About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

We Are All Broken

We Are All Broken


Romans 7:14-24

14 For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.[a] 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?


A man will turn 65 in a few weeks. He plans his birthday celebration. It's something he's always wanted to do, but has never had the time. He buys a beautiful, expensive pair of hiking shoes, carefully, methodically breaks them in a bit more each day, walking the house, the neighborhood, the greenway. Does stretches every morning and every night before bed. And on his birthday, sets out for the top of Mt. LeConte. About half-way up, he starts to hurt. He gets dizzy. He sits down to catch his breath. This is when he gets mad. Really mad. Mad at himself for waiting so long to do what he's always wanted. Mad at his body for getting so old and not telling him. Mad at his mind for tricking him into this embarrassing situation. He's at war. His mind is at war with his legs, his legs are at war with his balance, his balance is at war with his stability. His lifelong stability is at war with his lifelong dream. He spits at the dirt. Everything feels like it's breaking down.


One bad grade. One terrible, bad, ridiculous grade from one terrible, bad, ridiculous teacher, at this terrible, bad, ridiculous school. She stares at the printout and tries hard not to cry. It's not her fault. She knows it's not her fault. She tried. She worked so hard, she studied so long, she made index cards and notes and practice exams. "You put so much pressure on yourself," her parents say. No, she thinks. YOU put so much pressure on me. My teachers put so much pressure on me. My friends put so much pressure on me. The stupid achievement tests, the grade points, the essays and multiple-choice choices that never quit multiplying, that's who puts pressure on me. She's so mad. She's mad at her expectations. She's mad at her expectations of others' expectations. She's mad at this image of potential perfection shoved at her from every device since preschool. She's mad at Steve and Blue's Clues for, "You can be anything that you wanna be." She's at war. She's at war with her own mind for under-performing and for overreacting. She's at war with the everybody's underhanded offering of infinite possibility and the fear of coming up short. She crumples the report and throws it at the wall. Everything feels like it's breaking down.


The good and dedicated Apostle, the writer and preacher of the highest ideals, finds it to be an unbreakable law that when he wants to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. In his inmost heart, he wants to delight in the law of God, but he sees in his works another law at war with the law of his mind, making him captive to the law of sin that dwells in everything he tries to do. He's at war with what he wants, what he wants is at war with his does, what he does is at war with he meant, and what he meant is at war with what God commands. He cries out in anger at himself and at God, "Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" Even for the Apostle, everything's breaking down.


The hands of Jesus bear the scars of nails. This was not what anyone expected. The risen Lord - OUR risen Lord - bears the wounds of dreams broken down.

We are all broken. Even the greatest saints. Even Jesus.

Because we dress up in nice clothes and smile and say, "I'm fine, how are you?" we set ourselves at war with what's really real. We cling to the fiction of other people's infinite perfection. We see each other for barely an hour and think, "Wow, she's got it so together." Or, "I wish I were more like him." Or, "Why can't my kids behave like that?" The truth is a bit more broken. It's not that we set out to deceive each other. It's that our own minds deceive us. We have imaginary images of how perfect everyone else is, of how perfect we're supposed to be, of how perfect God says we have to be, or else. And it's all a lie. In our heart of hearts, we know it. So we fight it. We fight our illusions. We fight to keep our illusions. We get mad at ourselves for expecting so much of God's expectations and always, always coming up short. It can feel as though everything's breaking apart.

The truth is, we're all broken, already. We came in that way. And that's the way we'll make our exit. "Oh, wretched souls that we are, who will will rescue us? Who will repair us? Who will fix us?"


Mom comes home from work. She sets down her bag and instantly focuses where it was prayed she would not: the kitchen table where her great-grandmother's vase sits surrounded by newspaper and a bottle of uncapped glue. First, she is stunned by the wrongness. But with her returning breath presses her chin toward her nose, leaving low the edges of her lips drawing her forehead down upon her eyelids. In two heartbeats she knows what has happened, can see the vase falling from its place on the mantle, hears its sharp shattering scattering explosion on the floor. "This is precisely why we have rules!" she remembers herself declaring, over and over to The Boy Who Will Not Listen. She has already declared war as she yanks the pencil-scrawled note from the table.

"Dear Mom," it says. "I am sorry I broke your vase. I know it is very special to you. It was an accident. I tried to glue it back together, but I couldn't find all the pieces and some of them wouldn't fit. I am so sorry. I hope you can forgive me. I am in my room and will not even leave to eat supper or play video or ever do anything else until you say it's OK to come out."

She is not relieved, amused, or un-angry. She looks at the vase, its perfection disintegrated in a single, mindless act. She traces the lines of brokenness, still damp with glue applied so amply that it runs in tears down the side. Sighing deeply, she mourns for this heirloom, grieves the inheritance and purity now and forever lost. Now changed. Now imperfect. Now broken and reassembled, with scars, with pieces missing. It is not the same. It is not better. It is different. It is new.


We all are broken.

God does not make us perfect; God makes us forgiven. Not the same. Not better. But different, new.

With scarred hands, Christ holds us together. His wounds are the soft glue that just barely keeps us from breaking apart. That is, until we do fall apart, again. And God gives us this body of Christ, this beautiful, broken body of Christ that is the church, pasted together with broken people who beg forgiveness and know not what we do but do it anyway.

We are all broken. And we are all forgiven. We are not better than anyone else. But we are different. We are new. Today, tomorrow, and the next time everything breaks apart.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Connect the Dots

Connect the Dots

Not far from where I grew up, there's a little town named, Poca. Their football team was the Dots. Get it? The Poca... Dots. Go Dots.

As sports teams go, it's not as fierce as say, Raptors or Bulldogs or even Demon Deacons. Fierce? No. But what's more important than teaching kids to connect the dots?

In this always-on, Internet age, where people can Google or Wikipedia everything, we don't need to memorize names and dates and geography. Does this make us dumber? Or does it give us the chance to be creative in the truest sense?

Says education specialist Tony Wagner, "Today, because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge." (Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World.)

In other words, your job is not to dream up new dots; it's to connect the ones you already have. This is the new economy. But the idea isn't 21st century new. Even Jesus did it.

Jesus connected dots. In terms of content, there's practically nothing new in the "New" Testament. Most of what Jesus said had been said before in the "Old" Testament. Caring for the poor? Done. Good news to the outcasts? Heard it. Love God and neighbor? Got it. Instead, Jesus did the truly radical: he connected the dots of book knowledge to the dots of real life people. He took memorized, guarded information and pushed it into flesh-and-blood reality. You could say he was born to be the connection. Jesus connected the dots.

Don't waste your energy fiercely protecting your faith; liberate it. Share it.

Be like Jesus: Connect the dots.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

My! Have You Grown?

My! Have You Grown?

We were welcoming kids on the first day of Vacation Bible School. Some of the kids come every year to VBS, but go to church (or not) someplace else. So, while I might remember who they are, they sure don't look the same as they did last year. They've changed. They're tall! Some of them are taller than I am. (OK, a lot of them.) They've grown.

"And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature," is Luke 2:52's way of saying the boy Jesus changed and grew. I wonder if the people who only saw him once a year recognized him. "My! How you've grown!" they might have said to him. I wonder if he thought, "Yes, that's what kids do."

From our birth, the natural thing for all of us to do is to grow and change - to increase in wisdom and stature. It's so natural we don't notice it when we're young. It's just what we do. But when we get older, increasing in wisdom and stature – growing and changing in positive ways – takes effort. Without intention, our minds and bodies turn away from the natural, God-given ways, and instead of increasing, decrease. We change, subtly, slowly into people we don't recognize and never intended. "My! How you've grown!" turns into, "My! Have you grown?"

Looking back at where you were a year ago, have you grown? Have you grown in wisdom? Have you grown to look and act more Christ-like?

- James

[Get twice-weekly devotionals, Sunday messages, and more delivered direct to your email inbox at http://jamesmctyre.blogspot.com]