Extraordinary Grace

When Words Are Not Enough

When Words Are Not Enough

The words of Jesus carry power. They are not simply good words with the power to change lives if heard and applied; the words themselves are power. They are not just life-giving; they are life.

With nothing more than a word, Jesus had the power to heal. A centurion’s sick servant, a friend who was dead and buried, a demon-possessed man; all were brought to health and life at the sound of his voice. Even the winds and the waves obey his commands.

Yet as we often see with Jesus, he doesn’t stop there. Even when a good word, a powerful word, would do the trick, Jesus knows there is yet more. Some demons only come out by prayer; perhaps others only come out by presence. Touch. Skin on skin. Intimate proximity.

A leprous man in an ancient Jewish community would have been ostracized. Excluded. Uninvited. Alone. For the sake of public health as much as (or more than) reasons of religious purity, he would be kept on the outskirts of society, quarantined. Likely, it would have taken immense courage and desperation for such a man to enter back into the parts of the city where Jesus was speaking; the places where crowds were gathered; the spaces where religion was being taught. Rules and codes would have been broken for the leper to be nearby, but that didn’t matter. For the hopeless, the hope of healing will drive anyone to do reckless things.

And Jesus responds with even greater recklessness

Hurricane Hitler: Giving Our Best When the World Is At Its Worst

Hurricane Hitler: Giving Our Best When the World Is At Its Worst

The impact of Charlottesville felt like a hurricane. It sucked the breath and the hope right out of us, like the ocean waters in the Bahamas were sucked away from the shore by Irma. The chaos and violence were felt most intensely at ground zero in Virginia, but the winds of racism and fear blew to every corner of our country. Our dreams of progress were felled like giant trees, uprooted in the swirling gusts of disillusionment.

I wonder, then, if our response to storms of human origin could be informed by the way we respond to more natural disasters. Though some people may joke about firing a couple rounds into the wind to release some tension, few people actually and sincerely shake their fists at the sky when a hurricane passes through. Cursing Irma may let off some steam temporarily, but none of us hope to actually accomplish anything restorative by doing so. Yet, when these names belong to people and not to storms, cursing becomes the norm. When evil has a face we feel justified in throwing whatever stones or barbs we can at the perpetrators. I’m not suggesting that we should be silent when evil deeds and motives are present, but there is certainly a point where pointing fingers becomes a useless endeavor and we must look to other means to make things right. 

After The Eclipse: What Do We Look At Now?

After The Eclipse: What Do We Look At Now?

By the time Monday morning rolled around, the media hype leading up to the 2017 solar eclipse had reached a fever pitch. Schools cancelled classes; enthusiasts drove hours to camp out in the path of totality; shrewd opportunists sold viewing glasses for upwards of $10/pair. Our country stopped squabbling for a few moments and collectively turned our eyes to the heavens. Then, in just a matter of moments, it was over. The eclipse had come and gone like two celestial orbs passing each other in the daytime sky.

I’m the kind of person who tends to find meaning in small things. Any observable moment can be an opportunity to be reminded of some greater truth. Seeing my son take careful, deliberate steps along a wooden beam reminds me that faith is a step-by-step journey of trust; seeing my daughter learn to walk her dog responsibly reminds me that discipline is often a prerequisite for enjoyment; and seeing other parents enter the daycare on a Monday morning with diaper bags and blankets in-hand reminds me that I left our bag sitting on the dining room table. 

Big moments, then - moments like when the view of the sun is perfectly blocked out by the moon in its orbit - are certainly worthy of further contemplation. Witnessing the solar eclipse Monday afternoon was magnificent. It was such a joy to sit with my two older kids and watch as the sun turned into little more than a sliver before once again reclaiming its glory among the heavens. 

I'm no scientist, but here is what I do know about the sun: you can't look at the sun. 

How I Found God In Kesha's High Note

How I Found God In Kesha's High Note

Kesha's back, y'all.

Now there's a sentence I never thought I would say. And it's certainly not one I ever thought I would enjoy saying. But, well, she's back...and we are all better for it.

The pop starlet has spent the last five years in record deal purgatory, essentially held captive by production mogul Dr. Luke and his record company. Accusations and denials of all kinds of abuse swirled, but in the end it was Kesha whose dreams were shattered and whose life hit rock bottom. It appeared to most that she would never again resurface, at least not in any way meaningful to the music industry.

Now here's my admission: I've never been a Kesha fan. Her pop-dance tunes, the latest of which, Tik Tok, was released some seven years ago, were nothing special. Her "bad girl," hyper-sexualized image came across as altogether too much - a sad gimmick. And probably it was.

But now, Kesha is back. Her new single – the first in half a decade – dropped last week. Entitled Praying, it's a song that shows emotional growth, personal healing, and, oh yeah, a vocal range that would leave Mariah Carey feeling a little verklempt

We often mark our lives by a series of defining moments – decisions or experiences that somehow encapsulate both the past and the future all in one present moment. For Kesha, dare I say, her defining moment comes at the 4:21 mark.

You Don't Have To Sit Alone

You Don't Have To Sit Alone

Some friends of mine recently experienced a horrific tragedy. On their way to the beach for a much needed family vacation, their car was t-boned at an intersection when another vehicle ran through a red light. Three-fourths of the family walked away from the crash relatively unscathed. Their eldest son, Ryan, was killed on impact.

I cannot fathom the anguish a parent goes through in losing a child, and I pray that I never have to. For my friends, though, this pain is all too real. A tragedy like this is so senseless, so violent, so abrupt that our minds just can't ever comprehend it. It has been almost two years since the accident (as of this writing), and at time I can still see that confusion and agony on their faces. Their son was here, and then he was gone. Just like that. 

This morning I visited Ryan's gravesite for the first time in a while. I'm not quite sure why I ended up walking over to his grave. It was a beautiful May morning: the sun was bright, the Boy Scouts were out placing flags on the graves of fallen soldiers, and the air felt like summertime on my skin. I think recognizing the beauty and peace of the day, something inside me was stirred to the places in this world that are broken, where the sun does not seem to be shining. I thought of my friends who lost so much, and who will probably never be able to enjoy a day like this in quite the same way. I was so thankful for it all - for everything - that I felt compelled to associate and, somehow, draw closer to the people and places where thankfulness did not abound quite so easily. However those thoughts processed in my subconscious, I just knew that I wanted to go to the place of someone else's grief and, through simple prayer and presence, lift them up.

What Jesus Freaks Can Learn From Baseball Fans

What Jesus Freaks Can Learn From Baseball Fans

On September 28, 2014, Derek Jeter, the legendary Yankee shortstop, played his final game of Major League Baseball. In the third inning, his second at-bat for the game, Jeter knocked an infield hit over the reach of third-baseman Garin Cecchini for an RBI single. After a moment on base to consider the weight of the moment, Jeter signaled to his manager that it was time, and then he walked off the field and into retirement...and undoubtedly into the Hall of Fame. 

Everyone present at Fenway Park that day understood the significance of the moment. They witnessed the curtain call of one of greatest and most respected baseball players of this generation. And that's when it happened. As ESPN writer J.R. Moehringer describes, "that familiar chant, which has become his theme song, his war cry. Two descending musical notes, G-sharp, F, G-sharp, F, a downward sloping cadence that sounds almost like a playground taunt. DER-ek JE-ter! Nyah-nyah, nyah-nyah." 

For the next two minutes, there were no Red Sox fans, no Yankees fans; just baseball fans. More than that, they were sport fans. Culture fans. America fans. Fans of life itself, experiencing in that moment both greatness and sadness that is familiar to all of us. There in Fenway park, for one night only, a fierce sporting rivalry more than 100 years in the making was cast aside to honor the career, the memories, the man, the name of Derek Jeter. And it was beautiful.

The One Story You Need To Read On World Penguin Day

The One Story You Need To Read On World Penguin Day

The Internet has brought us nothing if not an overabundance of animal videos. 20 years ago you had to wait until Sunday night for Bob Saget to introduce a montage of cat clips on America's Funniest Videos; now cuteness overload is unavoidable as soon as you open Facebook.

I'm a believer in lifelong learning, and often some of life's greatest lessons can be found simply by looking to God's good creation. For example, I recently learned that some domesticated cats are terrified of cucumbers. Full disclosure, I loathe cats. I would sooner have a pet cucumber than a pet cat. But should I ever find myself the owner of a feline, this is the kind of information that would be incredibly useful. 

Still, as much as animals cause us to say, “Awwww,” they also teach us to say, “AHHHH!” Another lesson I have learned: it's unwise to make friends with a white tiger (thanks, Montecore) or let your kids play with a gorilla (RIP, Harambe). 

Yes, the animal kingdom has much to offer us if we only remain willing to learn. The latest inspiration I received from a non-human came from a penguin named Dindim. Seeing as today, April 25, 2017, is World Penguin Day, Dindim’s story is a fitting parable on which to reflect.

What's So Good About Good Friday?

What's So Good About Good Friday?

I write these words from my back deck overlooking the woods behind my house. The sun is shining, the temperature is a majestic 80º, the trees are budding, and the carpenter bees darting around my head are only slightly aggressive. It truly is a good Friday.

But why is this particular day, the Friday before Easter Sunday, formally dubbed Good Friday? This is the day we commemorate the brutal torture and execution of Jesus Christ. Historically and biblically, this is not the good day. Good is the resurrection. Good is life winning out over death. Good is an empty grave.

But good is not the pain, not the betrayal, not the loneliness, not the silence. Those are the things we push away, avoiding them at all costs. Such things cannot be good.

…unless…

The Second Time My Son Died

The Second Time My Son Died

When my son Evan was born he almost didn’t make it. His heart stopped. There was an emergency C-section. My wife was rushed from my presence, mid-delivery, by a whirlwind of white medical coats, the nurses’ panicked eyes refusing to look at me from above their surgical masks. For five horrifying and dizzying minutes, I sat alone in the delivery room, not knowing if I would see my son - or my wife - alive. The ordeal ended when a nurse walked in, informed me that both wife and baby were doing well, and handed me a juice box. The lead nurse from the neonatal unit later told us that Evan's delivery was the scariest she had experienced in 25 years of emergency deliveries. She had no idea why his heart stopped, nor how it managed to start back up again.

You and Me and Warren Beatty

You and Me and Warren Beatty

Do you ever feel as if the only thing people seem to notice about you are your failures?

A week ago, on the morning of Monday, February 27, I woke up to a Twitter feed full of ridicule and criticisms. Late the previous night, the Oscars - the biggest annual awards show in Hollywood -  had been mired in controversy. When announcing the award for Best Picture, presenter Warren Beatty mistakingly read from the wrong envelope, announcing La La Land as the winner. After the customary celebrations and speeches, an awkward commotion on stage gave way to the revelation that Moonlight was the actual winner. The La La Land team was gracious and Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel tried to smooth things over, but the damage was done. 

For the next twenty four hours, social media streams and news outlets alike blasted the Oscars for the mishap, pointing fingers wherever they could. Many comments were playful, others were scathing. As I scrolled my own timelines on and off throughout the day this was the only news from the Academy Awards I saw. To this day, a week later, I still have no idea who won any of the other awards, save Emma Stone whose name was revealed in the gaffe. All the actual winners, all the celebration of art, creativity, story, and humanity were completely overshadowed by one single mistake.