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.


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.