Word of the Week

How hard is it for you to open up and be yourself around new people? Or does it take many, many shared experiences of dipping you toes into this week's word: trust.

Trust is defined as the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

And here's a frequent life quandary for me (maybe it's yours too): I often trust the least helpful people too much and the best folks not enough.

In thinking about trust, consider what author and social researcher, Brene Brown writes about in her book Daring Greatly.

When Brown’s 3rd grade daughter, Ellen, came home crying from school one day about some caddy girls on the playground who shared her secrets in a way she did not intend, Brown invited her daughter to think about the marble jar that sat in the middle of her classroom.

Ellen’s teacher, you see, had a practice of putting marbles in a large jar on a regular basis when the children followed the rules and worked together well as a team. When they misbehaved and disrespected the rules and one another, she took marbles out. When the bucket brimmed at the top, the class got a big reward like a pizza or ice cream party.

Brown says this: “I told Ellen to think about her friendships as marble jars. Whenever someone supports you, or is kind to you, or sticks up for you, or honors what you share with them as private, [it’s like] putting marbles in a jar. When people are mean, or disrespectful, or share your secrets, marbles come out. . . . Trust is built one marble at a time.”

I am wondering WHO puts marbles in your jar? Stop and name a person or two right now.

After hearing this story a couple years ago, I couldn't get Brown's illustration out of my head. I was making some new friends and my gut said to me, "These are your people." But my past experiences of hurt kept me cautious. But the "marbles in my jar" told me what to do.

Sure, no one is perfect and disappointments will come because we are all human. But, by paying attention to WHO puts marbles in your jar will give you much clarity as to how to invest your time and emotions.

Take it from a once skeptic who is learning what her whole heart wants, it can be so delightful to trust! The best people are around you. Lean into their care. I think God sent them to you for such a time as now!



Have you ever had a feeling in your gut that you couldn't explain but was STRONG?

To this situation enter our word of the week: know.

Know a verb that means to perceive directly, to have direct cognition.

You know you'll get that job. You know this friend is meant to be a part of your inner circle, though you just met. You know your son or daughter is not in a lasting marriage. You know.

There's no way other to explain your confidence about a person or a situation than to say that you know.

I tell you this gut feeling of knowing is spiritual wisdom at it's finest. It's a gift of God. It's a helpful discernment tool if there ever was one for what to take on next and what to let go. It's a deposit of hope in your bank when hard times come (and they always do).

But knowing is a divine gift we so often ignore.

We say to ourselves, "Oh, how could I really?" Or "There's no way I should make plans in my life based on a feeling." Or, "What will people say if I do that?" It's so easy to make excuses or discredit our knowing.

But when we push knowing away, we miss out on God's leading in our lives.

A couple years ago I got a rejection letter for a workshop I applied to attend with the P.S. of "you're on the waiting list." I had applied to this opportunity with a great sense of knowing that this workshop was the thing I needed to do next to get a book project going. So, while it felt tempting to despair with the "we're sorry" email, I still knew it would work out (though of course my confidence didn't make much sense given my # on the waiting list). But, let me tell you, I kept my schedule clear just in case. And at the last minute someone dropped out and someone dropped out. There was a space for me at this amazing experience, and it was all that I hoped it would be!

I tell you this story not to say that your knowing always comes into fruition, but that sometimes it does. In due time. With patience. With an open mind.

Sometimes we have to wade through the waters of wait lists, rejection letters and unreturned phone calls for that moment -- that glorious moment when life falls into order and we can say: "I knew!"

Here's hoping you're able to trust your knowings this week. Know what you know what you know.



A sermon preached at North Chevy Chase Christian Church on Exodus 16:2-15

enhanced-buzz-25099-1374077846-8Only when you trust someone, do you begin to really get to know them.

Such was a life lesson I began to learn from all of the youth group trips my parents forced me to attend, beginning in the 7th grade.

Every fall, the motley crew of suburban churchy teenagers and I along with our leaders would board a bus headed for the mountains. Though many of us attended with the hopes of hanging out without our friends, usually our youth leaders would have something else in mind as a purpose of the weekend: group bonding.

I will never forget the fear that came over me as a scrawny little 7th grader on my first fall retreat when I was introduced to the "trust fall." Some of you may be familiar when this activity too from similar youth group memories or workplace retreats.

The concept of the trust fall was simple: each participant in the group would be asked to climb up on a large platform, in our case, built into a tree, and stand with their back to the group assembled below with their hands crossed like this (place hands across chest). The group standing below would lock their hands together to their corresponding partner. And, then, if it was your turn on the platform, you'd be asked to fall backwards "trusting" that the others would catch you.

While the whole activity takes merely a few seconds from start to finish, the emotional toil of preparing for and processing the experience afterwards took much longer. For, as much as I wanted to be the "cool" new 7th grader, I could remember how I felt about being such in a vulnerable position of being held, carried and supported by older kids that I barely knew.

But, after (with much encouragement) submitting myself to the trust of the trust fall, it was a feeling like I was on top of the world. I was learning to trust these new friends.

In our scripture passage for this morning, no matter if they liked it or not, the Israelites were also facing their own version of a "trust fall.”

For since we last journeyed with them last week, as they put one foot in front of the other crossing the Red Sea, in no time, they faced new challenges. For as much as they thought they knew God, they were realizing that the adventure had only just begun. So maybe they didn't know this God as well as they thought.  . . . for life was getting just a little bit scarier than they imagined.

The land they found themselves walking on was somewhere around the Sinai Peninsula, a geographically barren place. Differing from the lush vegetation that the Israelites had enjoyed in Egypt next to the Nile River, the change in scenery meant that gathering basic necessities for life was all that much more difficult.

What were they going to eat?

What were they going to drink?

And as our passage opens soon the Israelites voiced concerns for food in verse 3 saying to Moses and Aaron, "If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."   

If you are anything like me my first instinct is to judge and say shame on them for complaining, but the truth be told, they really did have every reason to share their concerns.

None of them had attended Boy Scout camp and gotten their "how to survive in the wilderness when your leader doesn't even know where you are going" badge.

None of them had gone on a pre-mission trip to plot out the locations where food and water could have been.

None of them had been given any sort of road map.

No, not at all.

They were where they were because they were following Yahweh after all, so doesn't it seem fair that a lament to God was in order?

After all laments are all about giving voice, as one theologian writes, "to the human experience of abandonment, suffering, fear and danger. [To lament is to] call upon God to see arise and act."[i]

So, in their laments, they were actually turning toward God in the hopes that in making their requests known in hopes that God actually heard them.

But the thing is about laments, which we know from the times when we make them in our own lives too, is that the solutions we come up with are not always the most level-headed solutions or even the best scenarios at all for getting us out of our predicaments.

When times are hard, we often go for the “quick fixes” don’t we?

For the Israelites, their complaining lament focused on going back to Egypt. They wanted to go back there because even with all of its oppression was a place where they at least knew the rules. At least at the end of the day in Egypt, no matter how hard it was, they earned food by their own hands to put in their mouths.

But here was the turning point of faith—

Put it all on the line and trust God to provide for their most basic of basic needs. 

No more trusting in Pharoah.

No more trusting in their oppressors.

No more trusting in themselves.

To know this God, they'd have to first depend on him.

As we continue to read this passage, we see that the provisions come from the heavens-- and no matter if you believe this part of the story was an actual miracle or just some circumstances of chance-- the message is still the same: the ways of God were different from life was in Egypt.maxresdefault

I love verse 15 for this very reason, for when the bread came and the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" for they didn't know what it was. And the actual translation of "what is it?" is the word manna which we know the bread as in our Bibles today.

So, every morning the people gathered the bread and every evening that gathered the meat. They were full. And then they’d have to trust that somehow God would provide the next day too.

What an exercise this was in giving up control! God would take care of them. All they needed to do was go collect the blessings.

How so much easier said than done this spiritual principle is!

Do I have anyone here today who likes to be in control? Who likes to have a plan? Who likes to know what comes next?

I certainly do!

A dear mentor of mine, Dr. Joseph Smith was a pastor in the DC area for over 40 years.

He pastored several Baptist churches in the area including being an interim at one point at First Baptist Church of Gaithersburg, MD where I met him as a young associate pastor. He was a good leader. He loved preaching, and he loved people. He was the type of pastor who often worked almost too hard sometimes. His wife Margaret of over 50 years was always encouraging at him to take a break, slow down, stop. But, that was not how Joe rolled.

He regularly spent hours of his time in his study organizing his preparations for anything he was in charge of and always thinking of ways that he could be most helpful to those in the sphere of influence in his life, even when he was said to be "retired."

However, out of nowhere, most unfairly, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, though not a smoker. After chemo and a series of blood conditions developed as a side effect of his treatment, Dr. Smith was weak and fragile only taking baby steps around his house with a walker. The man who had gone and did some more (more than anyone ever asked him to do) was now left to trust family and friends who could look after him.

Sadly within months, cancer took his life. I was so honored that he asked me to be one of the speakers at his funeral.

Yet, in one of our last correspondences with each other he wrote me about how hard it was to be the one in need of the visit instead of being the pastor making the house calls. He told me how much it ached him when he no longer had the energy to be the first one to reach out or contribute to the care of others. He hoped people would not forget him in his time of need. The feelings he shared were a modern version of a lament of how hard this trust stuff is for all of us—even us “professionals.”

I don't want to be one of those preachers who stands here before you this morning and says that God sends onto this planet drought, famine, life-shattering illnesses like cancer in order to teach us how to be dependent creatures.  Sounds too much like a sick plan of an abusive Father, rather than a loving God to me.

But, what I do know is that God wanted my friend Joe to know the joy of provision even in the last days of his life. God would take care of all of his needs.

And, God wants the same for you too.

And it’s true, sometimes the only way you and I are going to learn is by going into the wilderness—a place where we can learn about who God really is when everything comfortable is taken away. And it is there that God who says to us, “I hear you, I see, you and even if the provisions I provide look like manna ("what is it?") still you will be nourished. Still you will be full.”

So, today, I ask you today: do you want to live in Egypt? Or do you want to be on the journey to the promise land?

Do you want to eat what you’ve always tasted? Or do you want to try some delicious manna?

If you want to go to the Promised Land, if you want to abide in the presence of the One who knew you before you even knew yourself . . . if you want to know the One who says I am the beginning and the end . . .  then, trust is verb you and I need to keep practicing.


[i] Elna K. Solvang "Lectionary for August 2, 2009: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15." www.workingpreacher.org/preaching_print.aspx?commentary_id=354

Excerpt from sermon preached at Oaklands Presbyterian Church, Laurel, MD on Mark 13:1-8

Mark 13 is an interesting text. It begins this way:

One disciple says to Jesus on the way, “Look, Teacher, what massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” It’s a keen observation of opulence. The glory of the temple was Herod’s doing. He’d created this glorious worship space with an overflowing courtyard by detailed masonry and hand-crafted attention to every spec.

Though Jesus’ teaching in prior days was full of warnings about not being taken by the display of wealth, here the disciples hadn’t gotten the memo.

And so Jesus wouldn’t just let their comment go unnoticed.

He fires back right away, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown out.”

Or, in other words, “Guys, why are you so focused on what is now? Haven’t you heard anything I’ve been saying these months about the kingdom of God?

And so begins a chapter of Jesus’ teaching that could be filed into the apocalyptic category, a category in which symbolic visions are interpreted as a heavenly revealer of something. Or in simpler terms—if you see ______ happening on earth, then it means ____ is happening in heaven.

I have to stop here and say, that apocalyptic passages like this or whole books on this topic like Daniel or Revelation are not my favorite parts of scripture. Though while I don’t mind the definition I just gave of apocalypse (images that help us see beyond the now to the eternal), I don’t find much use for this topic in my daily life, much less preaching on it!

But because this passage came up in the lectionary and I felt drawn to explore it (Oh, Jesus help me)—here we go!

And maybe you’re in the boat with me . . .

You can hang with Jesus through so much but when he starts talking about the signs of times to come, you feel like you’ve read or seen one to many Left Behind books or movies that you’d really rather just skip over sections like Mark 13 and get on to the more normal stuff like the miracles and Jesus loving on the children.

But what might Jesus’ words on the topic of times to come have to offer us this morning?

How-to-lead-in-uncertain-timesMost of the interpretations I’ve heard on this text go like this:

This world is passing away. One day Christ will return.  All will be destroyed on earth. Christ followers: watch for the signs. The signs will point us to the knowing of when that one event is about to occur.

In fact, Jesus is giving us signs as he says in verse 7 and 8:

“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.”

And teaching sessions like this would conclude with references to world events that would speak of wars, disputes among tribes, international fighting and earthquakes and famines.

The world is ending sooner than you and I think!

And while teaching like this wants to convict us . . .

Have you ever noticed that it can be simultaneously comforting?

If we are good readers of text, some preachers say, we can see the signs. The end is coming. We can know. We can be certain! We won't be left behind if we live right!

But is being certain about heaven what the Christian life is all about?

The faith tradition I grew up was filled with certainty. There was an answer for everything!

My faith traditions said questions were bad. They were bad because it led to doubt. And good Christians didn’t doubt. Good Christians read their Bible every day and take texts at face value. And good Christians confidently sing hymns like “I Know Whom I Have Believed” and “When We All Get to Heaven.”

For in my world view at the time, I never voiced even a shadow of doubt. For I KNEW where I would go when we died one day. Really, what else mattered?

God as a mystery was out of the question, of course.

I regularly apologize to the friends who still speak to me from that part of my life.

So I ask again, is certainty what Jesus was trying to give his disciples in Mark 13? I don’t believe so.

In fact, I believe that Jesus was trying to warn them against the danger of certainty. And all the leaders who think they have it. 

Remember with me how this conversation began. The disciples are pointing out something man-made and beautiful. Not that there is anything wrong with admiring the good and the lovely constructed things on earth, but Jesus is doing a total 180 re-direct saying:

Why are you so focused on this over here?

Why not focus on the bigger picture?

This world, my disciples is broken. And because it is broken it will fail you. Unfair things will occur. Really unfair things. Family will rise against family. The lifespan of beloved ones will end short in tragedy. Discomfort will be a part of your earthly experience.

But I have good news for you. (Jesus says) Do not be afraid. Do not be alarmed. Trust me. Exchange trust in me for your certainty.

On Friday, one of the worst tragedies to hit Europe since World War II occurred. A calculated attack, by known terrorists of
open gunfire destroyed and wounded the lives of hundreds out for a weekend night in Paris. No one saw it coming. Places that aren’t normal targets became massacre zones—restaurants, shopping areas, concert halls.

And to say that a wave of shock and deep, deep fear has blanketed the western world these past several hours is an understatement.

For it was Paris—a place rich in beloved tradition, culture and freedom. And it was the place of all places attacked.

I heard one such bystander say to a reporter yesterday, “If Paris isn’t safe anymore, then I don’t know where is.”

And to hear the French President and even the Pope chime in and say, “This is the beginning of the a third World War. . . . France will never be the same.”

It’s scary stuff. To all our ears. Really scary.

It feels congruent with Jesus’ words “when you hear of wars and rumors of wars.”

Or, like I read in one online clergy chat room yesterday, “Are we living in the pages of Mark 13? I think so!”

Maybe we are. Maybe we aren’t.

And today this is what I most want to tell you: our certainty is dangerous because it’s all about us.

Certainty puts the focus of our lives on what we know, which of course is always limited and never the full story. And if gone unchecked for a while, certainty makes us arrogant in ways that keep us from loving God and our neighbor with our whole heart.

I heard the mayor of New York City in one such interview talking about all the additional security measures in place in his town— more road blocks, more police, more checkpoints, all designed to make people feel safe.

I knew why he said what he did. Words like this are a normal part of the reaction to devastating tragedies. It’s what we crave to hear!

We want human saviors who build more walls, collect more guns and will do whatever it takes to protect us and those we love.

We want reassurance that our world is safer than we think, that our borders are able to keep terror at bay, and that our children and our children’s children will grow up surrounded by greater world peace than we’ve known in our lifetime.

But, is that possible?

If the answer is truthfully no, then how then do we live?

Hear the good news again: we live by letting go our need for certainty.

Several weeks ago, my colleague and friend, Rev. Allyson Robinson penned an article about a moment of deep life revelation. It boiled down to this for her, her faith was built on certainty.

Rev. Allyson wrote: “Certainty, I soon discovered is like a drug. It can comfort us, buoying our spirits as it blocks out the questions, but only for a time. When the mellow high of certainty wears off and the questions reassert themselves, as they always do, we’re sent running in search of a new fix. Certainty is addictive.”

But she realized like any addiction, she needed to let it go. She could not be the human being God had made her to be and be certain at the same time.

Allyson talks about her recovery like this: “I had to get used to carrying the weight of the questions, and I had to learn to accept my own limitations, not fear them. I had to learn to trust God to love me even when I’m not sure, and even when I am wrong.”

My friends, I believe, you and I have before us the same process too if we want to live into the good news this week:

Carrying the weight of our questions.

Accepting our own limitations, not fearing them.

Trusting that God can love us even when we aren’t sure.

And most of all believing that sometimes what we most know can be wrong.

For I believe the world doesn’t need more walls, taller barbed wire and more powerful police routes. The world doesn't need more of us being so sure.

The world needs us to band together reminding each other: “Do not be afraid.”

For this world is ultimately not our home, in all it’s jewels and splendor.

Whatever will be will be.This is for sure!

The cost of discipleship is great. Just look at Jesus.

Yet no matter what, the Holy Spirit will never leave us.

So let us love God, love one another and be brave when times get tough.

The Great Mystery will lead us all home, even if we can't see one foot in front of us. All will be well.

Thanks be to God for this gift in uncertain times. AMEN


“Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”

If you have sat beside the death of any, you know that the last of the last words are always hauntingly important. They are the words that stick with us, that we hear played in our head over and over after they have passed. We recite them to others. We remember them often times more than anything else the dying person has said previously.

So, if you listen to only one last word of Jesus, hear this:

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

When Jesus uttered this, what we hear is not a combative last wish, or an “I wish I’d done more of this” or “Why really do I have to die this way?” Or, “Why aren’t there more people here mourning my death?”

No. We hear: “I accept the fact that even though this all is so painful and uncertain I WILL leave this earth in acknowledgement of my Father.”

“Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”

Even more so, what we hear in Christ is a TRUST in the Father to handle what he could not—the outcome.

In his last words, Jesus showed a trust beyond what his human body could feel. Jesus showed a trust beyond what his human mind could reason. Jesus showed a trust beyond the cursing and disbelief others might be whispering under their breath at that moment about him.

In Jesus' death, he let go of human life and what many would call his hour of defeat.

And how countercultural this is to our view of darkness. For most of us have met a dark day or month or year we didn’t like. We’ve felt the deep pains of betrayal and of separation from those we love the most. We’ve all felt like we can’t go on anymore.

But, Jesus taught us to trust on Good Friday.

Jesus taught us to trust that in days coming, hope will be restored.

Jesus taught us to trust that what we see in front of us is not all we get.

Jesus taught us to trust Him, even when death’s dark hour came; he was going to finish the work.

So, this Friday is not a day to fear evil. This Friday is not a day to avoid suffering-- for without death, new life can't come.  This Friday is not a day to felt despair. For Jesus taught us on this Friday a whole other way to live.

We trust in resurrection to come and it's what makes Good Friday, O so good!

 Yesterday, I began a series of messages sticking close to the I Samuel lectionary texts-- a series which hopes to expand the Biblical literacy of the congregation-- really getting into the stories about Israel and come to understand more of the character of God.

Here's an excerpt from yesterday's sermon which focused on I Samuel 8:4:4-11, 16-20, the time in the life of Israel when the elders came to Samuel asking him to appoint for the nation a king. Here's some background: 

... If we read earlier in the book of I Samuel, we realize that the nation of Israel is not in a time of complete peace and prosperity. No, their arch enemies at the time, the Philistines have been at it again.  And the Israelites face much defeat.  So in an effort to be on the winning side again, Israel's commanders think that if they just take God, literally with them into battle that they will finally will be victorious, the ark of the covenant goes with them. But, the precious ark is stolen. Though later returned, this whole experiences leave the nation as a whole feeling unsecure and afraid. But, most of all, feeling disappointed.

God let them down.

Truly, where was this God-- who was supposed to be their ultimate leader, their ultimate protector, their ultimate king-- where was this God when they needed help the most?

Sure, the people of Israel were known to make mistakes from time to time, but weren't they doing the best they couldn't? Sure, they weren't perfect or claiming to be, but why was God acting this way?

And, at this juncture of the story, you and I, all know this pain all too well. We have too felt disappointed by God in our lives, if we aren't feeling that way even right now.

We've been disappointed at God as we've prayed and prayed till our knees have grown weak and weary about a real need in our family, and still seemingly nothing changed about our situation.

We've been disappointed by God when we thought we heard God speak to us at some point about a very specific thing that would occur and we are still waiting 10 years, 20 years, even 50 years later with nothing seeming to ever happen.

We've been disappointed by God as we have found ourselves in situations that have made us feel like we unfairly drew the short end of the stick in life's lottery-- we are 45 and still single without a desired life partner; we are 55 and have no savings for our retirement after experiencing lay off after lay off in our younger years; Or, we are 75 and widowed forced to plan our retirement years we once looked forward to alone.

We have been or are now disappointed with God because we've expected more from God than God has ever provided for us. We begin to wonder if God is not so great or good after all.

"Aren't I a good person?" We wonder. "Don't I deserve some of life's greatest blessings like everyone seems to get so naturally?" We shout at the sky. "Don't I deserve a life better this, come on God, really!" We proclaim.

 And, as usually is the case when we are disappointed with life-- we do two things. We either grow bitter adopting a permanent woe is me look on our face. Or, we try to fix the problem ourselves. We move to action-- asking for a completely different course of action.

In the case of the Israelites, we don't see them rolling over to play dead in their disappointment, we see them moving to action-- going to Samuel and saying in verse 4, "You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like the other nations."

"We're disappointed in God, Samuel," they say. We've had a good run of things with you, but let's face it, God is about to completely let us down, even more so than we experienced while in battle with the Philistines because your sons are corrupt. So, fix it, Samuel. Make it better. Give us a king. Give us a king so that we can be like everyone else. Give us a King so we can feel better once again."

And while commentators of this passage often disagree on who's right and who is off base in this passage (after all, you always have to read Old Testament narrative through the lens of yes, we are hearing God speak, but he is speaking through human voices)-- was God being unfair OR were the people being completely disobedient?

But no matter what answers to these questions-- it doesn't change the experience of deep disappointment with the divine that Israel faced at this time.  After all, don't they say in business management courses that perceptions of people are reality?

But, this is what we know as we look at the long view of Israel's history though at this moment, the people might have felt abandoned, left alone and failed by the One person who promised never to leave them, there something else that is true. And that is that God has not left them or forgotten them.

One thing that my spiritual director says to me all the time as I am wrestling through a particular issue in my life is that while I may be fixated on one thing it doesn't mean that something else is not simultaneously true as well.

That, yes, it is true that in many situations of our lives we might feel lost; we might feel abandoned; we might feel disappointed in God.  (And, all of these are valid emotions full of grief that it is ok to feel and to sit in for a while if we need to). But, such does not change the fact that it is also true: God has not now nor ever will  forget us. While we may feel like God is distant, God is still present among us. "God will never leave us to face our perils alone" says the theologian Thomas Merton.

If we see how God continued to work in Israel's life as a people, we know that the ups and down tales of disappointment continue, but never less, God never gets to a point when God says, "I'm just finished with you. I can't take it anymore. I'm through with you. I'm throwing you away"

No, like a loving, patient parent, God continues to abide, surround and love this people, even when they face difficult situations where their expectations aren't met-- even when they get that king and another one after that and another one after that. And, having a king really never solves their problems. God is still there.

When God disappoints us, what then are we to do?

When in college, I sang with a gospel choir with a student director with as much enthusiasm as Whoopi in Sister Act movie. Though I don't remember a lot about the songs I sang after all these years, I do remember one song that was a crowd favorite anywhere we went called "He's Never Failed Me Yet."

The climatic ending was repetitive chorus of "He's never failed me; he's never failed me (with a dramatic) yet." Our choir director was always about a strong staccato ending so much so that this line has always stuck with me. Though the rest of the song contained beautiful lyrics like:

I will sing of God's mercy,

every day, every hour, He gives me power.

I will sing and give thanks to Thee

for all the dangers, toils and snares that He has brought me out.

He is my God and I'll serve Him

no mater what the test.

Trust and never doubt

Jesus will surely bring you out,

He never failed me yet. (x2)

It always seemed like such a strange ending to a song that was so confident, so faith filled, and then we had to go and throw on a "yet" at the end. I've often thought about that yet, wondering about why it was there. Seemed disrespectful or as if we were putting God to the test. As if asking the question if one day God was going to start failing us.  Wouldn't that be against everything we believe about our Christian faith?

But since then, these words come back to me sometimes in the shower or in my car and I've lived more life, felt more of life's pains and life's deepest wounds, I'm so glad that the "yet" is included. Yes, it is good in our most disappointed moments to acknowledge that God has never failed us, but we are human after all so if we need to add the word "yet." And I think this is just fine. Part of living the life of faith is staying with the "yet" long enough to let God be God and all that this mystery means.

In our disappointment history with our God, sometimes, I know it is hard to keep believing again and again to trust that all will be different as our story goes on.

But, this is our hope for today. This is our hope to claim. There is a long view to our life's story. We may be disappointed with God, but we are never, never alone. Today I claim God has never failed me. He's never failed me yet. What about you? . . .

Lent is already half-way over and is anyone dragging like me? The days of self-reflection and self-discipline seem like too much at junctures like today when I'm ready to throw in the towel and just say, "What's the point?"

I haven't been able to keep a Lenten discipline for several years now, but I'm hoping this year will be different. Not just for the sake of saying I've kept it, but because I know it is good for me. Really good in fact.

For the past couple Lents, I've pledged to start something new like adding more exercise into my life, and have found myself failing miserably.  While the guilt of not doing what I said seemed to nag deeply in me, nothing changed. I've not be a great example maker in the practice of being self-focused during this 40 day (or 46 day if you count the Sundays) period of preparation of Easter.

But, feeling some new gusto this year, I opted to go back to the traditional "give something up" practice for Lent again. As I thought of what I might choose to do, I tried to be more intentional than in the past. What impulsive habit could I give up? What could I withhold that might actually make me think about the larger purpose of Lent altogether?

I chose to give up Diet Coke.

Seems simple enough, of course. Almost comparable to the popular "I'm giving up chocolate" for Lent idea.  But, for me, it's not. 

Giving up Diet Coke, as a non-coffee drinker, is helping me understand how dependant I was on caffeine to get through the day. Giving up Diet Coke is helping me make more intentional choices altogether with my eating. Giving up Diet Coke, I know is making my kidneys happy with me as my water consumption has hit a life-time high since Lent began. Today I am really craving soda I'm tired of drinking water ALL the time. I really can't wait for Lent to be over. I'm ready for the "normal" patterns of life and enjoyment to return.

But for those of us on  this Lenten journey together as a people of faith, we're not to the finish line yet. Palm Sunday is still more two weeks away. Now is the time when the "joy" of the discipline really kicks in. What might this season be seekign to teach us?

Of course, living in Lent is greater than drinking or not drinking soda, giving up chocolate or fasting on Fridays-- it is about Jesus and spending this set a part time growing closer to him. I always tell my congregation who about this time start asking for "more joyful music" or "less depressing scriptures" that we must stay the course if we want the joy of Easter to be ours.

For this reason, I appreciate the wisdom of this word from the current pope-- though I may disagree with him on many social issues-- I hear such grace in this description of the season:

"Lent stimulates us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and in this way to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, what path we must take in life... Each year, Lent offers us a providential opportunity to deepen the meaning and value of our Christian lives, and it stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters." - Pope Benedict XVI

So, as we all keep living Lent-- even if we've already fallen off the discipline wagon and are preparing to get back on-- let seek truth with the time of Lent we have left. Truth about ourselves and ultimately truth then about God. I know it will all be worth it soon enough!