One year my daughter joined a summer swim team. Now I know a whole lot about a whole lot of sports, but swim team isn’t one of them. As we began our swim team career, I attempted to try to learn the names and order of events, the rules, and the basic strokes. But after about six weeks, all I had picked up was that twice a week I was going to stand on a pea-gravel deck that was hotter than the surface of the sun for about four and a half hours to watch my daughter compete for about 38 seconds. Continue reading
At the outset, I want to write a disclaimer. If you are not a Christian, that is to say if you do not believe the Bible to be the word of God, and you do not believe that Jesus died on a cross to pay for the sins of his people, rose from the dead, and will someday return to judge the world, then this post is really not written to you. You are welcome here, and I am thankful you are reading, but you are not my intended audience today. If however, you do claim to be a Christian, and you do affirm the very basic, yet foundational Christian beliefs mentioned above, I hope you will consider what I have to say. Really it is not as much what I have to say as it is what the Apostle Paul has to say.
Paul as you know wrote most of the letters or epistles found in the New Testament. Paul wrote letters for several reasons; encouragement, definition of doctrine, confrontation, and warning. In all of that his end game was the glory of God, by the work of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. There are three letters known as the pastoral epistles, and those are the letters he wrote to Titus and Timothy. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he speaks about what it will be like for Timothy in the last days to preach the word of God. He warns Timothy as follows:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.- 2 Timothy 4:1-5
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Thanks as always for taking some of your precious time and reading my thoughts here or listening to songs. Just a quick update to let you know that I am working on a new album titled On to the City of God. I hope to release it this Fall. I also plan to re-record a few of my old songs this year. Here is a video of me playing an
acoustic version of one of them if you are interested. Stay tuned for more info on the album in
the coming weeks.
The original version of Timothy appeared on my album A Remedy Raised, which is now out of print. You can hear the original version here. It was sung by my good friend Jeff Blake.
Thirty-nine is a difficult age. This year I decided to buy a Dodge Challenger. Seriously. And I almost did (and I still might). My wife of course explained to me that I just was going through a mid-life crisis. I thought to myself, “mid-life crisis? I’m not even fifty yet.” But then I immedialty realized that fifty is only midlife for less than 1% of the US population. So I looked it up. If I stop eating pizza and donuts at an alarming rate, I might make the national average life expectancy for men of 78 years old. So at 39, I’m exactly at midlife. Well, then bring on the crisis! In all honesty, I started thinking mid-life thoughts around 33. I worked full-time for my dad’s company for my last three years of college, got married at 21, had four kids before 30, built the house we now live in at 29. At 39, I have been in my current job for 20 years. And I have really started to think about the middle, and yes, the end. The seemingly limitless state of enthusiasm, energy and optimism in which I operated as a young man in my twenties is all but gone. Career, mortgage, car payments, school tuition, orthodontics, college savings accounts, consistent parenting (Lord help us), retirement savings, and all that smack-you-in-the-face-real-life stuff is just about enough to kill a man (or woman). But in the few fleeting moments that I can actually reflect on life, I have started thinking about my legacy. What have I done that matters? If the answer is “not much,” then is there still time to do something important? Have I made my mark on society? My community? My family?
These questions haunt me daily, and I think the answer to all of them is yes, but less than I had hoped. If God grants me a long life, I’m half-way done. There is a nagging urgency to accomplish all I wanted to do in this life, and a more mature and realistic me is beginning to accept that I’m not going to make it. Around the time I graduated from college, a mentor of mine warned me against what he called “prayerless striving.” Twenty years ago when he told me about this pattern in his life, I don’t think I really understood what that looked like. But now as I reflect on my own life, prayerless striving for me has been the attempt to accomplish great things for God in my own strength. The truth is God doesn’t need me (or you) to do great things for him. He does the great things. Moses didn’t rescue the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, God did. Abraham and Sarah did not overcome Sarah’s barrenness when they were both in their 90s, God did. David did not kill Goliath because he was a great shot with a sling, rather the Bible says that God delivered him into David’s hand. And on and on. To be sure, there are men and women who have done what we would call “great things” in the name of God, but the Bible has something to say about the source of those things. In John 15, Jesus says this:
I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5
Those are freeing words. They do not get us off the hook for serving God, but they make it very clear that the source of what we are to accomplish for God in our own lives and in the lives of others is none other than Jesus himself. More than that, there is no age limit on this paradigm. At 39 I am just as dependent on Jesus to bear fruit in my life as I was at 20, and if I make it to the “ripe” old age of 78, he will still be bearing the fruit that he intends if I abide in him. See here’s the thing. Trying to do great things in your own strength is exhausting. And at the end of the process, if you have actually accomplished something others might deem “great,” you look at this accomplishment in all its glory and think to yourself “is that it?”
So as I start my 40th year, I have decided to stop trying to do great things. Instead I am now prepared to settle for simple, faithful things. I am trusting Jesus, the true vine, to bear fruit in my life as I abide in him. But what does abiding look like? I think Psalm 1 has at least part of the answer.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on this law he mediatates day and night.He is like a tree, planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers. – Psalm 1:1-3
Just as we read in John 15, the psalmist points out that the tree bears fruit because it is planted by streams of water. There is unseen nourishment happening that fuels the tree’s growth and production. Take the tree to dry ground and it withers and dies. That water is the law of the Lord, or the Word of God on which this blessed man meditates day and night. To abide in Jesus is to mediate on God’s word. It is to seek him in worship, sacrament, and prayer. It is to spend time with the body of Christ, our brothers and sisters in the faith. It is to not only seek him actively, but it is to avoid the way of the wicked. We must see the sin in our own lives and put it to death through regular and open confession rather than hiding and nurturing it. It is to bind up the broken-hearted, and to offer a cup of cold water to the thirsty. To visit the prisoner, and to come to the aid of the orphan and the widow. These spiritual disciplines and deeds of service are the acts of abiding, but they are not the source of the fruit. Jesus is the source. The world needs fewer mega-churches and more disciples who walk as Jesus walked. So abide in him, and let him bear much fruit. That is, with the help of God, how I plan to live my remaining years.
Tonight as Christians ponder the person of Jesus Christ, specifically his miraculous conception and birth, it is important that we do not stop there. That holy night was magnificent in itself to be sure, but the full work of God through Christ can only be seen if we gaze upon the manger against the backdrop of the cross. Perhaps my new song, “Little Child of Bethlehem”can help you think in those terms tonight and point you to the Scriptures which show us the truth about Jesus, his person and his work. I have posted the lyrics below with Scripture references for those who are interested. Merry Christmas!
Little Child of Bethlehem
Words and Music by Eric Parker
The cattle they are lowing now, it’s time for you to feed
Silent at the breast they say, but I doubt that it went down that way
(Isaiah 9:6-7) (Like 2:1-7)
Little child of Bethlehem, it’s time to move on out
Herod’s got his eye on you, there isn’t any doubt
Steal away to Egypt’s land, steal away
So pack up your belongings Joe, be up and disappear
To the banks of the mighty Nile, until the coast is clear
It’s time to grow in favor now, with people and with God
So by day and by the candlelight, read your Father’s word
You’ll see yourself within the tales, the tales you’ve always heard
Yeah, write them on your doorway and the pillars of your heart
For little boy of Nazareth, soon you make your mark
The world in desperation lay, waiting for that mighty day
For the one who’d heal the sick, the lame, the dumb
(Isaiah 35) (Matthew 9:35-36)
Prophet of Jerusalem, you know your time has come
And you’re praying that this cup could pass, but the Father’s will be done
So feed your closest friends again, and wash their dusty feet
And turn like flint up to the hill where love and justice meet
With betrayal as your vestment and scorn your diadem
For these we choose to lay upon the little child of Bethlehem
Photo by Geneva Adele Morse
One November Sunset
As day surrenders its hold on men
I look thoughtlessly to the west
Expecting the greys and dark blues of yesterday
But in your pleasure, you offer more
Dazzling pink, of a hue not yet named by man
Blue and orange, facing one another defiantly, giving no ground
Clouds halt their migration to bask, reflect, and imbibe the spectrum
Each shimmering line like a knife’s edge
Serrated and sharp, they cut their place in the canopy
Tinder for the burning sky
And below, creatures and the works of men glow with lesser light
Like the face of Moses coming down the mountain
Carrying faint glimpses of the Glory of God
Mountain Home, November Morning
Overnight, shalom has fallen
Blanketing November morning
Sunlight rests upon the water
And each ripple plays its part in this symphony of peace
The waters have forgotten a stormy past
And they look not to a raging future
Content for now to rest in stillness
The trees that line the lake stand tall in brisk, cool air while Autumn commands they lay their long-carried burdens down
And these obey, faithfully dropping them to the forest floor
Oak, maple, poplar, hickory, birch
Each welcomes a dormant season where labors may wait
And East to West, creatures meander in morning light, taking up neither gallup nor hurried gait
For watchful night has given birth to dawn
Few predators roam now as light betrays their pursuit
From distant acre to waters’ edge
All is at rest in Edenic calm
And so we are, in mountain home, November morning
I’m taking part in an event called November Poem a Day. I won’t bore you with all of them, but if I write something that fits the purpose of this blog I will throw it out there. I hope this can be of some encouragement to you.
NOVEMBER – Poem a Day #9
“Let us make man in our image”
How can this be?
When these words were spoken, God had no body for us to image
Did we once shine with divine brilliance?
To be sure, we are not what we once were
And we are not what we will one day be
So is image-bearing lost to this state?
By no means!
It’s in the loving
It’s in the selfless acts
It’s in gentleness and kindness
The joy experienced and the peace given
The patience and faithfulness in relationships
The controlling of every word to what is worthy of praise
But it’s in the defending too
The standing at the gate
The rescuing of victims
The mending of broken hearts
And the mourning
Yes, by God and his grieved Spirit, in the mourning
And the Creating
Perhaps most profoundly in the creating
The painting, the sculpting, the dancing, the drawing
The writing and filming
The designing and building
The growing and pruning
The preparing of feasts
The brewing of fine wines
And the Music
Thank you God for the Music
The composing and arranging
The strumming and drumming
The singing and the ringing of bells
Horns of brass and strings on hollowed wood, hallowed wood
Melody and harmony invisible to the eye
Ear and chest alone can discern their paths, and what paths they take!
So bear-on brothers and sisters,
Until the King of Glory comes again
Sing his praise, mend the broken
Defend the week, humble the strong
Aid the widow and rescue the orphan
Announce freedom to the captives, you bearers of the image of God
Until the King of Glory comes
The study of Science teaches us that God is a God of order; that the universe is built on unchanging principles that give us solid footing on which to learn, build, predict, quantify, and operate. The circumference of a circle is always a function of pi and diameter. The interior angles of a triangle always sum to 180 degrees. There is beauty in the study of our world; in the science of it.
The arts on the other hand teach us something far different. The arts teach us that this physical universe with its granite laws is not all there is to reality. They teach us that a strict naturalism cuts the heart out of a man. It has been said that music takes words where words alone can never go. Minor chords are mathematical formulations, but they make the hair stand up on our necks, and they preach little sermons of a world that is not as it should be. They whisper pain and hurt, as even a child will ask upon hearing the minor third, “Daddy, why is this song so sad?” As we paint, sing, compose, sculpt, draw, and dance, we awaken parts of ourselves and others that long for another country; one that really exists beyond this rock we call earth. It is perhaps in the arts that we are most like God, bringing things into existence by our will and word. When God gave man the great honor of being made “in his image,” we can be sure that this likeness was more in art than science; in expression of love, relationship, creation, and stewardship, not in bodily form. When Carl Sagan proclaimed “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be,” he could not have been more wrong. Sagan was a pure naturalist. The beauty he saw in the cosmos was a physical beauty. With a clear contradiction to the opening verses of Genesis, Sagan ascribed mystery, beauty, and offered worship to the creature, rather than the Creator. He stood in awe of the result of God’s spoken word rather than in the one who spoke it into being. Sagan continued:
“Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.”
The “tingling sensation” Sagan felt was in reality proof that the the Cosmos is NOT all that is, or was, or ever will be. His naturalism made him stop his search for the source of the tingle at the outer limits of the cosmos itself. But I do agree with him that there is a tingle, a distant memory, a falling from a great height, and a great mystery. The “tingle” is that same feeling that we get from a slowly strummed A minor chord. It’s the longing for home. The “distant memory” is one of a Garden where God walked with man. The “falling from a height” was our turning from intimacy with God to our corrupting self love. And the greatest mystery? Well, that is the fathomless love of a holy God who sent his only son to make the faint sensation an endless embrace.
I have a lot of friends saying goodbye to pastors and mentors right now. While the number of people who “church-hop” in America is a staggering figure, there are still many of us who have stayed in our local congregations long enough to build deep, lasting relationships with our pastors. Whether campus ministers, youth pastors, assistants, and in some cases senior or lead pastors, eventually you will have to say goodbye. I have been in my current congregation for about 20 years, and in that time I have said goodbye to more than ten men who have profoundly shaped the way I think about, worship, and follow Jesus. I thank God often for the way they have shared their lives and knowledge with me. But at some point they go. And it is hard when they do. For those of you feeling the emptiness of this situation, here are a few thoughts I have that may be of some help to you, the guy who is leaving, the guy who is coming in, and the church as a whole.
1. Don’t Get Mad When They Don’t Call
When your pastor takes a new call (either to another church or to retirement) you lose one shepherd. The shepherd passes an entire flock off to the next guy. His loss is greater. And in the event that he has been called to a new congregation, he has a new assignment. This means he has hundreds if not thousands of new sheep. This is crucial for parishioners to understand. Put simply, no matter how much the pastor loves you, do not expect a call, at least for a while. In the case of my church, when a pastor leaves to follow a new call, he is leaving about 1000 people. He might have close relationships with 300 of those people. He may have been actively discipling 30-40 of them. He may have five close companions. The chances are, you are not one of those five people. And that’s ok. But that also means that you may not hear from him for a while. Can you imagine having to contact and have a meaningful exchange with 1000 people in the next 6 months while fulfilling all of your other commitments? It would be a daunting task, even if it were pure joy to do it. He loves you, but that love is a distant love now. If you want to communicate with the pastor, reach out to him by writing a letter. Give him some time to settle in, and then make contact. As he can, he will respond.
2. Don’t Call the Old Guy to Complain About the New Guy
Do I really have to explain this one? I do? Ok. Your pastor has had a hard enough time making the decision to move on to his next assignment. It was a gut-wrenching decision (more times than n0t). The last thing he needs is to have the added stress of knowing that his sheep don’t like the new shepherd. I’m not suggesting you lie to him about the state of things if he asks, but don’t call a man who has moved 400 miles away to complain about things that:
a) he has no control over
b) he is no longer called to engage
c) will probably cause him consternation and even depression
Instead, it would be better to
a) give things time to even out
b) trust God (Heaven forbid!!)
c) go to your current church leaders with the problem
As one of my former pastors said, “if you are talking about an issue, you are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem.” When you call a former pastor to complain about a current pastor, you are probably part of the problem.
3. The New Guy is Going to Do Something You Don’t Like
Every relationship experiences disappointment. The angriest people I know are people who expect everyone to please them all the time, and then they are surprised and appalled when it doesn’t happen. We are broken people. Our relationships as a result are always, to some degree, broken. So when the new pastor comes to town, he will not, he cannot, do everything the way you want it done. And know this. HE IS GOING TO MAKE MISTAKES. Love him through those mistakes rather than running him out of town if he changes the order of worship or rotates a table in the foyer. His call is not to keep things exactly as they were. His call is to preach God’s word to you week in and week out, counsel you, lead you in worship of the Triune God, and challenge you to reach your community for Christ. Your call as a member of your church is to love, worship, and serve Jesus, and to be his witness in your neighborhood, country, and the world. So when the new guy does something that makes you angry, ask yourself this question: “Is the thing I am angry about keeping me from serving God?” Usually the answer to that question will be no. And if you are focused on the Lord and the mission he has given you, to be his witness, you just might make it through transition when it comes.