Monday, February 13, 2012

Healing Secret

Have you ever been entrusted with a really fantastic secret? I am referring to a secret that was so joyous, so marvelous, so sensational, and so excellent that you could not wait to share it by shouting it from the mountaintop for all the world to hear. Perhaps someone you know just discovered she is pregnant and asked you not to tell anyone. Have you ever been burdened with that kind of secret?

In Mark 1:40-45, Jesus continues his healing ways of the gospel's first chapter by curing a man suffering from leprosy. Surprisingly, Jesus sternly warns him not to tell anyone about this miraculous cure. Instead, our beloved Lord instructs the man to show himself to the priest and offer a sacrifice for his purification that Moses commanded. Incidentally, to learn more about this extensive act of purification, see Leviticus 14:1-32. We learn from the story that the formally unclean man cannot contain this miraculous secret, talking freely, and spreading the news to others. The news reached the people like a wildfire spreads through a drought-laden forest so that Jesus had to remain outside of towns in deserted places. Remarkably, people came to see him anyway.

Mark’s Gospel is straightforward and yet provokes questions for Jesus followers who are curious to know the good news more fully. For instance, what kind of courage is required for an outsider like a leper to approach his Lord and beg him for healing? What kind of love is it that our Lord should choose to make himself unclean in order to heal his follower? What exactly did Jesus heal in the man? Why did Jesus sternly warn him to keep this miraculous secret? If Jesus made him clean, why did he order the man to show himself to the priest and get purified? Why did the man disobey his Lord and spread the news he was entrusted to keep confidential? When the people came from everywhere to see him, what did they want from Jesus?

We might also ask, what does this story say to us today? How are we to understand this part of God’s story as our story as well? Perhaps the healing the man received in our lesson went much deeper than what was visible from the outside. This healing story offers us a glimpse of the kind of mercy God offers through the love of his Son. Jesus is willing to be unclean so that we may be clean by his blood; redeemed to a right relationship with God and his people. The cure that Jesus offers us goes deeper than we can hope or imagine. This gift of grace should empower us with the kind of joy that makes us want to shout it out from the mountaintop.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Lately I have been considering what it means to refer to God as “Emmanuel” (God with us, Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14). I take for granted most of the time that God is actually with us. As Christians during the Christmas holiday we affirm this truth about God’s grace and since I don’t have any upcoming exams or papers to write, I’m free to ponder a loving God who refuses to leave us alone, especially when we need him the most.

I consider myself blessed to have the good fortune of seeing God’s grace firsthand at different points in my life. In good times and bad and even within the mundane moments of life, God reminds me He is always present and participating in our world and invites me to do the same.

One of the most significant religious experiences of my life occurred nearly ten years ago. At the time I worked for an Information Technology services company as a recruiter. I detested my job. Mostly I was upset with myself because I was never able to achieve the “work-life” balance that the company preached but never practiced themselves. Most of my co-workers (including me) worked late hours to get ahead of our competition at the expense of our personal lives. The tension of wanting to provide for my family and also spend time with them seemed unbearable. The competitive nature of my work led me to believe that while I worked for this company, I could not support my family and also hang out with them. The two ideas were mutually exclusive from one another.

One afternoon I remember sitting on my back porch brooding over this unceasing tension of needing to support a family and wanting to also spend time with them. My two daughters played close by in the backyard. Ironically, I should have been present to them, enjoying their company like the good father that I hoped to become some day, and yet I could not think of anything but work. I loathed myself for not being the dad I wanted to be and out of desperation and frustration I prayed to God to show me a way out of this mess.

In the next moment, my oldest daughter Hailey, who was five years old at the time, pranced up on the porch in her joyful play and exclaimed to me, “Dad, I think God wants you to do exactly what is in your heart.” Then she left to join her sister in the back yard as quickly as she came to me.

Her words hit me like a ton of bricks. Seemingly she possessed a profound sense of what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “… it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20a). The shock of praying silently and then receiving an immediate response brought me to tears. Until Hailey’s advice, I had not thought to listen to the voice of Christ who lives in me. I realized that in my misguided efforts to support my family, I never considered whom I aimed to please. Instead of trying to please God, I tried to please too many other people. Instead of listening to the voice of God’s Holy Spirit, I listened to the voices of others. Instead of grounding my hope in God’s word, I trusted the word of successful business people who seemed to have life all figured out. I believe to this day that God used Hailey as a conduit to reach me. She reminded me that God is near in times of desperation as well as times of joy. That afternoon changed the trajectory of my life.

Since that time I learned that religious experiences happen every day as we seek communion with the One who is Emmanuel, especially during the mundane times of our lives. Recently, as I drove my eight year-old Abigail to school, I noticed God’s presence once again within the ordinary, repetitious parts of life. As I passed all the human-made structures around me (buildings, restaurants, cars, sidewalks, and so on) I lifted my eyes upward and fixated on a brilliant, multi-colored, and breath-taking sky. Immediately, my contemplation turned to God. That moment reminded me of the Psalmist’s words of praise saying, “This is the day the Lord has made… The Lord is God and he has given us light” (Psalm 118:24a, 27a). God’s presence in the ordinary brought me once again to tears.

Today I walk humbly in the knowledge that I am never far from God’s presence. He is with us in joy, in sorrow, and even during the ordinary, unremarkable times of life. This awareness leads me to praise and thanksgiving. It moves me to participate in God’s kingdom on earth to encourage others into the same faith that saved me. My prayer for all of us this Advent and Christmas season is that we encounter the One who loved us so much that He gave us the best gift of all, Jesus.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What are you looking for?

What are you looking for? This question prompts an endless number of responses. The answers vary from 'my car keys' to 'my wallet' to other questions like, 'where are you staying?' perhaps.

In my spiritual formation group at seminary our leader asked us to consider this question, "what are you looking for?" Having not given it much thought recently, I am unsure how to answer. The answers seem to vary according to circumstances. Last week I was looking for a break from school. Now that I am midway through that much needed, weeklong break from classes I am already looking for an improbable second week away from the every day rigor of life in divinity school. Looking back over the last semester and a half I could answer the question with something like, "I don't know," followed by, "What am I doing here anyway? Am I cut out for full time ministry?"

The question comes from the first chapter in the Gospel of John, when Jesus asks two disciples of John who are now following him, "what are you looking for?" Probably not knowing exactly how to answer, but at least curious enough to find out more about this man, Jesus, the two men answer, "Rabbi (or teacher), where are you staying?" Jesus doesn't tell them exactly where, but invites them on the journey with him saying, "come and see."

I am realizing more that even though I may not be able to articulate what I am looking for at the moment, I am responding to the invitation to 'come and see.' Maybe it's the mystery of the Gospel or the scandalous salvation that God offers us through Jesus or the search for truth or a combination of all the above. In any case, I possess the motivation (coming from somewhere or someOne perhaps) to make it through weeks when I have a midterm in Greek, a sermon due in Old Testament interpretation, and a paper to hand in for my other two classes, Church History and New Testament interpretation.

I submit that I am much like my youngest daughter, Carter (pictured above), who participated in her first 'Trick-or-Treating' occasion this past Halloween. I bet she didn't know exactly what she was looking for, but if she trusted and abided in her daddy, he would lead her down a path to something sweet.

Likewise, I am trusting in you, Father.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

20 Years Ago... Really?

This past weekend Cary High School class of 1990 celebrated its 20 year reunion. Twenty years ago we all graduated high school, looking forward to what the next chapter of our lives would look like. Looking back I wonder how many of us are grateful for how our lives turned out thus far. I wonder how many of us regret some things in those two decades.

This weekend we rekindled old relationships, made new friends through spouses and children, and some of us partied like we were closer to our high school age as opposed to the age we are now. Seeing many of my classmates from my youth all in one place made me feel as though it has only been a few years since that year we graduated from Cary. But the stories we shared and heard suggest that it has been at least twenty years since our high school days.

We have lived and loved. We have died and our hearts have been broken. Some of us have as many as five children (maybe more) and some of us have none. Some of us have parents who are still together and some of us have parents who have split. Some of us have lost a parent or both. Some of us have been happily married for a dozen years or more and some of us have divorced once, maybe twice already. Some of us are single and like it that way, while others are single and lonely. Some of us even have lots of people around us all the time, but constantly fight loneliness. Some of us have healthy children and some of us are caring for children with life-threatening illnesses, treating each day, each hour, each minute like it was a gift. Some of us have jobs and some of us don't. Our lives are changing every day, and yet somehow we are still the same.

This past weekend was full of fun and reflection, leading me to summarize that the last twenty years were full of paradox - laughter and tears. Indeed it reminds me of a Dave Matthews lyric, "the space between the tears we cry is the laughter that keeps us coming back for more."

My prayer for all of my classmates and their families for the next twenty years is that they will know the truth that is articulated by N. T. Wright from his book, Simply Christian. That truth is "the claim that the paradox of laughter and tears, woven as it is deep into the heart of all human experience, is woven also deep into the heart of God."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I remember a picture of John Belushi that my friend from college had hanging in his room at our fraternity house. John was looking bewildered, wearing a sweatshirt sporting the word, "college." My friend would laugh at the picture and say there were so many story lines in that photograph that the commentary could go on forever.

Owen and I made it to "college" yesterday evening in Boone, NC to visit some students who go to our church and some who don't. This trip is part of a three-day, three-stop tour to visit folks on the western part of our great state and who also go to our church. Yesterday we had dinner with seven students and just talked about life for awhile. It was a good time catching up with folks and meeting some new friends.

And the purpose for our little trip? To be in relationship. To let them know someone else cares about them; who they are; and who they want to become. College is an exciting time; full of exploration, adventure, independence and pressure. I want them to know that we are there to support them; to be in relationship with them; to participate in their story lines.

And isn't that what God called us to do - to participate in each others' lives? He created this beautiful life, full of ups, downs, joy, sorrow, pleasure and pain; and He wanted us to know that no matter what, He would not let us go through it alone.

So we surround each other in love, continuing to participate in each others' stories. The stories that are our lives. To Jennah, Eric, and Geoff, I had a great time catching up and I hope to see you all again very soon. And to Brady, Samantha, Jim, Blakely, Emily, and Andrew; it was great meeting you all and I hope we can do it again soon.

On to Asheville and Charlotte!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Abby's Sick Day: Part 2

Abigail woke up later this morning than the past two mornings with no fever. Yay! So she's playing hooky for one more day to ensure that she is well enough to go to school tomorrow. (The only thing she really cares about is that she is healthy enough to trick-or-treat on Saturday.)

We have spent our day reading books to Carter, watching TV, discovering our appetites again, cutting pomegranate (it was the first time for the both of us and I hope my wife can get the stains out of my T-shirt) and taking in a Shrek movie on DVD - the Christmas one of course. Trace Adkins is right. I'm gonna miss this.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Abby's Sick Day

We found out on Saturday that Abby has "pink eye." The doctor at the urgent care facility we visited in Fuquay said that after she has the prescribed antibiotic eye drops for 24 hours, she shouldn't be contagious. Since Saturday her eyes have gotten better but she is showing more cold symptoms including a low-grade fever. By Wake County's school policy this means she gets to stay home with her unemployed dad and her baby sister Carter. We haven't accomplished a whole lot today, but we have enjoyed spending the lazy time together. The picture to the right is of Abby and the 'comforter' a.k.a. Buster. He's a great companion for sick days.

If Abby had not been sick, her unemployed father could have spent the time job searching, networking, applying for jobs, or some other activity that would lead me to that all important next step in my career. This inconvenient detour of the aforementioned goal of securing another job was... welcome. I hope I cherish all the time we have spent together.