October 27th Devotional

“For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

-1 Thessalonians 1:4-10

Pray and ask God to further your understanding of what He wants you to gain from this scripture.

What would it look like if all the believers in the area knew about your faith in God, and they considered you a model? Maybe you live your faith out in such a way that this is the case. Or maybe you wish you did. One of the important things to remark on with this scripture is that the Thessalonians had someone that they themselves were imitating. They had a person who they were working to be more like, someone they knew was striving to be like Christ. Paul, the author of this book, also wrote a book called 1 Corinthians where he writes to encourage the believers to “imitate me as I imitate Christ”. Finding a person to emulate can make a big difference in your relationship with Jesus, being a person to emulate is important as well! Go forward and work towards being a model!

Lord, You love us to stand in your sight upright and with such gentleness in us that some other will yearn to win its power.

-Hebridean Altars

October 26th devotional

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14
Pray, ask God to reveal himself today through this scripture.
How often am I the pharisee, full of a self-righteous hubris that causes me to be unable to see the richness of God in others? I would often fall into this trap when I used to do orphan care. Orphan care is so obviously a great and wonderful thing to do to help the world. I think most people can agree that orphan care is a good thing to do, so it was easy for me, when I was immersed in caring for orphans to look around at people who were not necessarily doing orphan care and think about how good I was. But the truth of the matter is that I am not good. Only God is good. I am like the tax collector and when I finally come around to seeing that, then I am able to live more acutely in the mercy of Christ.
Deliver me from self-truthfulness.
In the frequent days in which I must do battle with
Myself for foe
Arm me with a constant trust in Thee
-Hebridean Altars

Grace and peace to you from God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Sunday Confessional Oct. 25

I confess that I’m not slowing down.

I’m a stay at home parent. I’m also a full time student, and I work at a church where I am being mentored by the pastor (as part of the degree program). You know that scene in Star Wars, the one where the Millenium Falcon goes into warp speed? I often feel like that is what is happening to my life. Sometimes I get to the end of the day, and I feel like it’s been super long. I’m tired from having chased my three year old around or held my one year old all day. When I do get them down for nap/quiet time, I either work on a sermon or a paper for school, or if I am super good I get a craft ready to do with the boys when they get up. When I experience those days and bed time finally rolls around, I look back on the past 24 hours and I am speechless (and breathless). The days seem long when I’m living them, but the months are falling away like a tree shedding its leaves for winter. I want to slow down life. I want to, but I just need to figure out how. Recently I was reading a text for one of my classes and came across a really good concept that I want to share.

Author Tracy Balzer, writes about finding rest from all the noise in our lives;

“Perhaps we should consider when we last experienced true silence. It may be difficult for us to say with any accuracy, because we’ve gotten so used to the hum of electricity around us that we don’t even realize that we live with a constant level of noise…When did I last drive my car without the stereo playing? When was the last time my family and I sat around the dinner table with phones, dishwasher, and television turned off? None of these things are evil. But could it be that the many layers of noise we dwell in have numbed our sensitivity to the still small voice of God?”

As I write this I let myself listen for all the levels of noise that exist all around me. I can hear the hum of the refrigerator, the electricity of the lights, the WIFI modem, the computer fan, levels and levels of noise that I never really notice, all working in harmony to numb to the presence of God in my every day existence.

I think maybe I can slow down by being intentional with what I allow myself to take in. By taking a day of rest, where our family turns off our cell phones, and powers down the computers, and really listens for God. I think this could become a weekly event. Does it make you uncomfortable to think about turning off your cell phone for a full day? I know, I know, how would you be able to check facebook, your email, craigslist, gumtree, or the scores of that sporting event? Do you know that theres actually a word for what I am describing? It’s called a Sabbath. Not just a weekend day where we go to church, but a day completely plugged into God. Would you like to join me in carving out time to celebrate this day? To turn off and unplug electronics, to refresh our spirits, rekindle our passions, renew our minds and bodies, and reconnect with God and those we love.

Pilgrim or Tourist?

Recently I had the opportunity to engage in a pilgrimage of Celtic Irish history. It was an experience I will remember forever. You see, tourism and travel is an enormous industry today. I read so many blogs where the main goal is to see more of the world and to travel, to really get out of your comfort zone and experience something new. This idea of travel and tourism made me wonder if there was a fundamental difference in what I was doing as a pilgrim, and what thousands of others were doing as tourists.  Were tourism and pilgrimage all the same thing, simply rebranded and renamed? Something in my spirit told me that there was indeed a difference, and yet it took me some time to really put my finger on what that difference was.

During our pilgrimage we began on the slope of an absolutely beautiful mountain near an area called Glendalough. This place is made famous because of a pilgrim known as St. Kevin. We walked down a path that had been beaten by the footsteps of many who had come before us. The path followed a stream right into an ancient monastic village. We had scheduled to meet with a tour guide who would tell us the history of Glendalough and, while we waited, I looked around at the incredible beauty that shot out from every blade of grass and every leaf of the trees. The mountains rose and fell all around us, and a babbling brook coursed its way toward a pair of lakes that it helped to feed. I took a deep breath and could smell the freshness of nature. Simply standing and being was, in its own way, an experience that allowed me to worship Jesus. Directly above me grew several canes of blackberries, which tasted so sweet and refreshing. I lost track of time as I picked blackberries and prayed to God. Before I knew it, our Guide had arrived. His name is Father Michael and he is a retired priest of the Catholic church. He began by blessing our group with a blessing of solitude:

“May you recognise in your life the presence,

power and light of your soul.

May you realise that you are never alone

that your soul in its brightness and belonging

connects you intimately with the rhythm of the

universe.

May you realise that the shape of your soul is

unique,

that you have a special destiny here,

that behind the facade of your life there is

something beautiful, good and eternal

happening.

May you learn to see your self with the same

delight, pride and expectation with which God

sees you in every moment.”

-John O’Donohue

Then we began our journey into the heart of Glendalough. Father Michael encouraged us as we walked to go forward in silence. It was in this silence that I was able to really reflect on the constant presence of God in my life. He led us to the first lake which holds some personal significance to me. My wife and I took our first picture together at this lake nearly ten years ago. Then our guide led us up into the mountains where we got to see where St. Kevin may have lived. Our guide told us the tale of St. Kevin and the blackbird:

“And then there was St. Kevin and the blackbird.

The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside

His cell, but his cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff

As as cross beam, when a blackbird lands

And lays in it and settles down to rest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked

Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked

Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: Now he must hold his hand

Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks

Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown

And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow

Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?

Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on down through his hurting forearms?

Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?

Or has the shut-eye blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?

Alone and mirrored clear in loves deep river,

‘To labour and not seek reward’, he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely

For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird

And on the river bank forgotten the river’s name”

-Seamus Heaney

Hearing of the discipline that St. Kevin had was a powerful lesson to begin our pilgrimage. Each of us was paired with another group member and made to be prayer partners. After hearing the tale of St. Kevin we split off to pray. We were pilgrims together, and we were learning that the Celtic Christians of old had a deep revere for nature. They also had a respect for the darkness in each one of us. They would have operated with the knowledge that O’Donahue wrote about,

“We are always on a journey from darkness into light. At first, we are children of the darkness. Your body and your face were formed first in the kind darkness of your mother’s womb…Your birth was a first journey from darkness into light. All your life, your mind lives within the darkness of your body. Every thought that you have is a flint moment, a spark of light from your inner darkness. The miracle of thought is its presence in the night side of your soul; the brilliance of thought is born in darkness. Every day is a journey. All creativity awakens at this primal threshold where light and darkness test and bless each other. You only discover balance in your life when you learn to trust the flow of this ancient rhythm. Ultimately, light is the mother of life. Where there is no light, there can be no life…Life is the secret presence of the divine. It keeps life awake. The soul awakens and lives in light. It helps us glimpse the sacred depths within us.”

Our pilgrimage began as something more. Something different. The Latin name for pilgrimage is peregrinatio, which when translated can mean either “pilgrimage”, or “voluntary abandonment of home and kin for ascetic purposes”. As Balzer puts it, we were seeking to identify with Christ in his death. Just as Christ let go of his divinity to fully embrace humanity, so the pilgrim would let go of his beloved land to follow Christ. It is this relinquishing of all that one holds dear in order to follow Christ that separates a pilgrim from a tourist. Abigail and I are pilgrims, following after Christ everyday.

“Pilgrim, how you journey

one the road you chose

to find our where the winds die

and where the stories go.

All days come from one day

that much you must know,

you cannot change what’s over

but only where you go.

One way leads to diamonds,

one way leads to gold,

another leads you only

to everything you’re told.

in your heart you wonder

which of these is true;

the road that leads to nowhere,

the road that leads to you.

Will you find the answer

in all you say and do?

Will you find the answer

in you?

Each heart is a pilgrim,

each one wants to know

the reason why the winds die

and where the stories go.

Pilgrim, in your journey

you may travel far,

for pilgrim it’s a longway

to find out who you are….

Pilgrim it’s a long way

to find out who you are…

Pilgrim it’s a long way

to find out who you are…”

-Enya: A day without rain

Sunday Confessional

4 Oct 2015

I confess that I’m really struggling to find a light hearted confessional this week. I’ve been searching my soul and I find it difficult.

I keep thinking about all the injustices in the world that I should write about. I think about the 153 million children that are currently labeled as orphans. I keep thinking about the immigration detention centers in Dilley, Texas that seem to operate more like a concentration camp that anything else. I keep thinking about the mass shootings that are plaguing the United States. Or I think about the mass flood of refugees. I keep thinking about all this and I find myself struggling. I find myself looking to the only true source of comfort that I know. I find myself looking to God. I find myself saying to God “Why don’t you do something Oh LORD?” and then I take a minute and I listen to God say “I did, I made you.”

And do you know what? God made you too. He made all of us so that we could work together to serve Him.

Sunday Confessional

I confess that some days I feel much older than I am.

I love my boys more than I ever thought possible, but some days when we sit down to eat a nice dinner that Mama has lovingly prepared, I can’t help but laugh. Not necessarily in the jovial “everything-is-hilarious” way, but rather in the “I’m-laughing-to-keep-from-crying” way. You see, during this nice meal H starts this thing he has been doing that he knows bothers his Mama. I call it being squeaky. Basically he just starts screeching as loud as he can, which his brother finds hilarious and starts imitating. Then H will get up and run around the table several times in mid squeak, while M struggles at his highchair wanting both to join in on the fun and eat at the same time. M’s struggle is real, and typically it results in raspberries littering not only his hair, but also my hair, the floor, and if he was really passionate, the wall too.

We finally make it through dinner, and I heave a huge sigh of relief. Until I look at the clock and I think time is moving the wrong way. How can there still be an hour and a half until bedtime?!? And I can’t use a bath as a stalling tactic tonight because I didn’t have the foresight to heat the water. So we wrestle, the three of us boys for the next hour and a half, while mama cleans the kitchen. The boys jump with jubilance on top of my back as I lay sprawled on the living room floor, exhausted. Then I hear the words I’ve been waiting for float melodiously out of the kitchen, “It’s almost 7.” I grab one boy under each arm and take them to the bathroom where I brush their teeth, while H screams and kicks, and M tries to eat toilet paper. I wrestle them into their pyjamas and then I read.

While I read, the boys sit transfixed. Or they throw blocks at each other, scream, chase each other, and scream some more. Either way, I read and then I pray. And then I tell H how much I love him, and kiss him goodnight. Then I swaddle M and rock him to sleep and sneak down to the mirror to make sure I still have hair.

I confess that sometimes my boys make me feel old. I’ve made my confession, now go and make yours.

Sunday Confessional

I confess that I’m struggling.

It’s a familiar struggle, one that I have fought too many times in the past decade. You see, in just around three months we will be leaving our home in Millbrook, Northern Ireland.  We will be packing up our stuff, and wiping away tears as we make the transition from this wonderful home, to Kansas City. I want, no, I need desperately to remain fully present in the present. But I want so badly to control what is going to happen in three months. I want to search for a job, I want to get enrolled in the classes I will be taking in the Spring, I want to prepare my little boys for the transition ahead.  I want to tell the makers of this program that a year is far too short a time! I want to savor each moment that I can smell the ocean and see the rolling hills.  I want to celebrate with exuberance when my youngest son turns one. I want time to slow down, but it is marching along. I want to do all these things and so I’m struggling. But I’m reflecting and remembering and cherishing.

I find myself praying deeply that God would cradle us and guide our steps into the future, and that He would help me to relish the time I have here with friends who have become the best of friends.

I confess that I am thankful for our church community, for our mentor, for our way of life here. None of it would be possible without the grace of Jesus, so I am most of all thankful for that.

I’ve made my confession. Now go and make yours.

Sunday Confessional

It’s that time again.  The weekend comes to a close, the grind of the week begins again. For many of us the autumn activities are back in full swing and life is beginning to pick up speed. I want to encourage you to find some margin in your life where you can be in the presence of God.  As the week gears up, make sure you find some time of peace in which to reflect.

I confess that I preached on Nehemiah 4 today.  Our church has been working through the book of Nehemiah together.  Ruth has taken chapters 1 and 3 while I have taken 2 and 4.  The book of Nehemiah is an opportunity to learn how we can trust that God is in the business of working through his people to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks. Chapter 4 is no different.

The chapter starts off with a man named Sanballat who is the acting governor of the region of Samaria. He teams up with a few other people and they oppose the building of the wall that Nehemiah and the Jews are working on.  Nehemiah and the Jews turn to God and ultimately are able to remain faithful and continue working on the wall until its completion.

Sanballat opposed the Jews in their quest to serve God. God allowed for the opposition because it allowed the Jews an opportunity to remain faithful to Him in times of difficulty. Fortunately for the Jews, God had already defeated the opposition before it began.  And fortunately for us, when we live in the redemption that is the blood of Christ we are able to share in the victory.  In fact we learn in John 17:20-23 that Jesus is fighting for us.  Jesus is praying for us:

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Praise God that our wonderful conquerer has come and won the battle! No opposition can stand before God.  Today, lets practice the art of celebration and live joyfully for the Conquering King!

We were blessed to go see Rend Collective play live in Bangor last night and I think this song captures the celebration of joy we can find in our Father. Take a few minutes and listen.

Sunday Confessional

I confess that I have forgotten to post the last couple weeks. We’ve been away a bit and I’ve been focusing on school, finishing up one class and beginning another. I confess I’m actually very nervous about this upcoming class.  It’s a pilgrimage around Ireland and Northern Ireland to see various holy sites.  I’m really excited about the course content and the opportunities presented.  I’m nervous because Abigail and the boys will not be going on the 10-day journey.  I have spent `a grand total of two nights away from Abigail in the five years that we’ve been married, only one away from Hosea, and 0 away from Moses.  I am, at my a core, a family man. I love my family, and I love spending time with them.  It hurts me to think about spending that much time away from my family.

I confess that I plan on using this time of pilgrimage to seek God’s will for our family and what our next steps will be.  When Abigail and I returned to the States from Haiti in 2012 we had a hard time adjusting.  I didn’t realize why I was having a hard time until I heard Pastor Tim Suttle preach on the importance of finding margin in your life. Just carving out time for God. We had done it without thinking in Haiti because often, there wasn’t anything else to do some days. I would find myself sitting on the roof of the hotel reading my Bible in the warm Haitian sun.  I had concentrated time of margin where I sought the Lord.  It was so good. I hope to use the time during the class as a bit of margin.  A time when I can pause and pursue and be refreshed.

I want and crave that time of renewal and refreshment, but I can still feel a bit of clinging sadness for leaving my family for a time.  I will desperately miss my boys.  I always put my boys to bed at night, I read to them and then pray with them and rock Moses to sleep.  It has become part of the rhythm of my life and I think a part of me depends on it.  Bed time at our house is a calm time, and its typically a time when I can really have some of my best conversations with Hosea. So I will miss my boys. I will miss my wife as well.  I will miss making her breakfast in the morning and I will miss lying in bed next to her.

I know I will only be gone for a few days, but I’ll miss doing life with my family. I cherish the everyday moments leading up to these 10 days away.

I confess that I am both anxious and excited for this course.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

I’ve made my confession, now go make yours.