Streams in the Desert

Ohiopyle Falls - Edited for Enlarge

I’ve always enjoyed living in a place where there are four distinct seasons of the year. I can feel the warmth of the sun, this afternoon, as sunlight shines through the windows in my office. My wife and I took our bicycles to a local repair shop this week for an annual Spring tune-up because we know that Winter has passed and warmer days are just around the corner. The flowers of Springtime will soon blossom; and then, they will disappear as the Summer heat returns. And then, shorter and colder days will prompt the leaves to change color again, before they’re swept away by brisk Winter winds.

But, many people in the world don’t experience the seasons of the year in the same way as I do in Pennsylvania. Rainy seasons send the flooding rains upon tropical forests in some areas. Deserts can be parched by the sun for more than a year before a swiftly moving torrent of rain is absorbed by the sand. The Nile River runs deep and wide during rainy seasons, and parts of it almost disappear when the rains stop. And I was thinking about that, today, as I reflected upon the Biblical “watercourses of the Negev” that are described by the writer of Psalm 126.

Our lives blossom and bloom in some seasons. But our lives can seem very dry—even parched—at other times. We have times, even in our lives of prayer and devotion, when God seems very close to us; but, I’m sure that we’ve also experienced times when God seemed far away—even disconnected from us.

But, today, the psalmist reminds us that God’s faithful in every season of the year—and of life. God’s with us when our lives unfold in new and exciting ways, but God’s also with us—sometimes in a very different way—when life’s tough. Dry times in our lives—times of darkness and discouragement—can open our eyes to an even deeper awareness of God’s presence; and the times of abundant blessings and peace can create moments in life when we feel most distant from God and self-sufficient.

But, seasons change. The psalmist reminds us that times of abundance are followed by times of drought. Times spent in the midst of a parched desert will come to an end when soothing rains fall from Heaven and when life returns.

Life, you might say, is lived in “cycles.” We need to live our lives knowing that times of growth and abundance can quickly end. But we can, also, live in faith knowing that our times of parched dryness and even death will end as well.

Psalm 126 calls us to faith in the Season of Resurrection. Psalm 126 reminds us that seasons of prosperity and worldly abundance can quickly end, and times of resurrection and newness of life often emerge from the ashes of a desperate situation.

God walks with us in every season—calling and inviting us to move from death to life. God journeys with us in every season—calling us to remember that He’s close to us in times of abundance, and calling us to experience an even deeper sense of His presence when our lives become dry.

Now it’s your turn to join the conversation:

Are you living in a “season of great abundance” or in a “season of parched dryness” at this point in your life? How would you describe what’s happening in your life?

Where are you experiencing God’s presence in your life?

Do the psalmist’s words offer an encouraging word to you, or do these words seem to come from the lips of a prophet of doom? Would you hear them differently if you were traveling through a different season of life?

How can being reminded that seasons change help you to navigate through a world where you are sometimes richly blessed and where you can also experience difficult times when life seems dry?


Bearing Testimony


It’s not easy to be a pastor these days.

I’ve noticed that people are looking at me differently. People who used to greet me with warmth and friendly smiles turn away from me and, sometimes, respond to my greeting with a grunt. People who wear black clerics aren’t trusted. People quickly judge me and make assumptions about me because I wear black-collared shirts with a white tab when I’m working at the church, or visiting a member of the congregation that I serve in local hospitals or in a nursing home. And, in the last twenty-eight years, it’s only gotten worse.

The movie “Spotlight” received the Best-Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards just last week and, when that happened, I cheered. The Church has been shaken by thousands of people who have spoken about being sexually abused by clergy. Just this past week, faithful members of the Roman Catholic Church were startled once again when the report of a Grand Jury disclosed that more than 50 Catholic priests in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese had, allegedly, molested hundreds of children. Earlier today, Cardinal George Pell—an Australian cardinal and the Vatican’s Treasurer—admitted to the Australian Royal Commission that he “did not act” after a boy told him about being molested by a priest, and that he did not report that a teacher was “misbehaving with boys” to local authorities.

This whole situation deeply grieves me as a Christian, and as a pastor. My heart breaks every times I hear stories about clerics abusing children. And I’m just as troubled when I hear about bishops and other church authorities purposefully concealing evidence that could put child molesters behind bars. But, lest Protestants begin to rise-up and gather stones to throw at Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, let’s also remember that many studies show that children are being molested by pastors in all Christian denominations. But, the news gets even worse. Statistics indicate that 1-in-4 girls and 1-in-6 boys in the United States will be molested by an adult before they reach the age of 18—with the largest percentage of the sexual abuse being committed by family members or close acquaintances.

Now, let’s get back to why it’s hard to be a pastor these days.

It’s hard to be a pastor these days because people make assumptions about me, and about all pastors, because of the inappropriate behaviors of other people. Pastors and priests who molest children spoil the reputations of people that they don’t even know. And that’s true—not only for members of the clergy—but, also, for all Christians. When Christians speak words of intolerance and bigotry, they affect the reputations of other Christians. When members of the Westboro Baptist Church protest at military funerals, they present an “image” of Christianity that affects the witness of the Church as a whole. The Church is a body—and the whole Body is affected by the behavior of its parts. The witness of the entire Church is severely diminished every time a priest molests a child—every time a bishop hides information—every time a Christian spreads gossip—every time a part of Christ’s Body utters a word of hatred, or intolerance, or bigotry.

We are all, admittedly, “saints” and “sinners” at the same time. We continue to bear the scars of sin in our lives—even as we long for the Day when we will stand before God as people who have been washed by the blood of the Lamb.

But, as we await that great, promised Day, let’s also be sensitive to the witness that we share with the world through our words and actions, right now. The entire Body of Christ is affected by words we say and things we do. It’s hard for me to be a pastor these days because of the horribly inappropriate behavior of wolves who have wrapped themselves in sheepskin, and who have ruined the lives of innocent children. And that’s why people look at me differently. People who used to greet me with warmth and friendly smiles turn away from me now and, sometimes, respond to my greeting with a grunt. And it’s not because of anything that I’ve done.

Now it’s your turn to join the conversation:

How has your opinion of the Church been shaped by the actions and behaviors of the Christians that you know?

Honestly…. What runs through your head when you see a man wearing a black clerical shirt with a white tab? How have your thoughts and opinions been shaped by the tragic behaviors and crimes of Catholic priests who molested children? Do you think it’s fair to group all members of the clergy together? Is it possible to avoid doing it?

What kind of witness are you giving to the world? Do your words and actions uplift and strengthen the Body of Christ, or do your words and actions spoil the reputation of many people that you don’t even know?

How can we effectively face the challenges of being a “saint” and a “sinner” at the same time? Why do you think confession and repentance are important parts of the growth and maturity of Christians—both as individuals and as a Body?