Three Sacred Days

Walking alone, Lord, you go to your sacrifice, victim of death, and our death's mighty conqueror.  What can we say to you, knowing our poverty, you, who have freed us from sin and from slavery?

Ours are the sins, Lord, and we are the guilty ones, you, in your innocence, take on our punishment; grant that our spirits may share in your suffering, may our compassion respond to your pardoning.

Three sacred days are the time of our sorrowing, as we endure now the night of our heaviness, until the morning restores to us joyfulness; Christ, newly risen, brings gladness for tearfulness.

Grant us, O Lord, to take part in your suffering, that we may share in your heavenly victory; through these sad days living humbly and patiently, may we at Eastertide see you smile graciously.

Peter Abelard, 1079-1142



It's been pretty fascinating to read all of the Monday Morning Quarterbacking that has taken place following last week's election win by President Obama and the Democratic Party.  Everyone, on both sides of the political spectrum, as well as those who hold positions in the middle, seem to have an idea/reason as to why the Republican candidate for president (and many Republican congressional candidates) "lost" the election.  Since I have no desire for this to be a political post, please don't read it as such.  But I do wonder if there aren't some parallels between some of the things being mentioned, and the Church in today's world and society.

In a few places, again from both the right and left side of the spectrum, I have seen written and heard said the idea that the Republican Party "lost" the election because it stood as the party that was "against" certain things, rather than the party that was "for" certain things (again...not a political post so no need to get riled up in agreement or disagreement...).  In this train of reasoning, the Republicans came across to many independent and moderate voters as the anti-women, anti-minority, anti-immigration, anti-homosexual, anti-poor political party, rather than a political party that stood "for" something.  Pundits now are discussing how the Republicans move forward from this election and rebrand themselves as "pro" rather than "anti".  If they are unable to do so, some feel that the Republican Party will not recover and become irrelevant in the political process.

I couldn't help but see parallels between that discussion and the insightful and deeply frightening research that has taken place over the last few years by the Barna Group's David Kinneman, author David Olson, and others.  Their powerful research reveals that the Christian Church is no longer thought of (by non-church goers and non-Christians) by what it stands for...grace, love, mercy, hope, justice, compassion...but rather by what it stands against...homosexuality, tolerance, the political left, science.  As Church attendance spirals downward, and at a quickening pace, many wonder if the Church will recover.

Has the Church become better at proclaiming what we are "against" rather than what we are for"? 

And more importantly, has the Church become better at proclaiming what we are "against" at the expense of "who" we are for?



"Our fingerprints never fade from the lives we touch."
-the 2010 film Remember Me

Often times at the end of a long family car trip, after the car has been unpacked and cleaned out, I will marvel at how dirty and disgusting the back windows are in our minivan.  It literally looks as if my children have covered their fingers with grease and rubbed them all over the windows.  They like to draw pictures in the fog that will sometimes build up, and the residue that is left after everything dries up, and the trip is over, is gross.  The fingerprints they leave are grimy, slimy and just plain nasty.

As I reflect on Mother's Day, and the fingerprints that my own mother, and other women who have played significant roles in my life over the years, have left on the fabric of who I am, I'm grateful.  Too often in this world, as we interact with people, the fingerprints that are left upon us are like those on the windows of my minivan...grimy and nasty.  People's hurtful words, their sarcasm and jealousy, their outright indifference or attempts at putting us down, they all leave fingerprints on our lives that never fade, and impact us deeply.  But at times, we encounter people who leave fingerprints of grace and love, of compassion and kindness.  Fingerprints that build us up, rejoice with us, help us to overcome.  Today I'm grateful for my Mom who has left, and continues to leave, those positive kinds of fingerprints on my life (and on the lives of my wife and children), as well as for the other women along my life's journey that have done the same.

In today's lectionay text from the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his followers that we are to "love each other" as he has loved us, just as the Father has loved him.  To me the implication is this: God has left His fingerprints of love on Christ; Christ in turn has left his fingerprints of love on his followers; and now he calls us to go out and leave those exact same fingerprints of love on those that we come into contact with each and ever day.  In our familes, in our workplaces, in our schools, amongst complete strangers.  We are called to leave fingerprints of love.

Whether you realize it or not, today, you will leave fingerprints.  Each person you interact with today will be covered in your fingerprints.  What will those fingerprints be?  What will be their lasting impact? 

Our fingerprints never fade from the lives we touch.


On Being Still

March 2012 - The Western Wall, Jerusalem

Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty.
I don't concern myself with matters too great or awesome for me.
But I have stilled and quieted myself, just as a small child is quiet with its mother.
Yes, like a small child is my soul within me.

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord - now and always.
-Psalm 131

His face rested against the great stones of the Wall, and he was perfectly still.  All around him was noise and movement and commotion.  Hasidic Jews swaying and chanting loudly in prayer; Jewish boys, surrounded by older male relatives, performing their bar mitzvah ceremonies while their mothers and sisters showered them with cheers and candy in celebration; foreign tourists and pilgrims snapping pictures and talking excitedly about this amazing historical site; people placing folded prayers written on scraps of paper into the very cracks of the wall...and there he stood...so still...so quiet...so at rest and seemingly at peace.  And out of all that was taking place, it was this still, quiet man, with his face resting against the stone, that caught my attention and touched my soul.

Two night later I returned to the Wall with my daughter, to pray and thank God for His many blessings, and there he was.  The same man in the same spot, with his face resting on the very same stone as I had seen him two days earlier.  As I stared, dumbstruck at this man's ability to simply rest in the presence of God, a Jewish man who had been collecting prayer books and returning them to their rightful place stopped next to me, pointed at the man, and said "every day".  Every day the man comes to the Wall, to be still and rest in God's very presence.  I opened my bible and read the next psalm of ascent as I had been reading through them all...Psalm 131..."I have stilled and quieted myself, just as a small child is quiet with its mother.  Yes, like a small child is my soul within me."

I have little stillness in my life.  Ministry is busy.  Home is busy.  Life is busy.  Stillness and quietness are commodities that I seemingly can't afford right now.  And yet they are probably the exact things I need most in my faith walk.  To simply be still and quiet, and like a small child, to rest my face against the face of my Father in Heaven, who loves me and cares for me.  To feel the steady heartbeat of God as I sit within his embrace, reminding me that my hope is found in Him.  Now and always.


"Another Way"

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God…”

-2 Corinthians 5:17

In the darkest days of World War II, English poet W.H. Auden wrote a long poem entitled For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. In this 52-page poem, Auden imagines the thoughts of the main characters of the Christmas story, and what spurs them on to do what they do. He uses common everyday language, and presents the events of the story as if they were happening in the contemporary world. Through a series of dramatic character monologues, interspersed with narration and choruses, we encounter the people of the Christmas story in a very personal and captivating way. Ultimately, his goal is not to just retell the events of that first Christmas in a new way, but to remind us that the events of that incarnation forever impact our lives.

As I read through this poem for the first time ever last month, I was intrigued by his portrayal of the wise men. The gospels don’t tell us much about them in terms of details. Matthew doesn’t even reveal to us how many of them there were. We know they came from afar, following a star, bringing gifts of great symbolic value, and that when they left, they went home “another way.”

Auden points out that not only did they go home “another way” directionally, but they also went home “another way” as different people. The events of that holy moment transformed each of them into new creations. In his poem, each wise man came for a different reason. The first, a scientist, came seeking truth, and to become more truthful about himself. “To discover how to be truthful now is the reason I follow this star.” The second was so fixated on the past and the future that he had forgotten how to live in the present. “We anticipate or remember but never are. To discover how to be living now is the reason I follow this star.” The third is so self-centered and narcissistic that he cannot love. “To discover how to be loving now is the reason I follow this star.” Each, after the experience of being in the presence of the Christ-child, found a new way of living. They went home “another way” because they had become new creations.

During this season, we too who have made the journey to the manger, are called to allow that encounter to transform our lives; to let the incarnation of Christmas re-create us into new people…people whose old lives are replaced with new lives of meaning and substance and purpose. People who will go forth “another way.”

Auld writes in a prayer by Simeon: “And because of His visitation, we may no longer desire God as if He were lacking: our redemption is no longer a question of pursuit but of surrender to Him who is always and everywhere present. Therefore at every moment we pray that, following Him, we may depart from our anxiety into His peace. It’s errors forgiven, may our vision come home.”



The shootings that took place in Arizona last week are just so disturbing.  It's difficult to put into words the range of emotions that well up inside at a senseless tragedy of this magnitude.  Anger, frustration, discouragement, grief...they all have held a place in my heart over the last few days.

I was in the car yesterday and happened to be listening to a radio program in which callers were sharing their opinions about the possible causes of the shooting.  Though most callers rightfully acknowledged the psychological issues of the shooter as the sole cause, it was deeply interesting to hear the impact that many feel the inflamed political rhetoric by political pundits and candidates might have played in pushing the murderer "over the edge."  Surprisingly, there was little blaming of one side over the other, but instead a general feeling that both sides (left and right on the political spectrum) have gone too far in vilifying their political opponents.

At one point in the show, a caller stated that it's time we got back to earning each other's respect.  She used the phrase, "Respect must be earned before it is given."

I deeply disagree with that statement, and maybe that type of thinking is at the root of this overall problem in our political atmosphere and society in general.  Respect for another should not have to be earned before we give it.  Inherent respect should be our behavior toward every other human being that we encounter, regardless of whether we know them, agree with them, or look and act like them.  Demanding respect to be earned before it is given simply ensures that we will withhold it unless they do and say what we want them to.

Part of what makes democracy work is a starting point of mutual respect for all that then allows us to have diverse opinions and debates.  Disagreeing with another human being over political philosophy (or theology for that matter) should never end with us dehumanizing them into "the enemy".  We need to recover respect for each other for sure...but not only after its earned.  We need to recover respect for each other as our true starting point.

How sad that it takes these deaths to get us to realize how far we've gone astray from that ideal.



Chuck Frasier (8.25.51 - 11.18.10)

The world lost a GREAT man on Thursday of last week.  Chuck Frasier, the longtime director of Covenant Point Bible Camp in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, died of an apparent heart attack while out deer hunting.  His wife called the camp, concerned that Chuck hadn't come home once it had gotten dark out.  A couple of guys from camp went out to his deer stand and found him.  Just the day before he was telling one of the guys who found his body how much he looked forward to being out in his deer stand, as it was one of the high moments of the year when he spent some serious time praying and communing with God, alone out there in the peace and quiet of the woods.  For those of us who love Chuck, there is great comfort in the midst of our grief, in knowing that when he passed from this life into the next, he was in the intimate presence of the God he loved and served so faithfully.

The impact that Chuck has had on multiple generations of teenagers and young adults is immeasurable.  To think of the thousands of kids who have attended camp, worked on staff, or been mentored under Chuck's leadership, and knew him to be a modern day Barnabas, reveals the depth of blessing that he has been to the Evangelical Covenant Church, and Christ's Kingdom here on earth.  I know how deeply his work ethic, pasionate commitment to Jesus, and compassionate heart affected me as a young man just starting out in ministry.  There was just something about Chuck that oozed leadership and role model.  Within 5 minutes of being in his presence, you knew this was a person to emulate.  I know that a part of who I am today as a pastor has its roots in conversations with Chuck, and just watching him in action.  He will be dearly missed.

If you travel in Covenant circles in the Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan areas, and say that one simple word, "Chuck", you're bound to get a smile, a shake of the head, and a story of how Chuck touched their life, or the life of someone close to them.  One simple name: Chuck.  A name and a life that will not be forgotten.

Well done, good and faithful servant.