The Tall House

The Tall House

Dear readers,

Some pastors bring me great joy. Erik Gernand is one of them.

He may be the smartest man I know (because he married my daughter), but he is also my pastor.

Today’s guest blog post is longer than usual but well worth the read. It is a parable.

Enjoy.


A few Sundays ago, I shared a parable with our church as the message. To begin, I explained that I had been thinking a lot lately about culture, community, and the state of the church in America, which had led me to a particular passage of Scripture.

“After I read the Scripture, I’d like to share a parable with you,” I said. “Then, we’ll receive communion.

I read Galatians 6:1-5,9-10 aloud from The Message:

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

Then, I began the parable.

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Fletcher and the Nepal Earthquake

Fletcher and the Nepal Earthquake

As Nepal was being rocked by an earthquake, my Twitter and Facebook became the early alert system to me.  Each buzz of a new post reminded me how the world has changed. I used to go looking for the news. Now the news comes looking for me. A vibrating phone tells me something is happening somewhere in the world. News is now a fast chaser of humans.

My friend Fletcher Tink was in Nepal, in the middle of a sermon from Acts, when the quake hit. I followed his account of escaping the buildings, ongoing tremors, sleeping outdoors, getting food and health care, and watching humanity wax kind. The Nepal earthquake reminded me of more than fast news. It reminded me that God is present in the middle of any tragedy—and that our brothers and sisters are there whether we know their names or not. Knowing Fletcher, I am assured that God will be named and present in the suffering. He finished his sermon in the street as others joined them.

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When Public Families Share their Pain – Reflections on September 11

When Public Families Share their Pain – Reflections on September 11

I recently attended the funeral of Peggy Benson. The Benson name is a Nashville icon. They founded a publishing company, created a music empire, and were notable leaders in Nashville First Church of the Nazarene.

At Trevecca Nazarene University, you will find Benson Residence Hall and Benson Auditorium. In the line of presidential pictures, you can view John T. Benson. They have been entrepreneurs, business leaders, benefactors, authors, song leaders, musicians, artists, speakers, and preachers. Peggy’s last job was in the Trevecca School of Education where she spread characteristic Benson love even as she wrestled with the onset of Alzheimer’s. Daughter Leigh and son Michael gave fitting tributes to their mother, recognizing her bravery in refusing to pack it in following tragedy. She experienced the death of a sister, the tragic loss of a son, and the battle with cancer that took her beloved husband.

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Provoking God

Provoking God

Do you know how to provoke a response? My wife does. If she’s talking and I’m not listening, she turns toward the wall and says, “Why thank you, Wall. It’s so enjoyable to converse with you today. I delight in these one-way conversations.” She’s provoking a response.

We find good company in Psalm 77. Someone is provoking God to respond to their dark, desperate situation. It begins with an emotive gush:

I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might, I yell at the top of my lungs. I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord; my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal. When friends said, ‘Everything will turn out all right,’ I didn’t believe a word they said.” (The Message)

What’s the problem? We don’t know. That’s what I like about these lament psalms – they are fill-in-the-blank-prayers. I can insert my own trouble. And we have plenty, don’t we?

  • Loss of people we love
  • A cutback at work
  • Shrinking 401C
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Moving to a town you hate
  • A kid going bad
  • A business going under
  • A deep loneliness
  • A painful memory that camps on the front door of our consciousness
  • A marriage getting uglier by the day
  • A checkbook bleeding red
  • A relationship that ended when we didn’t want it to

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God, Suffering, and Tornadoes

God, Suffering, and Tornadoes

In my last post, I introduced our topic of God and suffering with regard to this week’s deadly tornadoes. Go back and read that here if you haven’t already.

And now, for Part 2 of “The Danger of Explaining Tornadoes”:

Joseph Cardinal Bernardin wrote a God-anointed book in the last days of his battle with the cancer that claimed his life. In it he wrote:

Whenever we are with people who suffer, it frequently becomes evident that there is very little we can do to help them. … The reason this is so frustrating is that we like to be ‘fixers.’ We want not only to control our own destiny, but also that of others.

My experiences with those who have suffered tell me that it is cruel to interpret their suffering via our explanations. I think Cardinal Bernardin was right. We know we do not have control of our friend’s suffering and therefore, neither do we have control over our own impending future. The security of our hedge-theology is in question.

We must be merciful to those fixers who have not suffered. Their cause and effect faith has gotten them where they are. They are enjoying their health, homes, jobs, business success, educational attainments, and reputable friends. They accept all this as a gift of God – which it is. They believe it to be either the wink of God’s approval on their righteousness, or a blessing with no other explanation but God.

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The Danger of Explaining Tornadoes

The Danger of Explaining Tornadoes

Today’s post is the first of two about God and suffering in the wake of this week’s deadly tornadoes.

For some reason we humans believe it is our responsibility to explain everything that happens. And religious people are even worse. I suppose that if we can explain it, we feel that we somehow have mastery over it. Silly, aren’t we?

Life has been lost in Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee with the recent round of tornadoes this week. I remember a few years ago when a tornado tore through Nashville and someone informed me that God was judging the city for leaving her Bible-belt roots and embracing the vile entertainment of country music. Regardless your opinion of country music, I think it is the most theological of all non-religious music because it is blatantly honest about what sin does to people.

So, I ask, is there a connection between the spot a tornado hits and the morality of the people on that spot at a given moment? Are tornadoes a part of a cause and effect world? Are they the consequence of something? Before I answer, come with me to the book of Job.

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School Stabbings, Malaysian Planes, Washington Mudslides, and God

School Stabbings, Malaysian Planes, Washington Mudslides, and God

A community is trying to make sense today of a student’s vicious stabbing rampage in a Pennsylvania high school’s hallways yesterday morning.

The people of Malaysia are hoping that a faint ping from the Indian Ocean will locate their missing loved ones who boarded a plane on March 8.

A mudslide recently in Washington mudslide brought swift death and destruction on a calm day.

The people of New Orleans can tell you stories about the destructive power of water. A raging hurricane named Katrina collapsed dams, washed away levies, and overran sandbags. Every hedge of protection set up against the tide was futile. It took everything in its path and sent wise people in search of higher ground.

What do we do when the hedge of protection that separates us from disaster is removed? And is there even a hedge? We are confronted with a 24-hour news cycle that keeps announcing bad things happening to seemingly good people. How do Christians speak of God in these moments?

Job’s Story

A good starting place might be the story of Job. You might say that his plane went down, a mudslide hit him, and a hurricane came crashing in. According to the story, it was God who moved the hedge and let it happen. But that is not the end of the story.

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Faithful to the Promise

Faithful to the Promise

One of my favorite words in the Bible is the Hebrew word chesed. It is the term for covenant faithfulness, loyalty. I always talk about chesed at weddings. A relationship is beginning that will be severely tested. I want the couple to know that God is establishing chesed between them. It means that each of them has the right to expect certain behavior from the other in light of the promises they are making on this day.

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A Rainbow in the Clouds: Sign of God’s Covenant

A Rainbow in the Clouds: Sign of God’s Covenant

God emerges from the Flood in Genesis 9 offering covenant with a beautiful picture in the sky. “When the rainbow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant” (Genesis 9:16, NRSV). The God whose heart was moving away from his creation is now moving toward it. Five times the narrator presents a God who says, “Never again.”

I’ve said those words plenty of times to God. As a young teen, I beat a path to the altar of the local Nazarene church. I think I owe them for carpet. Each time I’d promise God never to do again the thing I promised last time never to do again. I became eloquent in my promises. Each “never again” had to be equal to or better than the last one. Certainly God was recording these. I promised to read my Bible every day, and to pray. I promised to witness to Dickie Bennett. I promised to stop thinking sexually about girls. I promised to study harder and make an A in algebra. I promised to treat my sisters kinder.

All eloquent promises. All eloquently broken.

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When Work Is a Pain

When Work Is a Pain

If you want to make promises that hard work yields great reward, Proverbs is the goldmine of texts. But it is not the only voice that speaks into the workplace. The Old Testament story of Job is a dissenting voice to wisdom.

Job did everything he was supposed to do and lost it all. Some have suggested that Job was written as protest to the simplified proverbs promising that if we do “a” we will get “b.” Sometimes we do what is right and suffer for it.

Job’s friends all had Ph.D.’s in wisdom but were declared by God to be dead wrong.  Suffice it to say there is no divine guarantee that if we do the right things we will get the results we want. There is rogue suffering in our world. And sometimes our vocation finds us right in the middle of it.

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