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Watching, Waiting, Woes: Habakkuk 2

It might be hard to believe or receive, but one could make the case that prayer is the most effective gift given to humanity to bring about change. Some would rather attribute change to talent, charisma, and strong work ethic, but more often than not, it is the prayers of those in right standing with God, coupled with obedience to what is shared in the time of intimate conversation (prayer) that make lasting and loving change.

Yet the world is changing. Public opinion over all sorts of issues and sins are sliding. Loud voices are clamoring, some for true justice, some so steeped in darkness that they are completely blinded to right and wrong. Things also seemed to change without prayer.

Yet prayer serves to keep us aligned with the heart of God on what is right and what is wrong.

And here in Habakkuk chapter 2, Habakkuk volunteers his services to stand as a watchman. He volunteers to see injustice, pray and wait:

I will climb up to my watchtower
    and stand at my guardpost.
There I will wait to see what the Lord says
    and how he will answer my complaint.

Habakkuk 2:1

And summarized in the rest of Habakkuk 2, this is what the Lord says regarding what Habakkuk sees.

Woe 1: to the one who collects what does not belong to him (predatory loans, stealing, drug dealing, tax shelters, money laundering)

Woe 2: to the one who dishonestly gains wealth (slavery, exploitation, harsh labor)

Woe 3: to the one who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with injustice (pillaging, hurting your neighbor)

Woe 4: to the one who drugs another for lust and sex (porn industry, sex trafficking, rape, sexual assault)

Woe 5: to the one who trusts in idols (nationalism, the proud and selfish)

All of the consequences coming to those who participate in injustice without repentance will contain destruction.

Lest He be accused, these consequences are no darker than the acts that precipitated them. In fact the consequences are lighter. God bringing low things that were built upon another’s suffering are meant to be brought down, and God Himself patiently waits for those to turn from their wickedness in order to potentially make restitution.

Restitution, a word that should become synonomous with Christianity. It perhaps is what is required of us in order to be genuinely repentant. It is what might be spoken to our heart and soul when we listen, after we ask for forgiveness. But is often neglected in order to maintain what has made us comfortable or so one might keep what they stole.

As Christians we need to move further in maturity, to not only be absolved of our guilt and sin and shame but move on to restoring that which was never ours to have.

And to be more than okay with any potential inconvenience.

To say it another way if I can quote Blink 182, after the watching, the waiting and the commiserating comes partnership with God in restoration.

A Safe Place for Anger: Habakkuk 1

How long, Lord, must I call for help

and you do not listen

or cry out to you about violence

and you do not save?

Why do you force me to look at injustice?

Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?

Oppression and violence are right in front of me.

Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates,

This is why the law is ineffective

and justice never emerges.

For the wicked restrict the righteousl

therefore, justice comes out perverted.

Habukkuk 1:2-4

If we look long enough at the way the world systems operate among the powerful, wealthy, and oppressive, something within our hearts and minds is bent towards crying out for justice.

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And so long as our hearts don’t grow weary or indifferent or apathetic, we too are bound to ask questions like the ones above in Scripture.

In the times we live, we are overexposed to everything and while that has made us more aware or woke, I fear we at times become too overwhelmed by the sheer amount of injustice, propaganda and bias that is constantly being spewed.

I need not list all the evils we are watching the world endure and some of us experience. Part of the reason I won’t list them is many of these evils are talked about as good, and good things are considered evil.

But there is one question that sticks out when flipped back on me for how it reveals the cause for my anger:

“Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?”

So much of the things I get angry and rage about are over my own wrongdoing, my own inability to be perfect as the Father is perfect. I look at my immature faith, my darkened desires, my atrophying empathy and find it comes as no surprise as to why I begin to get angry with usually myself over circumstance.

I pray I not be desensitized to the reality and damage of my sin, yet I pray I receive cleansing and rejuvenation to take up the cause of the oppressed and be reminded of Jesus’ encouragement to forgive and seek healing.

This I believe, or at least hope happens in congruence with our expressions of anger. The emotion is not the sin, anger over circumstance or injustice is not the problem, even sharing your anger with someone is not a sin, it is what you’re anger brings you to do that can damage: the hurful words we can utter towards or about someone, the profanity we can utter to try to bolster our thickness in spite of our sheepish woundedness, the violence we can succumb to. We become deceived into thinking our only option is to become what we see: violent, perverted, despising, accusing, lustful.

Yet, what the Spirit makes available to us, in crying out to God is to then become impassioned with love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control. We become faithful, peaceably so, so when the nations themselves rage, we can be steafastly confident that the Lord hears us and will answer.

One last quick story: I was crying out to God (profanity included) while driving to work a few weeks ago and in the midst I heard the stilling voice of the Spirit speak: “I can handle your anger and am willing to be your shelter and refuge.” God is not afraid of our anger so long as God has us.

Happy Clean Imagination

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”

I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has seen God and lived to talk about it. Yet I know plenty of people who perceive God in other individuals and simultaneously embody what it looks like to live and love like Jesus.

Being able to recognize the power of a life set apart and yielded to the Spirit of God, in a measure, is the experience of seeing God. But how does catching that glimpse affect or change us? Or another question I’ve been thinking about: how does my heart become or perhaps stay pure?

I’ve narrowly missed preaching on mercy 2 times this year, and this week I will be preaching on the pure in heart, and I’m not certain why I agreed.

If I were to judge myself, which the Epistles suggest, might be a total waste of my time, I would not describe myself as particularly pure.

Like if purity had a spectrum: from ages to 0-14 I’d rate myself a 9, from ages 14-18, I’d rate myself a 4, from 18-22 I’d rate myself a 7 1/2, from ages 23-27 I’d rate myself a 3. From ages 27-32 I’d fall on any given day between a 5-9.

I offer you this perhaps as a condemnation of myself, but also as an absurd example of how I sometimes and many people probably define purity. Because here is the deal, if I told you just a speck of poop mixed into your bottle of water, you would not drink it (unless perhaps if the money was right) but you wouldn’t drink it with glee, and you certainly wouldn’t call it pure. It could be Fiji water or purified through osmosis, but once the fecies hits the water it is no longer potable.

And this in part is the reason I feel inept at preaching on purity of heart. I know my dark, my motives, my thoughts, my desires and no amount of desire to be completely blameless seems to keep me pure.

Maybe you can relate, maybe you can’t, maybe I just finally need to take myself up on the suggestion of cognitive behavioral therapy and I will be decidedly fixed.

But I can talk about something I do know and have experienced: cleansing.

Psalm 51:2 Wash me clean of my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

51:6 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 19:12 “Who can discern his own errors? Cleanse me from my hidden faults.”

If it were not for the tangible experience of forgiveness cleansing and the means in which the Spirit employs to convict me and hopefully mold my heart I’d be without hope.

Which is why I think being pure in heart comes with the implication that I will continue to take a bath. I will eagerly subject myself to perpetual pruning, purging, purification, no matter how painful.

I will, in the light, be confronted with the areas and motives I have concealed or manipulated in order to serve myself alone. I will mourn over behavior and repent of thoughts before they even lead to poor conduct. I submit to consequence and wounds on my reputation as ownership of my brokenness while equally holding steafast to forgiveneess upon confession.

And in the positive vain, I set my mind on things above. I think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is rightwhatever is purewhatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever I have learned or received or heard, or seen in Christ and those who follow Him– I put it into practice. (Phil. 4:8)

And as I think about those things, and anything else, I put it to the light to see if its real and enduring and loving and if it is not I must do the work to discard it. I do not tolerate the sin in my own life before I claim to have any authority or power to speak into someone else’s.

There is a difference between sharing your struggle, story or victory and trying to use said struggle, story or victory to bring healing to someone else.

But hopefully until then, we allow our heart (the seat of our intentions, imaginations and affections) be continually cleansed by the Truth and reality of a relationship with a good God who offered His Son’s blood. Imagine that.

Young Camel Knees

It was Eugene Peterson, who in the introduction to his Message translation of the book of James that taught me the nickname for the apostle James, the brother of Jesus, was “Old Camel Knees.” The nickname, which I think cute, was given to him because the amount of time he spent in prayer. The theory being that he so often prayed on his knees, repenting and asking forgiveness on behalf of others that he developed calluses.


As cute as the nickname is, it is also radical. It speaks to devotion and reverence to the Lord. It speaks of the holy gripping he felt when it came to injustice and the lostness of those around him. With the nickname, I also imagine at some point he had difficulty getting up. But maybe that image is not true.

I have to get surgery on my knee; I’ve never had surgery, never been sedated; at the same time I’ve never walked with a limp literally speaking for this long (only 3 weeks). Metaphorically speaking, I suppose someone could make a case that I’ve limped for longer, but let’s not, because I’m looking to keep a happy baseline in this season.

My prognosis is quite long, but to disgust you I will describe it: In my knee, I have a leaky cyst, arthritis, bone spurs, a bucket tear in my meniscus and a several-year-old ruptured ACL that has likely shriveled like a wilted flower stem beneath my patella. It makes sense that my prognosis was that long to coincide with the extraordinary loud MRI.

During MRI’s they play the sounds you would hear coming out of a power station during a nuclear fallout so that no matter what, your prognosis is not as bad as it seems (just an FYI in case you were looking for a fun thing to do on your next personal day off from work).

I say all this because it is surprising the things you can still do when you have tears and ruptures in an area that enables you to walk. I have found I am way more aware and honoring towards my left leg which I rely on much more for balance, though I previously looked down on it for not being able to kick as strongly. (I think my left leg only ever scored one goal in soccer during recreational regulation which is the only arena in which records without an agenda are kept)

When a part of the body is weak or hurt or limping along and is crying out angrily and in pain because it wants protection and wholeness, the other parts of the body will compensate, shoulder the burden because it When a part of the body is weak or hurt or limping along and is crying out angrily and in pain because it wants protection and wholeness, the other parts of the body will compensate, shoulder the burden because it recognizes the pain of the other parts. It recognizes that there is a rupture. Yet the ruptured part also can show great resolve and resilience in the face of wounding. Despite that resilience and resolve, additional woundings to the same area can then highlight the problem and prior wounds and may require desperate measures in order to be addressed and attended to. The wound needs help, needs repair. The wound looks to surgery, experts, physicians, leaders in the field to restore, at least to an equal position, but hopefully to a better place than can be remembered. No one expects things to get worse when they ask for help.

Which leads me to a prophetic word for myself and one for the Church and maybe one for you:

For me Hebrews 12:12, no 12:10b-13:

but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,”[b] so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

In my season, I need my knee strengthened. I have been in a season of discipline and have been in Hebrews a lot over the last 9 months. I kept getting sent back to this passage even prior to my knee injury, but now it feels real. I felt like I had some fresh perspective and renewed excitement in walking in a direction for my life. In that same moment, coexisting with my movement, my knee failed me. I can walk but with a limp, and in the midst, God is calling me to live according to Proverbs 4:20-27 (read it I’m not copying and pasting).

The gist of that passage is obey the Lord, guard your heart, consider the path you’re on and heading, and be steadfast in that direction. Don’t be swayed from the call of obedience. I want to do that; I need help to do that in the natural and spiritual realm.

Then the prophetic word for the Church: is echoed in Hebrews 12 in the phrase strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. It hearkens back and echoes a passage in Isaiah 35 which follows Isaiah 34 which is a prophetic utterance regarding judgment on every nation. What follows in Isaiah 35, which always follows a pronouncement of judgment, is a promise of mercy, the promise of justice, and a promise of restoration.

Isaiah 35:3-7 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees, say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.

And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind, and unplug the ears of the deaf. The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy! Springs will gush forth in the wilderness, and streams will water the wasteland. The parched ground will become a pool, and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land. Marsh grass and reeds and rushes will flourish where the jackals once lived.

God is beginning to strengthen parts of the body, strengthening the hands of those who might heal, and He’s bringing stability the knees of those standing the gap in intercession with Christ. God is interested in protest along with prayer and prophecy.

God is interested in strengthening and stabilizing those who are His and saving those who are not. With anything else, He is interested in shaking anything that stands against His glory. He will shake it whether it is inside or outside the Church. Racism and disunity is shook; health, wealth, and prosperous ease is shook, comfort and pleasure is shook. God Himself, not shook. God is first and foremost interested in His creation, His people moving towards and returning to Him, who has all power in the midst of the shaking.

And after His people partner in restoration and the healing work He has planned, then it manifests blessedness. The other benefits of the Kingdom are added, when what is preeminent is relationship and partnership with the person of Christ, the King of the Kingdom.

When God’s people have weak hands and knees, He doesn’t expect His people to stay down, He’s confident they will get up.

My Friend Joseph

I have often thought that I have the best friends anyone can ask for. The quality and quantity of genuine friendships I have could keep a person full. And I have often desired to write a blog post about each one of my friends in a way that would highlight and honor them.

Today, it felt appropriate to write about my friend Joe. First some interesting facts:

  • I met Joe in Middle School gym class (met is a loose term because I am not quite sure we had more than a few passing words).
  • The next time I saw Joe was at Capital Assembly of God in Hamilton, New Jersey, on a Sunday morning in the summer of 2007. When I approached him, I am not sure he remembered me at all from Middle School.
  • A little over a year ago Joe moved into his first apartment
  • Joe has texted me everyday since the beginning of the pandemic to ask me if I am okay, except for a brief period where his phone needed to be fixed in which he appologized for not being able to check in.
  • Joe also texts me on most every holiday and every daylight savings change over and any time we are in a heat wave to make sure I stay hydrated. And every time he has received an attendance award at work. And every time he goes to an event that has to do with comic books, and most vacations he sends me pictures half of which are selfies.
  • In 2007 and 2008, I invited Joe to a few events (one event, either an an open mic night or Christmas Party, he said was the best night of his life) at the church I grew up in, Nassau Christian center in Princeton, since about that time he has taken a bus from Trenton to Princeton to continue attending there, though I have not attended since 2011.

These facts give some context for my favorite story about Joe, a story I cherish and offer you to cherish as well in order to convey the depths of friendship, solidarity, and in general what human beings are capable of.

In the summer/fall of 2008, Joe sent me an email asking if he could attend my college graduation in 2010 (yes, you read that right, 2 years in advance) which was in Virginia because “he had never attended a college graduation and would not be going to college himself.” I responded kindly and briefly, “Yes, Joe. I’d love to have you at my graduation.”

Truth be told I laughed and figured he would forget but I am a sucker for sentiment so it touched me that he asked. A year and half later after minimal interactions because the summer of 2009 I spent in Russia, Joe began to make preparations and reached out again seeing if he could still come to my graduation.

I offered to arrange transportation, but he said his dad would be driving him the 5 hours to come. He would arrive the Friday night before, but did not give me a time. When May rolled around, Joe showed up a little before dinner the day before my graduation. He came to Texas Roadhouse with my dad and my dad’s then fiance now wife Lorraine. I don’t remember what Joe ordered but I do remember about halfway through his meal, he took a 5 minute break to read a comic book he brought with him to the restaurant. It made me smile.

After dinner, we went back to my apartment where many of my friends had gathered just to hang out and laugh. Some of my friends wanted to get ice cream; I oddly enough was tired and didn’t want to go so Joe went with my friends. They came back within the hour and Joe suggested we watch, I believe Cars on DVD, which I narrowly avoided by convincing him that we would not have time to watch it. He understood and we continued to hang until about midnight.

I think that was a bit late for Joe, so he let me know he was tired and I agreed since I had an early morning to graduate the next day. So I said goodbye to friends and we got ready for bed.

Now I admit I should have been a better host and offered my room, but I was in college and just assumed people would be comfortable crashing on couches. I offered the couch and Joe politely declined. I then asked, “would you like to sleep in my bed and use my room?”

No sooner had the words left my mouth, Joe was in my room and seemingly tapped out for the night. I slept on the couch and it made me smile.

The next day was the graduation rigmarole, and I took pictures with my friends. I think Joe was in every picture. After pictures we went back to my apartment to figure out lunch and get Joe packed up. My mom came with me into the apartment, and I had left my cap and gown in my room, where Joe had slept. My mom and I were sitting on the living room couch where we could see into my room and I saw Joe pick up my cap and look at it.

I turned to my mom and said, “10 bucks, Joe asks if he can have my cap.” She said through slight laughter, “No, he won’t ask that.” I replied, “I know Joe; if he asks I’m giving it to him.”

A few seconds later Joe walks out and says, “Hey Jimmy, do you think I can have this?” Looking over at my mom I smiled, then back at Joe, “Yeah Joe, you can have it.”

Joe’s father had stayed in a hotel and took Joe back to New Jersey after my graduation lunch. It was one of the kindest things someone had ever done for me.

Since 2010, I maybe have seen Joe 3 times. I remember trying to invite him to a Marvel movie a few years back but he declined because he only likes DC comics even though they make far worse movies.

Every time Joe would drive in my car, he would bring Cd’s. I remember one time listening to “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson on loop an entire car ride. I remember feeling giddy inside seeing how many times he would hit the back button. It helped that it’s a great song honestly.

I have never had a sad moment with Joe. Joe is the kind of person that not only is it better when he’s around, but he is also always encouraging. Joe is not wealthy, not priveleged and is unassuming and generous. Joe has great parents and a sister that I may have met once who lives in Missouri. And Joe is my friend.

From Left to Right: Victor, Derek, Me, JOE!!!!!

The only other picture I have of Joe, he’s in the background with the Mets hat and sunglasses. He loves the Mets!

A Louder Morning

“There was an open tomb, evidence of light, a resurrected savior, thought to be a gardener, a foot race and a folded cloth. Could this be the start of a new covenant? Then His appearing to a few, then to us all. Bright but visible, so very like Himself, reassuring us, breathing on us, feeding us after conquering grave and cleansing sin. We rejoice, rejoice loudly. We tell others even those that have not seen. And He comes to them to. He always shows up It was finished; now life begins again”

chimney_rock_sunrise_service

It is the Resurrection day. Jesus left his tomb nice and tidy. I imagine Jesus folding his burial cloths with a smile thinking, it might be a silly little piece of foreshadowing to leave these  here in a folded pile, build some suspense for whoever finds them. As if to say, that was a nice little rest for a bit but I won’t be needing this bloody sheet anymore. It was nice while it housed my body for a few.

Now I will linger around this earth walking through walls standing in well manicured grounds and on the beaches appearing to those that still don’t quite understand. I will show up amidst their clamoring and questioning and I will reveal to them that which will change the way they live forever. Promise fulfilled, your eternity paid for and secure; power and joy accessible through the Kingdom of Christ.

And with this new light, we see in a new way as we are reminded

of that which we can smile about: friendship, fellowship, family, life, breath, that which we take for granted: food, shelter clothes, too many comforts, comparatively exorbitant wealth. But above all else reconciliation to God, the privilege to be seen as forgiven and righteous and able to approach God in communion. We are held and kept by the Godhead. The Spirit indwells us. We will be more than okay. He directs our steps, our paths, forges unity in the Church, comforts us and the world in our suffering and affliction, and seals the promise of a Kingdom coming that will look a lot different than this current fallen state. We are forgiven, loved given new mercy without measure as we humbly receive it.

The sun came up today. The mercy is real today. And because of the resurrection, we can pray assured that we are heard so we might as well ask boldly and listen willingly.

A Silenter Night

“We have lost Him. On Him who we hung our very hope, our everything. We forsook all to follow and we were not able to keep Him alive, to keep Him here, to establish an eternal Kingdom. One of us betrayed Him, one of us denied Him, we all ran away. And when some of us came to watch Him hang we wept and wondered and waited for God to intervene. This was not the plan; this could not be the plan to see perfection torn to shreds, to bury a breathless body in forged out stone to fit the One we supposed was the darling of Heaven. We had rested or tried to rest on His promises. He had us convinced. And now what good is it? What meaning can we find while the mourning is too real on this darkest of all nights. Even it had been light we would not be able to see through our tears through the waves of all His words that now seem to carry no weight in light of injustice. And God is silent. Some of us saw Him transfigured with Moses and Elijah. Neither of them died like this. Was he a criminal? Are we? Are we next? Perhaps it would be more bearable if we were next. After all what else is left?”

We live in the aftermath of the resurrection. We know today that what we celebrate tomorrow is the promise, bore witness to by the Spirit, that we  who believe will one day be raised with Him. And that is our consolation and Blessed Hope, and it should be enough; it is enough.

Yet it has been a painful year. It has been a painful now, as many all over the world have suffer loss, some of those losses great and unexpected. I do not understand loss enough.

I thought perhaps a year of chaplaincy would help me or at least make it easier, but I reflect on the last year, the losses of relationship whether the hope of romance or the loss of my grandmother and the countless loss of beautiful people who I met during my time in the hospital system. I think about the loss trust and to some extent dreams of working in a ministerial context and the loss or delay of settling down somewhere to live only to start working a job that has taken its toll on my mind and body.

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I am in the worst shape of my life physically, and undoubtedly, I have had days that emotionally and mentally  have been far too dark to revisit. And yet I believe in the Resurrection. I profess faith in a good God who will make all things work together for good for those who love Him if I in fact love Him.

And I suppose that is the question. What is the quality of my love? What is the condition of my heart? Will I relinquish any potential root of bitterness, frustration, even anger over the way the story of the last year has been written.

I had a brief conversation with my friends tonight about buying a new laptop. They said the one I use that is five years old and cheap is not worth keeping and I should get a new one. I resisted, saying that this one is sufficient and that I am amazed it has lasted this long considering how cheap it is. And it turned into a conversation about my desire for big and drastic changes while being less interested in the smaller manageable ones.

And I realized I have run out of patience (Love is patient). I might not  have the courage to wait for things to change over time putting forth effort so I  have hoped futilely that things would magically, drastically change over night, that things would resurrect. I have been told and taught to believe this way. But I am not sure that this is how it shakes down. As miraculous as the resurrection is, I’m not sure it is a magical or instantaneous as we think. He was slain before the foundation of the earth.  It was the plan of the Godhead in eternity past and, Scripture suggests Jesus was busy doing work in the grave, a work that took time in order to hold the keys of victory over death.

The last year and a half my faith has deconstructed. I have lost touch with the Church/church through disillusionment and disappointment. I have become exhaustively frustrated by the process of sanctification and struggle to live a disciplined and faithful life. I have struggled with prayer and miracles, but not death and not resurrection. I think the death and resurrection of Christ for some of the last year has been the tendon that has held me together. It is easy to believe Jesus died, it feels evident and certain from a human point of view and being acquainted with death I have felt solace in the fact that Christ would die in my place. But the romance is the resurrection. The scandal is that He did not stay dead and because of that truth, the implication is I don’t stay dead and disappointed or sad forever.

Tonight I was sad, dreading thinking about the paralysis of my sense of purpose and still confused about how to place myself where I am physically, mentally, spiritually. I wish I could just spend a week being content. I want a heart capable or healthy enough to choose to love like Jesus. I want the resurrection to change me. And maybe, the light of tomorrow will. So we hope.

 

 

We are not in the Wind, We are the Wind

What an interesting time for an interesting and interested God. A God that is not idle but who remains an eternal intercessor in Christ. A God that we may feel is silent about circumstance yet still resounds about who He is.

John 3:8 reads “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Metaphorically, Jesus draws a comparison between the wind and those born of the Spirit. And it is interesting that Jesus would draw this comparison because wind can only be evidenced by the things it is moving. How do you see wind without seeing something else moved by it? Jesus acknowledges that we hear it.

Scientifically speaking, in a wild oversimplification, wind comes through temperature and pressure changes. Thus the expression winds of change is interesting because wind itself is the result of change not necessarily the cause of it.

We are the wind. Or rather we are like the wind. We are the products of the change of being born anew, born again, now learning and adapting through the Spirit to our current environment.

The time and circumstance in which we find ourselves now, does not change our identity or our ability to be present and to embody the life giving Spirit in and to the world.

Wind-palm-trees-golf-course-Hawaii-Maui

But!!!! There is more. Being born of the Spirit, according to John 3:8, means that it is impossible to be in the wrong place. The question that I plague myself with and need to let go of is: am I in the right place to fulfill the will of God? And the answer to that is, Yes! If you’re breathing moving and having your being, you and I are in the right place. Whether or not our lives are bent towards obedience is a different question. So the question I need to be preoccupied with is, “Lord, how do I love you and others right where I am right now? Help me stay yielded and in step with you. I want to move like the wind with You.”

Even the wind and waves obey Him, so must I. I must obey because that is where I will find my heart delighting. That is where I want my heart to delight and how to delight others and in some cases disappoint others. (there are power and principalities that would like us to fail)

Yesterday I went for a bike ride down the shore for about an hour. It was the first exercise I have done in almost 2 months. It was phenomenal. It was a breezy ride along the bay in very wealthy neighborhoods. On my way home I stopped outside a church that had a prayer labyrinth (imagine a giant circle with a maze painted path on it).

It moved me because that labyrinth was much like a stone labyrinth in the prayer garden at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital in South Carolina where I started my chaplaincy residency. It was the perfect place to pray and walk. For the first time in months, I prayed with passion and confidence in who God is. I’m sorry it has been that long.

But something amazing happened at the end of the labyrinth. These labyrinths start on the outskirts of a circle and have their ending point in the center. It took about 3-4 minutes to walk. But as soon as I hit the center I paused briefly and turned toward the church steeple and was hit with several successive massive gusts of wind. These winds moved me multiple times while I stood facing it.

I tried to speak to the wind to stop it. I verbally spoke, “God, how am I supposed to hear you when the wind is so loud?” The Spirit replied, “The wind won’t keep you from hearing my voice, and I don’t need the wind to move you.” It was sustained and kept moving me affirming that I too am born of the Spirit. In Him we move, we breathe, we have our being. Let us, the Church billow with blessing.

The Purpose of Our Collective Tears

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

I don’t know how prepared you are to give of your tears or how familiar you might be with what that entails. I’m going to write a bit about mourning this morning. Grief, loss, and death, I know are not necessarily fun topics to read about. I don’t know a lot about pandemics, the spread of viruses or the long term effects of these things, but I am  fairly confident that if political leaders and people are willing to show any hint of prioritizing stimulating the economy and bailing out large financially irresponsible big businesses at the risk of spreading a deadly virus, it’s safe to say that some compassionate folks may have to take up the business of empathy and grieving.

*Scroll to the bottom if you just like practicals*

And that person might be you or me. So here’s how:

Tears are beautiful. One day, in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no more use for them. But here, now, tears of the emotional variety are a visual display of our pain and our stress and our empathy. As they are released chemicals are typically released in our body that calm our mind and relieve us of physical pain. In this way they are chemically associated with doing good for the inside.

It is important to keep in mind that the capacity for tears or crying is more important than volume. So like anything crying too much or persistent crying amidst a depressive episode could yield little to no benefit. It’s important to discern and distinguish between the two.

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For instance:

Yesterday, my mom put her cat Tabitha down who was 19 years old and had kidney failure. I cried a bit on my drive to her house thinking about my mom during this season of quarantine, thinking a little about Tabitha and how interesting of a cat she was. Those tears were in some ways helpful because I was prepared to empathize with my mom and imagined what it was like to lose a pet but also adjust in a season when being home a lot and perhaps for a extended season is necessary.

Later on that evening, I cried again while being exceedingly frustrated and uncertain even scared about what decisions to make, feeling like life is still out of my control and being frustrated and double-minded about how to live out what I feel called to in the midst of my current vocation after a season where I already felt isolated for the previous 5 months. These tears were less helpful, but still helpful. In part because these tears were more a response to an unclear uncertain emotional framework that had me stuck on myself. If I was still crying those same tears now they would not be helpful and perhaps self-indulgent.

Let’s return to loss and grief and death though for a moment. Some of you may have experienced the loss of a loved one. It was a deep loss that you may have not been prepared for and suffered or may suffer still as you learn to adapt to a new rhythm without that individual. Sometimes their loss might still illicit tears or sadness but hopefully, that loss has not kept you unable to find fullness in life.

Hopefully, you found a helpful ritual or prayer or found ways to accept the loss and have been given new eyes of appreciation for others. Hopefully, also, you will be presented with the opportunity to help others walk through their own grief and loss.

My hope is that this will not be a season that you will be called upon to do that, but there is a chance in the coming weeks even months you might know several people who lose something or someone due to this virus.

Not all loss is death, but death feels the most permanent. And in seasons where isolation is already becoming the norm if someone were to die while others are isolated and may not be able to mourn as easily communally, we will need to be diligent in helping to heal those who suffer loss.

We have power to minister and bring healing to others when we stay alert and aware in the midst of our own loss, to not checkout and isolate, but to remain available. To be reminded that others too will suffer the loss of spouse or grandparent or parent or child, that while our grief and loss is unique in the individual or thing lost, the experience of losing is not unique to us.

So a couple of practicals:

-Imagine you are in their position, in the coming weeks it might not take that much imagining (we’ll see)

-Listen more than spouting advice or cliche phrases of optimism (Scripture written in an encouraging note or a timely word spoken gently might be helpful but listen first)

-Pray for them

-Make sure they are fed and checked in on

-Affirm that they are loved, again gently

-Maybe not a reminder for the one suffering, but death is not the end of everything and it is a part of life; death might become more normalized, but Jesus has promised us eternity with Him for those who believe. So yes, a priority on the restoration to or perseverance in their most important relationship.

-Remember God is with us in our tears

Psalm 56:8

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?

Leaves that Heal Nations

In the Kingdom, when it comes, there will be the tree of life that bears different fruits and the leaves of that tree will function like medicine to heal the nations. It is not often when reading Revelation that I know if I am reading a metaphor or imagery or literally, but in this instant, I don’t think it is harmful to believe a literal very large and very happy looking tree fulfilling this purpose.

But the tree as it stands and sways is made and moved by Jesus, in Him it moves, we breathe and have being. In this same Kingdom, in those same eternal moments every tear, every sorrow, all recollection of death and pain will be wiped away.

It is on that hope, I hope to encourage you with these brief words. Jesus came and comes again with one intention, to lavish love on His Bride, His Beloved, His people in restored relationship.

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There is a strange dichotomy at play though, right now. Winter is supposed to pass; it’s supposed to be done with on Thursday. The time of things dying and being laid bare is supposed to be behind us, even during Lent, a time meant to prepare us, a season of repentance of sins, of giving away, of denying our self. The leaves and flowers are determined to make their appearing. And yet the world is slowing down and simultaneously crying out because of sickness.

But maybe the world, the creation and the command of God are all crying out the same thing.

Maybe they are crying out, “Do not be afraid!” Particularly afraid defined as running away or fleeing. We may stand our ground or even be forced into solitude or quiet in these times but the potential for relationship and community and conversation still exist in abundance. The potential for love and kindness and mercy is present.

And though we wait, for the day when leaves will heal nations, perhaps Jesus has left us, His church to heal and bless the nations.