Month: April 2015

hinnay tobe!

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For the three of you that regularly read my blog, you know how much I have loved my master’s program through Rochester College. Once again, if you are a minister, elder, or just someone involved in a local church that wants to grow and stretch, I HIGHLY recommend the MRE in Missional Leadership. What Dr. Mark Love is doing with graduate education for ministers is unparalleled. I want to share a quick snippet of something I learned at our intensive course back in January from Dr. John Barton that fits nicely with the events of today.

This morning, the Common Prayer book had a devotional reading from Psalm 133. This was a striking reading today based on the scene in Baltimore. Dr. Barton and my cohort dwelled in the text of Psalm 133 when we were in Portland earlier this year. We learned that the Psalm begins with the Hebrew words “hinnay tobe!” Or, “Behold! Good!” Now I am not a biblical language expert, so I’m taking Dr. Barton’s word on this one. But, he says the Psalm begins with this proclamation that is the same one God uses when the world is created. “God made light. There was morning and there was day, hinnay tobe!” This isn’t a sentimentalized cushy “good”. This is a divine proclamation from the Creator. And what is it that has the Psalmist using this phrase? “When kindred live together in unity!”

The psalm goes on to describe that it is like oil running down the beard of Aaron. In a dry climate with cracked skin, soothing oil would have been a practice of hospitality. Then the psalmist describes that it is “like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion.” The psalmist is naming something physically impossible, but invoking the imagination of the people. Why? Because God cares deeply about reconciliation and unity.

So Dr. Barton shared these thoughts with us, and I want to share a few good quotes I have in my notes from him:

“You want to know what God is excited about? The goodness of unity.”

“God is into reconciliation that leads to unity, especially between former enemies.”

God gets excited about the goodness of unity. God is into reconciliation, especially between former enemies. Think of Paul here in Romans 5 noting that God reconciles us to him while we are still his enemies. And think of Christ dying while we were still sinners. And Corinthians says we have been given this same ministry of reconciliation. If God gets excited about the goodness of unity and proclaims “hinnay tobe!”, what must God be feeling in light of the chaos in Baltimore, and around the world?

Today, join me in praying for unity, reconciliation, and forgiveness for God’s good world. Let us resist the urge to cast stones and engage in internet debates about how things should be handled. Rather, let’s come together as God’s people praying for peace, and living lives that extend that peace as far as it is possible among us, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I leave you with one final thought from Dr. Barton. He said that we live in a world where violence and chaos are unsurprising. All we need to do is take a short history course to see this reality. What is surprising, so says Dr. Barton, is when there is an outbreak of peace. Then, “hinnay tobe!” We are called to be God’s agents of outbreak, outbreaking peace in a violent world.

“A lesson from Baltimore: You cannot police well unless you love your neighbors and you cannot wage wars well unless you love your enemies.” – Miroslav Volf

Knowing That They Are Loved

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When I was 17, I said I would never have children. My nephews had lived at home with my family since I was 14, and I was tired of kids. Then I met my wife a couple of years later and things changed. Fast forward 14 years and my wife and I just welcomed our third child and first girl into the world. Meet Katherine Claire Lassiter, named after her beautiful mother, Sarah Katherine.

Sarah & Katherine

This is my third go round with having a child, and every time I find myself choking back tears in the hospital room as nurses and doctors are speaking to me. I look at that precious child and only faintly realize how amazing this really is, and only faintly realize how much my life has now changed. When we had our first, George, I remember thinking there is no way I could love another child this much. Then we had Henry, and I realized how much room I had in my heart for another. Then we had Katherine and I learned the same lesson. I love these 3 kids more than I could state in words. Or, as George tries to say, I love them “to the moon and the back”.

George & Henry

So I have been thinking a lot this week about 3 kids and what that looks like. What do I want to see happen in their lives? What do I want them to know? What do I want them to be like? I find I get really worked up when they don’t listen and obey, because I know what is best for them. I get really worked up when the toys are scattered around the house because clutter drives me nuts (I’m mildly OCD, which mixes with toddlers like fire and gasoline). I get really worked up when they don’t eat their food because I know the importance of nutrition.

Then I got to thinking, is that really what I want most for them? If these are the things I talk and care about the most, are their thoughts and memories going to be that Daddy cared mostly about their behavior, nutrition, and cleanliness? “Did Daddy care most about our obedience and behavior, or about us?” To think that my kids may one day ask that question haunts me.

I am also thinking about what our doctor told me right after Katherine was born. He reminded me that my children’s view of God is greatly shaped by me. I would add to that is greatly shaped by my wife as well. How our children view God likely starts with how they view us. I’ve been thinking about that as well as a thought one of my mentors and friends Mike Cope shared with me. Mike has told me that our (America, the West, etc.) parenting seems most concerned with obedience and behavior modification. Mike wants our kids to know first and foremost how deeply they are loved. Mike wants our kids to know that at the end of it all, Mama and Daddy and home are a loving and grace-filled place they can go. Yes there is obedience, but this isn’t the central concern.

I like that. I want that for my children. I’m thinking that I will try and let that rule my thoughts and heart when I’m tempted to always fight obedience battles with toddlers.

I pray every day that my children will know how much they are loved by their mother and me, and as a result they will know how deeply they are loved by God. The kind of love that Paul says is unavoidable and inescapable, even in death.

My kids will know about obedience. They’ll know I care about that. They’ll know I wanted them to learn and do the right thing. They’ll know that there was punishment when they didn’t. But first and foremost, I want them to associate Mama and Daddy with a deep, unending, inescapable love. And in turn, I want them to see at the center of the character of God is One who is slow to anger, merciful, compassionate, and abounding in steadfast love.

So welcome to the family Katherine. I hope that you, Henry, and George all know how much your Mama and Daddy love you. No matter where you go or what you do, that love never runs out on you.


Don’t Forget About Friday

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So this Sunday will be my first Easter as a preacher. Granted, I’ve taught classes on Easter Sunday and other ministerial duties, but never have I poured so much thought into Easter Sunday before actually arriving to church that day. I was thinking about it today and realized how easy it is to move to Resurrection Sunday and forget about the violence of Friday. That sounds weird, but I’m asking that we don’t forget about Friday.

Here’s the deal though, I think many people see and interpret Good Friday only through the lens of the wrath of God. Certainly there is a place for that, but I’m not sure that is the main and central purpose of Friday. I’ve always seen Good Friday from that vantage point, so I’ve always struggled with the violence of Friday and wanted the joy of Easter. Who wouldn’t when the picture we have of Good Friday is of God’s wrath being fully displayed?

So, I lean into verses like I John 3:8 tomorrow and remember that Jesus came to destroy the work of the devil. Jesus died to destroy the power of sin and death. Jesus died not because of wrath, but because of love. I agree with N.T. Wright that contrary to the line we sing for the modern hymn “In Christ Alone”, the cross is not God’s wrath satisfied as much as it is his love satisfied. The cross is God’s full demonstration of his power and the means by which all other powers, even the power of sin and death are destroyed. The cross is God’s demonstration of love. When we see Jesus hanging on a cross on Good Friday, we should see the love of God on display.

Jesus says in John 14 that when we’ve seen Him, we’ve seen the Father. When we see Jesus dying for our sins while we are still enemies, we see the Father. When we see Jesus taking on sin and death in order to destroy it, we see the Father. When we see Jesus lay down his life for those he loves, we see the Father. When we see Jesus dying and destroying the work of the devil, we see God dying and displaying the full measure of his love. And that’s good news.

Does God have wrath? Absolutely. Is that the only way to see Good Friday? I think not. As we anticipate the joy of Sunday and the resurrection of Christ, I encourage you don’t fly through Friday without stopping and thinking of God’s love fully poured out for the redemption of this world he loves so dearly.