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Living The Uncertainty

I ended the sermon this past Sunday speaking authoritatively about the Jesus being “Outside the Tomb.” It was what Fred Craddock would describe as a “sermon of orientation.” It was firm in conviction, unambiguous, and strongly worded: “The tomb is empty!” Just what we need on Easter morning.

I said all these things knowing that this upcoming Sunday I would begin a new teaching series called, “Doubt.” The new series will be disorienting, bringing comfort for those who ask questions and a level of affliction to those who dislike grayness and ambiguity. The screech and grinding of gears from Easter to Doubt is not lost on me. But it is real life.

I know from experience. Recent experience. Before Easter was over, Rochelle and I found ourselves rushing our 5-year-old, Malia, to the hospital. The next nine hours treated her (and us) to two ultrasounds, a CT Scan, invasive medications, numerous blood tests, an ambulance ride from one hospital to another and talk of early onset diabetes, appendicitis, and elevated white blood cells counts. Neither Rochelle nor I are physicians or in the medical profession, but we know what raised eyebrows between two doctors and a nurse mean; nothing good. To be fair, we knew Malia’s life was never in danger, at least not immediately, but there were times when the fear of a life-changing prognosis was active in our imaginations.

There we are: The tomb is empty, but life happens in uncertainty and uncertainty means doubt.

But here’s the thing; certainty is not one of the promises of scripture. We cannot and will not be certain of everything God is doing. Even those who quickly jump to the comforting salve of words like, “It’ll all be good in the end,” would agree that conversations regarding who, how and why God will save can swiftly become testy and debatable issues.

Even as Malia lay in her hospital bed, too lethargic and dehydrated to move, I was confident that the tomb was empty, but had no clue as to the outcome of my daughter’s health. I knew what I wanted to happen, but no way to make it happen and no certainty that it would. These are the times when our complete surrendered-ness and dependency to God is tangible.

This is where we live, regardless of all our public posturing about the “will of God.” We cannot have the kind of certainty we would like! What we can have is confidence–confidence that God is good and working for a good that is bigger than our individual particulars. What we seek – and the way “believe” should have been translated more oftentimes in the New Testament, particularly in the Pauline epistles – is trust.

Trust that God is good, trust that we have a future, trust that even through the darkness we experience, the redemption and restoration are far grander than all we might lose or be separated from. Only then, I think, can we say, “Thy will be done.” And only in the committed articulation of “Thy will be done,” can we find joy, purpose and direction between the tomb and the doubt.

First and Last

Today is my last day in the office at Bering Drive Church of Christ. I’ve come to the same office, sat in the same chair, had the same view out the window and cluttered the same desk for over nine years. Today will be the last time I do that. A new chapter is beginning — as I’ve mentioned before. But before newness can break in fully, something must be done with what has passed. So today, I offer some random reflections on my time at Bering Drive.

1. Bering will always be precious to us because this is the church that our daughters were born into. Much of what they’ve learned about God, Jesus and the church came from Bering Drive. Malia, my 5-year-old, speaks about how much she’ll miss Bering. I’ll miss it much more than she. In 10 years she will hardly remember ever being here, but I will remember God sending her to us here.

2. The time I spent preaching at Bering in the interim (August 2003 – June 2004)was the greatest time of my ministry life. Rochelle was pregnant with Malia (a pregnancy that wasn’t supposed to happen); the church had it’s highest attendance since the hey-day of Dr. Bill Love’s preaching; staff and congregational morale was high; I was working nearly 60-hours per week and loving it; and each week it seemed like there were new young or minority people in the pew. For ten months we caught lighting in a bottle. One church member described it as “Camelot,” an older member said “It was the most meaningful church experience of my life,” a single, middle-aged woman said “You’re changing my life,” and the wife of an atheist said, “My husband doesn’t believe, but when he hears you preach, I think he’s close.” Those times can’t last forever, I know. It was a great ride, though. Thank you, God for using me.

3. At Bering I was challenged to think in new ways and allowed the freedom to challenge others in new ways. Thoughtfulness was encouraged, and I am a better minister for it. I know far too many ministers who are subtly told to not think, and merely replicate whatever is fun and popular. I became “theological” here, and it has changed my life. The commitment to theology was so deep here that some very good men and woman paid for me to get my masters. How many people are willing to do that?

4. The kids, the kids, the kids. Each of them deserves an entire blog post. Suffice it to say they are genuine, talented, funny, and beautiful. I am more proud of each of them than they’ll ever know. I will forever love them, and not being able to think of them without moist eyes, a broad smile, and my greatest hopes.

5. At Bering I met some older Christians (many), whom I truly respected; people who were wise and steady, yet forward-looking. I was 25 when we moved here McAllen, TX, and in so many ways entered adulthood at Bering. Thankfully, there were some helpful guides along the way. You can’t go wrong surrounded by people like Edward Fudge, Bill Love, Rolfe Johnson, Bill Ward, and Rob McRay. They taught me much that I will carry forever.

6. I will desperately miss my T.R.I.B.E. (The Right Individuals Believing Endlessly). Every minister needs a fan club. These people were my unwavering supporters. Folks like Sara Faye Fudge, Jean Worley, Laura Bard, the Hughes, Leah Snyder and so many others. The trusted my heart and accepted my humanity while believing in my gifts. If you don’t have a tribe. You should get one.

As I move on to the next phase of life and ministry; the phase orchestrated and ordained by God, these are just a few of the things I enjoyed in my time here. My God bless the believers who meet in this place.

It’s Official!

The number of celebrities that think my kids are cute is growing. Now, all readers of this blog (the 5 of you) know how beautiful my girls are, but now it’s official: Hollywood celebrities think they’re beautiful too.

First, a few years ago in the Continental President’s Club at LAX, I found myself sitting next to Dave Foley debating whether to watch the hockey or basketball playoffs. When he saw my daughter, Malia, he went on and on about how beautiful she was. I already knew Malia was beautiful, so I wanted to ask Dave what it was like working with Tiffani Theissen during her guest appearance of NewsRadio or what having Lauren Graham on Celebrity Poker Showdown was like. But, no, he was taken with Malia.

Second, last week while dining at Marmalade Cafe in Malibi, Dennis Haybert, star of The Unit and AllState commericials –not to mention Pedro Cerrano from Major League–stopped US and began talking about how beautiful Malia and Katharine are. He looked at me, smiled and said, “You have beautiful daughters.”

The verdict is in. My girls are beautiful. But I think we knew that already.

Missing You

So, I’ve taken some time away from the blog. I know you’re asking, “Sean, what’s been on your mind.” The answer. Nothing! That’s why I haven’t written much lately. Believe me, I tried. But in truth, we’ve been kind of busy lately, and busyness is antithetical to thoughtfulness — at least for me.

In the the last month I had some good time with the family, we even took a rare family trip to my wife’s hometown, Phoenix. This last month I’ve spent some time reading and writing about pastoral care issues (and actually did some pastoral care), I’ve done some research into early Anabaptist baptismal theology and their union and break with Ulrich Zwingli. I read Chris Matthew’s book, “Life’s A Campaign.” I’m glad I checked it out from the library, because — even though it was a bestseller — it’s not that good a book! Rochelle’s mom spent some of her spring break with us. And to top it all off, I’ve been battling the flu. As a matter of fact, our oldest daughter, Malia, is home sick this morning.

Thankfully, we were able to get a much needed family picture taken over the past few weeks. I’d post-it, but the grandparents need to get their copies first before I throw it out on the net. Trust me, the girls look almost as cute as I do.

Anyway, I hope all is well with you. We’re doing our taxes this week. As Malia says, “That’s the poopiness!” So after the stress of tax season is over, I will return to the self-congratulatory work of  blogging often so I can keep my readership up.

Blessings…

Words Create Worlds

This morning I had a wonderful idea for a blog. It was about the power or words. I was going to talk about Hillary Clinton’s criticism of Barack Obama, saying he offers speeches while she offers “solutions”. The blog wasn’t going to be political, or try to influence anyone’s vote or reveal my politics — I try not to do that. However, I was going to highlight how words change our lives. As one theologian has put it, “Words create worlds.”

I was going to talk about how people who think words are meaningless, can’t possible mean it and haven’t thought about it very deeply. How they must have never been changed by a song lyric, or moved to action by a speech. It was about how such people must hate Valentine’s Cards and likely rushed without feeling through their wedding vows.

It was about how books and sermons and blogs and poetry must serve no purpose for such people. After all, they’re just words. Most of all I was going to write about how when God created the world he “spoke” it into existence and how “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.”

But, alas, for some reason I couldn’t log in to WordPress this morning, so I didn’t get a chance to write that blog. So this is what I’ll write about instead…

As I was sitting in my weekly staff meeting this afternoon, my four-year old daughter, Malia, walked by outside the door with her teacher, Julie. Julie stopped at the glass door and held up a sheet of paper with the “bat, hat, cat, sat,” and some other things written on it. In the margin Julie had written, “Wow, guess who read today? Malia can read!”

In the midst of the meeting, I saw my daughter’s eyes beaming. Eyes that can now read all on her own. Eyes that had finished her very first reading assignment. And my eyes filled with tears. My heart filled with pride.

Malia can read words.

Don’t tell me words don’t matter!

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