Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Fourth Floor

I have found myself lately going to visit people in the hospital that have loved our church and God longer and purer than my parents have even known each other existed. I go to the local hospital and take the elevator to the fourth floor, and when I exit the elevator I stand in the space between the life of faith I have inherited and the life of faith that I am passing on. I wish that I could stay in the space between the two because that way I would not have to love and lose, I would not have to be vulnerable, I would not have to be disappointed by those on either side, and I would not have to live a life of self-sacrificing love.

When I exit the elevator and go to the left I walk to the Intensive Care Unit, and I walk to fading life and fading health but never failing faith. I visit men and women who have literally given their lives to trying to serve God and His church in the purest and most honorable ways that they know how. I enter their pain and struggle as the joys of life dwindle away, and their bodies no longer allow them to live the vital lives that were given in service to the Kingdom of God. I am there because they have passed on an inheritance to me, and I honor the inheritance given to me by trying the best I can to remind them of the presence of God in their difficult moments of life. I also want them to know that the generation coming after them appreciates and values the eternal things they have passed on to us. Long after they are gone, long after I am gone, there are things they have shown me that will remain. The Love of God above all will remain. The desire to allow the Word of God to shape our hearts and minds will remain; the courage and faithfulness of kept covenants will remain. Long after our building is gone the love, hope, joy, worship, and fellowship that filled its halls through the years will remain. I think most importantly that the God of eternal love and redemption that they allowed me to meet will remain.

When I exit the elevator and go the right I walk to the Birthing Center of the hospital, and I walk to new life, new hope, new promises, new joy, new potential, and a view of eternal love. In a few short weeks I will be in one of those rooms watching my wife work hard to bring our daughter in this world. Quickly my world will change from one of embracing my inheritance to passing on my inheritance to the next generation. The eternal things the people down the hall have written on my heart are now mine to write on the heart of the baby in my arms. I think that if I wanted to I could write a list a thousand pages long of all the hopes and dreams that I have for her life, but then I look down the hall and I realize that only a few eternal things are important for her. If she can embrace those and live her life around those, then I really do not care about the other details of her life. I pray that she loves boldly and powerfully because she has known the Love of God, I pray that the Word of God is written on her heart so that her world will become one imagined by the world of scripture, I pray that she knows the struggles and pure joys of made and kept covenants with the people of God. I pray love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, hope, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control will be the treasures she seeks after. I pray that the anxieties and fears of the world will not be things she runs from, but with the gospel story on her hands and heart she will embrace the world Jesus came to save. I pray the faithful God of love whose redeeming love has ushered me into a life of powerful love in marriage, the joy of creating life, and service to His church will be the only thing her heart truly seeks after. I hope that she can look down the fourth floor corridor in thirty years and see the same eternal things that I see. I want her to see the eternal things that are greater than the values, desires, and wants of my simply generation. I want her to be able to see the eternal things that the faithful people of God pass on to other generations because that means she will have inherited the greatest thing she can; the Kingdom of God.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Good Preaching

I am spending this week at Rochester College experiencing their Sermon Seminar on Mark. I am not always a huge fan of these things because much of my time is spent with other ministers who are talking about their church's like Six Flags amusement parks. They spend time telling me about all the amazing new rides they have, and how they were key in the engineering of their special rides. I am also depressed by the fact that we are ministers of the gospel, ministers of reconciliation, and sometimes we fall short of that call.

Then there was Doctor Fred Craddock, or as he would say "Fred." He is one of the greatest preachers of the last 5 generations, and my spiritual life and ministry life would not be the same without his powerful ministry. Today he preached, and I mean he really proclaimed the Word. Fred Craddock allowed us to truly encounter preaching. Dr. Craddock spoke beautifully, as usual, but while he preached I forgot he was there and I encountered the presence of Jesus Christ. During the sermon I not only heard about the forgiveness of Jesus, but I experienced it again like it was my first time. While many of my peers were hoping to get noticed and make their mark, Craddock allowed us to encounter the Gospel of Mark, and the very life and ministry of Christ. In his simple and powerful message I was reminded of why I chose to minister to others, I was reminded that the purpose of my ministry is to help Christ make his mark on the heart of those I share my life with, and I was reminded of the core story that gives me life and purpose in my service in the Kingdom of God I have inherited. I gave up preaching like Craddock long ago, but maybe I can continue his authenticity in a way that allows the gospel to change me and those I serve in His Church.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Flying is for the Birds Only

I am one of those people that does not enjoy flying at all. Flying was never a problem for me until I had a really rough flight from Dallas to Nashville two years ago. I have a flight approaching this weekend, and I have been dreading it for several weeks. I have a friend that says I suffer from Mr. T syndrome. If you do not understand this reference, then I feel for you because your childhood did not include the A-team.

I heard these words from the classic song Be Still My Soul today:

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

If the waves and winds know, then you think I would know by now as well. Maybe someday, but for now bring on the medication.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Word of the Lord

Almost every time that I read scripture in a Worship service I end with the saying, "This is the Word of the Lord." Currently I am going through a study of the Psalms, and this week we are looking at Psalm 12. The Psalm reads:

Help, O LORD, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
They utter lies to each other; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, "With our tongues we will prevail; our lips are our own—who is our master?"
"Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up," says the LORD; "I will place them in the safety for which they long."
The promises of the LORD are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.
You, O LORD, will protect us; you will guard us from this generation forever.
On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among humankind.

Spending time in this Psalm all week has reminded me that the times I say "The Word of the Lord" I rarely understand or realize what I am really saying. When God speaks he is calling us to join in His great mission of delivering the poor and oppressed. Larry James describes this well on his web-page today in his discussion of the sermons of Oscar Romero. He wrote:

It is important to understand the meaning behind some of Romero's words, as well as the emphasis of his message. For example, when he speaks of sin and the gospel, he does not have in mind the use of four-letter words or drinking alcohol! No, for him sin has to do with breaking the great commandment by not loving God or our fellows. Sin is about violence, injustice and oppression. It has to do with the misuse of power, the temptations of selfishness and the unfair manipulation of circumstances and people.

I pray that I learn to proclaim the true Word of God. I pray for the courage to not ignore the people it calls me to help, and I pray that I will not minimize the true calling of the Gospel story.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Mark and Parenting

All of the sermons that I heard last year came from the Gospel of Mark. I heard time and time again to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Christ. For me to truly live is for me to die to myself. My wife is pregnant and I am already seeing that one of the secrets to parenting is self-sacrifice. When you become a parent there are some sacrifices you make and some responsiblities that you do not turn your back on. The movie Spanglish actually illustrates the point really well.

I have seen many parents make the sacrifices required for parenting, but then they ask their children to replace the things in their life they have given up. The children carry the weight of their parents' emotional stability. I do not know many kids that are capable of carrying that kind of burden. I do know that the Gospel of Mark proclaims that what parents are looking for is found in Christ. I hope to put the meaning of my life in his service instead of in the life of my child. If I can do this, then I cannot wait for my child to join me in the death that leads to true life.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Saint Harvey

The greatest sport is golf. Probably the greatest teacher in golf was Harvey Penick. Harvey Penick was great because he was caring and wise and those attributes flowed into his teaching of the game. Tom Kite wrote about his great teacher: Harvey is so careful in choosing what he says that I have often seen him fail to respond to a question until the next day for fear that his answer would be misconstrued. And I can assure you that every answer he finally did come up with was always, always expressed in a positive way. Never would Harvey say "don't do that," but "could we try a little of this?"

I spent part of my week last week in a conference hearing about how the culture of anxiety is what truly permeates through and defines our culture today. Penick is one of the best examples that the greatest teachers in life are those that are able to diminish the anxiety in the students they work with. I have almost given up hope of being able to implement Penick's teachings on golf technique. Maybe there is still hope in taking tips from his demeanor and his wisdom.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Role of Technology

I have spent some time over the last week talking to people about the effectiveness of technology. Is blogging an effective tool for ministers? The majority of the discussion is that blogging can be effective if it does not hinder true community and if the minister authentically represents himself or herself in the blog community. Obviously, since I am writing this in a blog, then I think that they can be an effective tool. So most of the week I have been talking about and defending the positives of technology.

The best argument I heard all week did not come from a professor, but from a friend that I work with. The church were I work has a children's school, like many other congregations, and I had a conversation with our director the other day that was interesting. She told me that one of the saddest parts of her job is in the morning when she stands outside as the mothers and fathers drop their children off. She said that the majority of the parents will have their children get out of the car, wave good-bye to them, and drive off without ever stopping their cell phone conversations. Now that is one point I'm not sure that I have a good answer for. Technology has a way of keeping us from fully engaging in the most sacred parts of life. When that occurs, then it is a negative thing.

I hope you will find, foster, and participate in healthy community devoted to serving alongside Jesus Christ.