Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Witnessing in Strange Places

I just got back from the wedding of one of Jama's nieces.  Caitlin is a wonderful girl who is studying for a PhD in linguistics -- Icelandic, to be precise.   The wedding was unusual because the groom is from a Catholic-Jewish background and Caitlin is from an agnostic-Catholic family.  But Caitlin and Joel found one another in this PhD program and fell in love.  They also joined the local Friends Meeting, which is where they were married.  Though there is no stated theology that I can see, a Friends (Quaker) wedding has some aspects to be greatly admired, especially the time of sharing that went on for about 45 minutes during which anyone who had a "message" from God for the couple could say pretty much anything they wanted to in order to bless the wedding.  Imagine if we orthodox believers instituted that practice?  We do something like that at funerals sometimes, but I'd much rather have people share things they thought would be valuable for me and my bride to hear when I'm alive.

The reception was held at an Irish pub in downtown Philadelphia.  The pub has a live "session" (a group playing traditional Irish folk music by the fire) on Sunday nights, and our party was held on a balcony overlooking the main floor.  It was a jolly family time, and the first chance Jama had to see all of her brothers and their children in one place since her father died back in 2002.

Toward the end of the reception I was standing by the bar giving Jama a bit of time to chat with her older brother, Sheldon, when his son Brendan walked up and engaged me in conversation.  He was pretty drunk, which probably is the reason he was so open to what followed.  He started by asking me about my job and what I was doing, but the conversation very quickly turned to my talking about Jesus and what it means to have God call you to do something.   We talked for about 20 minutes until the reception really broke up and it was time to head back to our hotels.  But a door was opened for the gospel.  I don't know if Brendan will be open to continuing the conversation online (I now have his email address) when  not at an occasion fired by good feelings and whiskey, but I've always connected well with him when we've met, and I hope the Lord will give me that opportunity.

There's a reason why Paul tells us not to get drunk with wine.   We should never put ourselves in a position where we are disabled when the opportunity comes to witness to Christ.  You never know when that moment may arise, even in an Irish Pub at a wedding reception.

"The next day* there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.  The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”
 “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”
 But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
 Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons.*  Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled,  he said,“Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.
 When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over.  10 “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”
 11 This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him."


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Value of Humiliation

Most of us, I think, would say that one thing we'd rather not experience in our lives is humiliation.  The times I've been humiliated have been some of the worst moments in my entire life.  There are very specific feeling associated with being humiliated -- none of them are very good.  Humiliation is also something we usually think of as the end of a long slide into sin in some way.  The person who has been doing something they know they shouldn't for a long time... and the amount or level of it has grown... and finally they can't keep it hidden any longer.  That's how most of us get humiliated.

Can humiliation be a good thing?  Here's a passage from Ecclesiasticus, from the Old Testament Apocrypha (a group of books that was not fully included in Scripture back when the 'canon' was established.  These were considered 'inspired', but not at the same level as what was included)

Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10,13-14

Let us now sing the praises of famous men,
our ancestors in their generations.
The Lord apportioned to them great glory,
his majesty from the beginning.
There were those who ruled in their kingdoms,
and made a name for themselves by their valor;
those who gave counsel because they were intelligent;
those who spoke in prophetic oracles;
those who led the people by their counsels
and by their knowledge of the people's lore;
they were wise in their words of instruction;
those who composed musical tunes,
or put verses in writing;
rich men endowed with resources,
living peacefully in their homes--
all these were honored in their generations,
and were the pride of their times.
Some of them have left behind a name,
so that others declare their praise.
But of others there is no memory;
they have perished as though they had never existed;
they have become as though they had never been born,
they and their children after them.
But these also were godly men,
whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;
Their offspring will continue forever,
and their glory will never be blotted out.
Their bodies are buried in peace,
but their name lives on generation after generation.
About 5 years ago my son Tim got a tattoo on his right forearm.  It is a picture of a lighthouse with waves crashing up onto the rocks at its base.  Engraved in the rocks is the greek word "Euroclydon".  Euroclydon was the foul northeast wind that blew St. Paul's boat onto the rocks at Malta.   This ultimately led to a great opening for the gospel.  Tim got the tattoo about six months after breaking up with a very long-term girlfriend.  It had been one of the saddest, most humiliating moments of his young life.  But looking back, he had realized that he would never have come back to the Lord at that point if she hadn't broken up with him.  So, the worst thing he could think of happening (her breaking up with him) turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him (re-establishing his fellowship with God).  

It is fair to say that humiliation can be the doorway into the very thing God wants to do in our lives.

In Christ,


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Meriting the Merit of Christ

If God is satisfied with the work, the work may be satisfied with itself.  -- C.S. Lewis

"This is my son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased." -- God

If I really believe, as I do, that the only basis on which I am acceptable to God is through the mediation of Christ, then I must accept as horribly true that when God looks at me, through Christ, all he ever sees is his beloved Son.  This at once makes my sin all the more terrible and the cure all the more wonderful.  It makes my sin more terrible because, in addition to deceiving whomever I have sinned against, I am found to be deceiving God as well; hiding behind his Son in order to enjoy my every desire.  It makes the cure more wonderful because the constancy of his love in the face of my betrayal drives me to the cross for such complete absolution that I can never hope to make myself worthy of.  Now I understand what David was experiencing when he wrote Psalm 51.  Now 1 John 1:9 makes sense!

The idea that, by any work or goodness of my own I can become any more acceptable to God than he has already made me hearkens back to the Pelagianism of the late Middle Ages.  Remember Luther's reaction to that:   "The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us ... Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31) -- Luther: Smalclad Articles

Glory to God in the highest!


Monday, October 12, 2009

I was reading "The Great Divorce", by C.S. Lewis today (I've read it many times, and return to it every few years). In the preface Lewis says, "You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right eye and your right hand may be among the things you have to leave behind. We are not living in a world where all road are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the cntre; rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on a biological level life is not like a river, but like a tree. It does not move toward unity, but away from it and and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil, but from other good."

What is the baggage you cannot take with you on the journey toward Christ? Becoming a pastor has taught me more about what I want than what I want to jettison. All I thought I needed before? It is fading into the distance, because I left it at a series of forks in the road I can no longer look back at and see clearly. Thank God.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

-- Robert Frost (1920)

Friday, October 2, 2009

40 years of campfires

Writing this entry, I am sitting by the firepit in my back yard watching my firepit roar as the last days of Summer wane into the beauty of Fall. I'm alone tonight. Jama has gone to visit her friend Margaret on Cape Cod. I decided to make a fire and sit and contemplate. That's something I don't do very often. I've always been a "doer". I think it is easier for me to keep in motion than to enjoy solitude.

As I sat by the fire I began to think about Israel sitting by the campfire (surely they had them) around 2100 B.C. as they wandered in the Wilderness of Sin. What was it like? We know they complained a lot about the sort of provision God had given them. I know I complain a lot about things that aren't the way I'd like them in my life. They didn't like the manna. So God gave them quail. They got tired of that, too. Every few days or weeks (we don't really know), God told them to follow a pillar of cloud (whatever that might have looked like), and even travel at night sometimes, following a pillar of fire. Then they'd camp again. I'll assume they collected wood and started a fire to cook on and to keep them safe at night. Did they ever connect it? Their fire and the fire of God? Sitting by the fire at night, did it ever occur to them that God's fire and their fire were both there for safety?

The fire is bright. The fire is warm. And I feel completely at ease here on the edge of the forest, between my home and the unknown. That's what it must have been like for them. There they sat, year after year, between their home and the unknown. Home for them had been Egypt. That's all these people had ever known. And now God, a God they weren't so sure they trusted and a God who was more and more a foreign God to them, had asked them to trust him. And so they had left their home and gone out into the wilderness. And this God who had asked them to trust him was now making them wait for a whole generation to die before letting them enter the land he had promised to their great, great, great... how many greats grandfather? What were they doing here between their home and the unknown?

Moses had heard the voice of God in a fire in a bush. They were being asked to trust that same God in a fire at night. And as they huddled by their campfires, did they learn to trust the God who is there in little ways... through 40 years of campfires?


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Jesus and the Red Sox

This morning I had one of those wonderful moments of grace happen to me, the kind where afterward you stop and thank God for smiling upon you in particular out of the 6,000,000,000 people on the planet. I snagged a pair of Red Sox tickets for tomorrow night for FREE.

I was at a gathering of pastors I go to every other week on Thursday morning. I happened to sit down next to a fellow who is a prison chaplain. About half-way through the meeting he holds up these two tickets and says, "anyone want these? There's for the last game of the season." I immediately held up my hand and said, "I'll take them!" I didn't even give a thought to the possibility than anyone else in the group might want these tickets.

There they were in my hot little hand. I couldn't believe it! After all, hadn't I prayed back in the spring that God would give Jama and me the opportunity to go to Fenway sometime this season? In fact, we had nearly bought a couple of tickets on Ebay earlier this summer because we were getting tired of waiting. I had negotiated the price and was all ready to send the $200 off when the economic realities of our life got to Jama and her wisdom prevailed. Still, we both really, really, really wanted to go to a game this season.

After I had secured the tickets I immediately felt guilty because I saw what looked like disappointment on the face of one of my good friends at the meeting. I even apologized afterward (didn't offer him the tickets though). Back in my car, after the meeting was over, I suddenly started to get excited. I called my best friend Chris, who is coming up Friday. I wanted to make sure he was planning on leaving before Saturday night. After all, friendship only goes just so far: this is the RED SOX.

The next thing I had to do was run over to the local Walmart for something. As I was walking out of the store, the thought of those Ebay tickets suddenly got hold of me and I seriously gave consideration to seeing how much I could sell them for. I love the Red Sox and would certainly be watching as Beckett takes the mound on Saturday night... but having a couple of hundred extra dollars in my pocket sounded pretty good too. But no! These are tickets to Fenway. These are RED SOX tickets. They're worth more than the cash.

I started obsessively calling Jama. I couldn't WAIT to tell her we got these tickets. But then my heart sank: Jama is going to Cape Cod this weekend and isn't planning on coming back until Sunday. Maybe she'd shorten her weekend away to come to the game. She's just as rabid of a Sox fan as I am. If she doesn't come back for the game, do I still go without her? Of course! This is the RED SOX... going is more important than who you go with -- even your wife.

Finally I checked to see what the prediction was for the game. It doesn't look good. 60% chance of showers at game time. To what lengths will I go to get to see this game? This is a Saturday night. If there's a rain delay I could end up getting back to Northwood in the middle of the night. Would I still go down even if the weather is threatening? Would I cancel my plans for Sunday afternoon if the game is postponed? Yes... yes... YES! This is more important than sleep. This is more important than driving in the rain (twice. You have to go on Saturday because they probably won't call the game off until just around game time). This is more important than ANYTHING else I might choose to do with this time.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it." (Matthew 13:44-46)

Wouldn't it be great if I valued eternal life with Christ as highly as I value going to a Sox game? Knowing him IS more important than marriage, friendship, plans, career, ministry and all the rest. The problem in my relationship with Christ has always been that I value the tickets more than the person the tickets give me access to. I have the back-stage pass, if you will, to the God of the Universe in my back pocket. And these aren't bleacher seats either. These are front-row center seats. And what do I do? I focus on how I'm getting there, who I'm going with, what the weather will be like and will I be comfortable on the way.

But this is all metaphor. Yea, the incident made me realize some things about faith. But don't get me wrong... I'm still going to see the Red Sox on Saturday night.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Haji Ali's Lesson

A couple of weeks ago I was handed this quote on a xeroxed page by one of our church members. It floated around my desk unread, until this morning. I was hurriedly trying to get to the bottom of the pile so I could feel I had accomplished something and was madly throwing things from publishing houses and the vacant pleas for money that come to a pastor from every direction, usually under the cover "Current Occupant..."

The quote is from the book Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson (c. 2007, Penguin Press). The book jacket reads, in part, "The astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his humanitarian campaign to use education to combat terrorism in the Taliban's backyard. Anyone who despairs of the individual's power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan's treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school."

Boy, did I feel convicted that I didn't read it before now! Listen to what Mortenson says:

"Haji Ali spoke. ‘If you want to thrive in Baltistan, you must respect our ways," Haji Ali said, blowing on his bowl. The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die," he said, laying his hand warmly on Mortenson's own. "Doctor Greg, you must take time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated but we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time."

"That day, Haji Ali taught me the most important lesson I’ve ever learned in my life," Mortenson says. "We Americans think you have to accomplish everything quickly. We're the country of thirty-minute power lunches and two-minute football drills. Our leaders thought their 'shock and awe' campaign could end the war in Iraq before it even started. Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them."

My great thanks to the person who gave me this. All of you can continue the dialog merely by replying to this post. Click on "comment".

Outline from 1 Thessalonians 5

Some folks in our congregation have been asking for the outline from our recently completed series in 1 Thessalonians. At Nottingham Congregational Christian Church we've been talking a lot about four pillars of the church: Conviction, Community, Communication, and Call, with Christ being the Cornerstone. While I don't have the entire book outline available, I thought I'd throw the last chapter up here. If anyone has any questions or wants to discuss some of these topics, please chime in!

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28: Four Pillars, Revisited

This plan for the church is something the World knows nothing about. What Paul closes this letter with is a scandal to our latter-day sensibilities.

1) Leadership (Call)

a) be aware of (those who labor among you)

b) Submit to your leadership (and are over you)

c) Listen for Encouragement from your leadership (and admonish you)... the combination of a, b, and c leads to...

d) Esteem

2) Fellowship (Community)

a) Peace (eager to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace)... how we do it:

b) admonishment

c) encouragement

d) help

e) patience

f) payment (pay against kind when necessary)

3) Discipleship (Communication)

a) rejoice

b) pray

c) give thanks

d) listen (be open to the Spirit)

e) avoid evil

4) Sovereignty (Conviction)

a) God is Faithful

b) God is Able

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Welcome back to The Morning Watch!

Welcome back to The Morning Watch!

Actually, you haven't gone anywhere. I've been busy, but that's another story. The fact is that doing a daily blog that is also your daily devotional can easily get delayed and delayed and... well you understand. Today is different though. Our church is going "online" in a big new way today. We're launching our new website ( to coincide with our Fall Kickoff. So look over the website and talk to me. I love feedback and I'd love to talk with you about anything that's on your mind. Pick a topic and we'll discuss. I'll be posting most days, so don't be afraid to leave something any day of the week. And remember -- this is going out to the whole world, so you could generate a ton of feedback if you come up with a good topic!

Yours in Christ,


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

February 23, 2009 Defiled

READ: Matthew 15:10-20
10 And he called the people to him and said to them, Hear and understand:
11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.
12 Then the disciples came and said to him, Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?
13 He answered, Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.
14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.
15 But Peter said to him, Explain the parable to us.
16 And he said, Are you also still without understanding?
17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?
18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.
19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.

One of the hardest things I've ever had to face has been taming my own tongue. I've been a believer over 30 years now and I'd have to say I'm just now grappling with all the things I've said. The really dangerous stuff has all been things I thought and then put voice to. The worst part, I guess, is that when you are defiled in mind -- dirtied by your own mental dirt -- just like any other sin you justify it. Well, I'm done with that. In these last months I have found myself for the first time able to rest in the repentance that always eluded me. I think it may be a combination of being older and of receiving a call to a new place. Mostly I think it is simply God in his grace and glory telling me now is the time. Now is the day of Salvation, as the Scripture says.

Wow. Praise God for HIS inexpressible gift!


February 21, 2009 Traditions

READ: Matthew 15:1-9
1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,
2 Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.
3 He answered them, And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
4 For God commanded, Honor your father and your mother, and, Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.
5 But you say, If anyone tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God,
6 he need not honor his father. So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.
7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
8 “This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

Psalm 108 begins with these words:
1 My heart is steadfast, O God!
I will sing and make melody with all my being!
2 Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
3 I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
4 For your steadfast love is great above the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

As a pastor, the thing I fear above all else is that I will find myself in the pulpit or in front of God's people teaching as coming from God what is really just the musings of my own heart. I am a musician by training. I have stood on stages in all capacities. I have performed drama, opera, oratorio, sung in church and secular settings alike. And like all who enjoy the art of performance my goal is to erase the line between script and reality, between the spots on a page and the heart of the music. There is a level of musicianship and a level of dramatic training where the audience has a hard time telling whether the person on stage is acting or not. But the best performances are the unrepeatable ones. The best performances are the ones where the performer has become his own audience and is experiencing what the character is experiencing and yet is still in full command. In faith, and especially in the leadership of worship, that last level of acting is the greatest hypocrisy. The things the leader is doing have become real, from a certain angle. But they are not real because the leader is still acting, is still in control, and has not let the Lord really own him. He has convinced the audience and even himself (on a certain level) that what he is portraying is real, and it is not. Real, by definition, is unselfconscious.

Oh God. I am self-conscious and I know that I am self-conscious. I find it hard to relax in front of your people and just be with you. I find it just as hard when I am alone. And here I am, writing this piece... for whom? Lord, be my Lord today and take away my awareness of the audience that I feel is watching me and not you.


February 20, 2009 Faith

READ: Matthew 14:22-36
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,
24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.
26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, It is a ghost! and they cried out in fear.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.

28 And Peter answered him, Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.
29 He said, Come. So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.
30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, Lord, save me.
31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, O you of little faith, why did you doubt?
32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, Truly you are the Son of God.

34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.
35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick
36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.

The text says that immediately after Jesus fed the 5000 he sent the disciples away in the boat. Now, in those days “immediately” could mean just about anything from “right away” to “later that day”. Jesus came walking on the water during the "fourth watch" of the night. The ancient Hebrews only divided their night into three parts (evening, midnight, morning). Once Rome took over the fourth watch was apparently added as a division, based on their military practice of changing guards four times a night to keep them sharp in the middle of the night. The fourth watch was the time just before dawn.

I’d like to imply something here and see if it makes sense. We know from yesterday’s reading that it was late in the day when Jesus dismissed the crowd. Since you’d be pretty much of a fool to set off in a boat at night, it can’t have been the disciples’ intention to be out there at night. My guess is they were figuring on a relatively short run back to the safe harbor of Capernaum. They were sailing toward the sunset that day, and may have figured they could make it by dark. (Text message from Peter to wife: “I should be home for dinner”)

So now it is five in the morning and the wind has been against you all night. You’ve been rowing when you should have been able to just have a pleasure sail across the short end of the lake. You are wet, cold, and really, really tired. That’s when you see… a ghost. What is your natural response?

I think the disciples were about to do what the crew of the boat Jonah was in did: they were about to revert to the pagan beliefs of the day and ask the question “who has sinned here that we are about to drown? We need to throw someone overboard to appease the gods.” Peter is doing quite a brave thing here by offering to be the sacrifice to the god of the sea. I don’t know how much confidence Peter had when he stepped out of the boat that this really was Jesus, but I think he reasoned that if someone didn’t go whatever the apparition was would come and get them all.

Peter steps out of the boat, and for a moment everything is great. That’s when Peter looks down and actually realizes he’s walking on water.

So here’s the thing I find really amazing that I hadn’t seen until this reading: Peter starts by saying to Jesus, “IF it is you… command me to come to you on the water.” Contrast that statement with Peter, after the resurrection, in a boat, seeing the risen Christ on the shore and saying to John, “It is the Lord…”

Peter didn’t know, know, KNOW that this was Jesus when he stepped out of the boat. This was one of those moments anyone has with Jesus when they think he’s asking them to do something, but aren’t quite sure it is he. We reason that nothing is gained if nothing is ventured. It isn’t until Peter is out on the water that faith comes into play. It isn’t even in Peter WALKING on the water that faith is exercised, since he’s merely obeying what the Jesus he can see right in front of him asked him to do. The faith comes in when Peter realizes he’s walking on water and then, despite the evidence of his own eyes, he begins to sink.

“This isn’t how this is supposed to go,” Peter reasons. “Jesus called me to walk to him. I’m merely obeying what I was asked to do. The water should hold me up all the way until I’m safe in his arms and can VERIFY that this is Jesus.”

Why then is he sinking? Because, as Jesus says to the disciples later on, Peter is a man of little faith indeed. Peter really wants things to operate according to the way he expects they will. The moment he begins to exercise faith is the moment he sinks and cries out, “Lord, save me!” without any verification that this really is Jesus.


February 19, 2009 Provision

READ: Matthew 14:13-21
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.
16 But Jesus said, They need not go away; you give them something to eat.
17 They said to him, We have only five loaves here and two fish.
18 And he said, Bring them here to me.
19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.
21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Whenever I read passages like this one I find myself fighting not to cast the scene in some sort of Salvador Dali print. What I mean by this is the sort of representational picture that Dali's Last Supper is. We've all seen the picture: Jesus stands at table not in any way in contact with the elements of communion. He points heavenward with his right hand. His left hand is against his chest, indicating he is in the middle of saying something about himself. The eleven disciples (Judas has already left) have their heads bowed in prayer. Above is the shadow of Jesus' naked upper torso, his hands spread wide presumably signifying some sort of universal salvation of the come-all-ye variety. The effect of the whole is entirely etherial and other-worldly. This is not just an upper room in First Century Jerusalem, this is a room in heaven itself. (Do take the time to call the print up on Google Images, it is worth meditating on it)

In my mind's eye, my Dali-esque version of the feeding of the 5,000 is a scene on a meadowed hill with Jesus sitting on some sort of furniture indicating his importance in the picture. The disciples each hold half-a-loaf and a piece of trout (pan seared, cajun, of course) and stand in a perfect semi-circle just below Jesus on the hillside. While there definitely are crowds there, they haven't made it into the picture because, as I said, this is representational art. Floating in the sky overhead there is either a shepherd's crook or perhaps a cross of some sort to complete the again other-worldly scene.

All of this museum-going guards me from having to come in contact with the realities of the situation:

This was a desolate place. That word "desolate" is really interesting. Here's a survey of what the word "eramos" (desolate) means in the Bible:

1) solitary, lonely, desolate, uninhabited
a) used of places
1) a desert, wilderness
2) deserted places, lonely regions
3) an uncultivated region fit for pasturage
b) used of persons
1) deserted by others
2) deprived of the aid and protection of others, especially of friends and kindred
3) bereft
a) of a flock deserted by the shepherd
b) of a woman neglected by her husband, from whom the husband withholds

In 2006 I traveled with my son Tim and two of his friends to Rachel, NV, which is about 120 miles north of Las Vegas. We went there because that is as close as you can get to a military installation at Groom Lake, a dry lake-bed, presumably where Area 51 is located. It was all great fun inspired by Tim's boyhood interest in all things Alien. About 60 miles above Las Vegas there is a gas station/convenience mart. Just past the station is a sign that warns you not to go any further without a full tank of gas, water, and provisions. From that point all the way to Rachel (which does NOT have a gas station) we did not pass a single car, house, electric wire, or anything else that might indicate civilization. "Downtown Rachel" is populated by 36 people who all live in portable trailers. THIS is a desolate place, and the few people we met there were definitely desolated people. I'm sure there are more remote places on the planet, but I doubt I'll ever see them.

The thing to note about Rachel, NV is that it isn't pretty. It isn't clean. It isn't etherial. It isn't heavenly. This is an all-too-real place that is kind of scary for how far out from civilization it is. Jesus sat down in the middle of just such a desolate place and ministered to 5,000 desolated people who would have gladly gone to sleep hungry and cold that night just for the chance to see Jesus. They had literally dropped everything and gone running out into a place of relative danger just to hear the rabbi speak and to be near enough to perhaps be healed by him.

When the disciples brought the fish and bread to Jesus it was ALL they had. Remember that these men were crossing the top of the Sea of Galilee in a boat and hadn't intended to stop for a camping expedition. That's why they didn't have the proper amount of food with them. The trip across the top of the lake shouldn't have been more than a few hours and so they had packed nothing.

I don't know what YOU see when you look at this story, but I see very real human need being provided for by a very natural source supernaturally supplied by a very real human being who was also very really God.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

February 18, 2009 Rejections

READ: Matthew 13:53-14:12
53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things? 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household. 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. 1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him. 3 For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, 4 because John had been saying to him, It is not lawful for you to have her. 5 And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. 6 But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, 7 so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter. 9 And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.

THE great short-sighted thing that one human being can do to another is to decide what they are like and not let them change or grow. In close relationships this tends toward co-dependency. We've all seen the sad caricature of a person who never marries because their sick parent "needs" them to get through life. In the 1991 release Only the Lonely, John Candy's Danny is a 40 year old man still living with his over-protective over-bearing Irish mother, played by Maureen O'Hara. But it isn't just mama who can't let Danny grow up. All of the other characters in the small world of a Chicago beat cop have Danny pigeonholed too. Danny's relationship with a polish undertaker's daughter is what it finally takes to force Danny to make a man's decision. It is a beautiful movie, and I highly recommend it.

It shouldn't surprise us that when Jesus, the now-famous rabbi returns to Nazareth he experiences the same treatment. "Is this not the carpenter's son?" The unmistakable inference is that Jesus could not possibly have acquired the wisdom he has, much less accomplish the miracles, as the son of a carpenter.

What the people of Nazareth rejected was not Jesus. They rejected the healings, the teaching, and the wonders that could have been theirs if they had only been able to see Jesus in another light.

I honestly can not imagine what must have been going through John the Baptist's mind when the guards came to put him to death. It was so sudden and unprovoked. One thing is for sure, he was unaware of the politics that had his life in the balance just one flight above him. But politics had never been very important to John. From the time he first baptized the residents of Jerusalem in the Jordan river John was marking himself as someone who stood outside the government and its corruption. What got John killed was not that he defied the government. It was that he told truth to the government.

The inner workings of the family of the Herods are complex enough to rival any Hollywood depiction. Suffice it to say that Herodias married two of her uncles in her lifetime and divorced the first only when it became obvious that he was not to become king. We are shocked today at the idea of someone wedding their uncle, but in Israel of that day it was not illegal. What was illegal was divorce and remarriage. What we are not shocked at is a marriage of political convenience.

Notice, in fact, that even though John was operating outside the political system, he still had managed to gain enough of a following that he had the king's ear. He did not have to oppose the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias publicly. It was enough that he had said such a thing to the king privately. And Herod, whatever the motives behind his actions were (love or weakness or a combination of both), had John arrested and put in prison.

John was rejected from being a prophet simply because he was speaking prophetically.


February 17, 2009 As You Liken It

READ: Matthew 13:44-52
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,
46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.
48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.
49 So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous
50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all these things? They said to him, Yes.
52 And he said to them, Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.

Okay class... can anyone tell me what a "scribe" does?

Yep. **pat pat**. Good. A "scribe" writes things down.

Now that that is out of the way, have you ever noticed that Jesus seems to often lump the Scribes and the Pharisees together when he's pronouncing class judgment? I wouldn't say I've done an exhaustive search yet, but I don't think there is a single example I could cite of Jesus saying something nice about the Pharisees or even intimates they could do something good. The closest we ever get is the discovery that Nicodemus was a Pharisee who also believed in Jesus. He and another member of the ruling council (probably also from the party of the Pharisees) named Joseph were the ones who buried Jesus.

But here is Jesus saying that a scribe can be good. That's because scribes weren't a political party, they were a function. A young man became a scribe while studying to be a rabbi. Remember that rabbis were those who knew Tanakh (the complete Hebrew Scriptures -- our Old Testament) and the Midrash (the body of interpretations of the OT) the best. They were also responsible for memorizing what we might call oral legal briefs as handed down by famous rabbis over the years and which were later written down and called the Mishnah. I don't know if you've ever tried to memorize a large portion of a book, but it isn't like memorizing a script for the theater. One of the best ways to memorize and keep the information sharp in your head is to transcribe the work by hand. And so these scribes did just that (and little else during their waking hours) as they worked toward becoming rabbis themselves.

One of the problems of transcription work is that there's nothing original going on. You are absolutely bound to the text you are copying. In fact, until Guttenberg's day ALL transcription work, particularly that done on sacred texts was so carefully checked for accuracy that if one of the people checking the work found even the slightest error the entire page was thrown out and the scribe was told to start it over. Jesus is, therefore, saying something really revolutionary to these scribes. They had been trained in the letter of the law... or perhaps I should say they had been trained in the law of letters. What Jesus is telling them is that the Kingdom of Heaven demands of a person a kind of original thought that is exegetical (meaning "interpretive"). Yes, it is right to repeat the facts, the truths of the Word of God. It is also right to look deeply into that Word in order to find the hidden treasures that someone who is merely a scribe would pass right over because they weren't thinking beyond what was immediately on the page.


February 15, 2009 Seeds, Explained

READ: Matthew 13:36-43
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.
37 He answered, The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.
38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one,
39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels.
40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age.
41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,
42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Holy Metaphor, Batman.

Here is Jesus talking along in parables. In Matthew 13:34 it says, "All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable." So we have a veritable list of things that represent other things:

Sower = Son of Man (itself a metaphor for Jesus)
Field = world
good seed = children of the kingdom (itself a metaphor for The Church)
weeds = sons of the evil one
enemy sower = the devil
harvest = close of the age (itself a metphor for the end of the world, or depending on your view of the end times, the beginning of the millenium or whatever)
reapers = angels (ambiguous word in greek. can mean either angel or some sent agent)

So far, Jesus hasn't been all that clear about what he means. Even his explanation needs an explanation. But assuming we've got all our terms correct here, I'm left wondering why so many people assume hell to be a place that is an actual fiery furnace. Didn't the Word just say that Jesus wasn't saying anything without a parable? How about just adding to the list:

fiery furnace = hell

What we know about hell from other biblical sources is that it is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, a place of outer darkness, a place of exclusion from the presence of God and the glory of his might, a place where the residents' "inner worm never dies", and where there is continually something eating-at-but-never-devouring them. Sort of reminds me of the Pit of Sarlac or whatever that thing was in Star Wars where you are digested over a period of 1000 years. So, given the other ways of expressing hell, I think a fiery furnace is probably a mild metaphor.


February 14, 2009 Mustard Seed

READ: Matthew 13:31-35
31 He put another parable before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.
32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.

33 He told them another parable. The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.

34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable.
35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:
I will open my mouth in parables;
I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.

I have always loved history. Probably this came as a result of the church my family was part of where I grew up celebrating their 300th anniversary in 1965 and 66. I was 10 at the time, and the celebration made a huge impact on me. As part of the year-long festivities the church was planning to produce a book (I still have a copy). About a year in advance they put out the word that if any member of the church could document that they were a direct descendant of one of the original "proprietors" of the Town of Greenwich, they could be in a picture that was to appear in the book.

The qualification had to do with this quote: "On February 5, 1664, the Seven Proprietors made a formal request to the General Assembly in Hartford to be allowed to separate from Stamford and to support its own minister and lay out its own lands. The Seven Proprietors were John MEAD, Jonathan RENALDS, John HOBBY, Joseph FERRIS, Joshua KNAPP, Angell HUSTED, and Jeffrey FERRIS." My father knew that his mother's birth name had been Ferris and that people from that family had been in Greenwich for a long time. We also had a Colegrove genealogy that included a couple of the other sir-names on the list. That meant we were probably good candidates for the picture. My mother decided to research the family, and was pretty quickly able to establish a direct link to Jeffrey Ferris. In time she would discover that when Dad's parents married he brought in 3 of the 7 and she brought in the other 4. As far as I know, that makes my sister, Tim, Beth, and me the only living people who can rightly claim that at one time their ancestors owned the entire Town of Greenwich.

I'm boring you with this tale because of what Jesus says about the mustard seed. The first people to live in Greenwich were not, it seems, very concerned with honoring Christ. From 1640 to 1664 the nearest church -- and therefore, the nearest town was in Stamford, and in those days you'd have to be very faithful indeed to want to travel five miles to go to worship. In pre-Revolutionary New England, what made a town a town was that it had an "orthodox ministry" (ie: Congregational). In most places the town hall WAS the Congregational meetinghouse. Remarkably, in some places this tradition of having town meeting in the church building persisted into the 20th century. So, quite literally, the town grew up and lived in the shade of the mighty tree that was the local church.

According to the latest census data, Greenwich, CT is one of the wealthiest towns in the USA, ranks 12th on the list of most desirable places to live, and is home to about 61,000 people who have
John Mead, Jonathan Renalds, John Hobby, Joseph Ferris, Joshua Knapp, Angell Husted, and Jeffrey Ferris to thank for there being a Town of Greenwich because their first was a Church in Greenwich.

I wish I could say that The Church in Greenwich has been such a faithful witness to the gospel that today a large part of the population of the town are active, growing believers and that the sweet aroma of Christ rests on the whole place. Unfortunately, if you look up Greenwich on Wikipedia the article begins with this: "
Greenwich is a town in Fairfield County, Connecticut, United States. As of the 2000 census, the town had a total population of 61,101. It is home to many hedge funds and other financial service companies that have left Manhattan."

Still, the mustard plant is one of the easiest to grow and can be planted almost
anywhere. It nearly always makes a huge yield. As I look out the window
of the only "going"church in Nottingham, NH, I wonder if this might not be a
good place to scatter some mustard seeds.


Monday, February 23, 2009

February 12, 2009 The Sower and the Seed

READ: Matthew 13:1-30
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, [1] let him hear.”

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.

15 For this people's heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. [2] 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds [3] among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants [4] of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

The more I learn about the Kingdom of Heaven the harder the teaching is to listen to. I always, always, always used to think that what Jesus was teaching in the Parable of the Sower (vs. 1-23) was a word for all of us would-be evangelists. The idea is that we're going to go OUT and preach to people and some aren't going to understand the message, some will receive it with joy at first but will fall away when hard times come, some will endure for a while but when it comes to giving up certain sins/extravagences they fall away, and a few (we're always told a VERY few) will receive the word and come IN to become members of our church.

But we have to place the first parable in the proper context along with the second. Now admittedly, Jesus probably never told these two parables at the same time to the same audience. But for interpretations' sake you have to look at the "body of work" of what Jesus said and judge each piece against the whole. That's what you would do with an modern author whose meaning was hard to discover. That's what you need to do with Jesus, whose clear intent isn't to separate evangelism from discipleship, outreach from membership.

What we need to know is that from the very beginning there are always going to be people listening to the word -- in church and out -- who don't get it. When the crowds gathered around him in such numbers that he had to go preach from a BOAT to be heard, there were people of all four types present. In the early church there were people of all four types present. In the church of the Reformation there were people of all four types present. In any congregation in any church in any place in the world there are people of all four types present all the time. That's why Jesus tells the second parable.

It would be easy to take the position that The Church is for The Redeemed and that we need to guard carefully who we let in for more than a visit. And surely, from the earliest days of The Church there have been standards for membership, guarded by the classes we offer and the qualifications we impose. But if Jesus is saying what it appears he is here: that The Church is always going to be made up of people who have received the message and are growing AND people who have not received the message and are nothing more, in the end, than dead wood in the forest, then it is not a question of whether we will grant membership to some weeds. That we will do that is certain. It is rather one of the secrets of the Kingdom that the four soils are present everywhere and at all times and that Jesus is sowing the seed (people) on all kinds of soils at all times.

This Sunday we're going to think together about the idea of re-imagining The Church as a parish of the old Roman Catholic type and begin to realize that Nottingham Congregational Christian Church is not nearly as small as we may think it. Ours is a parish with some 4,000 members, of which roughly 150 (including children) have spent some time in the parish meetinghouse in the past year or two, and of which about 75 have stated publicly that they desire a close bond of belonging with one another, and of which about a dozen are actively leading the life of the parish.

The question at hand isn't "are there weeds among us?" The question is whether those whom Christ is calling (and they are present in all four groups above) are effectively tending the garden of the 4000. Are they fertilizing, planting, watering, pruning, tending, and harvesting -- being the hands and feet of the Master Gardener -- that the whole garden may grow.

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and hoe
And a piece of fertile ground
Inch by inch, row by row
Someone bless these seeds I sow
Someone warm them from below
til the rains come tumbling down.
-- David Mallett, 1978

February 11, 2009 Two Houses

READ: Matthew 12:43-50
43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none.
44 Then it says, I will return to my house from which I came. And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order.
45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.

46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him.
48 But he replied to the man who told him, Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?
49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, Here are my mother and my brothers!
50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.

Last night Jama and I watched the epic movie Legends of the Fall -- appropriate considering that Brad Pitt was up for an Oscar. In case you've never seen it, Legends is the story of a single father and his three sons living in Montana in the first part of the 20th century. The introduction of a love interest into one of the young men's lives ends up, as an Indian narrator observes, being "the stone upon which all of them were broken." Tragedy strikes one after another in the family. One son dies in WWI, the father has a stroke, a second son goes mad for a time, and the third son becomes a congressman (and isn't that a tragedy?) One of the sons finally asks his father, "Is the entire family cursed because of what I did?" No. The failure is not his. Theirs was the story of a family who never cleaned the house of its demons. After the one son died in the war the girl was supposed to go back east where she came from. But one situation after another kept her in Montana, and the rest is history... er... legend. Sometimes there is a toxicity in relationships and systems; maybe even locations, that just makes everyone feel doomed. What is called for is a complete change. What is called for is a repentance. Not just sorrow. Not just feeling bad for what has happened. Repentance is a turning from; a walking away from; a never going back to.

Strange, isn't it, that in the midst of talking about a house doomed because the occupants won't do anything more than just sweep and wait for the demon to return Jesus is asked about his own house? "Your mother and brothers are outside and want to see you," is introduced into the narrative. And Jesus reply? "whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." How does a house become a house of God instead of a house of the Devil? Quite simply it happens when every occupant chooses to do the will of the Father. Jesus is not saying that this will protect your family from trouble, harm, or even struggles. But when the presence of the Spirit of Christ is in each member these things will work themselves out in time and the whole will result in praise to God.