Inside Out

There is so much on my heart and mind.  I just re-read something my wife wrote 6 years ago, and it is still helpful, beautiful, and encouraging.

Charleston weighs heavy on my heart.

I’m sad about the number of people that think the sky has fallen due to the SCOTUS ruling.  I’m sad about the number of people that think the world is saved by the SCOTUS ruling.

But, I do know this – you should consider seeing the wonderful movie “inside Out”.  I took my 9 year old a few weeks ago and it gave a depth and breadth to our communication we have never had.  I pray and hope it lasts.  The movie is smart, funny, and poignant.  One of my favorite things about it is set amidst regular life.  The entire movie functions within our frame of reference and experience.  This is one of the reasons it helps Caroline and I talk.  She isn’t relating to talking dogs and a floating house.  Or, my other personal favorite, a robot who makes boxes of trash.

Reposted for your encouragement

My beautiful, futuristically sexy wife (in the future we realize hair is not sexy) is asleep.  Grace amidst pain.  She walked – brave.  She eats and I am grateful.

This is our view.

I was sick a few years ago, and she wrote a few words on my blog.  They apply again, she encourages us again.

“I think we come up with new questions all the time. And there is still fear of the disease as well as the treatment. And there are lots of questions about the future- the impact the surgery & chemo will have on matt’s last semester of seminary, how this will affect his long term health, how this could impact the number of children in our family… and we are still processing how we communicate with each other and how we bring this before the Lord. I think we are much better than we were last week at this time- more answers, less shock, more reassurance, less paralyzing fear. We really feel surrounded by our family, friends & community. And we have the cutest, most amazing children ever, which doesn’t hurt. And we celebrated the living Christ on Sunday- a deep & powerful Love for us that is over every dark & nasty thing we are dealing with. Christ isn’t changing the facts of the cancer in matt’s body- Christ is changing our hearts to hope & trust in His Good-ness through all of this. It doesn’t hurt less, but we know God is acting behind & in & through everything. (Please remind me that i said this- i am sure to forget on a regular basis).

Thank you for all your calls, notes, e-mails, flowers & cookies. Thank you most of all for your prayers- it is really amazing to be on the receiving end of such incredible care. i hope that we love all of you as well as you have loved us.


Jogging through Mark with friends

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 11.34.56 AMTaking Mark one chapter/Sunday is an interesting endeavor.  On the one hand, we honor Mark’s way of telling the story of Jesus’ earth-time-ministry.  On the other hand, there is a lot of stuff that happens that receives either a cursory mention, or none at all because every instance of speech or action has tremendous power.

Many of the friends who attend Covenant Presbyterian Church with me long for ‘more’.  More on this section or that, more on the book as a whole, or more clarity from another voice as they supplement their prayerful reading of the text.

I don’t like to recommend books without a long conversation because every book has an agenda.  I only feel comfortable recommending if I think that that agenda is one you might benefit from.  But, I do not mind sharing the books that I enjoyed about a topic, or the specific books that form how I am preaching Mark.

1.  There is no substitute for reading Mark, and then re-reading it.  Especially this book, action-oriented, easy narrative division between chapters 8 and 9, with the deliberate hinge in 8:29 “Who do you say that I am?”

2.  Tim Keller’s “Jesus the King” is delightful.  Dr. Keller does not cover every verse.  But, you cannot beat him for clarity about any section of the Bible in light of the Good News of Jesus.

3.  Hans Bayer’s “A Theology of Mark” is a medium-level scholastic book focused on reading Mark in light of Jesus claims about Himself and the ramifications that has on His disciples (medium level means it is theological, but it does not do a lot with the Greek).  Specifically, Dr. Bayer offers 7 repeated discipleship foci in Mark (and elsewhere).  In our series at the BARN each will come up twice in this series.

4.  “Mark for Everyone” A brief and helpful commentary on the book of Mark by NT Wright.  Made for group discussions and study.

Supplemental work I rely upon, but do not consult each week: “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” (Richard Bauckham), “Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels” (IVP), and “Storytelling God” (A terrific New England Pastor/Teacher named Jared Wilson).

The book you might consider reading. Maybe. If you want.

I like Twitter.  But sometimes the promotions get tedious.  Then there are re-tweets.  A few days ago it seemed that a newer celebrity pastor got his first book published.  I’m glad for him, I follow him on Twitter, I’m glad his friends, the other mega-church folk are supporting him…  supporting each other…  supporting the mass-marketing brands and platforms of their particular…  I should stop.  🙂    Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 2.01.17 PM

But, if you want to know what book I think you should pick up it is this one.  Bad sentence, but enough nuance to effectively remove arrogance?  I do not know what book (if any) anyone should read.  To do so means I know them so well, I know which assumptions and argument will help them hear, believe, and believe in their bones the Gospel of Jesus.  Neverthless, buy this book.  🙂

I do not struggle the way Spurgeon did.   But Dr. Eswine writes about emotions and the Gospel with grace and clarity.  Grace modeled.  Grace explained.  Grace in the midst of a terrible burden/disease/struggle/hardship.  You have friends who suffer – and this will help.  Your emotions will change throughout your life – and this will help.  I am enjoying it.  And, I am not enjoying a lot these days – especially books, blogs, etc.

I purposely titled this blog in an uncool way.  I’m not good at cool blogging anyway!  But it would be ironic if I tried.

And yes, I did work with and for Dr. Eswine.  But doesn’t that encourage you?  That he lives the Gospel he preaches?  That I will continue to read his books even though I can call him and bug him abotu this stuff whenever I want?  I hope it does.  It encourages me.  As do his texts, phone calls, and strange puns and pun-like jokes.  If he ever publishes those I will not blog about it.


Yesterday an old friend sent funny cat pictures to make me smile.  I mentioned she should help me a find a version of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” that compares with her own.  She is the worship leader/director/awesomeness supervisor at Riverside Church.  A few years ago she reintroduced the song to me as a folksy hymn.  Sadly for my two girls, I have been singing it for weeks.  She is a terrific singer, and her husband is an excellent masterer of music, guitar player, harmony singer, and the only man I know who can get his dog to play bass (you have to really listen for it though).  After looking around on the internet she found what I found – there weren’t versions as excellent as the Duke Wilson Band’s.

Mahalia Jackson takes 6 minutes to sing it.  David Crowder is great, but he is intermixing another song, and doesn’t complete the lyrics.  Alan Jackson somehow sings it in 1:45.

So, my friends recorded me a version

.  I have listened to it around 20 times today (now yesterday).  Cried 15 or so of those times.  Good crying.  I listened to it while shaving, and held back the tears then…  seemed dangerous.

We are blessed with more than 1 great church praying for us, holding us up, making us food, praying, and loving us.  We are thankful.

Advantages to Chemo

Thanks to the proliferation of all forms of communication, I am unsure how many of you will read/see this.  Nevertheless, I find it a nice outlet.  Facebook’s requirement that I install a new app brings out all of my Gen X cynicism, and latent authority issues.

My wife has breast cancer.  I think most of ‘you’ knew that, but I wanted to mention it anyway, since I have some friends (around 900 according to Facebook) that are not friends with her.  And, since others don’t stay up on the blogosphere, Social Media outlets, etc.  You should all read the Circle, it will push you to delete these accounts.

Am I okay?  Sure.  My emotions are all over, and I have to actively remember that that is okay (I can harshly judge myself, even when my wife has cancer).  Many of you wish for details.  They change every day.  AScreen Shot 2014-09-25 at 10.56.54 AMnd, I do not think it will help you or us for you to know each meeting and detail.  Thanks Mom, for encouraging me to read Joan a few years ago.  I wish she wasn’t so helpful.  🙂

A friend asked if there are any advantages associated with the fact that I had cancer in 2009.  Yes.  Because I had chemo, if Rachel has chemo…  there’s a lot there.  Because…  If…  I will never ask, “Does she really feel that bad?”  It will not cross my mind once.  Those of you who have been there, you know too.

Yes.  I can more easily assimilate scientific knowledge than I would have without my experience.  And, this is helpful.

Do I doubt God’s goodness?  No.  Does that lack of doubt make me feel better?  Not really.  Do I doubt His in-control-ness?  No.  Does that make me feel better?  A little.  In the meantime, I don’t think this is unfair.  But, I am quite sad.  Scared some days.  Scared only for this season and all it will entail.  Rachel’s prognosis is good, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

I am the lead pastor of a gracious church.  Our board easily accepted my request/encouragement that I drop non-essential meetings.  Daily I think through the meetings I cancelled; because I care about the church.  But, my kids need me and my wife needs me.  It is an easy choice, but one I think of often.

If you contacted me in the last few weeks, and I did not respond…  can that be okay?  If you want to be cared for, read this.  If you need to hear back, contact me again.  I’ll respond.  There are just a lot of you.  Which I am thankful for.  But, it means I cannot respond to everyone.  I actually cannot.  There isn’t enough time.

One-Word Sermons

This Sunday I will preach the 4th Sermon on the Fruit of the Spirit.  This week: patience.  We all wanScreen Shot 2014-07-04 at 1.16.29 PMt it, all of our friends want us to have it more, we need it, and what does the Bible say?  Does the Gospel tell us how to ‘get’ patience?  Does Jesus promise us patience?

While I could share my draft with you here, I’m writing more because it seems like an easy series: preach on one word of the whole Bible.  And, not even that word in its entirety throughout the Bible, just that word, as Paul meant it when he wrote the letter to the Galatians churches.

But there is so much more!  There are anecdotal stories throughout the Bible, practical application in the Proverbs, prayer-patience learned through the Psalms as our prayer mentors, Jesus was patient and he required patience from those who hung out with Him all the time.  Paul begins his definition by description of Love, the one we all know from weddings, with this line “Love is patient”.

10 years ago I might have tried to include all of this other stuff.  No pauses, I would barely breathe while preaching, and there would be a lot of good information!  But, preaching and the Good News are far more than that.

First Sunday All Over Again

The first Sunday I ever preached a sermon, in a church, on a Sunday morning was July 4th, 2004.  I remember the text, title, how I felt about it, about how long it was, and I still have a tape of it somewhere.  🙂  I wonder how many first sermons are on Psalm 137.  

The first time I spoke in front of group about the Gospel of Jesus I was 17.  In December, I was voted in to the Lead Pastor at Covenant Pres here in Simsbury, the Barn.  Heavy.  That was the first time a sermon of mine was ever voted on.  In January, I began a series on Philiippians as the lead pastor here.  First as lead, first in that series.  

This past Sunday was my first sermon outside, in our beautiful outdoor worship space (now with seat cushions).  


Not only was it beautiful, but it felt like my first Sunday all over again.  Beautiful space, wind through the trees, incredible worship, and I was and am convicted by the Word.  I listened to my sermon this morning – laughed a bit (there was a great church-testimony joke in there), remembered my need for repentance in the restaurant two weeks ago, and am encouraged by the hope we have in Jesus.  Love is possible, it is elusive, but by the grace of Jesus we will be inexorably grown in it – because his grace is that powerful.  

A Humbling Parchment and New Member Sunday

When I walk up the stairs into the Hayloft for the 9:00 service, I’m humbled by this document.  It is the charter for Covenant Presbyterian Chphotourch.  Sundays when Carol and Harvey usher are especially delightful, since their names are on the charter.

This week a number of new folks are joining CPC, and I was honored to lead the class for them, alongside Rick and Lynne Schoenhardt.  I’m more honored that they shared their stories of God’s pursuit of them and their families.  It is one of the best parts of my ‘job: hearing the stories of God’s pursuit of men and women, and how the church already blesses these families.

If you attend the 9:00 service at CPC, I hope you stick around to welcome our new members at the 10:30.

PS – my family is joining, so that is pretty awesome too.

Forgiveness: Difficult and Essential

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As I write, think, pray, re-write my sermon on forgiveness I continue to appreciate this quote.  I read it for the first time a few years ago and return to it again and again.

“One thing you can do is to try to make that person pay: You can try to destroy their opportunities or ruin their reputation; you can hope they suffer, or you can actually see to it. But there’s a big problem with that. As you’re making them pay off the debt, as you’re making them suffer because of what they did to you, you’re becoming like them. You’re becoming harder, colder; you’re becoming like the perpetrator. Evil wins. What else can you do?

The alternative is to forgive. But there’s nothing easy about real forgiveness. When you want to harbor vengeful thoughts, when you want so much to carry out vengeful actions but you refuse them in an effort to forgive, it hurts. When you refrain, when you forgive, it’s agony. Why?

Instead of making the other person suffer, you’re absorbing the cost yourself. You aren’t trying to get your reputation back by tearing their reputation down. You are forgiving them and it is costing you. That’s what forgiveness is. True forgiveness always entails suffering. So the debt of wrong doesn’t vanish: Either they pay or you pay. But here’s the irony. Only if you pay that price of forgiveness, only if you absorb the debt, is there any chance of righting the wrong. If you confront somebody with what they’ve done wrong while you’ve got vengeance in your heart, they probably won’t listen to you. They’ll sense that you are not seeking justice but revenge, and they’ll reject anything you say. You’ll just perpetuate the cycle of retaliation, retaliation, retaliation. Only if you have refrained from vengeance and paid the cost of forgiveness will you have any hope of getting them to listen to you, of seeing their own error. And even if they do not listen to you at first, your forgiveness breaks the cycle of further reprisals. If we know that forgiveness always entails suffering for the forgiver and that the only hope of rectifying and righting wrongs comes by paying the cost of suffering, then it should not surprise us when God says, “The only way I can forgive the sins of the human race is to suffer—either you will have to pay the penalty for sin or I will.” Sin always entails a penalty. Guilt can’t be dealt with unless someone pays.”

Tim Keller, from his book Jesus the King. Pages 98-99.