Wounded Healers

In a sermon I preached recently, we watched Jesus reach out to the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-15). Specifically, I shared:

“Jesus humbled himself and came to the woman in weakness and need. He was tired, spent, and exhausted. He was thirsty. This is the way he reaches out. He does it in weakness. Not in power and confidence. Not in vibrant, vigorous enthusiasm. But in weakness, the weakness of our common humanity.”

This encounter is the Cross in miniature: Christ’s most powerful ministry comes in weakness and brokenness. What an encouragement! I continued:

“Often we think we need to be at the top of our games, spiritually, to share Christ with others. We’ve got to have all the answers. Our lives have to be perfectly put together. It’s just not true! Jesus drops his guard, he’s weak and vulnerable and in this surprising state, he sees room for a connection.”

This reminds me of one of my favorite insights from a Rick Warren book:

“Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts.”
Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?

Where are you weak? Where have you struggled? How have you known pain? Through these experiences, Jesus can connect you with others and use you in ministry. Let him...and watch how he works!

Every Careless Word?!

"...I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter;  for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” 
--Jesus, in Matthew 12:36-37

"Every careless word"--really? Lord, you're going to hold us accountable for every careless word we utter? Oh, my...

Watching the presidential debates and listening to words that slander and mislead, it's easy to point fingers. And, sadly, I do. Then, as I remembered Jesus's words above, I took a self-inventory...and I realized that in this election season my speech hasn't been terribly honorable either, particularly as I've vented my deep disapproval of one of the nominees and their policies. The thought that my words--in response to their words--might someday be played back for me by the Lord gave me pause. I realized afresh that Jesus loves both our presidential nominees--amazing! They are beloved in his sight--incredible! He's given them life and he's died to give them eternal life--astounding! In response, I need to watch my words--to make sure that they don't demean or destroy. 

Human speech is a powerful and treasured gift. In the biblical tradition, our words are meant to build up, not tear down. The apostle Paul writes: "Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29). Grace!

But this call to speak grace doesn't obviate the need to speak truth. I like the way John in the prologue of his gospel, describes the ultimate Word, Jesus Christ: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth."

Grace and truth.  This is what Jesus models in his life and ministry, in his speech and his deeds. He is the Word of truth who accurately describes reality. We who follow him must also speak truth: in this season, about moral and ethical character, about suitability for office, about factual accuracy. But we must speak truth with grace, just as Jesus did: keeping in view God's kindness, mercy, and love for all people, even the nominee we can't support. What a hard balance to strike, particularly in this election season. Lord, have mercy! 

Amen? Amen.

Breaking the Second Law of Thermodynamics

I'm no physicist, but I'm intrigued by the little I know of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It states that the tendency of any given natural (closed) system is to move toward entropy, toward a state of increasing disorder or chaos. We see this all around us: our bodies naturally age and become less dependable. Over time, so do our cars, our gardens, our homes, and virtually any material thing we can think of.

But what of other systems? Do they, too, naturally move toward entropy, from an initial order toward an inevitable chaos? The boundless (some would now say blind) optimism of the earlier modern era suggested that with enough education, economic opportunity, or political freedom we as a human community could leave behind our wilder origins and move from predation to harmony. We could migrate from nature "red in tooth and claw" to the paradisiacal lion lying down with the lamb. Modernism seemed to deny a social Second Law.

But World War I, with its mustard gas, trench warfare, and devastating loss of life, combined with World War II's Nazism, the Holocaust, and the use of atomic bombs has given the lie to such unfounded optimism. Today, the cancerous spread of ISIS, the current nadir of political demagoguery, increasingly undeniable climate change, and many other social disorders, remind us that moving toward an ordered state is not the natural way of human life. Experience has taught us that we have little basis for believing we can stop this social second law. Entropy is inevitable.

However, we may see a remarkable exception in the Christian spiritual life. If what the Bible speaks of is true, in Christ, God is gathering up all things in heaven and on earth (Ephesians 1:10). Like a mosaic artist, God is reworking all the broken pieces of the world and human community, splintered and shattered by sin, into a grand, new, breathtakingly beautiful design. "I am making all things new," says God (Revelation 21:5). Long before environmentalism taught us to reduce, reuse, and recycle, there was God, graciously bringing new life from the compost heap of the natural order.

As the vanguard, the leading edge of this newness, God's reborn people are meant to live into their newness by practicing the spiritual disciplines. These are the healthy rhythms of the new life, the whole life, that God intends for us and models for us in Jesus Christ. Prayer, Scripture study, worship, community, service, generosity--all of these are like food groups that nourish new life. They are the glue that connects the broken piece as they're being mended by God. As such, these disciplines introduce order into chaos. They stave off the second law of spiritual thermodynamics. They keep us on track. They corral and curtail the confusion so latent in our old lives, as it threatens to erupt and distort the new growth and new order introduced by God. Doesn't experience teach us this? How quickly we can lapse into disorder as we fail to tend the spiritual garden of our lives.

I'm finding that in midlife there's a tendency to let things slide, to take the path of least resistance, to grow comfortable and lazy--in many aspects of our lives, not just the spiritual. But the frightening reality of entropy and the invitation God gives us in Christ to combat it and move toward newness give me pause. Thoughts?

Epiphany's Amazing "Aha!"




  1. the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12).
o   the festival commemorating the Epiphany on January 6.
o   a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being.
o   a moment of sudden revelation or insight.

Today, January 6, 2016, marks Epiphany, which recalls the revelation of the infant King Jesus to the Magi, those wise men described in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2. On this day we celebrate the inclusion of the Gentiles in the blessings of Israel, particularly in the gracious reign of Jesus Christ, as it enfolds all nations, tongues, and tribes. Every people, every group, every culture, and every ethnicity is embraced and welcomed in the transforming, life-giving reign of Christ.

More commonly, “epiphany” is also an “aha” moment, “a moment of sudden revelation or insight”, as the dictionary puts it.

Yesterday, I believe, our First Presbyterian Church of Boulder, CO staff was given an epiphany. We were in our typical all-staff meeting, 30 to 40 of us. We were tired after a long season which focused not only on Advent and Christmas Eve celebrations, but also on helping lead our denominational dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) to the new denomination, the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). As part of the dismissal agreement, our congregation must buy back its buildings from our presbytery (as they are only held in trust locally for the broader denomination). This has necessitated a congregational capital campaign to raise $2.29 million dollars. In our staff meeting, we’d just been told the good news that the congregation had already pledged more than 2/3 of that amount. We then went to prayer in preparation for communion together.

Our quiet group prayers were suddenly startled by a booming male voice shouting at us. We anxiously snapped to attention to see some 20 or more men rush into our midst. Quickly, they identified themselves: they were the lead pastors of many, if not, most of our sister churches of Boulder County. They'd heard of our decision to depart our denomination; they’d read the somewhat disparaging articles about this in the local newspaper; and they had come to show their support and solidarity. Each in turn gave words of appreciation for the historic impact of First Pres on our region and on their congregations. In fact, the lead pastor of our county’s largest and fastest growing megachurch (and indeed one of our country’s fastest growing churches) spoke appreciatively of the small group Bible study from our church that over time grew into their congregation.

Then the pastors did an even more remarkable thing: they presented our church with checks from their congregations in support of our capital campaign, which we’d entitled “All In.” In total, our sister churches contributed $48,000. For these busy pastors to make time in their schedules to offer such kind words of appreciation, along with bringing us gifts of such staggering generosity from their congregations--this blew us away. We all knelt on the carpet for prayer and then shared communion together. There were hugs exchanged, tears flowing, and much laughter.

Why is this act so significant and why does it constitute an epiphany? Sadly, churches and pastors too often view each other with jealousy and a competitive spirit. We lamely look at neighboring congregations, particularly the newer and more successful ones, as competitors for “marketshare”. We compare our attendance numbers, the size of our buildings, the creativity and reputation of our programs and staffs. We mourn the loss of church members who decide to move to these other congregations.

Granted, we give lip-service to all of us being on the same team, but too often this rings hollow. In this surprising act of kindness yesterday, these pastors demonstrated how Jesus views his Church: he sees us all together in one body in a region, teaming up to minister together in his name. First Pres, the most historic and long-tenured of these congregations, can often feel culturally irrelevant, stodgy, and passé in comparison to the cooler start-up churches. But these gifts of praise, appreciation, companionship, and money corrected our perspective: they showed us we’re not alone in our ministries or pilgrimage; we’re lovingly surrounded by friends who share in the work with us. We're family.

Epiphany is first centripedal: the nations come in with gifts to Israel, particularly to its Messiah, Jesus. Then, from this common center in Christ, Epiphany is shockingly centrifugal: it spins out one global people, Jew and Gentile united in Jesus, to go into the world with his message of gracious embrace. Epiphany makes us gasp with fresh realization that God’s blessings are all-embracing. His people are not just sequestered in a small historic space: God’s people are spun-out in Jesus Christ far and wide. Epiphany blows the roof off the church’s parochialism and shows us its colorful community. The people of Jesus can’t be limited to one place, one parish, one tradition. In Christ, there is a great big beautiful family. Aha.