Learning Lessons from the Champions

RedSoxWorldSeriesA dream became a reality late Wednesday night into Thursday morning.  The Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series and won the championship in Fenway Park, their home ballpark, for the first time in nearly 100 years.  Having spent last season in the cellar of baseball standings as one of the worst teams (and possibly worst managed team), they rose to the top.  On their way to the championship, they played the other team who shared the best record in baseball for the year.

This year felt different.  This year felt magical.  Of course, every Red Sox fan wanted to put 2012 behind them.  None of them wanted to remember how far they had fallen and even the record collapse that they had experienced in 2011.  They wanted 2013 to be different.  And different it was.

Back in April, the City of Boston was shaken up by the bombing during the Boston Marathon.  The city rallied together and was grateful that justice would come to the suspects of this horrific attack.  Everyone came together to proclaim that “We are Boston Strong.”  That theme resonated throughout the entire season.

John Farrell, in his first year managing the Red Sox, took the team all the way to the top.  He wasn’t a stranger to Boston, having served as their pitching coach under Terry Francona.  It probably helped that he had a relationship with many on the team, helping to solidify him into Red Sox hearts and folklore.

Back in 2004, the Red Sox “broke the curse” of not bringing home a championship in 86 years, and there was a similar air about the team.  They were known as the Band of Idiots.  Kevin Millar, Johnny Damon, and others rallied together to ask the question, “Why not us?”  What could stop them from going all the way?  The answer, it was soon to be revealed, was no one.

2013 has felt very similar to 2004…..but this year, it was accompanied by beards.  Fear the beards?  Yes, for they shall be champions.

But it wasn’t just beards that made this team different.  This team had “IT.”  This team has something that made them different.  They bonded together.  The whole was not equal to the sum of its parts, it was better.  When you put all of the pieces together, they rose to a level higher than they would have as individuals simply coming together.  There was unity.  There was camaraderie.  There was connection.  There was synergy.  This team seemed common, but what they did seemed uncommon.

Isn’t that the story of what God can do with us?  He can take people who seem common and pull them together to far exceed the sum of their parts.  When they submit themselves to him and to each other, they can rally together to accomplish great things.  Go back to the Book of Acts and read through the story of the church’s emergence as a force to be reckoned with.  You will see how God took individuals who were common and ordinary and how he transformed the world through extraordinary circumstances by combing their efforts and giving them power.

I love “zero to hero” stories.  I love stories of the underdog rising up to win.  I am an underdog.  I am common and ordinary, but I am not alone.  When we come together to put our collective gifts to work, the result of what we have exceeds the sum of our individual parts.  When we inject the power of the Holy Spirit into that, we become that much greater, not for ourselves or for our own sake, but for the sake of the Gospel and the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Maybe the Church needs to become a Band of Idiots.  Maybe we need to grow beards.  Whatever we do, we need to realize that we don’t do it on our own.  We need to realize that together, we are better.  We need to realize that God can take the broken and ordinary and restore them to make them extraordinary.  When we come together, we too, can be champions.

Losing Faith?

obama frustratedIs there anything worse than knowing that you have lost the trust of someone?  But what if that loss of trust is warranted?  What if betrayal was what led to that loss of trust?

Recently, the news has been filled with reports of things falling apart for our current administration.  Websites crash.  Glitches prevail.  Information is leaked.  The truth becomes apparent.  While some of it may be sensationalized, especially given the impending mid-term elections next week, it can certainly not all be discounted as “mudslinging” and efforts to defame the name of the president.  So, how much did the administration really bring upon itself?

That’s the question, isn’t it?  When we fail to live up to our promises or, worse yet, we change our promises or even deny that we made them, we are bound to pay the consequences.  Once upon a time, people would say that their word was their bond, that what they said was truth and you could take their word to the bank with you.  People were people of their word and there was no need to question whether or not they were telling the truth.  But truth has seemed to take a slippery path downward, not remaining constant but rather being circumstantial, pinned to a moment and seemingly unreliable.

Granted, we may project what the future holds and we may be wrong in those projections.  But when that happens, how willing are we to admit our shortcomings?  How willing are we to say that the blame lies with us rather than seeking out the closest scapegoat who can take the fall for us?  When we fail time and time again and refuse to take responsibility for our failures, how willing will people be to believe us?

I’ve heard it said that it takes a lifetime to earn trust and just a moment to lose it.  I’ve seen that played out on more than one stage in my life and it’s gut-wrenching.  Faith is lost in a person and there seems to be an incapacity for understanding that no one trusts them anymore.  Is it really an incapacity or is it simply a denial?

I hate politics.  Our government seems a broken system in which anyone with any ounce of integrity would steer clear of for fear of the corruption that might take place should they hop on board.  Is it asking too much for leaders with integrity, leaders who are willing to admit their mistakes, and leaders who can be honest about what their intentions are?  I don’t think so, but maybe I’m naive.

So much that has happened has caused many to lose faith in an already unsteady and somewhat unreliable system.  What is the hope for a rebirth?  What is the hope for gaining faith and trust again?  I think the first step is transparency.  An admission of mistakes and a humble apology can go a long way towards restoration.  It’s just a question of whether humility has any place in politics, or at least in this administration.

What Makes A Friend?

As you look at all of the relationships that you have, which ones stand out to you?  You can most likely loop your relationships into acquaintances, friends, and close friends.  Nowadays, I guess you can say that a Facebook friend might be a more casual relationship, not necessarily defined by its depth and closeness.  How about the relationships that are tighter and stronger?  What do those look like?true-friendship

I looked to my parents for so much of what I have learned and I learned an awful lot about friendships from them.  They had some really close friends who might just as well have been family.  They vacationed together, stayed in each other’s homes, and kept in touch on a regular basis.  You could look at those relationships and just genuinely know that something was different.

Not too long ago, I met up with a friend of my parents.  He was in town and was hoping to connect with me and my family for lunch, so he called and we set up a time to meet.  I shouldn’t so easily relegate him to just a friend of my parents.  He and his family were friends of our family for years.  My mom and his late wife had been friends since they were in their 20’s.  We affectionately called them “aunt” and “uncle” as they felt just like part of our family.  His late wife succumbed to cancer about 10 years ago after a longer battle than my mom had.

During our visit, he filled in a lot of the blanks about the relationship that he and his wife had with my parents.  When you’re young, you just don’t really care about the particulars of a relationship.  All you really want to know is whether or not we like each other, everything else kind of falls into place from there.  He told us of his time serving in Vietnam and how my mom and dad had really cared for and loved on his wife.  He painted such a neat and loving picture of my parents that it was a precious memory for me to hold onto.

My parents had other friends as well who they cherished.  I was always so moved at the intimacy that was shared by all of them.  There was a love that was so evident that it just exuded from them.  As my brother and I observed these friendships, I think they really made an impact on the both of us.

As I look at the friends in my life, I realize more and more how difficult it is to stay connected.  Busy lives seem to dictate our availability more than we might be willing to admit.  Yet, there are the friends who you can call after a long hiatus and feel like you can pick things up right where you left them.  Those are the friends who love you no matter what and aren’t prone to complaining that it’s been a while since you’ve called.  After all, phones do work both ways, and chances are, if they haven’t heard from you, you probably haven’t heard from them either.  So, why get so upset about it, embrace the moments that you have.

I feel so blessed and fortunate to have friends like that.  Friends who I can call when I’m in the area to see if I can crash with them for the night.  Friends who I know care, even if they don’t call or we don’t talk as often as we would like.  I am grateful to know that those friends are there, and they have been for a long time.

I’m coming to the point in my life where I have known some people in my life for longer than I haven’t known them.  One friend was recently remarking on the fact that we have known each other for more than half of our lives.  That’s quite a feat, especially considering that we still talk, still care, and still love each other as much, if not more, than we did all those years ago.

True friendships don’t come along every day, which is why they are to be cherished.  They are priceless, no value could ever be given to them.  When you find them, you need to hold onto them and never let go.  The beauty of them is that if they are truly the real thing, they will endure hardships and survive even the times when they might not be as nourished as we would like them to be.  Once you find them, you’ll be surprised just how enduring that they are.

Managing Time

pie pieces1When I was young and in high school, I think that I put the “extra” in extracurricular activities.  Anything that I could be part of and involved with, I embraced.  I played sports, I did theater, I sang and played in musical groups, and I still managed to do well in all of my classes.  I loved being involved in everything, it gave me the chance to get to know more people.  I loved keeping busy and it wasn’t unusual for me to leave the house early in the morning and come home late at night.  My parents were happy that I was occupying my time with healthy and productive things.

Through college, I realized that the schedule that I had once kept was not as feasible as it once had been.  The academics grew harder and free time decreased.  Still, I found a way to keep other activities outside of the classroom.  After college, I got a job and worked on my first master’s degree in the evenings.  The same busy schedule that I had kept during high school seemed to fill my plate again even while working.

Then something happened.  I met a girl.  We dated.  We got married.  The schedule needed to slow down a little bit, to go on Slim Fast, so to speak, and lose a little weight.  I could not expect to stay married and stay busy, something would have to give.

Life became further complicated years later when we had a child.  Then I started seminary.  Then we had another child.  Then we had another child.  And just like that, it seemed that there were a lot of things that were vying for my time.

As I thought about this recently, I likened it to a pie.  Once upon a time, I had that whole pie to myself.  I didn’t share it with anyone.  I could cut it up however I wanted to, there were little demands on how big the pieces needed to be, and there was a general freedom.

When I got married, I now had to share this pie with another person.  I wasn’t the only one determining the size of the pieces that were cut.  If I wanted to have a successful marriage, we both needed to weigh in on the size of the pieces in this pie.  Demands went up, responsibilities increased, but the size of the pie remained the same.

When my kids came along, the number of people determining the size of the pie pieces increased, until one day, there were five of us who were determining how big the pieces, how much went where, and there were now five opinions as to whether or not the division of pieces was satisfactory or not.  All this, and the size of the pie remained the same.

Time management.  People make their living telling others how to successfully split up their “pies.”  Books are written.  Lectures are given.  Still, people struggle to figure out just how to make it all fit together, to split things up in a way that makes everyone happy.

I guess that I wish someone had told me that the pie really never gets bigger, it just stays the same.  It would have saved me a lot of frustration, not only my own, but my family’s as well.  As much as we wish we could make the pie bigger, it just doesn’t happen.  We try our best to pretend that it’s bigger than it is, we cut the pieces up the same way that we’ve always cut them and expect different results.  Yet, it just doesn’t get any bigger.

This is a lesson that I am still in the process of learning.  Funny thing is, by the time I begin to get a handle on it, my kids will probably be in college and I’ll be trying to figure out how to fill all that time that I had before so that I don’t start acting like a Lifetime movie or begin bawling at every Hallmark commercial that I see.  By the time I begin to figure it out, it will change again.

Yup, this is the adventure that I’m on.  So, I guess the best thing to do is stop pretending that it’s not an issue and just call it out for what it is, call out the elephant in the room.  Maybe if we look at it together, realizing that the pie’s not getting any bigger, we’ll begin to appreciate it more, no matter what size it is.  If nothing else, we’ll have fun trying to figure it out as we go.  That, or we’ll go crazy trying.

Germs

GERMSWhen my wife was pregnant with our first child, there were a lot of things that I needed to get ready to face for the first time.  I knew that sleep deprivation would be high on the list, not by choice, but just because of this little creature that we were bringing into our home.  I knew that I would never look at poop and throw up the same way anymore as well.  Once you have to deal with poop on a regular basis, multiple times per day, it just doesn’t have the same impact on you that it once had.  Same thing with spit up/throw up/vomit.

I had heard most of this from people who had gone through the process before me, and I tended to listen to them.  Your whole world changes and you rarely  look back or wonder what it was like before these little pooping, peeing, throwing up little creatures came from.  Your heart is so full that it’s hard to replace that feeling with the smells, the sounds, and the lack of sleep that you experience.

And in the midst of all of those other setbacks, there is still one big thing that kids bring with them that I’m not sure anyone really warned me about, at least not until I had them and they had grown for a few years.  What?  Germs!

Yup, kids are just natural germ carriers.  They hide them everywhere.

 

Under their tongues.

 

In their ears.

 

Under their fingernails.

 

In their hair.

 

On their shoes.

 

In their clothes.

 

And they never cover their mouths when they sneeze.  And they use anything at all as a tissue when their nose runs.  And the germs spread EVERYWHERE!!

Yes, kids are little carriers of germs, those microscopic things that eventually lead to our demise.  Amazing how such small things can lead to such misery.

Yet, would we change it?  Would we exchange those germs and miss the smiles, the laughs, the joys, the pride, the adventure, that we get when we enter into this journey with these little creatures?

 

I don’t think so, but I’m going to have to keep reminding myself of that while I’m getting over the very thing that those germs caused.

Sick

i-am-sickI hate being sick.  No matter what kind of sickness, I just don’t like it.

I went to the doctor yesterday thinking that I had the flu.  In 40 years of life, last year was the first time that I had ever had the flu.  I honestly didn’t know that a person could feel so miserable.  Now, I’m not a wimp when it comes to pain, but the flu took me out for a solid week.  It was brutal.  I ached all over and couldn’t get comfortable while sitting or laying down.

Turns out, my flu test was negative but my strep test was positive.  I knew that my immune system was down from having driven all night long last week.  Last Friday I spent the day at my son’s school, surrounded by little germ carriers.  Not sure if that’s where I got it, but I’m sure it didn’t help.

When we get sick, it’s usually our body’s way of telling us to slow down.  Maybe we’ve been burning the candle at both ends.  Maybe we haven’t given ourselves adequate time to rest and recharge.  Either way, it seems that when we refuse to slow down, our bodies force us to slow down by allowing us to get sick.

I was just lamenting to my wife last week about the busyness of this Fall.  We have been running and running and running with no rest in sight.  Looks like my frustrations have been realized more as now I’m sidelined by sickness.

It always seems that sickness comes at the most inopportune time as well.  Too many things scheduled for this week and now I’ve got to try to figure out how to get to them all in the midst of feeling crummy.

Pushing through it only makes things worse and the positive side to all of this is that I am on antibiotics, thankfully.  I try not to go on antibiotics if I can help it, but there are just sometimes where you’ve got to bite the bullet.  Here’s one of those times.

So, to welcome the start of the World Series, I am sick.  The games will go on and I can read the box score in the morning.  Yup, I hate being sick.

Love or Life?

bible-swordI can get easily frustrated.  This blog is a confession of sorts, so I can be honest about this.  I am not always the most patient of people.  On the road.  Waiting in line.  Dealing with my kids.  My patience can wane easily.  Not only can my patience wear down, but my frustrations can easily rise when it comes to dealing with people who don’t think before they speak or act.

I get pretty frustrated with people who speak of things of which they know little about.  Maybe you’ve heard the old adage that a person has just enough information to be dangerous.  I have experienced this phenomenon too many times in my life.  People get just enough information (or think that they know enough) to be dangerous and think they know what they’re talking about.

One of the most common (and most frustrating) places where I see this happening is in regards to the Bible.  People know some verses in the Bible and they throw them around, neglecting the fact that those verses came from a specific context, yet disregarding that context.  What’s even worse is when people THINK that they know a verse from the Bible and quote it all over the place both wrongly and out of context.

A case in point is 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”  Now, how many times have you heard someone say, “Money is the root of all evil?”  I’ve heard it too many times to count, yet often enough that I’m still frustrated every single time that I hear it.

You see, the Bible wasn’t meant to be a weapon against people.  Yes, it’s the sword of the Spirit, but that kind of sword has a specific use in the spiritual realm.  When you use something that was intended for one purpose to try to accomplish another purpose, you’re most likely misusing and even abusing it.  The Bible was meant as a revelation of God to his people.  We know God as he is revealed to us in the Bible.

Last week, as I perused around the internet, I stumbled upon a string of comments underneath a post.  As I stumbled my way through the comments, I kept seeing people make comments about the fact that Jesus’ main message was about love.  It wasn’t necessarily God’s love that the commentator was talking about, it was just love in general.  At least that’s what I gauged from the comment.

Jesus came just to show us love?  That’s it?  Really?  That seems kind of funny to me.  I mean, Mother Theresa showed us love and how to love.  Florence Nightingale showed love.  My mom showed love.  If Jesus just came to show us love, I think he might have been doing something wrong.  That, and he may have wasted his life a little bit.  If Jesus went to the cross just so that we could know how to love each other, that seems a tragic end for such a simple message.

In John 10, Jesus was talking to the Pharisees, those guys whom he butt heads with frequently.  He said to them, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  So, Jesus came to bring people life?  Really?  That sounds different than just coming to show us a glorified picture of love.

Sure, I think Jesus’ message was about love, but it was more than just your average, ordinary, everyday kind of love.  It was a sacrificial love.  A life-giving love.  A love of which no greater can be seen.  Jesus’ words in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Love.  That love was given in order that we would have life, not just any life, but life to the full.

Yeah, I was pretty frustrated when I felt like someone was completely missing the point with the message that Jesus brought.  I was pretty frustrated with the fact that a little deeper reading might have resulted in a different interpretation of Jesus’ message.  But you know the truth?  I don’t know if I can really blame the person.  In fact, I think the ones to blame might just be those of us who, for too long, have used the Bible as a weapon rather than the source of life that it is.

It’s kind of like misusing or abusing something under the observation of your kids.  All of a sudden, you realize that they’re doing the very thing, and you might just be oblivious enough to think that they learned it somewhere other than from you.  When we set the bar and show others how we use or abuse something, should we be surprised when they follow suit?   Should we be surprised that our use of the Bible as a weapon against people begins to backfire on us?

What if we really began to take the Bible seriously?  Sure, we say that we take it seriously.  We throw around words like “infallible” and “inerrant,” “inspired” and “authoritative,” then we begin to second guess our claims, if not by word, by deed.  Have you heard some of the criticisms lobbed at those of us who are followers of Christ?  I wonder what would happen if we spent more time focusing on the teachings of Jesus and the Bible that we’re missing than the teachings of Jesus and the Bible that others are missing.  Maybe we might  see people paying attention to what we said and did.

Yes, Jesus came to show us love, but there has been no one, before or after him, that has shown us the kind of love that he showed us.  His love was meant for life, not just to show us how to be nice to each other.  I want to start living my life not only like I say it’s true, but like I believe it’s true.  I don’t want to use the Bible as a weapon against anyone but spiritual opponents.  I want people to see my life changed by love, I think that might be more compelling of an argument.  If nothing else, it’s better than hitting them over the head with a Bible.

A Strange Week

long strange tripI sat down to write a Facebook status update that ended up turning into lines and lines of diatribe about this past week.  So, I decided that it was better to just update the blog.  It’s been a strange week.

Sunday night, I drove through the night to get back home after a weekend with family in Connecticut.  I’m not sure the last time that I drove through the night until 4 in the morning, if I ever did it before, but it has taken a lot out of me.  I have been in a proverbial fog all week long.

My daughter has not been sleeping well which has resulted in my wife and I not sleeping well, further contributing to the fogginess in my head.  I snickered when I heard a friend tell me yesterday that he had not slept through the night since his first child was born.  Brutal.  I can feel his pain as I used to be one of the heaviest sleepers that I know.  Unfortunately, those days are gone and I wake too easily.

I’ve been wading through the Fall doldrums this week as well.  Trying to look forward to the future while living in the present and remembering the past.  I don’t want to set myself up for failure or put too much weight on future events, but there are a few things coming down the pike that I really need to get past.  They have been weights on my shoulders and to have them behind me would be a really good thing.

After about 8 months as a new church, we are beginning to get our feet underneath us a little bit more.  As we look towards our budget for the next year, I reached out to a friend whose heart has been for missions in Africa since I met him many years ago.  I had the privilege of performing his wedding and have grown to appreciate he, his wife, and their son even though we don’t get to spend a lot of time together or talk as often as we should.  I am hoping that our church can help to get the family onto the mission field, a dream and desire that they have had for a long time.

Facebook has been aglow with happenings at my seminary alma mater.  Trying to decipher the happenings by sporadic updates from individuals has been difficult at best.  From my perspective so far, it looks as if some beloved professors have been cut from staff for financial reasons.  Not sure how the institution arrived at the conclusions that they did, but these two professors (and probably others whose positions were cut) were memorable and influential to me in my time there.  I’ve said that there are three sides to every story, but it’s harder to get the other two sides while you are in the thick of your own story.  I guess I will see how things develop.

The overarching story of the week has been the Boston Red Sox.  Somehow, they’ve managed to grind out three wins against the former 2012 American League Champion Detroit Tigers.  It’s been a tumultuous ride where pitching has taken a front seat and hitting has been sparse until the past few games.  Anything can happen, it’s October baseball, but regardless of what does happen, I think that I can honestly be content to know that after such an abysmal season last year, they contended this year and put all of their efforts forward.

Today, I will spend the day at my son’s school.  There is a program called the Watchdog program in which dads volunteer their time to spend the day at the school helping out.  I wanted to volunteer on my son’s birthday, but that was Monday, a school holiday.  I am so grateful for this program and the opportunity to be part of the school community more intimately for a day.  I’ve had many friends of grown children who have told me that their children grew up so fast, that they blinked and discovered that their children were in college.  I’ve believed them and have made the conscious effort to take advantage of opportunities like the Watchdog to spend as much time with my kids as I can.

Overall, it’s been an interesting week.  The Fall has been too busy and I already want a break from it.  Looking forward to a less stressful weekend with some exciting opportunities.  Strange weeks will come and go, but I’ll get through them.  You just grin and bear it and take advantage of what’s in front of you.  We’ll see how that works out for me.

A New Chapter

AVL Small GroupThis Fall has been an emotional time for me.  Most people probably don’t know it because those emotions are happening beneath the surface, there are few times that they bubble to the top and spill over into public places.  That’s not a bad thing, I’m not suppressing them, just letting them out in appropriate settings.

A friend of mine posted something on her Facebook wall the other day and tagged me and a bunch of other people.  This friend is dear to my family.  We watched her move from skeptic to follower of Christ.  We watched her husband and family follow suit.  I had the privilege of performing a renewal of vows for her and her husband after they both had begun to follow Christ.  She was in the delivery room when my first son was born.  Eventually, they became part of a very special small group that met every week at our house while we lived in Asheville.  The other people tagged in the post were members of the same small group.

It was kind of ironic timing for her to post the blog that she did as this weekend my wife and I are starting a new small group.  It’s been nearly six years since we left Asheville and moved to Virginia.  In those six years, we have added two more children to our family, I’ve lost both of my parents, I started and finished seminary, I’ve been through a church split, and we’ve attempted to find time to connect with other adults in a meaningful and spiritual way.

I never thought that it would take six years to come to this place.  My wife and I have longed for connections in a small group, but the time just never seemed right.  In many ways, the groups that I lead acted like a small group for us.  In the midst of tragedy, they cared for me, loved on me, prayed for me, and wrapped their arms around me.  Despite the lack of a small group, we felt loved and cared for, and we felt fortunate that we experienced that.

I remember in the early days of our small group in Asheville.  It was such an unlikely group and to this day, I’m still not completely sure how we all came together.  I’m sure God’s hand was in it, especially as I retrospectively reflect on it.  We were still young marrieds at the time, soon to be first time parents.  Another couple had a special needs son.  One woman was the wife of an itinerant pastor/prophet/evangelist.  Another couple was multi-ethnic and had three children.  There were a few singles that joined us as well.  Finally, there were my friends who had only been followers of Christ for a short time, he is deaf while she is hearing.

That was us.  On paper, it was an eclectic bunch.  Some of us were educated many times over.  Some of us had high school educations and degrees from the school of hard knocks.  The age range was fairly broad, spanning from the early to mid 20’s to the mid to late 40’s and maybe even early 50’s.  But none of this really mattered.

Well, it kind of mattered.  That’s who we were, those were part of our stories, the stories that had shaped and molded us.  When we came together though, it was like the pieces of a puzzle, fitting together, taking shape, beginning to form a picture.  The thing is, it was like a puzzle for which you didn’t have the box top to show you what you were putting together.  Once the picture began to take shape, I realized that I would never have been able to imagine the beauty of such a picture, especially with my cynical nature, doubting that God could take such a group and transform us into a family.

We went through much together, sharing life, sharing laughs, sharing hugs, sharing smiles, praying together.  I remember one of the most difficult days in my time there when we announced to the group that we were leaving.  The quiet introvert who never showed strong emotions shed tears that night.  I don’t know if there was a dry eye in our house that night.  We struggled, we wrestled, but we knew that God still held it all in his hands.  We learned how to connect, how to pray, how to cry, how to share, how to love in that group.

It was such a hard decision to leave, especially because we had seen what God was doing in our group.  While we felt stagnated, stifled, and frustrated at most every other turn in our lives there, our small group was the one place that kept us encouraged, hopeful, and confident in the faithfulness of God.  That’s what made it so difficult.  How could you ever replace such an experience?  How could you ever make the same kind of meaningful connections?

You can’t, not in the same way.  It’s taken me the better part of six years to come to grips with the fact that you don’t set out to duplicate what you once had, you simply live into what’s before you and let it organically take shape, forming into the very thing that God wants it to be.  That’s why we are at the place that we are at, because I can finally understand that.

Nothing will ever replace the group that I have grown to love, just like nothing will ever replace my parents and the love that we shared together.  But just because there is no replacement does not mean that you stop seeking alternatives.  No, nothing will ever match up to those things, but this is a new chapter, a time to reinvent, a time to rediscover, a time to find something new, to be surprised.

This Sunday afternoon, I will sit down with some friends and begin to dive into life together.  Those friends are all unique and different in their own ways, but I can’t wait to see what happens.  The funny thing is, as I have moved closer and closer to the day when we would finally begin this journey together, the one thing that has constantly caused a smile to emerge on my face is the fact that this group has a very striking resemblance to the group that we shared in Asheville.  It’s not the personalities or similarities among them, it’s the sheer imperceptibility of the group.  In much the same way that God brought such different people together many years ago, he’s done it again, and I can’t wait to see what happens in this new chapter!

The Dreaded Question

conversations among strangersThere are few conversation starters or stoppers like the one question that seems to inevitably come up in first time meetings with people outside of church.  That one question usually goes, “So what do you do for a living?”

I’ve talked before about how I think we can find a false sense of security and identity in the wrong things like materials or occupations.  There are few things that feel as much like the proverbial screeching tires in a conversation like rolling out the, “I’m a pastor” line.

Now, this has nothing to do with any shame that I have in being a pastor.  I have no shame in that or in the Gospel of Jesus Christ because I firmly believe that it is the power of God to salvation, just as Paul says in Romans 1.  It’s more to do with people’s own experience of the church.  When you start talking about religion, there are few people who have moderate opinions, at least in my experience.  Most people have fairly strong opinions and are not afraid to express them.  They also become suspicious very quickly.

It’s not every day that I can engage in conversations with people on the issue of my job and find them intrigued or curious.  So consider my surprise this past weekend when my wife and I attended the rehearsal dinner and wedding of a friend and I found myself engaged in conversation with a New Yorker transplanted from Michigan.

I love getting into conversations with people about faith.  Like I said, it seems that everyone has a strong opinion about it.  The guy that I met this weekend was very curious about what I did and he was asking me tons of questions.

It seems that he had been brought up in Roman Catholic home and educated at a Christian school.  His experience with the school was interesting (my word) as he began to see the hostilities that are present between Protestants and Catholics.

After moving past his experience, he engaged me in why I did what I did and exactly what it entailed.  He kept telling me how much he respected my decision to sacrifice and become a pastor.  I told him that I really didn’t have much of a choice, it was what I felt like God had created me to do.

To be honest, I don’t know that I did a lot of talking at all.  If anything, I mostly listened to this guy talk.  I was so intrigued to hear where he was coming from and what was going on in his life.  I was more intrigued that he was intrigued by me.  I’m really nothing special, and I don’t say that in a self-depracating way as much as in a way that lets you know that I’m pretty much a normal guy.

Over the last few years, I have seen the power of story in people’s lives.  When you engage people in their own experiences and stories, it seems to flip a switch within them that opens the floodgates.  This guy was no exception and it was beautiful.  I was so fascinated to hear his thinking and to wonder exactly what God is doing in his life.

By the end of the time that we spent together in conversation, I genuinely enjoyed being around this guy.  It actually prompted me to challenge myself to try to engage with people like this on a day to day basis.  It’s too easy for pastors to sequester themselves in an office surrounded by academic and biblical books with no human interaction at all.  Starbucks and small coffee shops are the ideal place to meet people on their turf, so to speak, and hear about their stories.

I have no idea when and if I will reconnect with this guy.  I certainly hope that I do.  I have experienced God’s pursuit of me and I long to see that in others as well.  Based on my conversations with him, I would say that there’s something that’s happening underneath the surface with this guy and it’s exciting to see.  God’s placed him in a unique place of influence and I hope that I get the chance to hear some more of his thoughts and ponderings again in the future.