Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Love After Love

Last week I taught an Adult Education Class called "The Limits of Romantic Love". The class focused on a quote by C.S. Lewis that I had used in a previous sermon on marriage. In a section in Mere Christianity, Lewis gives his views on Christian marriage. He makes an insightful observation on the difference between romance and the deeper love that grows later in a marriage.

Due to the short attention span of our current culture, once romance or emotion has dissipated from a marriage, we tend to grow bored and seek "fulfillment" elsewhere. But this is not wise. By moving on from partner to partner we miss out on the deeper love, Lewis eludes to. The hook-up culture of millennial does not build love. It might provide temporary glandular excitement. But, in the process it numbs our emotions, making this deeper love impossible.

This deep love is not as exciting as romance, but is is far more fulfilling. Deep love only grows and flourishes in the hard soil of adversity, tedium and patience. It is the love that grows through the challenge of raising children,
the attempt to balance a household budget
career disappointments
health setbacks
relational frustrations.

It grows and grows until one day you are peering into a casket and find yourself explaining to someone 60 years younger than you what real love is. The young person will ask you the secret of your long marriage. And you will reply that

"Love, true love grows up and out of romance. It grows into a strong bond. We loved each other, even on the days when we weren't in love with one another. That bond, that love is on display not just over candle lit dinners. No, it is on display when you are old and sick and your lover cleans the mess off your face without complaining. That is the deep love. It is the love after love."

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Dorothy and me.

Dorothy and King.

I recently had an experience I thought I would never have in my lifetime.
This past October I was introduced to an elderly African American woman in our congregation named Dorothy Cotton.
Dorothy usually sits in the row behind my family near the front on Sunday mornings. She is brought to the church by a young family that lives near her.
I soon discovered that Dorothy Cotton was the highest serving female in the Southern Christian Leadership Convention - the sole female permitted into Martin Luther King Jr's inner circle. She was involved in many tactical decisions at the highest level of the civil right movement. Her focus was on education.
If you google here name, pictures come up of her with King at various events.

This past Martin Luther King Day I was invited to have lunch with Dorothy, along with my colleague, Pastor Eric Hause. The venue for our lunch was quite intersting: a local soup kitchen. We walked in. Our newer clothing clashed loudly with many of our fellow diners. After getting our food, we sat with Dorothy and a few of the staff in the kitchen.

Dorothy told us a variety of stories about Martin. The context of important decisions that King made, including the decision to march at Selma. On my phone I kept finding pictures of her with King. She would then yell with delight and then explain what was happening in the picture.

It was an unforgettable time sitting with this amazing woman who helped lead this nation out of darkness and into light.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


I think policeman hate crime.
I think firefighters hate fires that destroy.
I think doctors hate disease.

And I kNOW pastors hate sin.

I am a pastor. And the longer I have been a pastor, the more I have come to hate sin.
I hate sin. The reason I hate it is because,, I spend more time than others in the midst of the damning effects that sin has in the lives of others.

The Bible says the wages of sin is death.
But, one does not have to wait for death to feel the effects of sin.
Sin kills slowly, entering in through any small opening we give it. Like an ever ravenous cancer it slowly drains all joy and pleasure out of life.

I sit in the midst of the nuclear fallout of sin on a regular basis. If that was the only place I sat, I would be in constant despair.
But, my life is balanced out by also sitting in the presence of God.

The following keep me from falling over the pit:

Regular meditation on the character of God.
Reading the Psalms.
Watching my children at play.
A walk through the woods.

And ultimately I adhere myself to the reality that "The Son of Man was revealed for this purpose

I live in that reality - someday all this evil, all this sin will be rubble in the textbook of history.

All the sin, all the pain, all the tears will come to an end.

And until that day, my hatred for sin will continue unabated.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

A Four Year Old Faces Rejection

I love Tuesdays. Tuesday are my day off. When you are a pastor, you work Sundays and so most pastors select a day during the week to take off. The best part of my day off is that I get to pick my 4 year old son James up from his pre-Kindergarten class.
Today, his teacher said James was a bit quiet and not his usual exuberant self. And then she quietly confided that his best friend had ignored him and had been playing with other kids. James' tender 4 year old heart was broken. Felicia asked me if that made me sad. Of course it did. No emotionally healthy parent is immune to the pain that their children endure from time to time.

But later on, I pondered it a bit more. I am still sad that James was sad. But, the rejection and pain he went through today help form him into a whole human being. If James went through life facing no pain or rejection, he wouldn't be real. He would be a detached person without the ability to empathize with others in pain.

The pain James went through today can be used by him for future disappointments. It teaches him that even our closest friends will disappoint and hurt us. And it will help him realize that he also has the capacity to injure others through his own indifference. I don't expect him to actually learn all this stuff today - he is only 4 and is currently playing with his Lego Hero Factory action figure, (not nursing his emotional bruise). But under the guidance of parents who love him, we can help guide his heart out of hurt into healing, and he will mature through the journey.

The deepest hurt a human being endures is the pain of rejection. When someone we love experiences rejection we need to double our expressions of love, affirmation and acceptance of them. Which I plan to do tonight with extra snuggles and extra halloween candy.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Canadian media vs. American Media

Peter Mansbridge: Calm, Cool, Collected and Canadian

Its interesting how a sub-story of the Ottawa shooting has been the startling difference between Canadian and American broadcasting. I am unable to get any Canadian channels so I got all my news through CNN last night.

It seems like the American media thinks it is serving us well by bringing is a dozen "experts" who analyze every single aspect of a story down to whether the types of socks the shooter was wearing can tell us something about his religious identity. (i made that up - but wouldn't be surprised if CNN found some sartorial theologian who could make the connection).

This won't change how America reports the news - this is just an observation by american media on Canadian media. American news is far more obsessed with celebrity and dramatic "breaking" events than reasonable thoughtful observation.

Exceptions might be Meet the Press or 60 minutes that take a bit longer to tease out a story. But, the sound bite quick cut medium of reporting simply reinforces the superficial cosmetic culture we have all grown used to here.

Canada - keep up the good work. (and someone hook up cbc, ctv or global for me down here).

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Gilead, Darkness and Miracles

"In all that deep darkness, a miracle was preparing".

That is a line from Gilead, a novel by Marilynne Robinson. The context is that the narrator is discussing a long time when he was single. As a pastor in a small town, he was seen as quite a catch, so many daughters and nieces were presented to him. But, no one caught his eye. This caused him to feel sad and lonely.

In every life we go through periods of deep darkness. Its almost like our time in the womb prepares us for similar times of murky shadow times. It might be helpful to consider that when we find ourselves in those times that a miracle is in fact being prepared.

For the character in Gilead, the miracle was the woman who would become his wife. The woman tells him "You ought to marry me." The effect was so tremendous that his response was:

"That was the first time in my life I ever knew what it was to love another human being."

Darkness is ok. Shadow seasons need not frighten us. Because darkness, sadness and deprivation are often fused into a powerful alloy out of which the miracle is birthed.

God created light out of darkness.
YOU first existed in darkness (the womb) before emerging out into the blinding hospital lights.
And you were a miracle to those first people who heard you cry.
But the miracle came out of darkness.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

After your Pastor Preaches a Sermon

The scientist (Cornell professor Dr. Jonathan Butcher) and
the pastor (me) answer some questions from students.

So, I'm a pastor. Part of my job is preaching. I share the preaching load at our church with our interim lead pastor. Since he's the lead guy, he preaches slightly more than I do.

I want to share with you a little bit about what it's like to prepare and deliver a sermon. And one thing to please not do to your pastor immediately after he or she preaches their sermon.

I normally start my preparation for my sermon Monday morning. I print out the text in the version I will preach from and in Greek, so I can access both the Greek and English while reading and making notes. I read the Greek first to get a good handle about how it sounded when it was first written.

Then I read through the passage several times, making notes and waiting for an outline to emerge - After about an hour I have a pretty good idea of how the passage is laid out. Now, it's time for deeper study. I crack open the commentaries and start to study. If possible I will listen to the passage preached by some of my favorite preachers. Usually:
John Stott, Martyn Loyd Jones, Tim Keller and Darrell Johnson.

This usually takes about 8 hours. And then I write the sermon. The actual writing of the sermon can take anywhere from 2 to 8 hours. It depends on how easily the outline emerged. Writing a sermon is more like wrestling with a biblical text - moving it around, trying to figure out what God's truth is lying in there - what specific thing he wants to communicate with my church.

Most of my reading, studying and praying is done over Monday, Thursday and Friday. I will still meet with people on Monday and Friday but usually try to block Thursday completely out to do serious uninterrupted study and writing.

If I think it is finished, I put it away for awhile. And then later come back to it for final edits - usually Friday afternoon or sometimes Saturday morning. When I am convinced I have done all I can I pray a final prayer dedicating it to God.

And then I preach it (I'll write another post about preaching later).

Now - here's the thing I want to tell you to NOT do immediately after your pastor preaches a sermon. Please please please do not correct him on something he or she might have said wrong. Do not point out an area you feel he or she was in error.

I am not saying never communicate it - I'm just saying, give it a couple of days. When you preach you are giving everything of yourself. You are often spent, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It is a time of great vulnerability and fragility.

I am fortunate enough to have a very gracious and loving congregation who often compliment me on my sermons. But, there are also sometimes some people who for some reason feel led to tell me all the errors I made. Last month someone felt they needed to tell me I had mis-pronounced a name. Now, remember I'm not saying never do it - just give your pastor a day to 2 to recover (or even a few hours!)

I can't tell you how deflating and discouraging it is to put so much energy into a sermon, deliver it as well as you can and then IMMEDIATELY following to be told all the mistakes you made.

So, be kind to your pastor. He or she is doing the best that he or she can. They might not always get it right. But, believe me, they know when they have fallen short in a sermon. They really don't need your correction all the time.