in.

A very good, well-articulated, point-by-point critique of Vodie Baucham's "Thoughts on Ferguson" -

An organized response to Vodie Bachaum's "Thoughts on Ferguson" -

African American pastor, Vodie Baucham's "Thoughts on Ferguson", deemed by many as simplistic and laden with internalized racism -

African American pastor, Thabiti Anyabwile's call to action in response to Ferguson -

Benjamin Watson, New Orleans Saints player, posted a thoughtful, honest, emotional reaction to the Ferguson Grand Jury's decision on his Facebook page which went viral -

A look at several specific actions that those of us who are white can take in response to our present racial crisis -

A provocative take from one African America who makes his case for why our nation does not value black lives -

A survey of five international op-eds, each of which addresses her particular relationship to America's present racial crisis -

In the House of Mourning

Solomon once wrote:

"It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man, And the living takes it to heart.
orrow is better than laughter,For when a face is sad a heart may be happy. 
The [d]mind of the wise is in the house of mourning,
While the [e]mind of fools is in the house of pleasure." (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)

This past weekend, our family of three traveled ten hours to east Ohio for the funeral of one of Amber's family (we'll call her T) who died after a tough fight with cancer. She was married to J and left four children, the youngest of which is just three - born just a couple weeks after our daughter, Anna, thus rending our hearts a bit more than usual. 

Could it really be that it's better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting? Was this just the melancholic rant of a jaded cynic? Wouldn't it be better for us to just avoid the house of mourning and remain in the house of pleasure? Or, was Solomon on to something? Was he able to see, as CS Lewis says, "along the beam" of suffering and death, rather than merely staring straight into the beam and being so blinded to miss the point?

Death is the end of all mankind. If we only remain in the house of pleasure, we deny that which lays before us. There is no other door for us to walk through. Our bodies will each decay and perish. If that is so, where is hope? What is this life for? What am I living for? Is there life beyond the grave?

The house of mourning affords the opportunity to stop and reflect on these ultimate questions. In our pleasure-seeking, entertainment-driven, distraction-oriented culture, the house of mourning demands of us to stop, be still and listen. 

While sitting in the pew among a crowd of observers while the piano played beautiful melodies, listening to the pastor share intimate insights from T's final moments, standing in the cemetery among the gravestones while the cool autumn winds blew. I had the chance to reflect. Everyone who came to the funeral had this opportunity - a rare opportunity to learn from T's suffering and death. It was not wasted

In a final journal entry she pointed to her hope found in 1 Peter 1:3-6 - "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."
These words were originally penned to a community of saints who were suffering some of the greatest persecution ever to befall Christians. If anyone ever knew the physical pains and sufferings associated with physical death, it was this group. Peter pointed them to the profound and unheralded hope which we, as believers in Jesus Christ, have because of his resurrection.

Resurrection: a word redefined, magnified, rightly positioned and personified by none other than Jesus of Nazareth. 

In one of the intimate portraits that the pastor painted, he shared an exchange between J & T. As T fought against the raging effects of cancer on her body, J told her he was praying for a miracle from the Lord. But, he said, the good news is that Jesus has already provided that miracle - through his resurrection! T was in a "win-win" situation, he said; either she pulls through or she dies in the living hope of the resurrection.

There is more to life than meets the eye. Just as a window in a mountain cabin exists to provide a view to a greater vista beyond, so can death provide us with a view into deeper realities which lie beyond. Whether we are given 30, 40, 50 or 100 years on this earth, we are just a "mere mist", James writes. But death doesn't have the final word. Through Jesus Christ, we can say "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15).

Yes, "all creation groans" still (Romans 8 - one of the most potent chapters in the Bible!). I groan as I look at this precious three year old girl and my heart groans for her. She won't have mommy there with her as she learns to ride a bike and starts school and learns how to talk to boys and begins to walk her own journey of faith and wrestles with life's big questions. It stings now, but the sting is not permanent. There is a living hope and permanent inheritance for all who now worship Jesus Christ. He will return and rightfully claim his authority over the entire cosmos; he will permanently eradicate the dissenters and ills which stand in opposition to his majestic kingdom of grace and justice and his people will bask in the light of his loving presence and reign with him in his new creation. 

The "sun will rise" for those whose life is hidden with Christ. This song comes to mind:

And, that is why it is better to go to the house of mourning.