The pastor at the parking desk

Today I was humbled by the beauty of humble faithfulness.

I was up at NIH visiting Patrick Kelly (he is so cheered by your prayers and visits!). As I got ready to leave the hospital, I walked up to the big desk just inside the entrance from the parking garage, to see if I could get my parking validated. The same gentleman was working there who had been there on my previous visits.

“Can I get my parking validated?” I asked him. “I just need to write the patient’s name on the back of the ticket, right?”

“Are you the patient’s family?” he asked.

“No, I’m his pastor.”  (I’ll admit that I was hoping the “pastor” card would get me free parking where “friend” might not have.)

His eyes lit up and he smiled. “You’re a pastor? That’s wonderful!” He then proceeded to tell me, in accented English that I sometimes found hard to understand, how he reads his Bible every day. And then he asked, “Please, can you tell me what verse it is that says ‘you are no longer in bondage but are free’? I’ve been thinking about that verse but I don’t know where it is.”

I’ll admit this is one of my least favorite parts of the “I’m a pastor” conversation. I always fail the Bible quiz. “It’s Paul, right?” I fumble. “Here, let me see…” I reached for my purse as he reached for his desk. He produced a Bible; I produced my iPhone. (I’m sorry to say that Google often knows the Bible better than I do.) We talked and laughed as we compared verses, he looking in his Bible (an Amharic version; he’s Ethiopian) and I looking on my phone. We got a nice overview of freedom-related verses in the New Testament, but when I ultimately failed to come up with what he was looking for, he very graciously told me not to worry about it.

As I sheepishly put my phone away, he said, “You know, I have worked here for 20 years. A lot of people come here to this desk. And they are dealing with a lot of very hard things. And so I pray every day, I say, ‘God, please give me just the right word to say to them. Just the right word.'”

My eyes filled with tears. Here is a man who sits at a desk day in and day out, doing what most would consider the menial task of stamping parking tickets. But for him it is a ministry. He knows that God has put him in this place to love and pray and care for all of the many hurting people who walk through the doors of the NIH hospital. Such a faithful act of service. I left feeling so grateful that so many people who pass through those doors are being silently ministered to so faithfully every single day.

I’m looking forward to visiting Patrick again, and I hope that when I do, this gentleman is working at the desk again. I’m going to be searching my Bible between now and then. I want to be able to find him his verse.


In Spirit and Truth: Sunday Music Preview

On Sunday our church body gathers to praise God and encourage one another toward knowing him and serving him better.  One of my jobs is sharing music that helps us to corporately adore our Savior and speak truth about our God, so I want to give you the opportunity to see the mindset behind the opening set of music for this Sunday.  I desire for this to more adequately prepare you to adore our God in spirit and truth.

The thought process:

“I Sing the Mighty Power of God” will start us out reflecting and proclaiming the power of God as Creator, Provider, and Sustainer.  Only once we have some context for the one whom we are praising can we rightly sing “Blessed Be Your Name.”  Because he is our Creator/Provider/Sustainer we can trust him even in the most difficult circumstances.

In the midst of suffering, Job expressed, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)  Job knew the context of God as Creator/Provider/Sustainer or he would have been surprised by the Lord’s rhetorical questions through the last chapters: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding…” (Job 38:4), and Yahweh goes on and on describing his own sufficient actions and character to Job.  It’s as if he is saying, “Job, in the midst of these horrific times, I am more than enough for you!  I am more awesome than you could ever know!”

As we sing our opening songs this Sunday, feast on the greatness of our God and respond by blessing his name and proclaiming him as more than enough for he is our Creator, our Provider, and our Sustainer.  May his name be praised as we gather this Sunday.

The songs:

I Sing the Mighty Power of God

I sing the mighty pow’r of God,
That made the mountains rise;
That spread the flowing seas abroad,
And built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
The sun to rule the day;
The moon shins full at His command
And all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord,
That filled the earth with food;
He formed the creatures with His word,
And then pronounced them good
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed
Where’er I turn my eye;
If I survey the ground I tread
Or gaze upon the sky!

There’s not a plant or flow’r below,
But makes thy glories known;
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
By order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee
Is ever in Thy care,
And ev’ry where that man can be
Thou, God, art present there.

Blessed Be Your Name

Blessed be Your Name in the land that is plentiful,
Where your streams of abundance flow…Blessed be Your Name
And Blessed be Your Name when I’m found in the desert place,
Though I walk through the wilderness…Blessed be Your Name

Every blessing You pour out I’ll turn back to praise
And when the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say

Blessed be the Name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious Name

Blessed Be Your Name when the sun’s shining down on me,
When the world’s “all as it should be”… Blessed be Your Name
And blessed be Your Name on the road marked with suffering,
Though there’s pain in the offering…Blessed be Your Name

You give and take away, You give and take away
My heart will choose to say, “Lord, blessed be Your Name.”

Blessed be the Name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious Name


You are my supply, my breath of life, still more awesome than I know
You are my reward worth living for, still more awesome than I know

All of You is more than enough for all of me, for every thirst and every need
You satisfy me with Your love, and all I have in You is more than enough

Your my sacrifice of greatest price, still more awesome than I know
You’re my coming King, You are everything, Still more awesome than I know.

More than all I want, more than all I need, You are more than enough for me.
More than all I know, More than all I can see, You are more than enough for me

Closing suggestion:

If you desire to meditate on this concept before Sunday, I would encourage you to read from Job 38 to the end of the book.  Simply scan it and find a portion of it to meditate upon in preparation for our time of proclaiming/singing this Sunday.  I’m looking forward to worshiping our God with you!


“I Sing the Mighty Power of God” words by Isaac Watts and music by William H. Monk ©1868 Public Domain CCLI License #11026168 “Blessed Be Your Name” words and music by Beth Redman and Matt Redman ©2002 Thankyou Music CCLI License #11026168; “Enough” words and music by Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio ©2002 songs | sixsteps Music CCLI License #11026168

Happy Labor Day!

Happy Labor Day! I hope you are enjoying a day of rest and refreshment as the summer draws to a close.  Often, holidays feel like moments of grace in our very busy lives–  special visits, sleeping in, special food.  Elizabeth Boesen reflected on a moment of grace from this summer.  I found it to be beautiful and encouraging.  Enjoy!

Recently, the leader of a small group that I am blessed to be a part of suffered the passing of her mother-in-law.  As part of her grieving process, she gave each of us in the group a bar of rosewater-scented soap, a smell which she associated with her mother-in-law.  It was a beautiful and symbolic gift, and I carefully put it in the cupboard to be used at some future, equally symbolic time.

Well, yesterday, in the middle of a busy summer and some tumultuous personal times, I was about to get in the shower and noticed that we were out of soap.  So I looked under the sink and saw, next to the lined up boxes of Dove, the box of rosewater soap.   And this dialogue happened almost instantly in my spirit:

“Oh, no, definitely can’t use that one!”

“Why not?”

“It’s special!”

“And why isn’t today special?”

“Huh? Well, but…but…it’s glycerin—that’ll get used up too fast in the shower! I should use it as hand soap.  Someday.”

“Is there a scarcity of good things in the world?  Do you think this is the last good gift you will receive?”

“But I could enjoy it longer if it were hand soap!”

“Maybe you will enjoy it more knowing it is fragile and precious!  LIKE YOU ARE…”

Breath caught.  Long pause.  Stare at soap.

“And what if there is no vague, special day out there to come, and the soap never gets used and just stays gathering dust under your bathroom sink?”

“Well, I know it’s only soap, but somehow that’d be tragic.”

“Isn’t there is a lot of stuff you are ‘saving up’, Elizabeth?  That you’re afraid, somehow, to enjoy now? That you think you don’t deserve?”

My arm starts reaching out—calmly, gently, with joyful power not its own—toward the soap.

“What if today is your last day? That’d make it pretty special, wouldn’t it?”

Grab the soap, smiling inside and out, unbox it…

I enjoyed the lather like none other in my life–the feel of the glycerin, and the rose smell, of course.  But perhaps most of all, the bright color of it, as it sat against the white shower wall—all red and symbolic and abundant and celebratory and GIVEN.

As I continued to turn it over and over in my hands, I thought of all the amazing things God has been doing in my life in the past few weeks and months, and felt grateful and joyful and almost as if it was the day I’d given birth to one of my children, or a momentous anniversary, or a day of great accomplishment.  How did I miss that this Thursday in July was a special day?

And then I thought—no, more like I breathed in—the miracle of this whole life of mine, and the infinite price at which it was purchased, and I knew in a fresh way that, indeed, every day is “special”.

Is there anything that you are “saving up”?

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
(John 10:10)

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
(Ps 118:24)

Prelude for Hurricanes

“Trouble wonʼt go, peace wonʼt stay,
oceans roar, levees break, ooh
Trouble wonʼt go, peace wonʼt stay,
bridges fall, earth gives way, ooh

Ain’t no refuge, but You my God
Ain’t no safe place, but in Your arms…”

Our prelude this Sunday is surprisingly reflective of our physical state with earthquakes, hurricanes, famines, and war.  Rooted in Psalm 46, David references the instabilities of this world and the faithfulness of our God in the midst of crazy times.

The end of Psalm 46 says:
“He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
He burns the chariots with fire.
Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us:

“Ain’t gonna find, no place to hide
But in You, My God.”

Soak in it and Live it Up

I am reminded again how potent the book of Proverbs is.  I am using the format of the One Year Bible to read through the Scriptures.  Every day I (try to) read a couple chapters of Old Testament, a chapter of New Testament, about ten verses of a Psalm, and sometimes only two verses of Proverbs.

Only two verses of Proverbs?!?

What’s the point of that?  As an academic, I am trained to look at context to understand the overall ideas that are being presented; but I have been realizing/remembering that once context is established, going back to soak in just a little portion of the Scriptures can be so mind altering.  (Not a new concept – I recognize this.)

Two quick thoughts that have caused reflection are below:

Proverbs 9:6

“Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” – This quote from Wisdom has caused me to reexamine my view of “living.”   It seems to contradict what we often mean when we say, “Live it up!”  And the idea of living in the wisdom of God as being a rich, life-giving state of being has been a recurring theme in my life since I read this.

Proverbs 6:27,29

“Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?…So is he who goes into his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished.”  This one seems pretty obvious, and I love the blunt parallel.  Yet what makes up much of the unnecessary drama in this world?  Adultery or Inappropriately defined/directed love.  Many (if not most) of us have scars and charred clothing from carrying fire next to our chests.  Lord, have mercy.

What short passage has smacked you upside the head causing you to soak and live these past couple weeks?

Heroes or saints?

Recently, a friend gave me a copy of a book by Sam Wells called Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics. It’s way more interesting than its title suggests. And even though I’m only about a quarter of the way through it, it’s already given me lots to think about. I know it’s risky to quote from a book you haven’t finished yet. But I’m going to do it anyway, because in many ways I think Wells gets right at the kind of church — and the kind of disciples — I want us to be.

As a culture, Wells says, we like heroes. Heroes are people who are at the center of the story. They know how to get things done, and they do them in spectacular fashion, in the face of limited resources and with exceptional strength, smarts, or resolve.  We love heroes, and secretly (or not so secretly), we’d all love to be one.

But the church is no place for heroes, Wells says. The church is a place for saints. On almost every count, the saint is the opposite of the hero. The saint isn’t at the center of his own story; instead, the saint plays a bit part in God’s story. The saint doesn’t rely on her exceptional abilities or scarce resources; the saint depends on the abundance of God’s strength and power. The saint doesn’t need to have great gifts or qualities; the saint needs to be faithful.

But for me, the kicker comes in the way Wells describes the reaction of the hero and of the saint to failure. Because a hero is self-dependent while a saint is God-dependent, “A hero fears failure, flees mistakes, and knows no repentance: the saint knows that light only comes through cracks, that beauty is as much (if not more) about restoration as about creation.”

With this definition, being a saint can feel far scarier than being a hero. Letting people see our cracks, our failures, our brokenness is no easy thing. What if we’re mocked or rejected or just plain disapproved of? It’s a risk, for sure. But it’s worth it, Wells says. Because saints aren’t called to this kind of humility and transparency just for the sake of it; they’re called to it because it’s part of the way that God’s love, his grace, and his power are made visible to the world.

Do you get that? Our dependence and our need for God and for each other aren’t unfortunate byproducts of sin or hurdles that God has to get over. They’re part of God’s plan. They’re just the way he wants us to be.

It’s a simple idea, but it’s a radical one. It’s an idea I know that I wrestle with. I hope you will too. Because if we do, I think we’ll start to look more and more like the kind of community, the kind of church that Wells describes:

The story of God tells how he expects a response from his disciples that they cannot give on their own: they depend not only on him but on one another for resources that can sustain faithful lives, and they discover that their dependence on one another is not a handicap but is central to their witness.

It’s exactly the kind of church I want us to be.

– Erin

(Both quotes from Samuel Wells, Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004. p. 44)

Be still . . .

Post by Louise Brooks

Outside my kitchen window, in a tree at the edge of my little Arlington backyard, there was a bird that sat on a branch.  But this bird was so still that I thought it was simply a leaf shaped like a bird.  I spent at least one full minute staring out the window in study and examination as my thoughts fluttered between being sure that what I saw was a leaf . . . no, a bird!  Wait!  Then – just when I squinted hard enough to see that, yes, indeed, it was just a leaf shaped like a bird – it flew away.

I am stunned by the stillness of this bird.  Not a twitch or a ruffle or a song to hint at what it is.  Just a bird.  At rest.  And I am convinced once again that if I, too, were more like this bird – still, at rest, not distracted – not only would I have better eyesight, but then I, too, could fly.

Be still.

“Be still and know that I am God.”  (Psalm 46:10)

“The LORD gives sight to the blind.”  (Psalm 146:8)

“My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare.”  (Psalm 25:15)

My seat in the semi-circle

Yesterday was a great day at Restoration. Abundant sunshine, some awesome banjo playing, daylight saving time-related sleep deprivation… Great stuff!

Since yesterday morning, I’ve found myself coming back over and over to one image in David’s sermon: the Sanhedrin’s semi-circle. The Sanhedrin were the council of Jewish leaders to whom the Romans had given extraordinary legal authority — religious, civil, and criminal. They were the council to whom Jesus was brought after he was betrayed by Judas.  And when they heard cases, the Sanhedrin sat in a semi-circle, with Caiaphas the high priest sitting right in the center seat.

David suggested that one of the reasons Caiaphas had Jesus killed was to protect his seat in the semi-circle. Jesus was a threat to the peace and quiet of Israel (which Caiaphas was in charge of preserving), and Jesus’ innate authority was a threat to the humanly crafted authority that Caiaphas had spent a career carefully creating. Caiaphas loved that seat in the semi-circle, and he’d do anything — including killing an innocent man — to keep it.

There’s something about the image of the semi-circle that gets me. Maybe because it’s so arbitrary. It’s just a shape; there’s no reason the Sanhedrin couldn’t have sat in a circle, or a square, or a dodecahedron. But they were attached to that semi-circle, and Caiaphas was attached to his place in the middle of it.

So I’ve been wondering…

What’s my semi-circle? What’s the arbitrary sense of order that I’ve imposed on my life that I can’t stand to have threatened?

And what’s my seat in the middle? What am I clinging to that gives me a sense of importance, of authority? What am I doing to keep Jesus far, far away from it?

And what might happen if I gave it up?

Carpet weaver

A few weeks ago, Restoration member Liz Gray sent me this reflection. It’s beautiful. With her permission, I’m sharing it here. Thanks, Liz!

This week I got a very unexpected package in the mail. My mom died about 17 years ago, and sometime shortly before she died she must have sat down one day and written me a letter telling me how much she loved me, popped it in an envelope with her wedding pearls and stuffed it in a drawer. This week my step-mother found that envelope and sent it to me. This week happens also to be the tenth anniversary of my brother’s death from melanoma. Also, following our burst pipe disaster last month they now say we have asbestos and mould – both of which require radical action (I’m reacting by leaving the country – hoorah for enough airmiles!). Meanwhile, I’m writing an essay about the reformation for seminary.

Your week was probably like that too – a mixture of sublime and ridiculous, the ugly and the beautiful, the banal and the glorious. So how does God fit in? Everywhere! I have often pictured God as the master carpet weaver (not sure where I first saw/heard this, was it an illustration in a book or talk?). As stuff happens in life we make decisions about how we’ll respond… what we’ll say and do…  God then maybe breaks off one colour and adds a fresh one. But he keeps weaving, mixing in the sad and the glad, the good and the bad. I have a feeling I’ll see my carpet when I get to heaven, and God will explain the changes in colour, texture and pattern. I so hope it will be beautiful. Really this is what the beatitudes are all about – stuff happens and then what do you do? God knows and loves us through it all, encouraging, forgiving, praising and teaching, chiding and disciplining and most of all loving. I am so grateful that he is good and that he is my father.

Funerals and Birthdays

A post from Matt Hoppe:

How can life be so phenomenal in one breath and so frustrating with the next?

How are we to respond with both mourning and laughter while recognizing pain and beauty?

Sometimes the vastly different seasons happen simultaneously leaving us with the difficulty of lamenting someone’s hardship while being ecstatic about our own blessings.

Ecclesiastes is comforting – kind of – in the way it gives us permission to have different seasons of life. But how do we gain the wisdom of knowing when to mourn for the sake of others when maybe we feel like dancing or stifling our weeping for the sake of those who are laughing?  I don’t know.

Artist Brook Fraser joins Job’s perspective in writing “Desert Song:”

This is my prayer in the desert
When all that’s within me feels dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need
My God is a God who provides

I will sing praise…

This is my prayer in the harvest
When favor and providence flow
I know I’m filled to be emptied again
The seed I’ve received I will sow

I will sing praise…

I know that God is faithful, that He is loving, and that He strong.

While it seems to be both the best of times and the worst of times, may we be aware of His guidance, and may His grace cover our responses so that His name may be praised.

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