Reflection of a Year

The year closes down as one chapter ends and another one gets ready to begin. There are times in life when a moment feels more significant, as if you are on the brink of something.

In January of this year, as I looked back at my journal, I had written Isaiah 43:19 down, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” It was almost as if the Holy Spirit was prompting me, alerting me that something was coming.

If someone had told me at the beginning of this year what I would be heading into as 2019 begins, I don’t really know how I would have responded. I’ve never been a very big risk taker, I long for control much more than I would probably ever let on. Uncertainty is scary and I like to do whatever I can to gather as much information as possible to lessen the amount of possible surprises that might await me.

Yet here I am, stepping into the unknown and hoping and praying that my feet will fall on sure footing. I’ve prayed. I’ve listened. I’ve sought wise counsel and advice. I’ve done all that I can and that’s where faith comes in. Faith steps in at the end of the rationality and reason that we have, launching us off into the unknown.

I’ve never been a fan of resolutions that come at the beginning of the new year. The statistics aren’t good for how many people actually follow through with the new year’s resolutions that they’ve made. I’d much rather make goals and feel like I have the liberty to make course corrections along the way.

While my verse at the beginning of 2018 was from Isaiah, the verse that I launch into 2019 with is from the Psalms. The Psalms have always been by default when reading the Bible. Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” It serves as a daily reminder that no matter how much I may think of myself, the work that I am doing is not dependent on me. It’s a reminder to stay humble and lean into the unknown that only God knows, relying on his strength and wisdom to direct me as I move forward.

God has been doing some incredible things over the past few months as I get ready to launch out into this new adventure. I am excited to see what God will continue to do. At the same time, there is anxiety and fear because of uncertainty. Those things aren’t overcoming me, and that’s the key. Just as the Peter wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

2019 will be an adventure, but I feel like it’s an adventure that has been a long time in the making. Goodbye, 2018, and welcome to whatever comes next!

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A Different Kind of Christmas

Christmas 2018As we gear up and move into our pre-launch stage for starting a new church, it has kind of been like the calm before the storm. While I’ve been in full gear building relationships, looking for service opportunities in the community, raising funds, and doing all sorts of various things related to the new church start-up, I’ve also stepped back in some areas.

I started playing piano for my dad’s church when I was about 15 years old. This was the first time in 30 years that I had no church responsibilities on Christmas Eve. That meant that my family and I drove to church together on Christmas Eve, that we sat together during the entire service, and that we were able to spend the entirety of Christmas Eve together without me being pulled in one direction or another.

Even before Christmas Eve, the season felt different to me. Usually, I pull out my Christmas music in July and start the planning and preparation. My mind is thinking about Christmas long before the calendar turns to December 1st. But those responsibilities were not on my plate this year. I’ve been focusing on the church plant since September and I knew it was coming before that, so a lot of the responsibilities that I would normally have held had been passed off.

I’ve always struggled to maintain focus, the Advent season is no exception to that. As much as I try to move gently into the season, slowing down and deliberately entering into it, the pace always seems to pick up and before I know it, the season becomes harried and hurried.

While December started out somewhat calm, it quickly turned when there were a number of deaths to people close to me. Funerals followed and before I knew it, I had forgotten what Advent was all about My focus was still on Jesus throughout those funerals, but it moved from his first Advent to his second Advent, when he will come again. The same themes of Advent, hope, love, joy, and peace, were still there, they just seemed to be focused differently.

But that’s life, isn’t it? The same lessons lie beneath the surface, we just apply them a little differently depending on the circumstances.

The one thing that felt lacking for me was wonder. That’s always been the thing that has captivated me most. Christmas has always been a wonder-filled time of the year to me. I’ve always approached it with a childlike wonder, getting caught up in the magic and wonder. Sleep was elusive to me because of the excitement that I had.

But this year was different.

As I stop to think about what it is that made the biggest difference, I think it has to do with expressing my hope and wonder around the season.  I wasn’t leading musical worship. I wasn’t preaching a lot. I was blogging a little. But overall, the usual avenues to express my hope around the Advent season were lacking for me this year. I think that’s what made it feel so different. I didn’t anticipate that.

Christmas and Easter have traditionally been the most well-attended days that churches experience. To not have significantly participated in one of those just felt incomplete.

As incomplete as it may have felt, it was also an incredible gift. There had never been a Christmas Eve since I’ve had children that I haven’t had to do something. My children had only known a hurried father on Christmas Eve, not one who could focus on them.

In general, full-time vocational ministry can feel like way more than a full-time job. It’s hard to contain everything to a nine to five time frame. Tragedies, births, and other significant life events into which pastors are called seldom take place within allotted hours.

To have a breather at the busiest time of the year to gear up for the adventure ahead was truly a gift. Yes, it was a different kind of Christmas for me, but different isn’t a bad thing.

As I gear up for what is ahead, I am certain that there will be a whole lot more different things happening in the months ahead. I am excited to see what happens and just like this Advent season has been a time of waiting for and anticipating the celebration of the birth of Jesus, there will be a lot of waiting and anticipation as we gear up towards launching a new church in the Fall of 2019.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas. I hope that your day has been filled with the things that make this day special. Regardless of whether it’s the same as it’s always been or it feel different this year, I trust that the true meaning won’t get distorted as we celebrate the greatest gift that God could ever give us.

I Will Follow

keyboardI am not a very good follower.

I like control. I like to see the steps that I am taking and just where my foot is gonna fall. I don’t trust easily and even when I trust, I still have to see enough of the road ahead for me to feel like whoever I am following knows what they’re doing, even if that someone happens to be God (as if he doesn’t know where he’s going and I do).

It’s a funny place to be when you kind of know where you are going but the details aren’t all ironed out. It’s like, you know what the destination is but you aren’t quite sure what the actual route you’re gonna take to get there looks like. The Israelites through the desert may be too vivid of a picture to better understand that.

I’ve spent a good portion of my life in full-time ministry trying to prove to people that I am more than a label, more than a role, more than the box that so many have tried to put me in. It’s been somewhat exhausting, to be honest. For how much I hate labels, you would think I wouldn’t use them as often as I do. Maybe I just hate them when they apply (or don’t apply) to me.

I’ve always been one who does more than most people know. Behind the scenes, there’s a whole heck of a lot more going on than most people will see and I generally don’t care whether or not everyone knows what I’m doing. As long as things are getting done and moving along, I don’t typically care who gets the credit.

The problem with this approach is that you can easily get pigeon-holed, people think that you’re more two dimensional than you really are and label you by what they see, not by what you really are.

My journey over the last few years has been a journey of pressing into the things that I know I’m good at doing. That doesn’t mean I avoid the things that I’m not good at doing, it means that I look to surround myself with others who excel in those areas. It’s a journey of living into strengths and relying on and empowering others in the places where their strengths lie.

As much as I don’t usually care what others think about me, when I’ve been labeled, especially falsely so, I struggle with that label. I don’t like to wear it when it’s either not true or only part of the story. It’s restrictive because it’s wrong or incomplete, not because I don’t like to wear it. But if we’re all honest, there are just some outfits that we don’t look good in, even if those outfits are metaphorical and not physical.

So, my tendency is to run away from the labels. If I know that there is more to the story, I want to tell the rest of the story rather than reading the same old section over and over. Why rehash on what you already know when there is so much more to the story to hear, to learn, to tell?

I’ve kind of been in that place of running. Not from everything. In fact, I’ve been running towards some things that are incredibly uncomfortable, that are taking an awful lot of faith. But I’ve been running away from certain things that have felt restrictive, that have felt confining and incomplete.

Sometimes, we have to do that. If we’ve got a healthy dose of self-awareness, we should know ourselves better than the ones who throw the labels on us. We should know if there is more to the story to be told and we shouldn’t really be afraid to tell that part of the story, regardless of the pushback that we might get from other people. I’m all about telling the whole story, no matter how uncomfortable that might make certain people, no matter how much they might want to dwell on their favorite part of the story (even when it’s not true).

A few months ago, I met a new pastor in the area. In our brief introduction, it sounded like we had some common interests and visions for the future. So, we connected over lunch and the story of that friendship is still being written.

In our lunch conversation, he said something that really stuck out to me. He had a similar musical background to mine and he told me that he had put it aside since he came here. I could relate, I had been trying to put mine aside for some time because it was the label that I had reluctantly worn. But, he said, when the people who had known him for and with that gift came back into town and saw him not using it, they asked him why he had put it aside, why he wasn’t using it.

When he said that, his words hit me right between the eyes.

I had been running from something that I was good at because it was only telling a portion of the story. But that part of the story was some people’s favorite part, and they weren’t going to let it go. That doesn’t really fly well with an Enneagram 8, the Challenger. Don’t tell me what to do or who to be, I will resist.

But God has a funny way of bringing you back around, especially when you don’t necessarily follow or trust well. He may bring you back to the very thing you’ve avoided just to remind you what he’s given you and what you’re supposed to be doing with it.

That’s kind of been what’s happened lately. I’ve avoided music, legitimately avoided it, because I was tired of being labeled by it, but God doesn’t care how others label me, he only cares how he created me. If he wants you to live into how he’s created you, it’s gonna happen.

So, in the course of ten days, I find myself not just playing music again, but playing a lot of music. Four times in a ten day period. Four fairly unique and different venues. Four different ways for me to use the gifts he’s given me and not avoid them anymore.

In the midst of using those gifts though, a funny thing happened, I realized that I kind of enjoyed using those gifts, I just didn’t want to be labeled by them. I found myself with new friends in a setting that I’d been in many times before, and everything clicked, it all fit together.

From a musical perspective, that doesn’t happen all the time. I’ve sat through plenty of rehearsals (led a ton of them) where things just wouldn’t click. Whether it was the timing or the harmonies or pitch, something kept it from getting to the place where everything fit together well. And those times are beyond frustrating, especially when you know how it’s supposed to fit together and sound.

But then there are those other times, when you pull pieces together that have existed separately until the moment you pull them together (God pulls them together?) and when you do, they just fit. And when I say they fit, I mean they fit well. The work is effortless, the results are beautiful, and when you’re done, you wonder just how you experienced what you had just experienced.

I’m still skeptical. I still don’t like labels. I still don’t want to be stuck in a hole in which some keep trying to put me. But I’m also seeing this through my identity in Christ. That identity isn’t defined by those around me, nor should it be heavily influenced by their myopic view of it. God sees me as I am, as he’s made me. As Brennan Manning wrote, God loves me as I am, not as I am supposed to be. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t see my potential and desire to move me there, but his love for me isn’t based on getting to that place, that would be a love based on my work, not his.

Yes, I’m a terrible follower, but I’m learning to follow God a little better every day. I don’t like following when I feel like there’s a better way, a more productive way. I’m not always crazy to take the scenic route, even when the scenic route involves being used more effectively than I might choose for myself. But I’m getting to the place where I care less about how people want to see me and I care more for how God sees me and the potential that he has for me.

It’s a somewhat unnerving and painful journey. It’s a loss of control, but who said that I actually had the control to begin with?

Breaking Down Barriers

The Branch White Logo 1Last week, I posted about the adventure that my family and I are undertaking in starting a brand new church. While I’ve never done this exact thing before, I’ve grown up in the church my whole life, I’ve worked in a church in some capacity for nearly thirty years, and I’ve been employed by a church for the last fourteen years.

Growing up in the church, it took me quite some time to come to the realization that the church is not a place. While we talked about “going to church” and would ask people “what church they attended,” I didn’t realize until years later that the church was a movement, a mix of people who were charged and empowered by God to accomplish his work on the earth. I’ve heard it said that the church is the only organization that primarily exists for the sake of those who are not yet a part of it.

As I’ve studied and observed over the past decade or so, I’ve seen that there has been a significant shift in the culture of the United States. Half a century ago, the church held an esteemed place within the culture. The church was respected as were members of the clergy. People saw the value and importance of faith and there was not a great need to convince them that the church was important.

Fast forward to today, the church has become a place to avoid. Rather than being known for what they are for and what they promote, the church has become known for all the things that her people oppose. The message of Jesus, if you based it on perception and public image, seems more like one of prohibition and judgment rather than love and freedom (that’s a whole other post in itself). In fact, I try to avoid the inevitable question from new people that I meet of what I do for work as I know that it will be an almost automatic shutdown and wall that immediately exists between me and the other person.

There are barriers everywhere. Some of those barriers are man-made (church-made?) while others seem to have been put up by our culture. Not only are there barriers around the church, but there are barriers to faith and to even exploring who Jesus is, what he did, and what that has to do with us.

This idea of barriers has been on my radar for number of years. The church that I have served for the past five plus years has had vision pillars that have defined our values. The lead pastor and I have talked often about how one of our unspoken values could be seeking to break down barriers to God’s grace. It always resonated with me and has taken a front row seat as I embark on this journey.

Like I said, barriers come in all shapes and sizes. Some of these barriers are constructed by our culture and society. Some are self-constructed. We can hide some of them, keeping them hidden from those around us so that they remain unaware of them. Other barriers are too easily seen by those around us, whether we try to hide them or not.

As I’ve ministered within churches, I’ve always thought it odd that the one place where people should be able to run to avoid barriers is the church. There should not be fear of judgment there. There should not be the need to put on masks and construct additional barriers. I always appreciated the way that Brennan Manning said it, “Jesus loves you as you are, not as you should be.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean we stay as we are, it means that he loves us as we are but once we meet him, we are changed. These barriers that exist, the ones that keep us from seeing, knowing, and embracing the grace of Jesus Christ, they can only be pulled down by him.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a part. Sometimes, in order for things to happen, you need the right atmosphere. Sometimes you need to do your best to clear a path and make space for God to do the work that he has to do. It’s not like we are helping him, we are just getting out of his way and doing our best to tear down the things that have hindered us and others from meeting him.

This is at the heart of my vision for this new church that God has called us to start. I want it to be a place where life and faith meet and where God breaks down barriers to his grace. I want people to be able to meet Jesus there, and once they meet him, I want him to break down the barriers that keep us from seeing him, experiencing him, and knowing him the way that we need to.

Breaking down barriers won’t happen overnight, and it certainly won’t happen with flyby serving and ministry. It means getting down and dirty, being incarnational (to use a theological word). It means that we come alongside people to let them know they are loved as they are. It means that we do our best to build relationships and friendships, pointing people towards Jesus, the very same Jesus that has hopefully made a significant impact in our lives.

It all sounds good on paper, right? But how does this play out practically and realistically in our context?

To be honest, it’s gonna be messy. We won’t get it right all the time. I was reminded by a relative whose been down this road before that learning from the mistakes of others doesn’t necessarily mean that I will avoid my own mistakes. So, I’m entering into it not with the intent of making mistakes, but with the acknowledgement that mistakes will probably be inevitable.

It’s an exciting, exhilarating, and terrifying prospect. We’re looking forward to it knowing that part of the faith required of the Israelites when they entered into the Promised Land was stepping into the floodwaters of the Jordan River before God parted them and made a way for them to pass through.

Here’s to stepping in the floodwaters!

The Wondering Years – A Book Review

The Wondering YearsWhen you’ve spent a good deal of your life absorbing pop culture, it only makes sense that you would filter everything else in your life, including spirituality, through the lens of pop culture. That’s just what Knock McCoy did, as he grew up and began to come to grips with spirituality and with his own Christianity, he took lessons that he had learned from all the pop culture he had been exposed to and used them to try to make sense of things.

McCoy plays to his strengths in “The Wondering Years.” He is a writer and screenwriter and he lets his own sense of humor bleed through. He also uses his gift for screenwriting to bring humor to certain chapters, inserting screenplay excerpts pertaining to the crisis he is describing at the moment in the chapter.

No topic seems to be off limits for McCoy and he isn’t afraid to throw himself under the bus, over and over again. Punches in the face as a child. Admissions testing for a private school. High school athletics. Getting married young. McCoy hits as many topics as he can and through it all, he weaves his way through the various pop culture icons he encountered on his way to growing up.

Reading through the pages of “The Wondering Years” is like watching an old 8MM home movie. There’s a bit of nostalgia, some awkward memories that might rear their ugly heads, and a whole lot of smiling. It’s not a book that I would read over and over again.

McCoy is a gifted and humorous writer. As an introduction to him, this book made me want to explore other things that he has written. If nothing else, this book is entertaining. It isn’t replete with deep theological nuggets or biblical references, but I doubt anyone came looking for that here, and if they did, they’ll be disappointed.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Where Life and Faith Meet

The Branch Logo (4000 x 4000)I’m within weeks of launching out into one of the biggest adventures of my life. After being in full-time vocational ministry for the last fourteen and a half years, my wife and I are being sent out of our church to start another church in the next town.

I’ve been on a journey of growing and learning since I started in ministry all those years ago. I came into ministry through the back door, never having been to seminary when I started. Along the way, I got my seminary degree and learned through the School of Hard Knocks. I’ve been fortunate to have had some patient and gracious people along the way who put up with this Enneagram 8’s challenging ways.

I grew up in the church in the home of a pastor. I was at the church every time the doors were open and it really caused me to try to understand just what I was doing there.

My crisis of faith came in my sophomore year of college. I wanted to compartmentalize my life, keeping things separate in their nice and neat containers. But anyone who’s tried that knows that it rarely works and rarely lasts long.

I came out of that time like something from a crucible, a little more refined than I had been before. I had moved from living a secondhand faith to beginning the journey that moved me towards embracing a faith of my own.

In retrospect, that was probably the beginning of the journey that is finally coming to culmination in the weeks ahead. Twenty some odd years of trying to understand just how to live in that place where life and faith meet. How do I embrace my faith and live in the tension that culture and this world can sometimes (often?) provide?

I’ve not always been the easiest person to lead. There has been a restlessness in me since my engineering days (the career I left to come into full-time ministry). But part of the reason was because I’ve always felt this tension, this in between place in which I live as I embrace faith and yet walk and live in a world that can be so hostile towards those who do.

Compartmentalization isn’t really the way faith is supposed to work. Over and over, as I read through the Bible, I don’t see things that would indicate that faith should be relegated to one day a week. If we want to take seriously the words that Jesus said, we can’t put our Bibles on the shelf and dust them off on Sunday mornings or, worse yet, Christmas and Easter. Life and faith meet in the everyday moments that we live.

This is at the heart of this journey that I am on. The community that God has called me to be a part of is one where life and faith meet. It isn’t a place where we put that faith on the shelf for the times when we need it, because if we are honest, we need it every moment of every day.

This past week, I’ve had a firsthand experience of that. This week is a continuation of it. I will be a part of two funerals this week. One of those funerals is for someone who lived a good, long life. The other funeral is for someone who struggled and whose life was cut short by tragedy. But life and faith met in both of these lives.

As I met with families, sat in hospital waiting rooms, drove in my car, I wrestled in prayer, kind of like Jacob did with that angel in the Bible. To say that I’m walking with a limp afterwards would be appropriate. When we wrestle with God, it should change us. But we don’t always come out with satisfactory answers, and I really don’t think we are always supposed to, although we sure would like to have those answers.

In the midst of the collision of life and faith, pat answers don’t cut it. Explaining to a son why his father’s life was snuffed out can’t be done, at least not in my book. The Bible is a guidebook, a story of God’s redeeming love and just how that love intersects. In many ways, it’s a picture of the place where life and faith meet.

This will be an adventure, but more than that, it’s a calling. It’s a calling that’s probably been there for longer than I’d like to admit. It’s a calling that I needed to prepare for, and it’s not just the past five or ten or fifteen years that have been preparing me. It’s a calling that I’ve been being prepared for my whole life. God has been shaping and forming me to embark on this journey.

I’ve rarely met people who feel that they are completely ready and prepared for what is ahead of them. I find myself in the same boat, and that’s the way I think it’s supposed to be. If I felt like I could do this all in my own strength, where would faith be, where would my reliance lie? I wouldn’t be relying on God and I probably wouldn’t be dreaming big enough since I’ve always said that we need to dream dreams that are big enough that only God can accomplish them.

Here is what I do know. I know that the place where life and faith meet is a place that many people seem to be searching for. I know that this place is a place that needs to be defined by values.

So, here are some of the values that I’m discovering in this place.

When life and faith meet, there is unity not uniformity.

When life and faith meet, not every question has an answer.

When life and faith meet, relationships take priority over preferences.

When life and faith meet, Jesus meets us where we are but doesn’t leave us there.

When life and faith meet, we are brought to places of discomfort for the comfort of others.

When life and faith meet, ministry and service are not reserved for the “paid professionals.”

When life and faith meet, it can get messy, so we need grace.

I’ll be sure to let you know what I’m discovering along the way.

 

Reaching the Unreachable?

The Passion GenerationThe Christian church can get obsessed about things. Sometimes it’s a particular sin, other times it’s a particular trend, still other times it’s a particular group or subset of people.

Over the past few years, one of the subsets of people that the church has been most concerned and obsessed with is Millenials. If you’ve hung around churches at all, you’ve probably heard the statistics of how many of these Millenials are dropping out of church once they get to college. Books have been written. Studies have been done. Sermons have been preached. But what’s the answer in how to engage Millenials to get them back into the church?

Enter Grant Skeldon, a Millenial himself. Skeldon has written “The Passion Generation – The Seemingly Reckless, Definitely Disruptive, But Far From Hopeless Millenials.”

Now, I hate it when people talk things up so much that when you finally experience it for yourself, you are extremely disappointed as you find out that something has been oversold to you. At the risk of overselling “The Passion Generation,” I have to say that this book was one of the best books that I have read this year. The clarifier of that statement is that I have read more than sixty books this year, so I think that my opinion matters.

When it comes to Millenials, Skeldon seems wise beyond his years. This wisdom, he claims, has come from the countless mentors whom he has had pouring into him.

Skeldon is not afraid to admit some of the faults of his generation. At the same time, he isn’t afraid to point to those who are older who have caused some of the reactions that we see among Millenials. He speaks truthfully and honestly here, and if those of us who are older are really honest, it gets a little uncomfortable at times. For instance, he poses the question of why the most cause-oriented generation in the world (Millenials) are neglecting the most cause-oriented organization in the world (the church).

The primary means by which Skeldon believes the generation gap can be bridged is through discipleship. Discipleship has become a buzzword of late within the church, but the discipleship of which he speaks is not what most churches have embraced as discipleship. When he says discipleship, he doesn’t mean sitting down one on one with someone and going through a book together. Instead, he means discipleship like Jesus did: spending time investing in people and living life together.

Skeldon believes that Millenials are avoiding the church not because the church is asking too much of them, but rather because the church is asking too little of them. Their fear of commitment is outweighed, he says, by their fear of missing out.

All that being said, Skeldon splits the book into two parts: Discipling Millenials and What Millenials Look For In A Church. He has good practical information in here, but he never claims to have a quick fix. In fact, there isn’t a quick fix. The process of discipleship, regardless of age, is a commitment that’s about relationships which take time.

At the end of each chapter, there are visual representations of some of the key points highlighted within the chapter. For the visual learners among us, this is very helpful. It emphasizes the things that Skeldon sees as most important.

As I read this book, I found myself agreeing with so much of what Skeldon had written. My own experience with Millenials has shown me that much of what he writes in here is true. Many in this generation that has been given a bad rap have not materialized out of thin air the way that they are. Instead, they’ve been discipled to act the way they do, maybe not so much intentionally, but unintentionally.

When I was growing up, my parents had a little plaque on the wall of my room. On that plaque was written a poem called “Children Live What They Learn.” The premise was that the things that children learn by watching, they will do for themselves when the time comes.

I think we are seeing a generation that has learned not what we’ve wanted them to learn, but what we have shown them, and what we’ve shown them hasn’t been the best. So there is a dual ownership here that led to this problem and there will need to be a dual ownership of said problem to move us away from it.

If you are a leader in the church or you simply have a heart for the next generation, I would highly recommend “The Passion Generation” to you. It’s a practical resource full of wisdom, insight, and advice that, if heeded, could go along way in engaging a generation that has been unfairly judged.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

A Craning of the Neck

The last few days have been kind of rough. It hasn’t had anything to do with my immediate family, but rather my church family. Deaths, both expected and unexpected. Sickness. Diagnoses. In a season of the church where hope is among the four major values focused upon (along with peace, love, and joy), it has seemed somewhat elusive.

When my mom was sick and eventually succumbed to cancer, the words of Romans 8 were powerfully meaningful to me. In the original Greek language of the text, the word translated in English as “eager expectation” had a particular meaning that stood out to me. It literally means to crane the neck and look around a corner.

I love word pictures and the picture that emerged in my mind was one of hope and expectation, something that marks the Advent season of the church. It’s a season of waiting. We sing songs of waiting like “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.”

Multiple times in the last few days, I have reminded myself and others that what we are experiencing is not the way things were intended to be. Having to break hard news to someone and watch as a family experiences one blow after another of tragedy is just not the way it’s supposed to be.

Still, there is hope. God’s promises are true. I believe it, but like the father in Mark 9 who desperately hopes that Jesus will heal his son, I need to be helped in my unbelief. Knowing and believing without seeing is where faith comes in.

Fielding the questions of my ten year old son about belief, and heaven, and the difficulty of believing has been sobering as well. I refuse to give him pat answers to questions that plagued me for years because the church was never willing to be honest with them.

As I feel like I’ve said so many times, there is nothing wrong with doubt, it’s what you do with it that matters most. My doubt leads me back to God’s promises. There were periods of the silence of God, hundreds of years. And now, it seems, we are faced with thousands of years of the silence of God. Does that mean he has abandoned us? No, I don’t think so.

Instead, we wait in anticipation, craning our necks around the corner to see if we can just catch a glimpse of what is ahead, what wonder might be waiting around that corner. Any little glimpse will reignite that hope in our hearts.

Surprisingly, in a cramped hospital family waiting room, stuffed with people who had only known each other for a short period of time, I sensed that hope and expectation. In the midst of tragedy, I heard stories of hope. I saw images of hope. I could almost feel the sense of hope palpably.

Don’t get me wrong, tragedy, grief, hurt and pain still suck. I’m not going to sugarcoat that, but I see in the darkness that there is a light, no matter how small. In the Apostle Paul’s words, “Hope that is seen is no hope at all.”

As far away as God might seem, I am comforted by the words that end Romans chapter 8. These words are the words that I choose to propel me forward during times like this.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”