Caring For The Sparrows

I’d been planning this weekend awhile. The kids are both gone on their mission trip, and so I was going to take Mary up to New York City. She’d never been to see a Broadway show, and the son of my brother-from-another-mother was in his third Broadway production. It would be a marvelous weekend.

Until it started coming apart. Ben’s show got cancelled, after we had already bought the (nonrefundable) airline tickets. So we were going anyway, I figured, might as well see a different musical–and besides, the point was for us to do something together, for me to take her to a show, not just to see Ben.

The day of the flight, lots of running around, but eventually, to the airport in plenty of time…to have our flight get delayed. And delayed again. And delayed a third time. And then cancelled. Seems weather was getting in the way of lots of traffic up and down the East Coast. There weren’t going to be any more flights to La Guardia tonight, and the auto-reroute offer from the airline had us staying home overnight and catching an 8am flight. But then we’d lose out on the hotel room, which we’d already paid for…

We started looking at options. I got in line to spring our suitcase from baggage, and we started looking at train options to get there tonight. And I could just see where this was going: either we have to wait for a flight tomorrow and lose out on the hotel cost, or we have to spring for hundreds of dollars in train tickets. The voice of resignation was pretty loud in my head. And let’s face it, that’s certainly been my experience. Yours too?

But when we got to the front of the line, miracle of miracles, the airline made us a different offer: instead of La Guardia tomorrow, they could put us on the delayed flight to Kennedy still tonight. It’d be late, but we could still get there, still get to our hotel, and still begin our weekend together in Manhattan.

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? (Matthew 6:26-27) But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. […] So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. (Matthew 10:29b, 31)

Two facts: First, the good is always opposed. Love is opposed, and so an opportunity for the two of us to spend time together and add to the structure of our 23-year marriage…I should have foreseen that it would have been opposed. And second: God does take care of us. He’s promised we’re worth more than the sparrows, we’re worth so much to him that he sent his son Jesus to die for us. But we still refuse to believe it.

We’ve been wrestling with some big questions in our family lately, questions about life directions and key changes we may make to ourw ay of living. And in those as well, I’ve heard Jesus whispering, “What was that thing I taught you about the sparrows? Do you trust me yet?”

We got to our hotel room at 2:30 the next morning, after still more delays. But we were there. We listened to the voice reassuring us that there is a plan and it is good. And you know what? We had a great weekend. Seeing Wicked on Broadway is just a great experience. And we could build more bonds in our marriage, and still make it back in time to welcome the kids home. God is good, all the time.

Here’s A Conundrum…

I was late walking the dog tonight. I usually take her out around 9, but for various reasons it was closer to 10:30 when we were on our bedtime routine.

We came across a house with a truck in the driveway. The truck’s interior cab light was on. However, the only light on in the house was the light over the kitchen sink–the one you leave on when you head up to bed, right?

What’s the Christian response to this?

Do I ring the bell or knock, and annoy and disturb people–possibly wake them, who knows? Or do I keep walking–perhaps the cab light has one of those timers, and goes out on its own in awhile?

How much do I get involved?

Come, Lord Jesus, Come

Paris. Brussels. Ferguson. Baltimore. Nice. Dallas. Istanbul. Baton Rouge.

So much pain. So much anger. So little coming together, until after the violence. So quickly we become inured to seeing another city on the news.

Jesus understands pain. He was as human as we are, and he suffered unlike any of us ever have or ever will. He knows the pain behind the rage.

But he is not the rage. Instead, he weeps at our rage. He weeps at our brokenness, at our insistence on turning to something other than to him and the Father when we confront the brokenness of our world and of each other.

Jesus’ heart is shattered by Paris, Brussels, Ferguson, Baltimore, Nice, Dallas, Istanbul, Baton Rouge, and any of a thousand other places where we insist on taking out our pain on one another, instead of taking it to him.

Lord Jesus, you promised that you would make all things new. We can hardly wait. Our world is on fire, and we need your healing touch. Come, Lord Jesus. Come into our hearts, restore our balance and our awareness of each other. Renew in us your forgiveness, and teach us once again to forgive one another.

Come, Lord Jesus. Just come.

Amen.

Creatures of Habit

The line between a something that’s a habit and something that’s part of your character is a thin one. There are many things I do regularly: is brushing my teeth a habit, or part of my character? Well, the action is a habit; the character bit is taking care of myself. How about mowing the lawn? I do it habitually, but the character piece is keeping the house up to standards.

How about the stuff that’s not so good? What do my bad habits say about me? If I have a glass of wine with dinners, does that make me an alcoholic? How about my sins: when I get selfish or thoughtless, or worse, does that define me?

Paul reminds the church at Rome that the answer is NO. We are no longer defined by our sins, as new creatures in Christ.

So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. […] Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 7:14-15, 24-25a)

Nonetheless, we are such creatures of habit. And when we’re taken out of our routines, the changes can make it hard to take up those habits again. Take vacations, for example. Normally, I use some of my morning commute as prayer time; it’s become my routine, my habit. But on vacation, my habits are rearranged: I’m not commuting, so I lose that time I’ve set aside in prayer. I have to make a conscious choice to pray at other times in the day, which is awkward at first because it’s different and outside my comfortable habit.

God understands us better than we give him credit for. He knows each of us, individually and intimately. He understands the power of our habits, and how difficult it is for us to break our bad ones. Fortunately for us, he has given us the possibility of new life in Christ, who can make all things new within us.

If you’ve ever tried to break a habit on your own, you know it’s not easy. The good news is, you don’t have to: You were never meant to bear your sins beyond the cross. Jesus can come into a life and, where the habit has been too strong, he is able to break it and fulfill his promise of new life. Now if that’s not good news, I don’t know what is!

“Let There Be No Divisions In The Church.”

appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. […] All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is part of it. (1 Corinthians 1:10-11, 12:27)

In the middle of the 19th century, one Daniel Keenan emigrated from Ireland to America where he set up his young family in eastern Vermont. Six generations later, his four-times-great-granddaughter said Yes to my proposal, and became my bride. Twenty-plus years on, and we are now in Ireland touring with the kids to show them the place where mom’s family came from, as part of our son’s graduation celebrations from high school.

According to what Mary can find, Daniel hailed from “Greencastle Parish, Belfast, County Antrim.” We made it a point to try to find Greencastle, to see if we could find the church or the town hall and see if there were any more records we could locate about Daniel, because her trail grows cold here: we don’t know his parents, or any other relatives. According to Google, Greencastle Parish is on the north side of Belfast, and this morning we went for a look.

On driving into Northern Ireland from the Republic to the south, one notices almost immediately the plethora of flags and symbols of Northern Ireland’s connection to the UK. But it’s when we got into the neighborhood that things really got intense. Greencastle, in a word, felt intimidating, with its superabundance of Union Jacks and Northern Irish flags, and not least a huge mural (see photo) on the side of a building overlooking the main street: “North Belfast: Prepared for Peace, Ready for War.” It gave every sign of being a neighborhood ripe for sectarian violence, and it appears to be a Protestant neighborhood in some proximity to a Catholic one to the west.

belfast

I had really hoped to have avoided this on the visit. I had hoped we could find a pleasant place, where we could find some kindly soul to help us through dusty archives to find more about Daniel. But instead, the apartment blocks glowered with their flags, the mural threatened with its armed figures, and the whole stretch of the place seemed completely, utterly uninviting. We drove the main street, Shore Road, two or three times, looking for anything that could have been helpful. We didn’t find a thing.

On the one hand, it’s disappointing in that my wife wasn’t able to find anything to help in tracing her family roots. All the more, it’s a shame the kids had to see such rawness and intimidation on display. But worst of all, it demonstrates the continuing utter failure of Christ’s people to come together as one.

Paul had had it with the pettiness of the divisions of the young church at Corinth. He wrote passionately in his first letter to them, trying to convince them that there is only one church, and that we are all called to be part of it. Unfortunately, it looks as if two millennia on, we are still wrestling with the shattering divisions that started even then. From our nice, comfy, adjusted perches in the States, we don’t see Greencastle as our reality: we mix well with Baptists, Lutherans, Episcopals, Methodists, and yes, Catholics. Unfortunately, however, Greencastle is real, and seeing it on display this morning deeply disturbed me.

We try to make our divisions a laughing matter. Comedian Emo Phillips tells a wonderful story about coming across a man about to jump off a bridge. Emo talks with the man and as the story goes along, discovers that they share so much of an identity: just as the story climaxes, they are not only Christians, but Protestants, and Baptists, and Northern Baptists, and Northern Conservative Baptists, and Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptists, and Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptists Great Lakes Region. But it’s when the man says he is from the Great Lakes Region Council of 1912, instead of the Council of 1879, that Emo yells “Die, heretic!” and pushes him off the bridge.

We laugh, but as Greencastle shows, it’s really not funny. Christ came for each of us. He came to die for your sins, just as much as mine. He didn’t come to establish a range of religions, he came to preach repentance and that the Kingdom of God is here, now, available to everyone. My heart broke a little today for what his must do each day we go on putting up walls between us, instead of uniting to truly become his hands and feet in the world.

May we find our way, Lord, may we come together and truly be at peace, never ready for war in your name. Amen.