Pastor Chuck's Takeaway

Monday morning theological reflections


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Blessed are the Peacemakers

What is this? Division, discord, and rupture have been around since the dawn of biblical time. Cain killed Abel out of jealousy of his brother. When Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, refused to lighten the tax burden for the other tribes, the nation was divided into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel. Fellow missionaries Paul and Barnabas separated over a serious disagreement regarding personnel (Acts 15). The Great Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Church of 1054 was basically the formal end of a bad marriage. Three of the four congregations I have served as a pastor have had their own church split. Churches, families, friends, and nations are all subject to such division. Our nation is as divided as it has been in my lifetime. The rupture is everywhere and it’s surpassed the usual Democrat vs. Republican, Pro-life vs. Pro-Choice, and Christian vs. Secular separation. Now we must demonize and demolish each other; Black Lives Matter and Law Enforcement, President Trump and the media, haves and have-nots, Judge Cavenaugh supporters and Dr Ford advocates,  evangelicals and main-line Christians, nationalists and migrants. As a nation we just experienced the bomb scare targeting Democratic party leaders and the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue, resulting in eleven deaths. Nevertheless, as the mid-terms approach, the vicious campaign rhetoric is escalating, political parties blame each other, and its more difficult than ever to a civil conversation around the kitchen table or in the fellowship hall.

What does this mean? In my opinion, part of the problem is when one side comes at a complicated and emotional issue with a sense of absolute certainty. It shuts down any possible dialog. Few things irritate me more than pastors who publish their own version of a voting guide. I told my people I was planning to send out my own voting guide this year and they couldn’t stop laughing. It is equally absurd for a pastor to preach her politics from the pulpit, that is the ultimate one-way communication. I am just another citizen with a right to vote. Or at least, I didn’t get that gift of political revelation. Now, to preach against injustice is one thing, something we/I don’t do often enough, be prophetic. Sadly, sometimes our differences of opinion lead to family or friends terminating the relationship. This happened to me in the past year, when a friend of twenty-five years, essentially ended our friendship because he did not agree with my views on same-sex marriage. After a couple of long-winded lectures via email, he stopped communicating and I haven’t heard since. I confess that broke my heart because this guy was/is a brother in Christ to me. All I can conclude is being right was more important than being in relationship. In the current political climate, when our church faces difficult issues and positions are hardened, I challenge the brothers and sisters to see this as an opportune time to witness to the world, what it means to be Christian sisters and brothers. That may be the most persuasive witness of the day.

What is the takeaway? First of all, today is All Saints Day, a day in the church year when we remember all the saints, living and dead, who have been baptized into the body of Christ. It is not a spiritual hall-of-fame, it’s the collection of God’s peculiar treasures, that great cloud of witnesses the book of Hebrews claims surround us. The prayer of the day says “whose people are knit together in one Holy Church”. Since we are “knit together”, it means we are connected, attached, related, and bound up in this life together. Part of our responsibility is to treat each other like this is the baptismal reality and operate like we belong to each other. Christ’s life and death emphasizes that, for God, being in relationship is more important than being right. Jesus said it, but it doesn’t get near enough attention, “blessed are the peacemakers”. I see a peacemaker as a bridge person in a community. They have the intangibles, personality, and inclination to have the respect of all parties. This is not a people-pleaser, but someone who takes seriously their stewardship to work for community. They listen carefully, speak when needed, often a real truth-teller, have the courage to challenge the congregation, and yet (SOMEHOW) makes it clear they value all sides. As a pastor, I’ve been blessed to see peacemakers repair, restore, even bring reconciliation to a divided community. My All Saints Day challenge for you is to get out there and play the role of a bridge builder. I believer many people in the church have this gift, but have not exercised the power. Today is a good day to do just that, take serious your stewardship to work for community. Some of us aren’t even sure if we have that specific talent. Only one way to find out, PRAY, TAKE COURAGE, AND BE THE BRIDGE!

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From the Front Lines of Islam

What is this? This past weekend I was driver, manager, host, and all-around handler for an Egyptian evangelist, Fawzi Khalil. Through a mutual friend and fellow pastor, we arranged for Pastor Fawzi to spend three days with our church and we, especially me, were blessed. I arranged for him to speak in a couple different venues to small groups. From the time I met Fawzi at baggage claim, I knew he had a heart for the gospel, a humble spirit, and a fiery faith in Jesus. Being the same age, same vocation, and and having the same slapstick sense of humor, we connected immediately. Fawzi grew up in Egypt in a nominal Christian family, was entrenched in the communist party until he came to faith in Christ while studying at the university. His church, Kasr el-Dobara, in Cairo worships 10,000 with eight services on a weekend. The church leadership sent him as a missionary to Morocco to start-up, develop, and lead underground churches in a Muslim nation. He was imprisoned at one point and eventually exiled to Spain. With the ongoing refugee crisis of the Syrian War, in 2015 Fawzi’s church sent him to Iraq to oversee the mission work in the refugee camps. There Fawzi met his wife, Haydy, a missionary to young girls who escaped captivity (yes, sex trafficking and outright slavery) from Isis.

What does this mean? Now Fawzi, Haydy, and incoming baby John (Haydy is nine+ months pregnant) will share this ministry. Yes, the plan is to take the baby with them to the refugee camps. They supervise 35 missionaries from their congregation in places like Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Jordan, and Turkey. The miraculous stories Fawzi shared of Muslims converting to Christ were like something out of the Book of Acts. He says Haydy has this gift with the young girls, who have escaped their enslavement (often when the guards get drunk) and find their way to the camp. With the burden of family shame, the parents will often refuse to receive them back. The cultural context is so different. These girls are the age of my own 15-year-old daughter or younger. They have been through violence, trauma, and degradation we cannot even imagine, and now have no home. Not even Jesus can restore these girls?! Not so fast. Haydy and her team welcome these lost girls, spend the first 30 minutes simply holding them, no talking. Then they start the long road of recovery. Along the way, they share the gospel with them. Fawzi will work with the families, prodding and persuading them, these are your children, they did not choose this. Fawzi claims that when the violence and vindictiveness of Islam is exposed, specifically during a war, there is an authentic often anguished opening for the gospel. So he reports there are fifty converts per day, being baptized and connected with a local congregation. They are in these refugee camps because that is where the harvest is.

What is the takeaway? In the wake of our Fawzi weekend, I am still processing all that I heard and experienced. My sense is God had a hand in bringing Fawzi to us, but I am not exactly sure why it would be a good thing for an Egyptian evangelist to encounter an older Lutheran congregation. A couple of things I can say for sure. One, it is always a joy and a jolt to hear first-hand what God is doing and how the church is thriving in unlikely places. Especially, when we are saddened by the decline of the North American Church. Muslims conversions, underground churches, traumatized girls restored! Two, Fawzi’s take on Islam is sobering. When I say that, I deplore the tragic American label that every Muslim is possibly part of a sleeper cell. This is not what Fawzi is saying. Even when you figure that he is ministering to the victims and violence from Isis, Fawzi makes a point that the God of Islam is not the God of Judaism and Christianity. Yes, we share historical roots, Abraham is a father figure in each tradition. But, when you look at the character of Allah, see the impact on the people, Fawzi calls him distant, unpredictable, and demanding, it is far from the grace of God and forgiveness of the cross. Three, I will have to see Fawzi’s mission field for myself. It won’t be this year or next, but I will go to the front lines. Don’t tell Elizabth! Believe it or not, Fawzi takes small mission teams to Lebanon to work hands-on with the people, play with the kids, and see evangelism to Muslims at work. This is not a delegation that stays at the Ritz Carlton and drives through the camp waving to the refugees. You sleep in a sandy refugee tent, you are there to work, and they have translators all around. Fawzi prefers this to financial support, although he doesn’t discount economic help. Nothing challenges and nourishes my faith like hearing the gospel preached and seeing the church minister in unexpected places. Such glimpses of God at work keep your faith going until you meet Jesus face-to-face.


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Important Pastor Lunches

What is this? In our church office, it is a running joke that when I leave the office, I am on my way to do important pastor stuff, as if, that is all they need to know. My important pastoral work might include bringing communion to the homebound, preparing a study, or making a hospital visit. Sometimes, it is not really important or pastoral at all. When I was serving in Edmonds, I played on a church softball team. Between visits, I’d sneak a trip to the batting cages in to tune up for that night’s game. Having confessed that, in the past week, I have enjoyed three important pastoral lunches in a row with three eclectic colleagues, all very different, all very dedicated, and all very distinctive. One is a woman at my current congregation who is experiencing the call to be a pastor. Recently, she preached for the first time, did a fine job, and was riding the high. She is wrestling with how, when, and where to go to seminary with finances and family considerations. As she talked with a mix of awe, anticipation, and a humble heart, I was humbled. In her call story, I remember my first stirrings to serve. You have a sense of how daunting the task is, to preach, lead, and care for God’s people. As I assured her, it wasn’t her idea and God’s grace is sufficient to the task, I was remembering that reality in my own ministry.

What does this mean? The Old Testament prophets seem to object to the call for exactly that reason, think Jonah, Jeremiah, and Moses, it is simply too much for any mortal to do. This is true of God’s call to be a parent, teacher, or leader. Whatever God calls you to do, you need God’s grace to do it. It is surprising what God will call his people to do. My second lunch was with a former colleague, Jim, who was my co-pastor in Edmonds. We were a couple of single pastors that our congregation adopted as their own sons. We were there when Jim met his wife, Arlys, one of Elizabeth’s good friends. So we’ve shared a great deal. Jim was visibly animated as he talked of his new ministry, to close dying congregations. He is by nature, a melancholy guy, not given to enthusiasm easily. But, now Pastor Jim is the Gung-ho Closer. What gives? Jim has always been gifted in a crisis, helping people face calamity, and a congregation shutting its doors certainly qualifies. So this is an opportunity to use his skills in significant ways. He has always been a faithful and passionate preacher of the way God brings life out of death. Being reunited with Jim reminded me what a blessing it is to have good, godly people with whom you share the ministry. Plus, God calls unexpected people to do unexpected work for the Jesus’ sake.

What is the takeaway? Many people will come to church and prefer to remain in the safety of the pews, when God is calling everyone who shows up to share in the work. Yes, the church needs givers, servers, volunteers, and supporters. But, I am convinced that everyone likes to use their gifts and need to get into the action. It never ceases to amaze me how God changes a life, once they take the risk of stepping up to leadership, joining a mission, or trusting themselves to a small group and relationships in Christ. My third lunch is actually today with big, jolly Pastor Brent with his contagious sense of humor. We have lunch about every two weeks, usually at a spicy, Asian place because we both love food. Brent is both an encourager and a comedian, so he is always a trip. What I most appreciate about him is that Brent takes me back to my Baptist roots. He is the son of a Baptist pastor, now he is a Messianic Christian pastor. Essentially, that means that he is an evangelical that follows the Jewish calendar. His breadth of biblical knowledge and passion for evangelism inspires me in ways that complement my Lutheran emphasis of grace alone. Today we are having lunch at Pacific Lutheran cafeteria and attending a seminar on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He’s not a Lutheran (yet) but he is my brother in Christ. Bottom line: to share food, fellowship, laughter, and faith is what makes us Jesus’ people.


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Stopover at Miracle Ranch

What is this? A few weeks ago, I led a group of nine students and four adults on a mission trip to Vincente Gurrero, Mexico located about 100 miles from Ensenada. This ministry site (FFHM) is well-funded and quite diversified; orphanage with 70 children, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, a medical clinic, a bible college, an outreach program that includes child evangelism and a center for people in need to receive food & clothing. When you arrive at mission, the first morning they immerse you in the history and high points of their ministry. This is miracle ranch! A couple from California stumbled upon what was an abandoned brothel, felt called to start an orphanage and BOOM, they were off and running. And they are still generating miracles. We met a man who had been incarcerated for 11 years for gang-related crimes in the U.S., was deported to Mexico upon his release, was drinking three liters of hard alcohol per day (sounds like a candidate for rehab). Then after a few months at the rehab center (they do discipleship and detox), he came to faith and is now second-in-command at the center. During a time of extreme drought, when they were rationing water, their macadamia trees were nearing death. Then a trucker with two monster water trucks (from nearby agricultural businesses) stopped by to inquire if the mission could use the water. The driver did say, “there is a problem, all the water is heavily fertilized”. God delivered the good stuff!

What does this mean? The God stories go on and on. Every year, three or four of the rehab grads move on to the bible college to be  prepared as missionaries. On and on. As a mission team, the benefit of hearing these stories of transformed lives and meeting these amazing souls is it has a formative impact on our people. I have a 15-year-old daughter who loves this trip. How rare it is to see God’s work so alive, vibrant, and visible! Makes you wonder, why is God’s work not so alive, not so vibrant, not so visible in my life, in my family, and in my congregation? What are we not doing or doing wrong? Why does God seem so animated in Vincente Gurerro and so absent in Gig Harbor? If you look at the thirty-plus miracles that Jesus performs there is no formula. There are times when the gospel writer says that faith has made the difference, like the paralytic lowered through the roof by his friends (Mark 2). Interestingly, it was the friends’ faith that seems to have stirred Jesus to heal him. There is the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11) where it looks like Jesus decided this was a good idea, it would witness to the power of God. One of my favorite miracle stories is Jesus turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana (John 2). Compared to all the leprosy, hunger, injustice, and spiritual evil to deal with, this “miracle” of Jesus seems frivolous, like it is just for the fun of it. What is wine to save a party versus people with real needs? The beauty of the miracle is that, whether we like it or not, God loves a party.  God is more plentiful, more playful than we think, does stuff because it brings God pleasure, like saving us (Ephesians 1:5).

What is the takeaway? Mark 6 has a strange story of Jesus in his hometown where he is actually hampered and hindered by the locals’ lack of faith. Mark writes, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay hands on a very few sick people and heal them”. What gives?! The next line is almost disturbing, “And Jesus was amazed at their LACK of faith”. The Christ is not surprised by much, but here he is astonished by the famine of faith. It is crucial to note that Jesus performs miracles more to reveal the character of God, not so much the power of God. Yes, raising people from the dead and feeding five thousand with some bread and fish is very impressive. This is a God who can resuscitate life and materially provide (for convention-size crowds). But, the bigger deal is God in Christ is for life not death, will take us to the grave to resurrection on to eternal life. This God cares about daily bread, human needs, and, by extension, earthly concerns, yours and mine. I would say this, to the big question about why more miracles here than there, how come God seems more visible over there than around here? Jesus talks about faith as a way of seeing, a way of perceiving and receiving the world that God has made, even a humble approach and attitude to this extraordinary life and salvation we receive in Christ. When Jesus is amazed at their lack of faith, maybe they just don’t see it or don’t want to see what is right in front of them, salvation in a human package. Isn’t this our sin, as well? Miracles are so everyday; the sun is out, children in church, good sleep- we take it for granted. God gives so abundantly, worship is so accessible, blessings saturate our lives, prayers are answered, grace abounds, that we are not easily moved. Instead of gratitude, we are overcome with entitlement. What we need is to have our eyes checked, I am preaching to myself here, to see afresh all the mercy and manna and miracles that God has delivered to your doorstep. The other thing is we need to tell our own God- stories to our children, our friends, our neighbors, and our congregations! Telling those stories reinforces our life-giving faith. The psalmist proclaims, “HIS MERCIES ENDURE FOREVER”!

 


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Lebron, Moses, and Ingrid

Update on Driving Miss Caroline: Miss Caroline is now driving outside our cloistered neighborhood! Overall, she is doing extremely well, although she nearly went through a stop sign the other day. To offer the other drivers a heads-up and to give Caroline some reassurance (Seriously, she thought this was a good idea), I fashioned some over-sized STUDENT DRIVER signs for the front and rear windshield. Oh, they will see Caroline coming now!

What is this? As of late, I have been dominating the big TV at home watching the NBA playoffs. Over the years, I have come to admire Lebron James. Yes, he is as fast, strong, and as scary as Marshawn Lynch running at you. Plus, his basketball IQ is off the charts and his skills are beyond formidable. Yet, what most fascinates me about Lebron is his iron will to win. His refusal to lose reminds me of Michael Jordan. This season is, perhaps, his most remarkable as he carries his mostly mediocre teammates to the NBA championship finals. This is his eighth trip in a row. His not-quite-adequate teammates play out of fear, awe, and obedience to the King. Seeing his game-face, I would do the same. What gives this athletic phenom this iron will and weighty personality? Sports Illustrated detailed his childhood as a time of deprivation and high anxiety. Every 3-6 months, he and his wife will go for what they call “the drive”. What they do is return to their childhood locations to remember their roots, all they’ve been through, and to recall again with gratitude the opportunities they’ve been given.

What does this mean? The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is the great faith chapter, where the author reminisces and ruminates about the heroes of the faith like Sarah and Abraham, David and Rahab, Joshua and Noah. According to the author, what sets these saints apart is their faith that is defined as “the assurance of things hoped for”. There is also something at play I will call the “Lebron Factor”. There is this iron will, a refusal to turn back, a weightiness of the soul. Knowing the frailty and fallibility of humanity, I don’t believe for a moment these qualities are all innate or learned by example. No, the kind of gravitas (Cool word, huh?) the writer of Hebrews is extolling comes the hard way; experience, failure, deprivation, and, most of all, a history of knowing God is faithful. Maybe every worship is similar to Mr. and Mrs. Lebron’s “the drive” as we return to the sanctuary to remember and rehearse the story of our salvation. Moses is the OT Lebron. Maybe he didn’t really want the job as Liberator and so what if he wasn’t Toastmaster material. Yet, once at the helm of the Exodus there was no turning back. Through plagues of blood and locusts, Pharaoh’s armies drowning in the Red Sea, grumbling and mutiny from within the ranks of the chosen people, and even arguments with God, Moses refused to quit. His grace-filled gravitas and weighty soul were instrumental in delivering this stiff-necked herd all the way to the Promised Land.

What is the takeaway? Ingrid Parrish was a small, fragile package of a person, yet within there was a titanium will, a substantial soul, and GRANDE gravitas. When Ingrid wanted something, I’d put her unyielding game-face up against Lebron’s and her perseverance over against Moses any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I wonder if even God sits up and takes notice when Ingrid speaks. My favorite Ingrid story was when I saw her at a nursing home. She was in and out of consciousness, as her life was slipping away. I came into her room, quietly said some prayers, and was making a hasty retreat, when I heard a scratchy voice, “Communion”. At first, I looked around, thinking maybe this was an orderly who smoked too much or even an angel of the Lord with laryngitis. Then I heard it again, “Communion”. It was Ingrid, she of iron will and sheer-force-of-personality, as if to say, “Not so fast, Pastor Hasty! This dying soul still requires you to bring me the body and blood of my Savior. Soon, I will be in his heavenly company. But, right now, I must share sweet communion with the Bread of Life”. It was only fitting that I presided at three different funeral services for her: once on board a Washington State ferry, once at our home church, and once at the retirement home where she lived. Her daughter had a hard time letting go. If the Letter to the Hebrews had been written more recently, I think Ingrid might have made the final cut. Thanks be to God for the weighty souls we meet in this life, for they reflect the relentless, steadfast grace of Christ Jesus.


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Driving Miss Caroline

What is this? My fifteen year-old daughter, Caroline, has started driver’s education! Up to now she has driven in our empty church parking lot and the adjoining car-forsaken dead end street. Now she has her learner’s permit and Caroline is ready to be unleashed on the highways, byways, and ruthless roundabouts in our neighborhood. The problem is dear-old Dad is not ready for Caroline to pilot my car in prime time. I was looking for some back-up at the parents orientation when I asked “It’s probably a good idea to wait until our student has had a couple of supervised drives with you before we really turn them loose, don’t you think”? Big Ed, the teacher of 911 driving school (all the instructors are police officers) was no help, “Oh no, you want her behind the wheel right away”. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Caroline smile smugly. To set the record straight, Caroline is remarkably mature and I am confident will be an excellent driver. The key phrase in that sentence is “will be” as in “not yet”. All of you parents who have been down this road, pun intended, know there is tension between getting started, getting a learner’s permit, and getting the car keys. It’s a collaborative process of constantly renegotiating the boundaries, a parent-child give-n-take, push-n-pull, catch-n-release, and sometimes tug-of-war. The driver’s education experience is a microcosm of all parental progression.

What does this mean? Being in the driver’s education classroom was a blast from the past. The retired police officer had to tell a couple of gory stories to get the attention of apathetic students who want to get through this so they can get out on the road, just like when I was fifteen. On the wall were various road signs that give direction. John Ortberg writes about “Relational Rules for the Road” that seem applicable to this parenting conversation. People send signals all the time to STOP talking, STOP advising, and STOP pushing. People close to me tell me that I’ve always had a habit of saying, “COME ON” as I try to bring them around to doing what I ask. I’m convinced it is God’s judgment that my daughter does precisely the same thing, “COME ON DAD, I need to be driving!” It isn’t the suggestion, it is the sheer repetition and her ferocity that chip away. Now being on the receiving end, that is like annoying. So I need to STOP running those non-verbal stop signs, usually looking away or leaning back. Another road sign we are wise to pay careful attention to is WARNING: CONSTRUCTION ZONE AHEAD. In reality, every relationship is a construction zone. In families, there is an “emotional economy” and, no doubt, some of our family are “low maintenance” and others are “high maintenance”. Of course, we all say “I am low-maintenance”. Maybe you or maybe you are not, but I know I am. Please don’t ask Caroline for her opinion. The truth is you can’t just leave a relationship alone and expect it flourish. It takes time, listening, encouragement, patience, and attention. Perhaps, most important is to faithfully pray to the Father in Heaven for those you love.

What is the takeaway? As I have been sitting in my office working on this, two parents have dropped in to discuss some personal struggles. The first lamented how she feels she is working so hard to guide, encourage, and get her children out on their own. Yet, she feels like the target of their frustrations. The second was a grieving mother, who through tears, recalled how she was holding her son’s hand as he was dying in the hospital. This old memory is so graphic for her at times, she just loses it. This brings to mind that so much of loving and relating as a parent is summed up in SHOULDER WORK. There are times we feel beaten down by failures, families, sins, and struggles. Our shoulders have a way of signaling where we are at. Squared shoulders suggest a confident, robust spirit. Hunched-up shoulders send a message of resignation, ready-to-surrender. Being a child and a parent are heavy responsibilities. We are to honor our mother and father as long as we live. To help us follow-through on our family duties, we need to turn to others to share the load with us; hold us up in prayer, share our burdens, and cheer us on. My best friend has no kids but what an amazing sounding board, he listens and I know I have been heard. Through years of teaching confirmation, when we come to the command to honor your mother and father, I enjoy quoting Ephesians 5:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children”. My instruction is go home and challenge your father with that. Today I will try to keep Paul’s admonition in mind as I take Caroline beyond our neighborhood to do some audacious driving for the first time. Lord, have mercy on father and daughter!

 


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Holy Contradictions

What is this? Ulysses S. Grant was a contradiction. I just finished a superb biography of the Civil War general and U.S. President by Ron Chernow. What a contradictory fellow! Grant was a shrewd military strategist, Chernow suggests more gifted than Robert E. Lee. Yet at the same time, in civilian life, he was a real sucker, far too trusting of fast-talking confidence men. In his last years, Grant lost a fortune (as did his son) in the first great American Ponzi scheme. Grant would inevitably rise to the occasion, at his absolute best in an emergency, in command, whether it be combat or a cabinet meeting. However, in everyday life he was often naive, lax, and rudderless. For a leader so renowned for his integrity, he presided over immense corruption and scandal in his administration. We are all a contradiction, both saint and sinner simultaneously. A contradiction is when two realities stand in opposition. Logically, they both can’t be true and yet they are. To be a Christian you have to believe in holy contradictions, theologians like the word paradox, better. We live in a world of contradictions; social media increases loneliness, obesity and hunger, sin and grace, soldiers serving as peacemakers, beauty and brokenness.

What does this mean? Faith in God is all about playing along with paradox. The Trinity is Three in One. Jesus Christ is our servant king. We trust an unseen God for an unknown future (that’s supposed to give us peace?!) The Roman execution weapon of choice, the cross, is our sign for love, mercy, and reconciliation. We’re commanded to forgive others and love our enemies. Perhaps, the most blatant contradiction comes from Paul as he wrestles with his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians. After praying vigorously for God to take away his suffering, God responds, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. Paul sums it up this way, “when I am weak, I am strong”. This contradiction is at the core of the cross and central to the gospel. There is vast exposure, tremendous vulnerability when we open up ourselves to love and being loved. What I believe Paul means with “when I am weak, I am strong” is faith in Christ calls us to yield to God’s way, to surrender our souls to God’s purposes. This doesn’t mean we are passive, pathetic, and a panty-waste for Jesus’ sake. It does mean we realize our lives are not our own. Jesus says ironically, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. I’ve always been tightly wound, overly concerned with control, so this hasn’t come easily to me.

What is the takeaway? Over my 57 years, God has had his work cut out for him, trying to get me to loosen my grip on this life. Yet, over time, through failures and frustrations, by the grace of family and friends, and the graduate school for letting go – raising children, my choke-hold on my life has loosened significantly. I was prayerfully taking personal inventory the other day and I asked, “How could so many things have gone so wrong in my life?” Alcoholism in my family, severe depression, divorced parents, lost party years, autistic son. I also thought, “How could so many things go so right in my life?” Sturdy faith, meaningful work, married well, traveled overseas, healthy family life, a life-long love of fitness (the YMCA is only a mile away). Just like the theologians say, “It’s a paradox!” Although I’ve been both a victim and a perpetrator of sin and destruction, I have also been a recipient and worker of grace and God’s handiwork. I hope you see your story in my story. We are all a big old contradiction, saint and sinner at the same time. How could so many things go right and wrong in the same life?! The good news is Jesus loves us unconditionally and eternally. That makes all the difference, because God’s grace anoints our raw material, wounds, abilities, relationships, failings, and future. God’s endgame is we be wounded healers in the world and realize we are so blessed.