Monday, May 21, 2012

the end of the beginning - thankful #17

that's a wrap. the journey that began with exuberant joy about four and a half years ago with the notice of b's early-decision acceptance to columbia college concluded last week with the big graduation -- 11,000 degree applicants from the 20 schools associated with columbia university and 20,000+ folks gathered to celebrate with them.
by tradition, the columbia college students have carried swords to graduation, but this year, they went with these brightly colored lions. though initially a disappointment for the students, the lions ended up becoming a big hit. above, you can see the columbia college students waving their lions and cheering wildly as they are formally presented for the conferral of their degrees. b did receive a lion, but gave hers up to a friend who really wanted one but hadn't received one -- a characteristically generous move by b, but one which saddened m, who was really hoping to get a photo of the graduate with her lion.

for several days leading up to the graduation, we reconnected and celebrated with family, did a bit of sightseeing, and found fun activities and food along the way. favorite memories: hanging with grandma p and the p family, an off-broadway production of alice in wonderland, a surreal visit to the american girl place, korean barbecue at kang suh in k-town on our final night.
five-star diner in queens (indian cuisine!) on our first night
mother's day in greenwich village
walking the brooklyn bridge
b had a great run at columbia, so it was fitting that the celebration would be kind of epic. and it was fun to celebrate her and all of her accomplishments, which were many.

still, unlike my own graduation, this felt to me like a very intermediate step. b has only begun. next up: pursuing her master of divinity at princeton theological seminary. and beyond that, the target is a ph.d. in church history, with the goal of teaching in a seminary and finding an effective platform for influencing future church leaders to a whole-hearted embrace of God's justice in the world.

winston churchill once famously said, "now this is not the end. it is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." so phase 1 is complete -- but it's been a great beginning.
the graduate and proud mom
celebrating with the graduate!

Monday, May 07, 2012

the trouble with Jesus - thankful #16

      "is -- is he a man?" asked lucy.
      "aslan a man?!!" said mr. beaver sternly. "certainly not. i tell you he is the king of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond-the-sea. don't you know who is the king of beasts? aslan is a lion,
the lion, the great lion."
      "ooh," said susan, "i thought he was a man. is he -- quite safe? i shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
      "that you will, dearie, and make no mistake," said mrs. beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
      "then he isn't safe?" said lucy.
      "safe?" said mr. beaver; "don't you hear what mrs. beaver tells you? who said anything about safe? 'course he isn't safe. but he's good. he's the king i tell you."
(from c.s. lewis' the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe)
pastor alex gee returned for our lighthouse and friends retreat this year, preaching on the topic, "the trouble with Jesus." alex looked at that idea at least three different ways, but they can all be traced back to a single root truth: Jesus isn't safe. 

i don't know why that's news. given the many stories of God's dealings with people in the bible, whatever led us to believe that he would be? and yet year after year, i find that i bump up against that reality. i can't really say that i crave or even long for safety, but given the option, i do prefer it.

but after thirty years of following Jesus, the conclusion is inescapable: faith is not a safe thing. by its nature, faith yields to the wisdom, plan, and control of Another. when it comes to a life with God, there just isn't any other way. and given that he and i don't always see things the same way, that's never going to feel entirely safe.

thankfully, 'unsafe' is not the core descriptor of who God is. he's loving, and he's good. and following in the long tradition of those who have learned to trust in a wisdom that is higher than our own and a goodness that is better than we can imagine, i keep walking -- with humility and gratefulness.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


this is the message i preached at lighthouse on 4/15/12 - redemption.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

turning 50 - thankful #15

"how do you feel?" that was the first question i remember after the initial "surprise!" and my answer caught people off-guard...
"old," was my carefully considered reply, "and not in the good way." well, that put a real damper on the celebration. some people are so much fun at parties! after collecting myself, i tried to explain. i've never been disturbed by the big threshold birthdays -- turning 30, turning 40. those are just numbers, i scoffed. but 50 felt different. i looked at my life, reasonably certain that there are more days behind me than in front of me. in God's generosity and mercy, i've seen some amazing things in ministry, but i honestly imagined that i might have accomplished more by now than i have. and i've started to wonder: maybe this is as good as it gets. maybe my best days are behind me....

i can only imagine what people must have been thinking. but thankfully, my friends are both kind and loving. "no," they said firmly, "that's not true." in the message i preached that sunday, i cracked that had they been less gracious, they might have said, "get behind me, satan!" but either way, i got it. when it comes to spiritual warfare, i'm less likely these days to have head-on power encounters with the enemy than i am to fall prey to various lies that discourage and threaten to defeat me. and it was time to proclaim the truth and stand on it. i am a son of God; his Spirit lives in me and empowers me for a supernatural way of life. and whatever has been done (and not done) up to this point, he isn't through with me yet. being reminded of that again was a wonderful gift.

and it wasn't the only one for the day. m had asked months ago whether i wanted her to do anything special for my 50th birthday (i.e. throw a big party), and i assured her that i didn't need or want a party. but as the date drew nearer, i found myself regretting that choice. it dawned on me that what i sometimes think of as humility (don't want to make a big deal out of myself) might not be experienced by others in the same way. in fact, in my nightmare scenario, i'd get to the end of my life and people would feel like they must not have been very close to me or that i didn't care about them that much because i never included them in the major events in my life. that thought was killing me. i really do love people, and they are important to me. i guess i have a lot of learning to do about how to demonstrate that. anyhow, as the time for my birthday grew closer, i was wishing that i had chosen the party. but it felt too late to switch. how could i change my mind so close to the day? how could i put that kind of pressure on m? it was too late. i had made my bed, and i would need to lie in it.

what a joyful surprise to find so many people there, waiting to celebrate... me. i was humbled and not a little self-conscious -- but also very, very grateful. i am the recipient of so many good gifts: good friends, a wife who loves me (and knows when not to listen to me), and a God who sometimes gives me the secret desire of my heart, even when i haven't asked.

Monday, April 02, 2012

april fools - thankful #14

i've never been a big april fooler, but there were some i rather enjoyed yesterday:

  • the announcement of a new star trek movie, excelsior, starring george takei's sulu as the captain of the transwarp-equipped prototype. as the friend who posted it on facebook told me later, "i wish..."
it may seem trivial, but i'm thankful for a good joke and the ability to appreciate it. it points us to God and is a hint of where we come from and who we really are. there is something wonderful, even transcendent about humor. and there is something delightful about laughter at someone's cleverness. is there anything more distinctively human -- or a more surprising hint at God's own character?