Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hidden Treasure

Contrary to my "Trekkin'" persona, I'm not much of a daredevil (seems like you'd almost have to be in order to be a dyed-in-the-wool Trekkie). Watching people do crazy things like bungee jumping, skydiving, and extreme thrill rides is as close as I'll ever get to actually participating. BUT...I do like to explore! Give me a new trail, timber, cave or mountain, and I am quick to lace up the boots, put on some comfortable clothes, and come back in a couple of hours (or days, if I can pull it off).

Thus, when we moved to a new farm as I turned a teenager (one that was rumored to be full of Indian artifacts), it didn't take me long at all to head off into the woods and across the fields on an artifact expedition. Now, 30+ years later, an ordinary looking box tucked away in our storage closet bears silent witness to the discoveries made on those journeys. If you were to peer inside this not-so-impervious vault of my own design, you'd find arrowheads, axeheads, scrapers, spear points, grinding stones, and an odd assortment of yet-to-be-classified treasures, borne as the fruit of my ventures on that farm. I've often dreamed of taking my own kids back out there some day for a little exploring of their own!

I had the opportunity just a week ago to drive past the old farmstead, taking literally miles of backroad gravels to our familiar place out in "the sticks." It was incredibly fun to point out to my kids all the locations and sites where I had worked...and played...so hard with friends and family. They had often heard me recount my artifact hunting and obviously, had seen the treasures in my worn out box. It was about time to actually show them the treasure-laden land first-hand.

As we came around the last bend in the road before our old farm, I was absolutely shocked by what I saw. No longer were there fertile fields, neatly manicured with orderly rows of what would soon be the Fall harvest. Instead, there were new homes built in several places (not shacks, either!) and hundreds of acres of only pasture - beautiful and green, but perfectly concealing the treasures laying hidden below the surface. You couldn't tell that they are there, but I knew they were!

I couldn't help but wonder if the new homeowners, with their finely trimmed lawns and quaint little horsebarns had any idea as to what lay just below the surface of their prized properties? Did they know what treasures lay just inches under their "Turfbuilder" yards and concretized driveways? I couldn't imagine that they did, or why would they not be looking for those treasures, discovering and sharing the joy of antiquities revealed?

While those acres of beautiful soil may never be turned again, and thus, maintain their treasures in silence for all eternity (which about drives me crazy!), I realized that as is so often the case, there was a great lesson in the whole trip. I found myself wondering how many people I had passed in my life, due to busyness, prejudice or self-centeredness...people who were full of hidden treasure that I never took the time to discover. How many missed joys, cherished memories and exciting adventures had I forfeited by not taking the time to do a little "digging" in their lives?

I may never again have the opportunity to find hidden treasure in open fields, but I certainly am given the opportunity to dig for, find and share the hidden treasures in the people around me...maybe even you. Want to go exploring with me? You can do it right where you're at by taking the time to discover the very next person you meet. I'd love to hear about your adventures! And if you ever want someone to join you, just drop me a line at necchurch@netins.net. Whether it's a person or a field we get to explore, the time will be well spent and the treasure well shared!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

One Year Later

I confess...I've been just a little sentimental for the past few days. You see, it was almost exactly one year ago that I had to let go of my "little boy." Attending this year's graduation exercises at his high school, somewhat surprisingly brought a flood of emotions once again. Though he has just completed his first year of college, in my mind's eye, I could envision him, his mom and me sitting down there on the floor nearly as real as the day it occurred.

Remember being a kid and listening to all the "old people" (anybody your parents' age or older) talk about how fast time flies as you get older? Well, as you probably have experienced, just like me, they knew what they were talking about...again.

To see that fresh crop of graduates excitedly toss their caps in the air, see the gleam in their eyes as they rush towards their futures, and (if you looked closely) catch the occasional moistening of their cheeks as tears escaped from their "I got it together" exteriors, brought a great deal of empathy from me as I watched family and friends cheer them on...every single one of them. It also brought a fresh sense of wondering about things I thought already settled.

Did I do enough to prepare my son for his future? Will he remember the lessons I sought to instill? Is he irrevocably scarred by the mistakes I made? Will he become another "statistic" who will one day appear on Oprah (or whover takes her place), telling the sad story about a dad who never spent enough time with him, or said, "I love you, Son"?

Now, some of you parents are way ahead of me on this...I'm probably still in the "rookie" stage, as I just let go of my firstborn last year. But I have no doubt that you have wondered some of the very same things. Any answers yet?

What I do know is that I serve a God who, while He's never thrilled by my mistakes & inadequacies, specializes in what I'll call, "making up the difference." Not that this gives me license to presume on His grace and live my life solely for me, but it does help me to rest well (okay, better) at night, knowing that He can handle anything that needs handling. I know that He is never limited in His ability or capacity or desire to, as artist Crystal Lewis used to sing, bring "beauty from ashes."

Now, that may sound a little dramatic (I can get that way), but the question is this: Did I make mistakes? Of course. Is God limited by them? Of course not! I have a quote about 3 feet away from me on my wall by noted author, Max Lucado. It goes like this: "It's not everyday you find someone who will give you a second chance, let alone a second chance every day. But in Jesus, you find both."

Whether it's me, my son or someone unknown to me, the promise still stands. With Jesus, we have God incarnate, ready to intervene and help us in our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:14-16), to "cover our backs," to "make up the difference" when we are lacking. Does that mean there will never be problems to face...that He'll always just fill in the gaps so that life has this "seamless" quality to it? No way!

What it does mean is that we'll never have to face the future alone...be overwhelmed by the present...or plagued by our past...for He is Lord over all. And if we'll continually bring Him each of these (future, present & past), He will be faithful to hear and answer, for one year and for all the years of our lives, granting us opportunity after opportunity to pour into our kids the same grace & wisdom that He showers on us. Don't believe me? Why not try it and find out? Regardless of the age of your kids, it's never too early or too late to start!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Three Needs - Two Ways

Sorry that my Tuesday blog has become my Wednesday blog - hope you don't mind while my life adapts. I'm sitting here typing with a probe down my throat for 24 hours, and let me tell you, I wouldn't wish this on an enemy. It's so attractive that I decided to cloister myself away until I get it out - about 18 hours from now. Hopefully it will tell the doctors something, but you just never know...

Anyhow, I find myself with this week's message done, bulletin printed and storms coming, but none of them on the forefront of my mind. Rather, I've been given an incredible privilege and opportunity to address about 150 colleagues on Friday in Minneapolis. And the topic the Lord has led me to just won't leave my mind (I suppose that's a good thing).

Now, I get an hour in MN, but in just a few bullet points, let me share what's on my heart most in this moment:
  • All of life's needs can be boiled down to three Core Needs: Initimacy, Security & Significance. Every need and/or desire we can feel in this life is rooted in these three.
  • There are two ways to go about meeting each of these: My Way or God's Way
  • My Way fills the three, in order, with: Sex, Accumulation & Achievement. The problem is that each is incomplete. Sex, like any other drug always requires more and unfortunately, in our current culture, almost always more people. Accumulation is plagued by the unanswerable question of "When do I have enough?" (and thus always requires more stuff). And Achievement has it's own worst enemy in it's passing nature (and thus always requires more work).
  • God's Way, on the other hand, fills the three, in order, with: Worship, Release & Identity. Worship grants me unlimited capacity for intimacy in the purest way imaginable. Release allows me to stop trusting me, and begin to trust God for my security. And Identity focuses on who God declares me to be, which is requires no work on my part and is permanent.
  • My Way always leads to Death (at multiple levels) while God's Way leads to Life (also at multiple levels). If I embrace the former, I get to not only enjoy Life but be a distributor of it. But if I embrace the latter, I not only speed along towards Death, but end up taking many others along for the ride.

As one who takes very seriously my purpose and impact in this life, I am challenged continuously to evaluate not only What I am doing, but Why (sounds a bit like an earlier topic, huh?). My answer to this question, and my commitment to meet my Core Needs God's Way will make all the difference in this life...and the life to come.

I told you a couple months back that we were going to "boldly go...", so I hope you're enjoying the journey. And yes, just in case you're wondering, I did see the new Star Trek and it was GREAT! I just pray that my desire for the next one (which will surely come) will always be eclipsed by my desire to be God's man...and Captain.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rare Moments

Life is full of rare moments: sunsets, spontaneous laughter, profound words from a child...these are just a few of them. Now, let me clarify - "full of rare moments" can come off sounding a lot like an oxymoron (look it up if you need to!), because "rare" usually means "not many of " which would lead one to ask, "So how can life be full of something that there's not many of?" To make sense, I must define "rare" as meaning "the only one like it." Thus, life can be "full" of many moments that will never happen again, and thus, they can be "rare."

I got to have one of those last Sunday when I baptized my daughter. Truthfully, there's an incredible amount of difficult things you get to deal with as a pastor, but there are also some unbelievable blessings that come your way. For me, some of these have come in the form of getting to baptize all three of my children. Has each one fully "gotten it" as they were dunked? Probably not - no more than I did as a boy. But they certainly knew what they were doing, and in choosing to enter into this moment, they gave me the opportunity to create a bit of eternity with them and make it rare - for nothing will ever take from us that shared moment of faith & trust!

I must say that this moment was quite unlike most of the rare moments I've experienced in my life, for I knew it was coming. Quite the opposite, the vast majority of the rare moments in my life have occurred totally unannounced. Just "Bang!" there it was - incredibly special and gone forever except for the imprint it made on my heart and mind.

I can't help but wonder how I'd live each of my days differently if I always knew when the rare moments were coming. Think about it: If I told you that tomorrow you were going to change someone's life forever through what appeared to be a random encounter, wouldn't you approach the day a bit differently? I believe you'd find yourself slowing down and paying more attention to each person, each event, each moment, knowing that the next one could be THE one I told you about.

But we almost never get that luxury, which means that we need to take Scripture at face value, slow down and make the most of every moment, because it might indeed become one of those rare moments if we give it a chance. Unfortunately, most of us (myself included) are moving way too fast to ever find out. I can't help but wonder how many potentially rare moments I've squandered along the way?

Author Erwin McManus points out that the word "moment" is derived from the same Latin root which gives us "atomic." History documents quite well the power that lies within an atom. And the two can be quite similar:
  • They're all around us
  • They're almost always invisible until "broken open"
  • They're both full of unbelievable power when seized

I've found this out from personal experience (and you probably have, too). You know, when you've stopped to give something or someone a little extra time, care or attention, and that moment has become something you could have never imagined. I believe that this potential lies within each and every moment that's seized for Christ. Not to advance my own agenda, popularity or wealth...but to advance Him.

Thus, I have a challenge for you (as God challenges me): Focus on the moments in your life. You know, all the ones that appear to be quite mundane and ordinary. The people you'd usually pass by, the opportunities you'd usually ignore and the time you'd usually waste. Grab onto one or more of them, for the sake of Christ, and see what happens. They won't all become miraculous, life-changing, rare events (because life has a lot of ordinary moments, too), but I believe you'll be amazed at how many of them become something more than you'd have ever imagined.

Just a note: You can count on this one, because God has promised it. Check out 1 Corinthians 2:9 if you want to see for yourself. Start enjoying more rare moments and missing fewer of them...I'd love to hear about them! (And if you'd like to read some more on this idea, give some moments to Erwin McManus' book, "Chasing Daylight.")