Pastor Jim’s Blog: What We have Seen and Hearne

 
 
 
 

Why does God allow suffering?

Why does God allow trials and suffering in our lives?  This question was posed to me at a worship at the end of last summer where I had a minute to answer.  I wanted to spend some time reflecting on this question in this blog edition. 
 
One only can to turn on any news channel, look on Twitter or Facebook and see the trials and sufferings going on in our world.  Whether it’s extreme temperatures, hate crimes being perpetrated, abortion or infanticide laws being promoted, cancer diagnoses, cops being shot, school shootings, black people being targeted, wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorists exploding themselves killing others in the name of God, you need not go far to experience the pain of this world.  And people immediately ask: “Why?  Why did God allow this?” 
 
These tragic events are just added to the everyday pain and suffer you and I may experience in our individual lives.  There’s illness, abuse, broken relationships, betrayal, sorrow, injuries, disappointment, heartache, crime and death.  We all can easily ask the questions: “Why? Why me? Why now?”
 
It’s not a new question.  It goes back thousands of years.  It was asked in the Old Testament by Job and the writers of the Psalms, and it was especially relevant during the 20th century, where we witnessed two World Wars, the Holocaust, genocides in the Soviet Union and China, famines in Africa, the killing fields in Cambodia, the emergence of AIDS, the genocide in Rwanda and the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.  The 21st century did not start any better with 9/11, the Syrian slaughters, and on and on.  Why do all of these horrific things happen if there’s a loving and powerful God?  Why do bad things happen to good people?
 
Several years ago there was a national survey that asked people what question they’d ask if they could only ask God one thing.  The number one response was: “Why is there suffering in our world?” 
 
I don’t have an exact answer.  In fact, perhaps my best answer is: I DON’T KNOW.  But we have a tradition and perspective that might be helpful for considering suffering in this world.  Jesus himself was honest about the inevitability of suffering.  In John 16:33 he said, “You will have suffering in this world.”  Notice Jesus didn’t say “might”- he said it is going to happen. 
 
I don’t have God’s mind and can’t share his perspective in this world.  Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:12 “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.”  Someday we will see with clarity, but for now things are foggy.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t grapple with the question of why God allows suffering in our lives.  We can understand some things. 
 
Back in December Amy and I took a trip to Verona to see the play “A Christmas Story.” On our way back home in the dark on 18/151, the conditions were perfect for a thick fog to settle in the area.  I could barely see the white stripe on the edge of the road.  Amy was anxious.  I didn’t want to stop because I was afraid someone might come along and rear-end us.  It was actually frightening!  But then a truck appeared in front of us and we could clearly see the taillights through the fog.  He had fog lamps in front.  I knew if we could just follow those taillights, we’d be headed in the right direction.  I think this might be a good analogy for trying to understand why there is tragedy and suffering in our lives.  We may not be able to make out all the details of why certain things happen, but there are some elements or faith truths that can be points of light for us so that we can remain headed in the right direction. 
 
1.)God is not the creator of evil and suffering.  Turn to Genesis in your Bibles and you will read in 1:31 that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”  If God created all to be good, where did evil, suffering and tragedy come from?  When God created the world in LOVE, he created us with the ability to love and the gift of free will to love or not to love.  Love always involves a choice.  Humans have abused that gift of free will by rejecting God and walking away from him.  Evil is the absence of good.  When the terrorists on 9/11 killed the pilots, took over the planes and flew into the Twin Towers and Pentagon all in the name of Allah, they had a perverted understanding of God.  God never would call us to harm one another.  Those terrorists created and undertook that malicious and evil plan.  You see when we walk away from the ultimate good- God- this allows evil to enter the world.  God knew we would rebel against him, but still created us knowing many would choose to have a relationship with him.  For God, it’s all worth it because of the potential for joy, love and meaning in our lives.  God is pure love and good. 
 
2.) Though suffering isn’t good, God can use it to accomplish good.  Romans 8:28 promises “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Notice the verse doesn’t say God causes evil and suffering, just that he promises to cause good to emerge.  Also notice the verse doesn’t say we all will see immediately or even in this life how God caused good to emerge from a bad circumstance.  You and I are tempted to say: “No, God can’t bring good out of my circumstance.  The harm was too great, the damage was too extreme, the depth of my suffering has been too much.”  God’s promise is powerful and everlasting.  When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf back in 2005, the world’s eyes were opened to the extreme poverty in New Orleans and the South.  People from all over the world traveled to help rebuild the affected areas.  New relationships were formed and partnerships were made.  We can now look back and see how God’s grace and promise took suffering and used it to accomplish something good. 
 
3.) Our suffering will pale in comparison to the good things God has in store for us.  In Romans 8:18 we read: “I (Paul) consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  Remember Paul suffered through beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, rejection, hunger, thirst- far more than most of us will ever have to endure.  This is not to minimize pain and suffering, but sometimes we need to take a long-term perspective.  Here’s a way to consider this: What if on the first day of 2019 saw you have a root canal, get into a car accident, your stocks take a big dive and your spouse or child get sick?  But then every other day of the year was incredibly terrific.  You get a promotion, win the lotto, your health is good and you take a wonderful family vacation.  When someone asks in 2020 how was your 2019 you’d probably say “It was great and wonderful!”  You’d remember the first day and how bad it was but then look at the totality of the year and put it all in context.  The 364 terrific days outweigh the one bad day.  That day just fades away. 
 
Losing my mom on January 11, 1991 and my dad on January 7, 2017 were two extremely painful days in my life.  But I look back and see all the days I had with them and how much they were such positive, loving people in my life and not even those two days of death can take away the life mom and dad instilled in me.  I miss them every day but I focus on the good God had in store for them and now for me.  That’s the promise of God to us.  Let the words of 1 Corinthians 2:9 soak into your soul: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
 
4) We decide whether to turn bitter or turn to God for peace and courage.  I have sadly witnessed how suffering can cause people to turn bitter, to reject God, to become hard, angry and sullen.  I’ve also seen how suffering can cause another to turn to God, to become more gentle, more loving and tender and willing to reach out to compassionately help others who are in pain.  BLC recently offered “GriefShare”, a recovery support group for those grieving the loss of a loved one.  I saw first hand how those suffering from grief were compassionate walking with the others in the group through their pain, hardship and tears.  They became a support system for each other.  They turned to God instead of turning bitter.  What happens if we run towards God in our suffering and pain?  The possibilities are endless because God’s promise is limitless. 
 
I want to finish by returning to John 16:33. Here is the entire verse: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” God offers us the two very things we need when we’re hurting: peace to deal with our present and courage to deal with our future.  God always has the final word. 
 
 
Amy and I eventually made it through that thick fog by following the taillights of that truck.  The fog slowly began to lift and we made it back home with the lights of town eventually guiding us.  Things became clearer making it possible for us to see our way home.  God’s ultimate answer to suffering isn’t an explanation; it’s the incarnation.  God became one like us in all things…including experiencing and knowing suffering.  Jesus was betrayed, denied, accused, doubted, he cried seeing friends die, and he himself in his last breaths suffered tremendously.  Jesus travels into our deepest darkness.  Every tear we shed becomes his tear.  God doesn’t just sympathize with us.  He enters into us.  Turn to Him.  That’s the promise.  When the suffering comes and it will; when you’re wrestling with pain and you will, make the choice to run into his arms.  It will make all the difference in the world.  The question is not so much “Why,” but rather “Now what?”  I pray you will give your suffering and pain to the One who offers us the greatest promise ever. 
 
~P.J. 


Who is your Morrie?

At a Sunday worship at the end of summer I answered 5 questions that Amy and some others thought would be interesting to hear my response.  I did not know the questions ahead of time.  I was only given 1 minute to respond to each question.  To refresh your memory, the questions were:
 
Why does God allow trials and suffering in our lives? 
What one book other than the Bible has most influenced your life?
 
This month I want to talk about the book that has most influenced my life other than the bible.   
 
It’s funny how God works in our lives.  I’ve seen this over and over and over in ministry and my own personal life.  I remember instinctively answering the question posed to me at worship with “Tuesdays with Morrie.”  What?  Why that book?  Why not some theological heavy weight like “The Book of Concord” or “The Lutheran Confessions” or some even back to my Catholic Seminary days and a Thomas Aquinas book.  Why “Tuesdays with Morrie?”  I’d like to think that has the Spirit prodded me to give that response, the platform with how I base live and minister seemingly came to the surface.  If you have never read the book, go get it.  It won’t take you long to read at a short 192 pages.  It’s a quick read.  If it’s been a while, go check it out from the library and re-read it.    If you’ve never heard of it, here’s the summary from the inside cover of the book:  
 
Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher, or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, helped you see the world as a more profound place, gave you sound advice to help make your way through it.  For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor from nearly twenty years ago.  Maybe, like Mitch, you lost track of this mentor as you made your way, and the insights faded, and the world seemed colde”  r.  Wouldn’t you like to see that person again, ask the bigger questions that still haunt you, receive wisdom for your busy life today the way you once did when you were younger?  Mitch Albom had that second chance. He rediscovered Morrie in the last months of the older man’s life. Knowing he was dying, Morrie visited with Mitch in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final “class:” lessons in how to live. The book is a magical chronicle of their time together, through which Mitch shares Morrie’s lasting gift with the world.”  
 
The book was turned into a movie and Mitch Albom has gone on to write several other wonderful little books including “Have a Little Faith” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.”  But “Tuesdays with Morrie” is the one that touched my soul and spirit and continues to help guide me to this very day.   
 
I don’t want to necessarily write a review of the book- there are plenty of them you can find and read.  The book was first published in 1997.  I had graduated from high school in the Spring and would be heading to St. Meinrad College in St. Meinrad, Indiana for what would end up being a year of school.  St. Meinrad would close its college program the following Spring.  I remember my dad driving me the 300 miles south down Route 41 with all my stuff (way too much stuff as I recall).  I remember being anxious, excited, frightened and eager at being away from home for the first time in my life.  All of my other siblings had remained closer to home for their college education.  I was going the furthest. 

Dad and I

And even though it would only be for a year, it was huge for me and for my dad.  He and I by this time had forged a unique bond.  My mom had died in January 1991.  The rest of my siblings moved out of the house and were living their own lives.  It was dad who would help me survive high school.  It was dad who became the cook of the house.  It was dad who did the laundry and cared for both of us.  I don’t know how he managed to do it all, but he did.  Love gets us to do things we never thought possible.  Albom recounts one of his conversations with Morrie quoting him: “Do the kinds of things that come from the heart.  When you do, you won’t be dissatisfied, you won’t be envious, you won’t be longing for somebody else’s things.  On the contrary, you’ll be overwhelmed with what comes back” (128).  Dad and I had become best buds.  Heck, we even worked together on the maintenance team at our church and grammar school.  At times, it might have been a little too much “Dad” for me, but I wouldn’t trade those days for the world, either.  I got to know Dad in ways my siblings hadn’t since we lived and worked together. 
 
I remembered thinking that as he drove away after dropping me off at St. Meinrad.  I know he cried.  I did, too, without my fellow classmates seeing. 

There I am with St. Meinrad in the background.

He had become my rock after mom passed.  And I’d like to think I had gave him something, too.  We really hadn’t talked about how, when or what time we would talk with each other.  It happened organically.  This was the days before cell phones.  My room had a phone….and Dad never got nor wanted a computer.  That just wasn’t his style.  As I settled into the fall semester, we got our reading list and “Tuesdays with Morrie” was on there for one of my classes.  I read the book and instantly connected with it.  It’s a wonderful story of the heart, human connection, friendship, mentoring, and love.  We all have that person in our lives we want to listen to and want their perspective on things.  As Mitch remembered, reconnected and resurrected his relationship with his old professor, I realized that mentor in my life was my dad.  Sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder.   
 

Anna with Dad while he is on the phone! He made more phone calls than any one else I know.

Mitch and Morrie settled on Tuesdays for their sacred time together.  Dad and I settled on Wednesday and Sunday nights as our “Check-in Call Time.”  Just about 8:00pm on those days I could always expect a call from dad.  And yes, he insisted on making the phone call so I wouldn’t have to pay for long distance calls.  Sometimes the calls would last mere minutes, other times 45 minutes.  We would catch up only after he would share a joke or two.  He would ask about classes, the monks (St. Meinrad was operated by Benedictine monks), classmates he had gotten to know of mine (my class had a total of 13 of us so it was small- really small), about meals, and just about everything he could think to ask.  I would ask about other family members, happenings back at home and church.  Those Wednesday Night and Sunday Night “Check-in calls” would be our lifeline.  They probably helped me survive that year away.  Now don’t get me wrong…I loved my time at St. Meinrad.  It was a fun and awesome year.  But I missed Dad.  And maybe this time of year as we get closer to the anniversary of his passing (January 2017), I am nostalgic for his voice…for those phone conversations…pieces of advice and jokes he would share.  We hustle and bustle this time of year and we can forget or just look past the precious gifts right in front of us.  
 
Morrie offered this wisdom to Mitch: “We’re so wrapped up with egotistical things, career, family, having enough money, meeting the mortgage, getting a new car, fixing the radiator when it breaks- we’re involved in trillions of little acts just to keep going.  So we don’t get into the habit of standing back and looking at our lives and saying, Is this all? Is this all I want? Is something missing?  You need someone to probe you in that direction. It won’t just happen automatically” (64-65). 

One of my favorite memories at St. Meinrad was when Dad and my sister Mary came to visit for Easter.

I can’t help but think as I read the book the first time it was like I was reading about my dad.  Dad wasn’t dying of ALS like Morrie was, but my dad had a unique perspective and wisdom about things.  I loved hearing his stories, his opinions and other times I would just enjoy our banter about sports, religion and politics.  Dad was raised in a certain era and that helped to shape his world vision.  Dad was the one who prodded me to think differently, to see the entire picture, to listen more clearly and to think for myself.  Dad loved people.  He loved being with people and enjoyed being on the phone with them.  I was one of his students.  My siblings and I were his favorite pupils until the grandkids came along!   
 
As Mitch began to record his weekly visits with Morrie and the idea of putting those notes into a book came to fruition, it changed him.  Morrie helped Mitch to rediscover himself that had gotten lost in the busy-ness of his career as a sports writer.  Dad helped me rediscover myself time and time again.  Those Wednesday and Sunday Night calls when I first moved away from home were my lifeline.  I would sit at the foot of dad on those phone calls listening for his wisdom, his heart and his love.  One of the lessons from the book is really finding your purpose and living it.  As Morrie helped remind Mitch of that, Dad did that for me.   What I have found in the almost 21 years since I first read “Tuesdays with Morrie” is that how I function as a human being, how I relate as a husband and father, how I minister as a pastor, how I connect as a friend, how I see my siblings- it’s all about relationship and even more specifically- it’s about finding our purpose.  We can be so busy about doing things, we forget what we are and often the people right in our midst.  I’ve tried to let the model of Mitch visiting Morrie, of the phone calls and interactions with my dad help guide and form my life.  The Bible helps lay the framework for our purpose.  Our humanity and faith looks like something, sounds like something, feels like something, tastes like something…whether I’m preaching a sermon or visiting someone in the hospital, whether it’s a council meeting or helping trim the weeds on the church grounds, I try to live my purpose by just being with those I am with.  For Jesus, it always, always, always was about the person he was interacting with at that specific moment.  His purpose in living was to show us that the meaning of life was in our relationships.  “Tuesdays with Morrie” has shaped me more than I’ll ever really know.  It helped me to realize the gift of my dad and his role as mentor in my life.  To Morrie, Mitch, and Dad, thank you for helping me to be me.  I hope to keep the cycle going and be that person for Amy, Anna and Peter.   
 
Here’s how the book finishes: “The last class of my old professor’s life took place once a week, in his home, by a window in his study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its pink flowers. The class met on Tuesdays.  No books were required. The subject was the meaning of life. It was taught from experience. The teaching goes on.”  
 
Who was it for you?  Who is it for you today?  Who is your Morrie?  Can you still reach out to them?  Is there a book that has had a profound impact on you?  Why?  Remember your purpose.  Make it a resolution in 2019.  Rediscover YOU. 


Stay right when you’ve been wronged.

At a Sunday worship towards the end of summer I answered 5 questions that Amy and some others thought would be interesting to hear my response.  I did not know the questions ahead of time.  I was only given 1 minute to respond to each question. 
 
To refresh your memory, the questions were:
  • Why does God allow trials and suffering in our lives? 
  • How do I deal with people in my life who have hurt me?
  • How do I know if I am hearing God’s voice in my life?
  • What one book other than the Bible has most influenced your life?
  • What are things parents can do to instill in their children a love for Jesus? [Sept blog post]
 
Last month I responded to the question about trials and sufferings in our life.  This month I want to dwell with you about how we deal with people who have hurt us.
 
Stay right when you’ve been wronged. It was my 4th grade year and things were great.  I had a great teacher (Mrs. O’Block) and the crush of my life at that time- Nancy Hammer- was in my same homeroom.  Because of our last names, we were usually seated near each other.  Her blond hair, dimple when she smiled…it all just got me.  I was in love.  She lived down the street from me.  I remember on Valentine’s Day going and buying a candy gift at the store for her and then being so nervous I didn’t want to give it to her.  I remember walking in the snow, cold and ice to her house and placing it at her door and then running as fast as I could.  There was one problem, though.  I didn’t ring the doorbell.  So it was politely suggested to me by my parents that I should call the Hammer house and let Nancy know there was something on the porch for her.  I don’t know how- but I did garner up enough strength to make the phone call and let Nancy know there was something on the porch for her.  The next day at school she thanked me…I think she knew I liked her.  It was pretty obvious.  And yet she played it cool.  I won a poetry contest in school and my reward was a gift certificate to McDonalds.  I asked Nancy if she would go with me for some happy meals and good times!  I was a sweet talker even back then!  With my mom and sister in the next booth, Nancy and I shared what seemed like an eternity of an afternoon talking, giggling and just being.  Things were good until Dawn Farrell entered the picture.
 

PJ’s 4th Grade Class Picture
Can you spot him?

Dawn found out that I was giving gifts to Nancy and lunch trips to McDonalds and so she “started liking me.”  Before all this she hardly spoke a word to me…she was one of the popular girls in the class and she didn’t have time for me.  Until now.  She started passing notes to me in class and I can vividly remember what was written on the paper: Do you like me?  Circle Yes or No.  Someone cool was showing interest in me.  Nancy was nice but Dawn was the popular girl.  She was passing me notes.  Well, you know how this story goes: hook, line and sinker I fell for Dawn’s moves.  I declared my love for her.  I invited her over to my house to play video games and I even used me chore money to buy her a wrist bracelet.  But when I had no more money and she bored of me, Dawn moved on.  And I was left with nothing except heartache and despair.  Okay, I may be bit over-dramatic in my interpretation of what happened (it was like a soap opera, though), but the bones of the story are true.  Dawn wronged me and I felt anger, hurt and sadness towards her.  I wronged Nancy as well in this whole interplay of a 4th grade crush affair gone awry.  I always still liked Nancy but when Dawn showed this sudden interest in me it felt good.  Even through 8th grade I carried feelings of uneasiness and betrayal towards Dawn.  She used me.  I got burned.   
 
Stay right when you’ve been wronged.  I suspect many of us have been wronged…and some more severe and worse than my 4th grade girl drama.  Perhaps you’ve been hurt by someone really close to you- a parent, sibling, relative or a friend, co-worker, fellow parishioner or complete stranger.  So, how do we deal with them realizing for most of the people that hurt us, we still have to deal with them and perhaps live with them.  When we have been wronged, the tendency for most of us is to lash out, attack, criticize, argue, ridicule, unfriend, unlike, condemn, gossip or hold a grudge.  It’s the easy way…but let me tell you- it’s not the best or healthiest or holiest way for us.  Each of us can recall times in our lives when we have been deeply hurt, shamed, excluded, or violated by someone.  We want our violators to understand the pain they caused, offer a genuine apology and hear them pledge to never do it to anyone else.  Other times there either no resolution or no remorse.  We’ve maybe walked away from painful experiences feeling angry, conflicted, hopeless or confused.  How can we justly and respond in a healthy way?  
 
As a young father I see this dynamic playing out in Anna and Peter’s lives.  When Anna comes to me with her own hurtful experiences, I feel a familiar wave of unsettledness.  Most of the time resolution can be found (someone took a toy she was playing with or someone said something about another kid).  But I know her experiences will only deepen as she gets older.  I see it in our young people on social media.  If you don’t get “likes” from someone else, it hurts.  And we can drop people from our friend lists. 
 
But “is this it?”  Is this all we can do when someone hurts us?  No.  Jesus models for us as “the way, truth and life.”  His way is about forgiveness, redemption (not revenge), grace and strength.  He asks us to forgive those who hurt us multiple times over.  But in the same vain he instructs us that if people don’t accept us, we should clap the dust of our shoes and move on to the next person or town.  As always, there is a lot of wiggle room Jesus gives us in the Gospel.  There is not a “one size fits all” response we can apply to every situation.  We are told to love our neighbor as ourselves but also Jesus came to bring division not peace.  What might all this mean for us here and now?   
 
Renowned author and speaker for young people, Kari Kampakis, suggests the following: “Everyone in your life serves a purpose.  Everyone has something to teach you.  And while people who are kind and friendly help teach you who you DO want to be, those who are not kind and friendly teach you who you DON’T want to be.” So what does this mean?  When you encounter someone who hurts your feelings, lean into that feeling.  Ask yourself what they did to make you feel that way.  Was it the words they chose?  Their tone?  The way they picked favorites and then ignored everyone else’s?  Whatever they did, make a pledge. Promise yourself that you’ll never treat anyone the way they treated you.  This is one of the ways we become a kinder and more compassionate person.  This is how we can learn from their mistakes.  
And conversely when you meet someone you really like, lean into that feeling, too.  Ask yourself what they did to make you feel so good.  Then make a pledge to be more like them.  This is also how you become a kinder and more compassionate person.  Regardless of how anyone treats us, we all stand to benefit.  While some people teach you who you do want to be, others teach you who you don’t want to be.  Dawn taught me that I didn’t want to be like that to others- fake, pretentious and a user.  I also learned grace, compassion and forgiveness from Nancy who in the end liked me for me and not anything I gave her.   
 
I want to offer yet another way besides “making a pledge” when someone hurts us.  As disciples of Jesus, I think we could stand to benefit from starting with prayer.  Our natural inclination when we get hurt me is to hurt back.  Our natural inclination when someone says something bad against me is say something bad against them and hold on to it and never forgive them.  But here’s the point- all of the things that we are naturally inclined to do actually make it worse.  
 
But we can break all those chains to bitterness, guilt, resentment and worry.  We can keep from becoming slaves to the past and hurtful memories. We can choose to forgive.  This is one of the most difficult things we can do in our lives and yet one of the most incredibly freeing at the same time.  The cross has the power to free us from grudges, grief and resentment. There is no other way to let go of these emotions that are weighing us down than the cross. Jesus on the cross broke the power of sin and death in our lives. I want you to think of the person you need to forgive, the person whose offense planted a seed of bitterness in you, and I invite you to pray this prayer with me:  
 
Holy God, only you understand how much I’ve been hurt by this person. I don’t want to carry the pain for another second. I don’t want to be a bitter person. But I need your grace to release my hurt and to forgive those who’ve hurt me. This is the turning point. First, I need to experience your forgiveness. You know all the ways I’ve hurt others, and I’m so sorry for my sins. Jesus, thank you for dying for me. I accept your grace and forgiveness, and I need it daily. Today I’m turning to you, and I’m choosing to forgive the way you have forgiven me. Every time the memory comes back, I’ll forgive that person again until the pain is gone. Heal my heart with your grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  
 
Whether it’s making a pledge or praying for God’s grace to forgive, the best version of ourselves reminds us we must stay right when we’ve been wronged.  It’s too easy to allow negative feelings darken our hearts and souls.  Forgiveness is a journey.  Everyone in our lives serves a purpose and everyone has something to teach us.  I am grateful for Dawn Farrell, Nancy Hammer and many others who have taught me through the years who I want to be for myself.  Jesus is my model par excellence.  Who are the models of forgiveness, genuineness, integrity, compassion in your life?  How are we called to be those things for others?  Make a pledge today- right here and now: don’t allow someone else to have to power over you for the wrong they’ve done to you.  Stay right when you’ve been wronged.             


God is speaking, are you listening?

At a Sunday worship at the end of summer I answered 5 questions that Amy and some others thought would be interesting to hear my response.  I did not know the questions ahead of time.  I was only given 1 minute to respond to each question.  To refresh your memory, the questions were:
Why does God allow trials and suffering in our lives? 
How do I deal with people in my life who have hurt me?
How do I know if I am hearing God’s voice in my life? What one book other than the Bible has most influenced your life?
What are things parents can do to instill in their children a love for Jesus? [Sept blog post]
 
Last month I responded to the question about instilling a love for Jesus in our children.  This month I want to dwell with you about how we know if we are hearing God’s voice in our life.
 
Summer has departed us and the leaves of fall are beginning to flash their brilliant colors. Some people spend too much of their time living only in the future or get stuck living in the past. The past and future are critical and are bridged by the present moment. However, living solely in the past or future may rob us of the beauty of the present time. Our lives focused solely in the past may be likened to driving a car with eyes glued on the rear view mirror. The mirror is important, but our eyes fixed only upon the rearview mirror (with the car in drive) will cause a quick accident. The following reflection beautifully connects God with the past and future moments of our lives.  

I was regretting the past and fearing the future.

Suddenly God was speaking.

“My name is I am.”

I waited. God continued,

“When you live in the past, with its mistakes and regrets, it is hard. I am not there.

My name is not ‘I was.’

When you live in the future, with its problems and fears, it is hard. I am not there.

My name is not ‘I will be.’

When you live in this moment, it is not hard. I am here.

My name is ‘I am.’

 

You may be wondering why I am citing this beautiful poem to talk about hearing God’s voice.  I suspect many of us don’t even know if we are hearing God’s voice because we have so many ‘voices’ seeking our attention.  Whether it’s work, family, school…we all have those things and people competing for our attention and time.  We seek out Google to answer daunting questions of life rather than sit and ask God.  It’s the pace of the world- how fast, how high, how much, how efficient can we be when it comes to living our life.  Many of us are stuck in the past while some of us are already in gear for tomorrow. But what about now?  What about today?  God is about this place here, in all its thisness, and placiness, and about the intimate and immediately Holy One who, at no distance from us at all, moves mysteriously to make creation true both to itself and to him.  God is about now…God’s voice is now.  And that voice wants to wrestle with us…remember the story of Jacob classic Old Testament story?

From Genesis 32 1-2 And Jacob went his way. Angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them he said, “Oh! God’s Camp!” And he named the place Mahanaim (Campground). 22-23 But during the night he got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He got them safely across the brook along with all his possessions. 24-25 But Jacob stayed behind by himself, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he couldn’t get the best of Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint.
26 The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.” Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.” 27 The man said, “What’s your name?” He answered, “Jacob.” 28 The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.” 29 Jacob asked, “And what’s your name?” The man said, “Why do you want to know my name?” And then, right then and there, he blessed him. 30 Jacob named the place Peniel (God’s Face) because, he said, “I saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story!” 31-32 The sun came up as he left Peniel, limping because of his hip. (This is why Israelites to this day don’t eat the hip muscle; because Jacob’s hip was thrown out of joint.)  
 
Jacob “wrestled” with God.  Whatever happened at that campsite, it was intense, personal, perplexing, inspiring, life-changing and full of blessing.  I love the image of wrestling with God.  Jacob had this dramatic moment of divine prayer and conversation that lasted all night until daybreak.  What happens at daybreak?  The sun rises.  In our faith, we believe in the resurrection or the SON RISING after the darkness of night.  How do we know we are hearing God’s voice in our life?  Is it something we wrestle with?  Is it something that keeps us awake?  Where is the cross— because the voice of God always is accompanied by the cross.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it will be painful, but it will change us.  The voice of God asks, invites, challenges and demands that we die to ourselves- that we let something go in order to take on something new.  God’s voice is calming, reassuring, loving…God’s voice is truth itself.     
 
I never wrestled on a team, but I’ve wrestled with God.
 
Back when I was a priest I met a young woman who took my breath away.  She had the beauty of an angel and a soul like a dove.  Amy captured my heart and imagination.  But I loved being a priest and serving God in that capacity.  I fell in love with Amy.  I had to grapple with these feelings and answer some pretty difficult questions.  There were many “voices” in my head…my family, Amy’s, my spiritual director, my pastor, the Cardinal- ArchBishop in Chicago, and my own.  Which one do I listen to?  Which one do I trust is guiding me in the right path? 
 

And there was another voice in my heart…God’s voice was always there not judging or pushing but rather shepherding and holding me.  I had to quiet myself down.  We often think of prayer has us talking with God.  And that’s partly true.  But the most important aspect of prayer is quieting ourselves down and listening to the voice of God.  And I did.  I opened my bible.  I lit candles.  I got quiet.  I went for walks.  I sat in a darkened church.  I was never alone, though.  God’s voice was always with me.  It took time to prayerfully consider how God was moving and acting in all of these feelings I was having.  I was wrestling with the God I had been faithfully serving as a priest for some 6 years at that point.  Why me?  Why this?  Why now?  Didn’t God want me to be a priest?  Had I gotten that wrong?  Were these just romantic feelings I was having for Amy?  Was I lonely?  What would this mean for me?  For her?  If I wasn’t a priest, what would I do?  These were all the questions I wrestled the great “I Am” about. 

 
The voices of this world lead us down the most convenient easy painless path.  Society tries to sell us on just that- take this pill and lose all the weight…put this cream on and lose the wrinkles…invest this amount of money and get oodles back instantly.  God’s voice doesn’t work that way.  God takes us down the path most wouldn’t freely choose and not because God thinks less of us.  No, God takes us down His path precisely because He loves us.  God’s voice and presence ultimately led me to leave the priesthood, marry Amy, have a family and then surprisingly call me to minister in an ELCA congregation.  That was not quite the road map I had envisioned for myself back in 2005 when I was ordained.  But God had a better way for me.  And God’s voice gently guided me to make the course changes in my life.  Like Jacob, I came out changed and different from the experience of wrestling with God.   
 
Here’s a couple of steps or tips I have found useful in listening to God’s voice in our lives:
 
1.Check your receiver.  Do you expect to hear from God?  You should.  But what happens if your receiver- soul, heart, ears, eyes- is not turned on?  It’s like the guy who prays and prays to win the lottery. He never wins. He yells at God.  God says you need to buy a lotto ticket and give me a chance!  Turn your receiver on.  God talks to us everyday but if we aren’t expecting it, we will never hear it.  
 
2. Find God’s frequency. I think we often expect some big grand voice from the sky telling us what to do like in the case of Moses. God works in the simple, ordinary moments.  Put down the phone, lessen the screen time, talk to your spouse, play with your kids, take a walk.  My AM/FM alarm clock works great when I have the frequency set just exactly right, but when the dial gets turned I hear the static and multiple voices.  Cut out the static in your life.

 

3.Discern or wrestle with God’s voice. Most of us have caller id so we know who’s calling us before we even pick up the phone. But before the days of caller id I suspect most of us were able to tell in the first few seconds who was calling us by the sound of their voice. We only know God’s voice when we spend time with God.  Take time with God each day.  A moment here.  A deep breath there.  It’s not that hard.  Take a walk.  The more time you spend with God the more comfortable you will be knowing that voice in your life. 
 
4. Connect God’s Voice to God’s Word. This might be the surest way of knowing God’s voice in our life. Is the voice we hear in line with Word we read in the Bible?  God’s voice wants to bring blessing, joy and true happiness into our lives.  God’s Word and Voice by its nature cannot lie.  Dwelling in the Word can only help us better tune into God’s voice in our lives.  Find a bible story or verse and read it several times over.  What is God’s Voice saying to you?
 

The best part of hearing God’s voice is eliminating all the counterfeit voices vying for our attention.  Live in the moment and hear God’s voice.  You will find and know joy.  Go be a God-Wrestler!  Jacob’s hip was thrown out of its place because of his wrestling with God.  Like Jacob, you too will be left with an unforgettable and deep impression made by God’s voice on your life.  When you check your receiver, tune into the frequency, wrestle with God’s voice and connect it to the Word, you will experience a life-changing event.  And it will be more than just an event; it will become a lifestyle for you.  Sheep know the voice of their shepherd.  Let’s tune into the voice of our Shepherd.  The voices of this world come and go…the voice of the great “I Am” stays with us forever.  And hey, like me, you might just be surprised what God has in store for you!   

 


Parenting and Faith

At a recent Sunday worship I answered 5 questions that Amy and some others thought would be interesting to hear my response.  I did not know the questions ahead of time.  I was only given 1 minute to respond to each question.  To refresh your memory, the questions were:  

Why does God allow trials and suffering in our lives? 

Peter’s Baptism: September 2017

How do I deal with people in my life who have hurt me?
How do I know if I am hearing God’s voice in my life?
What one book other than the Bible has most influenced your life?
What are things parents can do to instill in their children a love for Jesus?
 
I thought I would take the opportunity to use this blog to give a more in-depth response to these questions.  They were very good questions and I know each of us has grappled with them in our own way.  This month let me respond to the question about what parents can do to instill in their children a love for Jesus.  
 
I’m going to start by referring back to a moment early on in our parenthood when we brought our children to the church for baptism.  There is a question that the Pastor/Priest/Minister asks us on that special day: As you present (name of child) for baptism, our Lord Jesus entrusts you with gifts and responsibilities: to live with him/her among God’s faithful people, bring him/her to the word of God and the holy supper, and nurture him/her in faith and prayer, so that he/she may learn to trust God, proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace among all people.  Parents, do you promise to help your child grow in the Christian faith and life?  The answer is “We do.”  As a Pastor and now Parent of two, I often wonder if parents really know what they are getting themselves into when they make that response.  My sense is parents hear or perceive that question as something like this: “Will you sometimes bring your kid(s) to church at least through confirmation and then let them go do as they please?”  My gosh have we gotten it so wrong!  We promise to do much more…we promise to share our faith and love for God with them, to bring them to worship, to teach them about what is right and just, to live in peace with others and to grow into a mature disciple of Christ.  We promise to teach them to pray, and to read the Bible with them and to then to actually pray with them!  We are promising to be good stewards of this most precious gift God has given us.   
 
So really the question of how we instill a love for Jesus in our children begins with us as parents.  Do we (you and I) have a love for Jesus?  Do we have a prayer life?  Do our children see us praying or talking with God (not cursing God when we stub our toes) but actually talking and listening to God?  Do we bring our kids to worship?  Do we teach them to live their faith in their words and deeds everyday every moment?  Are we a good example of discipleship to them?  Anna and Peter are like little sponges soaking in everything Amy and I do and say.  They see us fold hands at prayer and they do likewise.  They hear us speak about Jesus and so they do likewise in their own way.  They come to worship and hear God’s Word and see our family of faith come together.  They know they are part of something bigger than themselves.   
 
I see parents running their kids around from here to there for basketball, football, soccer, dance, (insert any extracurricular activity here).  We spend tons of money on traveling sports teams, staying at hotels for tournaments, equipment, outfits, etc.  We sacrifice time at home for time on the road sitting in bleachers and stands watching our kids play game after game after game.  Now don’t get me wrong…I’m not railing against sports.  I played sports.  Being part of a team teaches one good discipline, teamwork, hard-work and sportsmanship.  But I think we’ve lost some balance and perspective as parents.  Often faith formation, worship and prayer fall by the wayside for sports or other activities.  Do we really need Sunday morning games?  Remember to keep holy the Sabbath…is 1 hour of time on Sunday morning that difficult for us to manage?  
 
Our children and grandchildren take their cues from US.  If our relationship with God is important, they will notice that.  For me growing up the question was never “are we going to church?”  No, it was “when are we going to church?”  Many of our children get confirmed and stop coming or participating in church activities.  Why?  Actually the answer is pretty simple if you think about it.  If we ourselves don’t value and emphasize a love for Jesus in our lives, then our children won’t either.  I can teach and preach until I’m blue in the face but unless God, faith and prayer is not part of the home environment, I’m going to lose that battle every time.  Statistics tell us that if children aren’t regularly coming to church (any denomination) by the age of 3, they won’t really ever foster a relationship with God.  The age of 3!!!  I get it…bringing kids to church is a challenge.  But it’s not impossible.  We make it work for other things…make it work for the most important thing we will do as parents.   
 
I came up with a few practical ways to bring Jesus into your child’s daily routine:  
 
1)PRAY with your kids before naps, meals and at night.  The more we do it, the more it will become second nature for our children.  We want our kids to know how important and personal talking to God is in daily life.  We pray together at meals, all holding hands as a family. Even when we are eating at a restaurant we pray together.  It’s one of my favorite things we do as a family.  It’s not long, but it’s part of our routine now.  We ask Anna at nighttime “who should we pray for” and she lists all of our family members, church friends, school friends and others.  Amy and I then offer prayers.  You can learn a lot about what is going on in your child’s life when you pray with them We have pictures in our home of Amy’s folks and my parents.  We regularly talk about them and in particular about how my mom and dad are in heaven and that Anna and Peter have angels watching over them.  We pray for Anna’s teachers in school and her classmates.  We pray for those who have gotten sick or experienced a loss or tragedy in their lives.  Prayer changes our hearts.  It will change your kid’s hearts, too.   
 
2) SHOW them how to serve.  We have taken Anna and Peter the Community Clothes Closet in Mount Horeb and explained why it is there.  We have brought food up to the food pantry at church and talked about how we can take care of so many people right here in town. Put your faith into action.  Take your child and help a neighbor.  Do random acts of kindness so that your child can see you living out your faith daily.  Actions speak louder than words.  Give a kid a fish and they eat for day; teach a kid how to fish and they eat for a lifetime.  
 
3)READ the Bible to your kids. We have a children’s Bible with some great pictures and shorter versions of the most well-known stories from Scripture.  Anna loves the story of David and Goliath right now.  We sing “Jesus Loves Me” to Peter at bedtime and he gets the biggest smile on his face.  The Bible points us towards Jesus.  And its fascinating to hear Anna’s thoughts and questions about these stories many of us have taken for granted.  Let me add here it’s good to read the Bible yourself as a parent.  Read it with your spouse or alone for a few minutes each day so that the word of God is on your heart and lips. 
 
4)TELL them how God feels about them. 
We try and tell our kids God loves them every single day.  Before bedtime we tell them that Jesus loves most of all.  We will play CD’s in the car with those favorite childhood tunes from church.  Our kids need to know they are loved especially in those times and moments when they feel lonely or sad.  They need to know God loves them inside and out just as they are.  There are great kid’s praise stations on Pandora or you can find some great worship music for kids on Amazon.  Let those tunes and words truly sink in deep down in their souls and hearts.  Our kids need to know everyday they are loved and cherished.  We need to know that, too, for ourselves. 
 

5)BRING your kids to worship to hear about Jesus. 

Make it a routine or ritual on Sunday mornings…have breakfast and then come to worship or eat a special meal after worship.  Recapture Sunday mornings as a time to pray and worship together.  They get to see, hear, taste, touch and smell the sights and sounds of our worship.  Use the “Taking Faith Home” insert in the bulletin as something you do at home in your prayers and rituals.  Each week there are great suggestions offered for families. 
 

Anna’s Baptism: November 2014

We made the promise at baptism.  We need to remember that promise everyday.  Our children really are not ours.  We are stewards of these precious gifts God has given us to care for, raise and love to give back to Him one day.  Our sons and daughters belong to God.  Have we seriously considered that God will ask us how we cared for his creation including his children?  We will be asked when the time comes.  Start today if you haven’t done so.  Start simple and small.  Reignite your own faith so your kids see your love for Jesus.  Incorporate your faith in to your daily life and that of your children.  We all want well-rounded, well-formed, good-hearted, faith-filled, loving children who will make a difference in this world.  It starts with us and that profound promise we made on the day of their baptism.  Be the parents we were meant to be.  Put faith first in your home.  Talk up God.  Bring your kids to church.  As the fall church seasons kicks off, use this time as an opportunity to rekindle a love for Jesus in your home.  Be a person of joy who infects your kids with that same joy!     



Daddy, I’m so happy you are home!

Anna and I at her 2nd birthday party!

Later this month Anna turns 4.  It almost seems like she’s turning 14 the way she prances about the house!  I just love those moments of connecting with her and Peter…Anna is a fun lively super-hero little girl who loves life and Peter is getting more brave trying to walk around using toys to brace himself!  With Anna, I love just connecting with her when she’s not watching a cartoon or movie or looking at a video on the phone.  I cherish these moments, these precious moments, when we connect.  It’s Anna, believe it or not, that taught me this…just for me to be her daddy…“Daddy, I’m so happy you are home.”  Without a doubt, these are the happiest words I love to hear from Anna.  If I’ve been at church, out doing visits or most recently been away with our youth group in Houston, Anna will whisper and shout those simple words in my ears when I finally arrive back home.  The words tug at my heartstrings. 
 
At Anna’s 2nd birthday party I did what most fathers do…I surprised Anna (and Amy) by renting an “Elmo” costume and showing up to the party as Anna’s favorite character at that time.  I tried to mimic the voice to Elmo as close as possible!  Anna was mesmerized and just followed me around…she loved it!  Since it was so hot in the costume I would run in the house and take it off for a while to cool down!  And then return to Anna and the party as her favorite character in costume!  Amy brought out a special cupcake for Anna with a candle on it and said to Anna: Go ahead Anna and wish for anything you want…anything at all.  Make the wish and blow out the candle.  As folks were enjoying cupcakes and other dessert treats, I remember Anna running up to me and saying: I wished that Elmo could come home and play with me and you, Daddy! My heart melted on Anna’s 2nd birthday- with all my imperfections, my daughter wanted to be with me, and hang out with Elmo. 
 
Anna taught me that day and continues to do so as we near her 4th birthday.  Anna reminded me that our deepest desire is simply to be loved and spend time with those we love.  Why then are there so many days when we become confused and think that we deeply desire something else?  We wish for more money or a better car.  We long for a bigger house or a better paying job.  We wish for a great big boat, summer cottage or a fancy new motorcycle.  We fool ourselves into thinking that these things will bring us peace and happiness.  Yet what we end up discovering is something that even a two year old child know to be true- that real peace is simply spending time with those we love- being with another who loves us as we are.  And this is the key- to love others as they are- even if they are throwing tantrums or screaming NO to coming and eating dinner! The great Fred Rogers once said: Love isn’t a state of perfect caring.  It is an active noun like ‘struggle.’ To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now. 

If you look closely you can see me through the Elmo face mask! Just don’t tell Anna!

 

Every day we have the choice to throw ourselves into a thousand activities and distractions, play and work, travels and preparations, or we can find the time to simply BE with those we love as they are right now. We have the choice to lose ourselves in all stuff that we accumulate and all the things that we can buy, or we can begin to see that our real wealth is found in those we love – and love them as they are right now. We have the choice to get caught up with the details of life and the busy-ness of life, or we can center on our deepest desire – to love others as they are right now! Loving means being fully present to others wherever they are in their development, even if they are teenagers and needing space. We need to be open to the moments, the little moments of connecting. It means cherishing and remembering and embracing those grace-filled moments. Loving means desiring the right things, and longing for the enduring things, and wishing for the eternal things.  When I pray with someone on their death bed, not one person has ever said they wish they would have more time with all their stuff, work, phones, sports…it ALWAYS is about having more time with their loved ones.

The next time I’m overwhelmed by the details of life, or exasperated with work as pastor, or frustrated with two young children seemingly getting sick all the time or rarely ever sleeping through the entire night at the same time, I hope I recall Anna’s sweet young voice whispering in my ear: Daddy, I’m so happy you are home!  My deepest desire is to be with those I love and to try and love them as they are right now. In doing that I will find more moments to cherish and so many more memories to embrace. And who knows? Maybe that little girl will always be inside of Anna through the tween and teen years and beyond. I’d like to at least think that.

 



It Could Be You…

I didn’t see it.  None of us did.  Or maybe none of us wanted to see it.  But before I get to that part of the story, let me go back to the beginning.  As a little girl growing up the only thing Margie ever wanted to do was to be a mom.  She constantly played with her dolls pretending as if they were her own little children caring for them and tending to their needs.  She would pray to God that she could be a mom one day.  When Margie’s folks had more children she was thrilled beyond all belief at the prospect of taking care of real live babies!  She was ecstatic about being a sister which only fueled her desire to be a mom. 

Margie would date several guys through the years but finally met and fell in love with Fran.  He had grown up in the same town- they shared many of the same friends and hung out at the same places.  In fact Fran as a little boy played baseball with Margie’s two brothers.  Fran and Margie dated for many years and finally decided to get married in 1995.  It was a joyful occasion.  

I wish I would have known.  I could have done something.  Someone could have done something.  Why didn’t she say anything? No one deserves that.  No one.  I wonder how many others experience the same thing?

My sister Margie got her one true wish of being a mommy.  She gave birth to Colette in 1996.  Then came Claire in 1999.  Erica in 2001.  Nora in 2002.  Finally Grace in 2004.  Not one but 5 girls to fill her heart and plate of motherhood!  After Colette was born Margie and Fran would move to a bigger house to settle down and build their dream of family life and happily ever after.  But the happily ever after never came like she thought it would. 

Why didn’t I sense what was going on?  Was I blinded?  Was I in disbelief?  And what about others in my family?  Were they blind to it, tooWas she blind to it?

At first it seemed innocent, harmless and believable.  Our family would gather for a birthday or some other holiday/celebration and Margie would come with the girls while Fran wouldn’t be with them.  “Where’s Fran,” I remember asking.  “Oh he’s home resting…he had a late night.”  Late night out with friends?  Late night doing working?  Late night not being able to sleep?  Well these instances of Fran being “out late” soon turned into a regular repeating performance.  We knew he liked to drink.  On family vacations at the lake he could put away several cold ones with the best of them.  I knew he liked his drink.  I didn’t realize he loved it…or better yet was addicted to it. 

Let me stop for a moment.  I suppose you think you know where this story is going.  Fran was a drinker and chose alcohol over his wife and family, right?  Well, you’re only partly right.  Not only was Fran a drinker, but over time and really after-the-fact did we come to find out he liked to smoke marijuana in the garage and get high.  So, he like booze and drugs.  And yet this still is not the end of the story.  Fran would abuse Margie and the girls.  And that is the part of the story still to this day that makes me cringe, hurt and cry.  My family didn’t see it.  I didn’t see it.  Partly I think because we couldn’t see it and also because Margie hid it from us while it was occurring. 

Margie loved her girls so much she ended up making excuses for Fran.  She covered for his late-night partying, his drinking, his smoking and yes even his abuse towards her and the girls.  In the beginning she’d call his bosses and cover for him at work.  “He was just having a bad day,” she would say.  “The girls got on his nerve so he raised his voice and threw things across the room.  Who doesn’t lose their cool,” she would slyly offer us. 

Did you know, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States?  During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.  1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.  On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.  Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.  And only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.  1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.  These statistics and numbers are sobering.  They make me cry.  I cry at the fact that Fran pushed Margie into walls, smashed the oven door, put holes in walls with his fists and at times did so in front of the girls.  I cry because he verbally abused the girls for no reason other for the fact that he could.  I cry because those girls saw something so horrendous in their own home and I know as much as we love and support them the after-effects of his abuse of them is deep in their bones and psyche.

Why does any of this matter? Intimate partner physical abuse is not bound by age, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or nationality; it exists in ALL communities. Contrary to popular belief, physical abuse is not simply a maladjusted person’s occasional expression of frustration or anger, nor is it typically an isolated incident. Physical abuse is a tool of control and oppression and is a choice made by one person in a relationship to control another.  Statistics tell us that it happens right here in our own community among people we call neighbors and friends. 

Realizing this fact of life the women’s washroom here at BLC has information from Family Advocates, Inc. with a number for a 24 hour help line.  It is a sad reality for me as a pastor that on any given Sunday there are people at worship who have been abused- physically, verbally, sexually, or emotionally either in the past or as recently as that morning. 

Back to Margie’s story for a moment.  Fran would go on to intimidate me at the parish I was assigned to threatening to call the Bishop on me for telling my sister to leave him.  Sadly there are some pastors who will tell someone who has been abused that they must remain in the marriage or relationship.  I am not one of them.  Fran would try to intimidate our almost 78-year-old (at the time) dad knocking on his front door and telling him to watch his back.  Margie for the sake of her girls finally made a stand.  She called the Sheriff’s Office several times having him arrested, getting a restraining order and eventually forcing him to move out of the house.  She was afraid of retaliation but she was more fearful about the prospect of doing nothing.  She divorced him.  She never received any alimony from Fran towards the girls.  She’s worked her tail off to raise those 5 beautiful girls.  She’s there for them thick and thin.  Fran has not communicated with his girls at all since leaving the house.  Ever.  Margie and the girls experienced their own Good Friday- unjust and undue abuse and punishment- but today have risen to be something new together. 

 

It happens.  It happens EVERYWHERE.  It happened right in my own family and I couldn’t see it.   Nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Females ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experienced the highest rates of intimate partner violence.  From 1994 to 2010, about 4 in 5 victims of intimate partner violence were female. In a nationwide survey, 9.4% of high school students report being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the 12 months prior to the survey. 

 

Again, the stats are sobering…it’s happening all around us.  And when someone is abused at a young age experts tell us they have strong tendencies to physically or verbally abuse when they are older or experience some type of depression or suicidal thoughts.  Yet there is help.  There are ways to save yourself and your children.  If someone is abusing you, you might feel scared, hurt, sad, confused, angry, embarrassed, or hopeless.  Many people have feelings like these when they are being abused or after leaving an abusive relationship.  My sister had some of these feelings have we’ve come to understand in the years since it all happened.  Help is always available.  Talk with someone you trust or call your local domestic/sexual abuse hotline and talk with someone without having to give your name or location. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE or 1-800-799-7233.  Our local branch here in Wisconsin is also a resource.  The number us (608)-255-0539 and the website is endabusewi.org.  Sadly, most abusers track the moves of those under their control.  All of these websites have safety exits on them and will not show up in your internet browsing history. 

 

You may also want to consider a SAFETY PLAN for yourself or your family.  A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that includes ways to remain safe while in a relationship, planning to leave, or after you leave. Safety planning involves how to cope with emotions, tell friends and family about the abuse, take legal action and more.  The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) does safety plans with victims, friends and family members — anyone who is concerned about their own safety or the safety of someone else.  A good safety plan will have all of the vital information you need and be tailored to your unique situation, and will help walk you through different scenarios.  Although some of the things that you outline in your safety plan may seem obvious, it’s important to remember that in moments of crisis your brain doesn’t function the same way as when you are calm. When adrenaline is pumping through your veins it can be hard to think clearly or make logical decisions about your safety. Having a safety plan laid out in advance can help you to protect yourself in those stressful moments.

Violence can escalate when someone tries to leave.  The following are some tips to keep in mind before you leave a violent abusive situation:

  • Keep any evidence of physical abuse, such as pictures of injuries.
  • Keep a journal of all violent incidences, noting dates, events and threats made, if possible. Keep your journal in a safe place.
  • Know where you can go to get help. Tell someone what is happening to you.
  • If you are injured, go to a doctor or an emergency room and report what happened to you. Ask that they document your visit.
  • Plan with your children and identify a safe place for them, like a room with a lock or a friend’s house where they can go for help. Reassure them that their job is to stay safe, not to protect you.
  • Try to set money aside or ask friends or family members to hold money for you.

I share this information with you because NO ONE should ever ever ever experience abuse of any kind. 

Margie and her five precious jewels! Pictured are: (from left to right) Erica, Margie, Nora, Colette, Claire and Grace

To her credit, Margie has never spoken ill of Fran in front of her girls.  For me, that’s my sister living out what we call grace upon grace upon grace.  She survived.  Many don’t.  You can survive.  Maybe you’re not the one in an abusive situation but you might know someone who may be.  BELIEVE their story.  LISTEN to them.  HELP them.  Let’s be lifelines to those around us who may be sending SOS signals our way. 

There are so many resources available to those who may find themselves in abusive situations.  One I highly encourage is www.thehotline.org/.  Maybe we just need to better educate ourselves on the reality of what is happening…and what could be happening right in our own community, neighborhood, family or home.  Maybe we can help be resources to others who might be too frightened or ashamed to ask for help.  Let’s be a light for them.  God hurts when we hurt each other. 

I love my beautiful sister Margie and my five incredible nieces.  They have seen, heard, felt and experienced things no one should ever have to in this world.  Luckily for them the sun has risen and they have forged ahead as best they can.  For all the Margie’s, Colette’s, Claire’s, Erica’s, Nora’s and Grace’s out there, please let’s be the voice for those victims and survivors.  Let’s create a culture where domestic violence is not tolerated and where society empowers victims and survivors, and holds abusers accountable.  Let’s be Christ’s Light in this world.  Amen. 

 

 



Where is God’s Perfection?

 

What are we looking for in life? What are we finding? During these cold weeks of winter, it is easy to grow impatient and critical as we anxiously await the arrival of spring. Yet, each day is a profound gift from God and a new beginning. Do you find joy in life? Do you bring joy to others?  I hope the following story captures for you how the presence of God is made visible through us no matter the time of year.

 

In Brooklyn, New York, Shush is a school that caters to learning disabled children. Some children remain in Shush for their entire school career, while others can be mainstreamed into conventional schools. At a Shush fundraising dinner, the father of a Shush child delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attend.

 

After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he cried out, “Where is the perfection in my son Shaya?” Everything God does is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is God’s perfection? The audience was shocked by the question, pained by the father’s anguish and stilled by the piercing query. “I believe,” the father answered, “that when God brings a child like this into the world, the perfection that he seeks is the way people react to this child.”

 

He then told the following story about his son Shaya: One afternoon Shaya and his father walked past a park where some boys Shaya knew were playing baseball. Shaya asked, “Do you think they will let me play?” Shaya’s father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya’s father understood that if his son was chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging.
 
Shaya’s father approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Shaya could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said, “We are losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we’ll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning.” Shaya’s father was ecstatic as Shaya smiled broadly. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya’s team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shaya’s team scored again and now with two outs and the bases loaded with the potential winning run on base, Shaya was scheduled to be up.
 

Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shaya was given the bat. Everyone knew that it was all but impossible because Shaya didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it. However, as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya should least be able to make contact. The first pitch came in and Shaya swung and missed. One of Shaya’s teammates came up to Shaya and together held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shaya.

 

As the pitch came in, Shaya and his teammate swung at the bat and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman. Everyone started yelling, “Shaya, run to first. Run to first.” Never in his life has Shaya run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide-eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out Shaya, who was still running. But the right fielder understood what the pitcher’s intentions were, so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman’s head. Everyone yelled, “Run to second, run to second.” Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home.

 

As Shaya reached second base, the opposing shortstop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, “Run to third.” As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, “Shaya, run home.” Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him a hero, as he just hit a “Grand Slam” and won the game for his team.

 

That day,” said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, “those 18 boys reached their level of God’s perfection.”  More than just a cute story, I think this is what we are called as disciples to be everyday: rooting for one another everyday, making our dreams possible and realizing we are all connected together through the incredible act of God’s creation. 

 

Our Lenten journey is near upon us.  Our theme or focus will be: Woven Together: Fabrics of Faith.  Maybe this powerful season which begins Wednesday, February 14th and extends until Maundy Thursday on March 29th is a time given to us to help us reflect that God’s perfection in this world is attainable and reachable by ALL OF US if we but lean on each other and lift one another up.  The question of Shaya “Do you think they will let me play” reminds me of the response I am called to by God in this world to others.  Do I help enable God’s perfection or prevent it from happening?  How will this Lent challenge you to consider that we truly do need each other and that we can reflect God’s goodness and perfection in our response to one another?

 

There is no better place to know, see, hear and feel God’s perfection than when we are together in worship.  Recommit yourself to coming to the place where we lift each other and reflect the perfection of God.  For a brief moment when we worship together, we do really reflect all that is good and holy.  Like the boys who welcomed Shaya to the baseball game and enabled him to know perfection, we too are invited to give and receive this colorful display of God’s love.  Come.  Come back.  Sunday mornings at 9:00am something special happens that we all need in our lives.  And during Lent we will offer a simple worship on Wednesdays at 6:15pm following our soup suppers.  So come.  And then come back.  Lastly, think about ONE person in your life who desperately needs to know God’s perfection and then do something about it. 

 

Let’s reach our level of God’s perfection together,

~PJ

 

 



A New Year, A Fresh Start

Just recently while organizing some things in my office I came across a book of poetry.  There was a note inside of it saying that the book was a gift from the Bishop of South Central Synod of Wisconsin. I suspect the Bishop sent it to all our synod pastors. It is a wonderful reflection on ministry by a Lutheran Pastor Gary Puckett entitled On Living in the Township of Heaven. Well written, often touching, sometimes profound, Gary writes about the ‘holy’ moments of life, the kingdom of God that can be found within the ordinary. As we begin this new year, that is our journey as well.

New Year

Put new calendars on the walls

Misdate the checks that pay the bills

Resolve to be more resolute

It’s a new year

It’s a fresh start

 

Farm out the kids

Shake out the rugs

Take out the trash

It’s a clean house

 

It’s a fresh start

Dig out the sidewalk

Fill up the birdfeeder

Watch for fresh tracks in the yard

It’s a new snow

It’s a fresh start

 

Shed an old grudge

Make a new friend

Do something everyone knows you won’t

It’s a new life

It’s a fresh start.

I think Gary touches eloquently on the holiness of the New Year and its connection to the reign of God, or rather, the township of heaven. It’s all about new beginnings. The ministry of Jesus was primarily a ministry of newness, of granting newness and new starts to people broken by their pasts. People followed Jesus because in him they discovered a God who forgave sins, and absolved weaknesses, and offered those who followed, a new life and a fresh start. Those who followed Jesus discovered that in the township of heaven every moment of every day, every step and every breath was a chance to begin again, to turn away 
from sin and to start over. And it was in this newness that they found their joy!

 

I think it was providence that led me to find that book of poetry and read through it.  Recently I was telling Amy that a part of me died when my dad passed away almost a year ago now.  I don’t quite know which part of me died but I also realize something new in me is growing and coming to life.  That’s the Good News of resurrection and the gospel.  Each day is a new start, a chance to begin again and see things with new eyes and a different perspective. It truly is a fresh start.
 

Every January as we celebrate the New Year, there is an echo of the reign of God. And, if we listen well, we will discover that echo in all of the ordinary moments that make up our lives. If we listen well, that echo will be found in even the most broken, destructive and difficult times of this new year. If we listen well, we will discover that we are living in the township of heaven, that God is walking with us and beside us, always encouraging us to forgive ourselves and others; to turn away from sin and believe in the Good News; to stand up and walk; to live a new life; to make a fresh start.  This is truly Good News!  For all of us here at BLC and for all Christians, every day carries the promise of New Year’s Day. Remember this when you become overwhelmed by the darkness of the world.  Remember this when you are disappointed by your life, your children, your spouse or your situation.  Remember this when death is at your doorstep and darkness threatens to overwhelm you.  Remember this, in the township of heaven God is always inviting us to start again!  

 

I invite you to cut out the poem and place it somewhere you will be reminded daily of the invitation that each day is a NEW YEAR and FRESH START!

Happy New Year, dear BLC friends and friends,

~PJ

 



Stop and See Those Around You

Professional speaker Jim Cathcart often shares a certain story about how our lives impact those around us. One day, during a layover at the Atlanta International Airport, Jim found time for a snack in the food court. All the tables were filled and several passengers, himself included, stood in any available space to eat.

Then Jim noticed a busboy working his way through the crowd. His shoulders were curled forward and he kept his head down. He moved through the crowd from table to table barely making eye contact with anyone as he cleared away the dirty dishes. Well the sight of this overworked and anxious young man filled Jim with an overwhelming sadness. For someone this young to be so burdened by the weight of work didn’t seem right. He knew that there was something he could do or say to reach out to this young person.
 
When Jim finished his food and disposed of the trash, he approached the busboy. “What you are doing here sure is important,” he said. “Huh?” the busboy replied. “If you weren’t doing what you are doing, it wouldn’t be five minutes before there was trash everywhere, and people would stop coming here,” Jim said. “What you are doing is important, and I just wanted to say thanks for doing it.”
 
The busboy began to smile. His posture became more erect and he began to make eye contact with those around him.

A few choice words had served as a reminder that he was worth much more than he realized.

I think that this is a wonderful story to recall as we come to this fall season. We have begun yet another new year of Holy Moly, Bridge, Confirmation and CHAOS.  We will also see Women’s Bible Study begin while ministry meetings and social gatherings like Lutefisk are making this a bustling place!  As exciting as autumn is, it also brings with it a certain “frantic-ness.”  So often people become dismayed by the passing of the summer months and wonder where all the time has gone. They get discouraged by the amount of activities and so often feel like that busboy in the story. They end up walking through their days with shoulders curled forward, barely making eye contact with the world around them. Yet right here in the “frantic-ness” is our chance to share the Good News.  Like Jesus who was always able to remind people of their infinite worth, so we too can become bearers of healing.  It doesn’t take a great effort to pass on a compliment, share a smile, or take a moment to chat. It doesn’t take a tremendous effort to remember someone’s name, remember someone’s birthday, or introduce yourself to a stranger.  It doesn’t take a heroic effort to lend a helping hand, to exercise patience, or offer to listen.  These are the moments of Good News that we can share with each other in this season of autumn.
 
I think it was Mother Teresa who once said: “Holiness does not consist in doing great things; but in doing little things with great love.” If we pay attention to the little things, the small kindnesses, the brief exchanges everyday we can make a difference in the lives of so many people. Watch! They will stand up straighter. They will begin walking with heads held high. Their eyes will be brighter. A few choice words will serve as a reminder that they are worth much more than they realized!  Take a moment this busy season to realize and consider those around you.  Help them stand straight.  When we do, we can claim we are truly sharing Christ’s Light here at BLC!

With you a Christian.  For you a pastor.

PJ




“This is what Yahweh asks of you- only this: to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God” –Micah 6:8
 
“A single crocus blossom ought to be enough to convince our heart that springtime, no matter how predictable, is somehow a gift, gratuitous, gratis, a grace.” – David Steindl-Rast
 
“All attack is a call for help. When you know this, you begin at once to look deeply into the question of what kind of help is being called for” –Neale Walsch
 
“Every morning I turn my face to the wind. It is not difficult to scatter seeds, but it takes courage to keep facing the wind” –Middle Eastern wisdom saying