Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Inkwell

Pain makes a fitting inkwell for the writer.
Out of the tarry depths, she splashes black ink against bleached parchment.
Again and again.
Until the ink is gone.
But so much pain only covers a fraction of the pages.
That which is left uncovered reflects the light of life.
And a new perspective is gained.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Advent - Hope

We will start our celebration of the Advent season this Sunday (November 29th). I started to write my blog and came upon this masterpiece by Dennis Bratcher while doing my research.

I decided to run this instead. Enjoy!


Small Things and Possibility: An Advent Reflection

“We live in a world in which bigger and better define our expectations for much of life. We have become so enamored by super size, super stars, and high definition that we tend to view life through a lens that so magnifies what we expect out of the world that we tend not to see potential in small things. But as the prophet Zechariah reminds us (Zech 4:10), we should not "despise the day of small things," because God does some of his best work with small beginnings and impossible situations.

It is truly a humbling experience to read back through the Old Testament and see how frail and imperfect all the "heroes" actually are. Abraham, the coward who cannot believe the promise. Jacob, the cheat who struggles with everybody. Joseph, the immature and arrogant teen. Moses, the impatient murderer who cannot wait for God. Gideon, the cowardly Baal-worshipper. Samson, the womanizing drunk. David, the power abusing adulterer. Solomon, the unwise wise man. Hezekiah, the reforming king who could not quite go far enough. And finally, a very young Jewish girl from a small village in a remote corner of a great empire.

It never ceases to amaze me that God often begins with small things and inadequate people. It certainly seems that God could have chosen "bigger" things and "better" people to do His work in the world. Yet if God can use them, and reveal Himself through them in such marvelous ways, it means that He might be able to use me, inadequate, and unwise, and too often lacking in faith that I am. And it means that I need to be careful that I do not in my own self-righteousness put limits on what God can do with the smallest things, the most unlikely of people, in the most hopeless of circumstances. I think that is part of the wonder of the Advent Season.

I am convinced that one of the main purposes of the incarnation of Jesus was to provide hope. While most people today want to talk about the death of Jesus and the Atonement of sins, the early Church celebrated the Resurrection and the hope it embodied. It was a proclamation of a truth that rang throughout the Old Testament, that endings are not always endings but are opportunities for God to bring new beginnings. The Resurrection proclaimed that truth even about humanity’s greatest fear, death itself.

Both the season of Advent and the season of Lent are about hope. It is not just hope for a better day or hope for the lessening of pain and suffering, although that is certainly a significant part of it. It is more about hope that human existence has meaning and possibility beyond our present experiences, a hope that the limits of our lives are not nearly as narrow as we experience them to be. It is not that we have possibility in ourselves, but that God is a God of new things and so all things are possible (Isa 42:9, Mt 19:26, Mk 14:36)

God's people in the first century wanted Him to come and change their oppressive circumstances, and were angry when those immediate circumstances did not change. But that is a short sighted view of the nature of hope. Our hope cannot be in circumstances, no matter how badly we want them or how important they are to us. The reality of human existence, with which the Book of Job struggles, is that God's people experience that physical existence in the same way that others do. Christians get sick and die, Christians are victims of violent crimes, and Christians are hurt and killed in traffic accidents, bombings, war, and in some parts of the world, famine.

If our hope is only in our circumstances, as we define them to be good or as we want them to be to make us happy, we will always be disappointed. That is why we hope, not in circumstances, but in God. He has continually, over the span of four thousand years, revealed himself to be a God of newness, of possibility, of redemption, the recovery or transformation of possibility from endings that goes beyond what we can think or even imagine (Eph 3:2). The best example of that is the crucifixion itself, followed by the resurrection. That shadow of the cross falls even over the manger.

Yet, it all begins in the hope that God will come and come again into our world to reveal himself as a God of newness, of possibility, a God of new things. This time of year we contemplate that hope embodied, enfleshed, incarnated, in a newborn baby, the perfect example of newness, potential, and possibility. During Advent, we groan and long for that newness with the hope, the expectation, indeed the faith, that God will once again be faithful to see our circumstances, to hear our cries, to know our longings for a better world and a whole life (Ex 3:7). And we hope that as he first came as an infant, so he will come again as King!

My experience tells me that those who have suffered and still hope understand far more about God and about life than those who have not. Maybe that is what hope is about: a way to live, not just to survive, but to live authentically amidst all the problems of life with a Faith that continues to see possibility when there is no present evidence of it, just because God is God. That is also the wonder of Advent.”

- Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2009 CRI/Voice, Institute, All Rights Reserved

Isaiah 9:1-7
Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will soon be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light—a light that will shine on all who live in the land where death casts its shadow. Israel will again be great, and its people will rejoice as people rejoice at harvest time. They will shout with joy like warriors dividing the plunder. For God will break the chains that bind his people and the whip that scourges them, just as he did when he destroyed the army of Midian with Gideon's little band. In that day of peace, battle gear will no longer be issued. Never again will uniforms be bloodstained by war. All such equipment will be burned.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the LORD Almighty will guarantee this!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Ostrich

Seeing the Vice-Principal was not my favorite way to start the afternoon, but I had nowhere else to hide.


For several days I had avoided the necessity of completing my math homework by simply not showing up at all to math class.

Simple logic for an elementary school kid.

After recess, I’d make my way up with the rest of my class but would slip away to “use the bathroom”.

Use the bathroom was right. I used a stall as my hideout for several days. It was conveniently located between my regular classroom and the room we had math in, so I thought I was actually getting away with something.

How was I supposed to know they took attendance?

I spent the hour I had blissfully working on 3D paper Transformers that actually could change from vehicles to robots and back (hey, I couldn’t afford to buy a bunch of the REAL ones).

Anyways, it all finally caught up with me, and I stood before the VP. He was on the phone when I was led in for slaughter. I remember he stayed on the phone for what seemed like an eternity.

He had something to tell me, he just wasn’t ready to share what.

Meanwhile, I was a worm squirming on a hook.

I don’t remember what he told me, all I can remember is waiting with dread.

Procrastination in life has neither served me nor the ones I love well. I know I need to talk to someone about something, but I feel (or sometimes I know) it’s not going to be pretty. So I don’t do anything.

I play the ostrich and keep my head in the sand.

At the last possible moment I blurt out what I’m feeling or thinking, and I always seem to do it in the worst possible way and at the worst possible moment.

This has happened on two separate occasions in the past WEEK, and broken pieces are still falling.

Why do I wait and hurt those who I love dearly?

All of those who know me at all acknowledge that I’m not perfect. It’s very true, and I’m glad that I can recognize it. I’m a screw-up just like everyone else.

I don’t have it together.

I’m glad that God loves screw-ups. That He loves those who don’t have it all together (and never will). I’m thrilled to have a relationship with a God who doesn’t treat me like I deserve to be treated.

And it’s all because of the Cross.

Luke 23:26-49
As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women. But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’ For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.

The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” A sign was fastened to the cross above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

By this time it was noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”And with those words he breathed his last.

When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.” And when all the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow. But Jesus’ friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Prayers for El Salvador

Rambo does not drink coffee.

He told me a while back that he doesn’t because of health issues. It doesn’t sit well with his digestion.

I usually find him around one of the local gas stations, waiting for work like everyone else. He stands out because he’s usually dressed in battered camouflage fatigues. First time I met him, I asked him his name and he simply shrugged and replied in Spanish, “Everyone calls me Rambo.” So Rambo it was.

I see him often, and ask how he’s doing. He usually talks about how little work there is to be had. I reply that there MUST be some good things that happened in the past week (this either brightens his outlook on life or royally annoys him; I never know for sure).

Two days ago, I ran into Rambo and a few of friends. I was down to my last container of coffee and cheerfully greeted them. They were not as animated as they usually are; I could tell something was out of place. Rambo was the first to speak. He shared about the mudslides in El Salvador; the brutal aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

“They need so many supplies. Nothing is being done for them.”

What could I say to this? I felt deflated. We discussed the needs for a few minutes, and I said I would try to find out what relief agencies are doing to help. What good would that do, I thought? Find some facts on the internet. Share it with them later. Whoopee. Good job, Joe.

Well, yesterday, I found out that Virginia Baptists are responding to the emergency in El Salvador.

“Raúl Santamaría, a native of El Salvador and pastor of Tabernáculo Biblico Bautista Virginia, a BGAV church start in Ashburn, is coordinating relief efforts among Latino churches in Virginia and planning to lead a response team from his church to the affected area. The purpose of the trip is to assess current and future needs and to distribute items of relief. The team will be ministering in connection with the Tabernáculo Biblico Bautista in San Salvador, El Salvador.”

I found out that churches are invited to collect clothing items this Sunday (November 15th), which will be transported to Fredericksburg this Tuesday (November 17th).

“Pastor Raúl and the team will take the collected items with them as they travel to El Salvador. Items listed are to be distributed to all ages. They are looking for jeans, slacks, shorts, skirts, dresses, t-shirts, short-sleeved shirts and shoes (tennis, deck, sandals). All items should be in good condition and lightweight in nature as this is a tropical climate. All sizes are needed.”

In conjunction with the gathering of clothes, The River will offer a prayer service for those affected by this disaster.

Please keep El Salvador in your prayers. Interestingly, “El Salvador” is Spanish for “The Savior”.

Jesus said that when you clothe another, you are clothing Him.

Let us clothe “El Salvador.”

Friday, November 6, 2009


It was the winter of 1999 and I had experienced a great first semester at seminary. I passed my five classes, was active at my new church, had a good group of new friends (why do seminaries seem to attract weird people?), and was working two jobs. Through all this madness, I also managed to find a girlfriend. I looked forward to coming to Miami to hang out with my family and friends, and to celebrate Christmas and New Years 2000.

I got home, ready for a frantic week of social activity, and got sick.

Really sick.

Sick, sick, sick.

I was so sick that I was bedridden for several days.

I have my theories as to what happened, but the one that really sticks out is that my body couldn’t take it anymore. I had experienced a brutal schedule and my body was in survival mode. As soon as my schedule let up, my body decided that it was time to recuperate.

So I was on a forced bed rest to give my body and mind a chance to heal.
With all that we go through, why don’t we take time apart more often to avoid the crashes?

ESPECIALLY after we experience success?

Times that I have been my lowest have usually followed mountain-top experiences. We find similar occurrences all over the Bible. Something amazing happens, and then the participants get pummeled by circumstances. Moses, David, Elijah … and that’s just a few.

We have this habit of soaring like an eagle, then plummeting like a lead duck.

I, for one, don’t like drops (I don’t exactly enjoy being flung up in the air either).

What’s the answer to keeping a level keel?


Jesus did a lot of it. If you look at His life, He didn’t ride a rollercoaster of emotions.

His life was a steady walk.

He knew His mission and fulfilled the life His Father placed before Him.

He walked with His Father.

His life was consumed with the reality of a dual existence. He lived life among us, but He also lived with His Father. He would take time away from us to walk with Dad.
We become who we spend time with.

My challenge this week isn’t to pray to God every day for 30 minutes, or to serve others, or even to hang out with other believers.

My challenge is to carve some time out of your busy schedule and to hang out with God. Take a drive down a lonely road. Sit in a field, or by a lake, or in your garage. Walk around your neighborhood at six in the morning (or nine at night).

Whatever it takes.

To be still.

Genesis 5:21-24
When Enoch was 65 years old, he became the father of Methuselah. After the birth of Methuselah, Enoch lived in close fellowship with God for another 300 years, and he had other sons and daughters. Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him.

Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

A river brings joy to the city of our God, the sacred home of the Most High. God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed. From the very break of day, God will protect it. The nations are in chaos, and their kingdoms crumble! God’s voice thunders, and the earth melts! The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.

Come, see the glorious works of the LORD: See how he brings destruction upon the world. He causes wars to end throughout the earth. He breaks the bow and snaps the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.” The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.

Luke 4:38-44
After leaving the synagogue that day, Jesus went to Simon’s home, where he found Simon’s mother-in-law very sick with a high fever. “Please heal her,” everyone begged. Standing at her bedside, he rebuked the fever, and it left her. And she got up at once and prepared a meal for them.

As the sun went down that evening, people throughout the village brought sick family members to Jesus. No matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one. Many were possessed by demons; and the demons came out at his command, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But because they knew he was the Messiah, he rebuked them and refused to let them speak.

Early the next morning Jesus went out to an isolated place. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” So he continued to travel around, preaching in synagogues throughout Judea.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.