“If God is God, then Why do Bad Things Happen?”

This past Sunday, Pastor Don continued his vacation (first time in f-o-r-e-v-e-r he had more than a week off, so good for him!), and I led worship once again. This was the culmination of our sermon series on Questions–the ones that people ask, about God and about faith. And this week was the mother of them all: if God is God, then why do bad things happen?

Here’s the link to the sermon itself; below is the picture that was displayed at the beginning of the sermon (so you can see who these people are), and here’s the link the Switch’s song, Symphony, that I reference at the end.

Let me know what you think!

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What Mark Has To Say About Followership

When we think about what Jesus did on earth, we come up with a pretty good list: healed the sick, fed the hungry, healed the blind…but on that last one, interestingly, in Mark’s Gospel, there are only two occasions in which Jesus is shown healing a blind man. What does each of those episodes teach us about Jesus, and about how we’re supposed to follow him as disciples?

That was the topic of my second sermon as Associate Pastor at Sydenstricker UMC. This weekend coming up, I’ll also be on duty–and addressing the tough questions that get asked in the aftermath of an El Paso or any of a host of other situations: if God is God, then why does this happen?

Anyway, that’s for next week. Here’s this week’s sermon: click here to listen and then leave a comment–what do you think?

What Would *You* Say?

This morning, I picked up two slugs on my way to work. For those not from northern Virginia, “slugging” is the practice whereby a driver (me) picks up two volunteers from a designated place and thereby forms a carpool that can use the carpool lanes in rush hour. There are longstanding rules to slugging: the driver controls the radio station, no money ever changes hands, no smoking or eating…and, the slugs do not talk, out of respect for the fact that this could be the driver’s one and only quiet time of the day.

This morning’s slugs broke the last rule–and it didn’t bother me. Here’s what happened. They clearly knew each other, as they were discussing their weekends before we really ever got out of the parking lot. The man had been to a garden center over the weekend for season-clearance plants, and the woman expressed an interest in doing that…but then allowed as how this might not be the year to do that, as she’s beginning the process of getting divorced and will be moving.

The rest of the drive was spent with the two of them talking about her situation. Evidently there’s a pre-teen child involved, and a trial separation has been underway, and whether her child would need counseling, and her need to find new friends. It didn’t sound like any significant degree of abuse was taking place, which is a relief, but of course there is always emotional trauma in these situations. I was silent, but my heart went out to the family, especially that child. You see, I was 12 myself when my parents separated; it’s not a stretch to say the effects of that lingered another couple of decades, and affected how I related to women throughout college and into my marriage.

So what’s an Associate Pastor to do in that situation? Do I speak up and offer a word? Or maintain silence and just be in prayer for them all? Clearly, from her voice, there is pain about what’s happening; just as clearly, “it’s not my place” comes to mind. If our church had a robust divorced-persons ministry that could be a resource for her, I could have offered that–but we don’t.

What I wound up doing was, when she exited the car downtown, thanking her for coming along for the ride (as is customary), and then adding that I wished her well in her situation. But also left with a nagging feeling–was that enough? I’m supposed to bring healing into the broken; did I fall short?

What do you think?

#letsgo

This weekend was the 237th Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in Roanoke–and my first, ever–and the one at which I became, officially, the Rev. Eric Kleppinger.

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When I first began pondering this path, nearly two years ago, I had absolutely zero expectation that if I found myself here, it would be this quickly. I thought, maybe in another seven years when I reach retirement age…maybe. But I have been at times blown away by how robustly God is clearing a path for me to “go, therefore, and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19).

So how was Conference? Lots of words come to mind. Intense: at one point I was talking about an event that happened only the day before, but it felt like d-a-y-s ago. Affirming: it felt right to be in the clergy session, it felt right to wear the white namebadge of a clergy member, and I was reaffirmed by the presence and love of so many of my licensing-school friends.

Some vignettes:

  • Thursday night, the night before the licensing ceremony, I didn’t sleep well. Woke up about 2 in the morning and couldn’t fall asleep for a couple of hours. Kept having memories of various steps along this path brought to mind: Music Camp 1984, Lincolnia and the saints there who helped get me started, etc., etc. At one point I told Jesus, “I get it, you’re excited too. But c’mon, I need some sleep here!”
  • One of my L-school friends drove directly to the clergy session the first morning, at which we were being officially voted in as local licensed pastors. He arrived in a T-shirt and jeans, not realizing everyone else was a little more dressed up. I gave him my sport coat, and while the fit wasn’t perfect, he could at least go on stage more comfortably. Looked pretty decent, too!
  • The atmosphere among us about-to-be-licensed pastors in the tunnel under the coliseum awaiting the procession in: it felt like a high school graduation. We’re all excited, taking selfies and pictures, a knot of happy about-to-be-licensed pastors. All the other groups were politely and demurely lined up. I hope we never lose that spiritedness.
  • The old poli-sci major in me got to geek out a bit at all the parliamentary procedure in the discussion of motions and voting and etc. But not so much that I wanted to engage with it, let alone go back to that world.
  • I can’t emphasize enough how great it was to have been surrounded at Conference by Mary, David and Sarah, and by Don and Bonnie Jamison and Don Curry. Not only were the Jamisons able to give us tips on conference procedures and the best places to get lunch, but having them present made it special in another way. And for David and Sarah to make the trek down to stand with me…absolutely priceless. I can’t do this without all their support and love.

People kept asking me how it felt, and I have to confess, it didn’t feel overwhelming. Perhaps that’s what they were expecting? It felt momentous, it felt very real, it felt affirming–but in the end, the phrase that kept coming to mind was, #letsgo. Let’s get to it, let’s get going, let’s go and make those disciples.

After we stood on stage and Bishop Weaver blessed us, we headed off and were handed our licenses and credentials as we left the stage. It truly is official now! So #letsgo!

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Rhythms

Ever notice the rhythms of life and how seasons come and go at different paces?

The spring had been a whirlwind: busy at work, to be sure, but also two classes that were very demanding in terms of the time spent each week. Then there was an Emmaus weekend to team on, and the Virginia Conference‘s Licensing School to attend, all before we bid farewell to May.

June feels different already. My two summer classes don’t feel as oppressive in terms of their demands on my time; last week I could actually sit with Mary and watch episodes of Doctor Who for the first time since January. Yeah, literally that long since I had watched anything for funsies on TV. Sad, right?

In fact, one of the classes, Life of Prayer, is pretty intentionally forcing me to take life at a different pace. One of the books we’re reading. Mark Moore’s The Rhythm of Prayer, actively refuses to be read at one sitting. It’s designed to be a forty-day course in prayer, ushering us through liturgies that slow us, calm us, and allow us to be in connection with God in different ways. And my other class, Church History 1, is doing everything it can to make life simple. We already have the first test’s essay questions available to us, so we can begin taking notes that contribute towards those. Such a difference in tone from last term!

It’s rhythms like this that reassure me of God’s sovereignty. Sure, there are seasons where we’re running flat out and our friends and family are telling us they’re worried because we’re gaining weight or don’t seem able to relax. But then they’re followed by seasons of relative repose, where we can see our way to enjoy a Doctor Who marathon, or drinks out with friends, or even an early evening sitting on the deck listening to the neighborhood kids have a water balloon fight. In those moments God is reminding us, he’s the one in charge, and if we have faith in him to see us through the crazy days, there are quieter ones he will provide for us as well. Ours is a God who truly loves to love on us, if only we join him in the rhythms he has for us.

I’M PROUD OF MY DAUGHTER!

I’ve shared before how my daughter–my baby girl–has struggled with anxiety around school, to the point that she tried (and didn’t) finishing school a year early. This year, we had pulled her from the public school, to let her finish out the last few classes online; that wound up not working as well as we had hoped either.

But today, Sarah completed her journey, and has now earned her credential: she passed her last tests for her GED, two of which she passed with high enough scores that she could qualify for college credits at certain institutions. She will graduate on time, with the rest of her friends, and be able to start her next journeys.

I am SO proud of her. She has struggled these last four years, and there are plenty of times I am sure she felt she would never be done. And truth be told, I know there was a lot of frustration on our end as parents, trying to do everything we could for her because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?  And then coming to the realization that all we can do is love her, and pray for her, and with God’s help she will find a way. We knew her path might look very different from other paths…and that’s super OK. And so she won’t go on to college right now, or be a part of the public school graduation ceremony. But you know what? She’s exactly who, and where, she is supposed to be. And I can’t say enough how much I love her and am proud of her for pushing through and making it to today.

Her graduation ceremony is June 1, with a gaggle of her friends who are homeschooled; it winds up being the same day as if she had stayed in public schools. Some family are coming to be a part of the day, and it will be so thrilling to see our last, our baby, be done with school finally and officially, and on to whatever path God has in store for her.

Love my Sarah!

Agonizing Decisions: Aftermath

I wanted to return to the story I had shared in two parts about Sarah’s friend who was on the verge of eviction from his apartment, and our wrestling with what to do. Our God is good, and always working, and even added to our Easter morning joy. I was in Easter services when my phone started buzzing with messages from him. He wrote:

“[…] In the midst of getting my phone fixed, finding a place to go, getting a job and all the other day to day things of life I just wasn’t able to find the words, heart or time to give you all the response you deserve. First I’d like to say, THANK YOU. Thank you so much for even considering things as seriously as you all did. I appreciate the efforts made and everything you all did to help me. Even though your answer was no, you all still made sure to give me other resources and information doing literally all you could do from your end and that means a lot because there’s very few people that have known me my whole life that will do the same. So, thank you.”

He went on to say that he’s found a place, sharing a room with a friend, and he’s found a job, working in a retail store, so he now has money coming in and is beginning to turn his life around.

God is at work in even the situations we think are hopeless. God is at work if we would just get out of his way and let him–if we would listen for where he is leading us. I am beyond grateful to hear Sarah’s friend is not on the streets, he’s safe, and he’s beginning to put things in order.  I give God all the credit for everything he’s done, and will do, to bring this young man through. And I have to give him the fist-bump for nudging him to reach out to us on Easter morning–the day love broke through ALL of the darkness and gave us the source of all our hope. Ours is an incredible God!