Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Circle of Life

The Circle of Life...seems like only yesterday I was taking my toddling boy (now nearly 19) to see "The Lion King" in a little town north of Des Moines, Iowa. Whether or not you liked the movie, it was hard not to be moved as Elton John's lyrical magic resonated "The Circle of Life" to begin the movie...I was physically & emotionally moved by the powerful truth and soaring harmonies of what has now become an Elton John classic.

It's one thing to sing such a song, often times quite another to live it. In the last 2 weeks, I have been privileged to welcome a brand new baby girl into our fellowship of believers. I've also been honored to remember a passionate believer who no longer has to dream about eternity...he's enjoying it now. And in less than 48 hours, I'll be humbled to unite a beautiful young couple in holy matrimony (too archaic? they're gettin' married!).

In all this, I'm reminded of King Solomon's words in the Bible book of Ecclesiastes (yes, I spelled that without looking it up - just one benefit to Bible college). While you may not be familiar with the book, I bet you are with his words: To everything (Byrds fans, "Turn, turn, turn"), There is a season ("Turn, turn, turn"), And a time for every purpose under heaven.

Like so many truths, Elton John was not this one's author, nor were The Byrds, but God Himself speaking through King David's son, Solomon. You don't have to read far in Solomon's book to discover that he had pretty much seen it all: death & life, war & peace (long before Tolstoy), sorrow & joy. And while at times he teeters on the edge of cynicism, you realize he had gained enough perspective to recognize that each season has its perfect place in this journey we call "life."

I have no idea if you, as a reader, are engaged in any of these phases of life or not, but I want to assure you that while some are more fragrant than others, they all fit together as complementary scores in the grand concerto of creation. No matter where you are, I invite you to rest in the knowledge that "The Circle of Life" has as its author God Almighty, and every piece will fit together in its time...perfectly. Enjoy & celebrate each and every one!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Am I A "Rascuell"?

Don't worry, I don't expect you to have any idea of what a "rascuell" is (pronounced ras-kyooll). You won't find it in any dictionary, and only a very select group of people could give you the inside scoop on this original term. Fortunately, I am one of that select group.

When I was a teen-ager, a group of my "mature" friends and I decided that the little wannabe teen-agers were definitely more immature than us (which was obvious by the way they annoyed us all the time). Based on this "fact," we began calling them "rascuells" (a derivative of rascals), and were often merciless with our use of the term towards them, much to their chagrin. We were soooo mature!

I came across an interesting quote today by Author M. Scott Peck, "Maturity is defined as the ability to delay gratification, scheduling the pain & pleasure of life in such a way to enhance the pleasure by meeting & experiencing the pain first & getting it over with." What jumped out at me (I believe at the Lord's prompting) is the question it posed directly to me: Am I the mature person (now at 48) that I think I am or should be?

Without a doubt, I should be more mature than I was 35, 25 or even 5 years ago, but am I? While just a day ago, I would have assured you that I am, based on Peck's definition, I'm not so sure. I've tried to instill this in my children by challenging them with my own adage: If you play first, the work never gets done; if you do the work first, there's always time to play (not sure if this is a "truth" or not, but I hope it has made a point).

I think that the most obvious area of challenge to my own "maturity" in this area is in finances, because if I really embraced Peck's truism, wouldn't I be saving more, using the credit card less, and laying up my treasure in heaven? (Matthew 6:19-21). Wouldn't I be more satisfied with what I have, and less desirous of what I don't? The simple fact is that, as author Skye Jethani puts it, "formation into the likeness of Christ is not achieved by always getting what we want" (italics mine).

With Father's Day right around the corner, I can't help but wonder what my kids have really learned from me in all my "maturity"? Christian musicians & pastors, Philips, Craig & Dean, recorded a beautiful little piece a few years back entitled, "I Want to Be Just Like You" that powerfully reminds each of us dads & parents of the role God has placed us in "to be just like Him, because [our kids] want to be just like me [us]."

I invite you to accept the challenge with me today to not measure our maturity by years, titles, educations, or salaries, but by our hearts...hearts that are prepared to do what should be done, what needs to be done on a daily basis. Only as we model true maturity by doing the hard work first will we ever enjoy the fruits of delayed gratification...on this earth and in our eternal home. If our kids don't learn this from us, then from whom? Besides, who wants to be a "rascuell" anyway?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Perhaps My Greatest Challenge Yet

I am preparing to do one of the very most difficult things in the world for me to do: Take a break. And I'm willing to bet that there are a number of you reading this who know exactly what I am talking about! The prospect of stepping away from the privileged responsibilities I carry as pastor & chaplain almost frightens me, as the sense of accomplishment, worth and value that I gain from these is often more important to me than I'd like to admit.

As foolish as it sounds, silly questions (I'd call them "childlike," except I doubt if a child wonders such things) like this run through my head (if only for a few moments), "Will I be less pleasing to God though I'm not serving Him next week?" "Will God be less available to me because I'm not writing a sermon, or visiting the sick or encouraging the disheartened?" And even as I ponder these and other questions, I realize how very easily I can become ensnared in one of the many traps that I regularly preach and teach about: the Performance Trap.

And then, as I reflect on the increasingly long history which God and I share, I remember just how often He has used me when I least expected it, when it seemed least likely and beyond common sense. And as usual, He begins to lovingly chide me as He reminds me that ministry has very little to do with where I am located, official titles, or well-crafted agendas. It has everything to do with being available. The truth is that even while taking a break, my life, as a "living sacrifice" (Romans 12), is, by His grace, a continual act of service - public and not so, conscious and not so. And His connection to me is only a matter of location when I realize that the only place I need to be is with Him.

Fortunately, that can happen any and everywhere. And as I prepare to "take a break" for a few days, the only thing He asks of me is to continue to include Him in those days. I may not be "punching the clock" for this time, but I dare not "punch out" of my relationship with Him. Things will be just fine without me...I don't worry about that at all (I have a great church family!). But will I be just fine without them? I need to be. And the more comfortable I am with this, the more likely it will be that God will use me somehow, somewhere, with someone in these next few days...and I won't even know it. I don't need or want to know it!

As I come to grips with this challenge, I realize that one of the best things I can receive from...and give to...the Lord, my family and my two congregations, is a refreshed, focused, relaxed, prioritized husband, father, and godly man. Which means embracing this gift, resting in His care, and humbly facing perhaps my greatest challenge yet, that of trusting in His unconditional love for me, just as I am.