Thursday, June 30, 2011

Starting Well

I have a new senior pastor. He hasn't even preached his first sermon here yet. Seeing the change coming for quite a few months now has given me time to think about transitions. Since I have never been a senior pastor (though it looks pretty easy) I have no advice specific to senior pastors. But I do have some thoughts for anyone anywhere that has ever started something.

Actually, getting started is oftentimes most of the problem. John Maxwell talks about this when talking about leadership and influence. He says that when momentum is created it solves 80% of the problems in an organization. It makes sense in our personal lives. The hardest part of finishing a bag of cookies is getting up and forcing yourself to get the bag. But once momentum is created...

But starting is a must in our lives. Homework doesn't get done before it is started. Neither do home projects, reading assignments, reports, applications, training, etc.

I was once asked for my advice when it comes to deciding if one should be a youth pastor. I have only 2 rules.

#1. Get out now. If you choose to ignore #1, then...
#2. Commit at the beginning to be there until the end.

While I sometimes question having a second rule, #2 applies to people of every age and in every situation. Except for fortune-tellers, people do not know what the next adventure holds. It doesn't matter if that adventure is a new job, a new baby or simply tomorrow.

There are many things that we cannot control. But we do have control over our choices. No matter the situation or audience we alone have the final say of our words and actions. And so I say, commit.

Commit to loving God because He first loved you. Commit to loving people because life just works better that way. Commit to doing the right thing for the right reason. Commit to doing the best with what you've been given. This isn't about making lemonade. It's about choosing to give your all to God. He asked for my all and that means everything I have to give at every moment and in every situation.

Once we have a moment to look at the larger picture it becomes plain to see that this is all about God anyways, so we have nothing to lose but ourselves. We can look backward or forward, even beyond our short time, and we will see that life as we know it has never been out of God's control.

This most certainly does not mean that everything will be sipping tea or eating Bon Bons, but we can know that God is all about new beginnings. He created us to be His and when we messed that up, He made us again, new creations. With assurance like this we can start well, again and again.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:3-6.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Finishing Strong

My senior pastor just retired. Two days ago. It sounds like a good idea, but my wife shot the idea down pretty quickly. Something about not wanting me around the house that much. Or maybe it was something about saving money for our children’s college fund. So it looks like I’ll remain among the working for a bit longer.

But all of this did get me thinking about transitions and how a person ends what they began. It is the hope that will finish strong, because, just as in a basketball game, people always remember the last shot.

This doesn’t just apply to people who are retiring. Everything from how you end a career to how you finish your day should be included. Are you ending a school year? An extensive work project? Your high school or college career? Maybe you’re finishing a letter or email to a friend and need to decide how to sign off.

There are Biblical examples that prove my point. Consider King David. Before he was king he was a national hero who killed Goliath and routed the Philistines everywhere he went. Even after assuming the throne he was known as ‘a man after God’s own heart.’ But later in his reign he became an adulterer and a murder. This caused all sorts of grief for his family and his kingdom. God remained true when David repented, but his life ended on somewhat of a low note.

How about the Apostle Peter? This fisherman who acted and spoke before he thought often found himself to be the center of a lesson time with Jesus. He even ended up denying Jesus. But that is not the end of Peter. Read the book of Acts and you find a powerful preacher and healer. Though arrested and beaten several times, Peter had to be crucified in order to be shut up. That may not sound like ending well, but trust me, it is.

We’re told in a couple of places by John in Revelation that finishing strong requires endurance (Revelation 13:10; 14:12). Paul tells Timothy that “if we endure, we will also reign with [Jesus]” (2 Timothy 2:12a).

So are you about to finish something? This is more than just reading an entire book or finishing the crossword puzzle you started. I’m not sure it’s a sin to leave a home project incomplete, but I’m willing to bet that someone is counting on you to get it done.

I know this for sure. God wants you to finish what you started. If you have been called with a purpose then it is imperative that the purpose be accomplished. As Paul encouraged the Corinthians with a project they had started, so now I encourage you;
“Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means” (2 Corinthians 8:11).

Then you’ll be able to join Paul in saying, as he did in his final letter; “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Birthday

A couple of weeks ago I celebrated my birthday. Here's how...

I woke up sore. Very sore. As I went to get up, every muscle in my body screamed at me in laughter as if to say, 'What, are you kidding me? You're getting up? Now? At all?'

Are those my hips creaking? My feet are yelling at me. My body feels....really...old! Is this the beginning of the end? Will I ever want to get up again? If this is what the down hill feels like, then I don't like it. How is this happy?

That is how I felt on my birthday.

Then I remembered that I had been walking around Disney World for two days straight while carrying a 40-pound weight, also known as my 4-year old daughter.

Sometimes our immediate pain causes us to forget our true identity. I'm 36. I'm still young. I'm in reasonably good shape. But my suffering (if the effects of a great Disney trip can be called suffering) caused me to forget my true identity.

The truth is that we are not what we experience. We can allow those experiences to shape our identity. But we don't have to. Life, and the suffering that sometimes comes with it, is just life. Our identity has been created and hidden with God.

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:3-4).
There are many other scriptures that will point towards the same truth, but this is one of my favorites. Paul has been discussing our actions as Christians, but always within the context of Christ living in us. In this verse, he nails it clearly when he identifies Christ as our life. Guess what? This life, our life even, is not about us.

But there's another good reason why we should not identify ourselves by suffering we experience. It's in another letter of Paul's.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).
Yeah, all that walking made me feel like I was wasting away. But if life isn't about me, it's even less about this body God has given me.

Since the vacation ended, my body has recovered, although a lack of exercise for 2 weeks has proven not to have been a great choice. But even this will not identify me. My life is hidden with Christ. The End.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Break from Blogging

Hmmm.... I agonized over this decision. What should I do? Should I write some posts ahead of time and schedule them out while I am away? Didn't that sound somewhat needy of me, assuming that people couldn't possibly survive without my online presence?

Every once in a while I remember that it's not about me. I'll be back in a couple of weeks. Try not to be lonesome without me.

Friday, June 3, 2011

To Be Perfectly Honest

It was the subtitle that first caught my attention. One Man's Year of Almost Living Truthfully Could Change Your Life. No Lie. Phil Callaway was going to attempt to go an entire year without telling a lie.

At first this might sound like something every Christian could write a book about. But how many of us would be willing to put our failures so freely out there. That's what Phil does, as well as discussing several other shortcomings in his life.

To tell the truth, which seems like a good idea given the book I'm reviewing, I was a bit concerned about reading a book by a comedian. Because I was expecting it to be funny, I feared it wouldn't be funny enough. I was not disappointed.

Callaway is a long-time comedian and has written several other books. He writes this one journal style, taking us through 365 days of this experiment. He admits at the beginning to stretching some truth in the writing, but assures us the difference is negligible.

He groups about 30 days at a time into chapters. Conveniently, each set of 30 days has a theme. Life may not always work out that perfectly but it does make it convenient for the study questions that go with each chapter. I'm not sure I would think of this book as fodder for small group discussions, but Callaway sets it up that way. He does touch on some pretty important life questions, so perhaps it's not a bad idea.

From being honest with people who tell bad jokes (complete with punny one-liners) to other life situations where truth might be found to be uncomfortable, Phil does a good job of pointing out just how tough honesty can be in life.

My good friends at Waterbrook/Multnomah Publishing sent me this book for free. They only asked that I blog about it. Which I have now done. You can find this book, and others, here.