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Archive for March, 2012

Choices

After the mild winter we experienced in North Texas this year, spring seems almost redundant; and yet, I do love it! I love the green trees and the flowering plants. I love the warm sun and the longer days. I love driving around with my sun roof open and letting the wind toss my hair around. I am not so crazy about the pollen, but it comes with the territory. I’ll keep taking my antihistamine and hope for the best.

We can always find something to complain about (like the pollen) if we look, even in the best situations. I know a woman (who shall remain nameless because I am related to her!) about whom I have said, “If she won the lottery, she’d complain about paying the taxes!” This person puts on a happy face in public, and seems kind and loving, but those who know her well know the other side, and it is not pretty. No doubt she wants to be nice, but just under the surface hides a spirit of contempt and judgment, even for those closest to her. She can find the fault in just about anything or anyone, which is sad, because nothing on this planet is perfect. Yet.

As we prepare to celebrate Easter – the resurrection of Jesus and the hope it brings us – we still live in an unfinished world; a world that longs for the second coming of Christ and final redemption. We have the opportunity for joy that life in Christ brings us now – like we have the beauty of spring; but we still suffer from allergies – the brokenness and imperfection of the world around us. No, there are no perfect people yet (though even Jesus might fall short of some of our expectations!). And, yes, there are still allergies and taxes. So we have a choice to make.

We can choose to participate fully in the Life that Jesus offers, to revel in the warmth and the beauty we have in him, and to share our redemption with those around us; or we can choose to focus on the flaws we find in a world (and in a people) that isn’t quite fully redeemed. We can live in Light or we can live in darkness. What will you choose?

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My Pietist Underwear

From time to time one of the professors I had in seminary, the irreverent, effervescent, impossibly intelligent Billy Abraham, spoke in whispers about his “pietist underwear.” I loved the phrase, which rolled off his tongue as though he had been practicing it for years (he had), because I am myself a not-so-closet pietist. I use pietist with a lowercase “p” because a) I’m not Lutheran, and b) I just don’t take myself that seriously.

I am a Wesleyan, though, and as a good Wesleyan I do have to care at least a little about my behavior. It’s that whole “General Rules” thing: First, do no harm; Second, do all the good you can; and Third, attend upon all the ordinances of God. (Good gravy, we sure do sound like Pietists.) Phillipp Jakob Spener certainly had a profound influence on Wesley’s developing theology and, while I am indebted to these men for my own ever-developing theology, I try never to take anything to an extreme.

Which, by the way, is the reason for this post. I’m looking for balance, and for me it is a relentlessly shifting target.

My church is involved in a program we call “Transforming Congregations.” I won’t go into the why’s and wherefore’s and what an absurd practice in futility it has been, because complaining won’t change anything and it might get me into trouble. Suffice it to say that I am glad the process is about to come to an end. At any rate, Buckingham hosted (quite beautifully, I might add) the most recent, and I think final, gathering for our District. And Don Nations (of DNA Coaching who is leading the Transforming Congregations process) made a statement last night that I have been puzzling over since. He said that we should make it our mission (I assume he meant also “as Christian people”) to “do one good thing every day.”

HUH?

I’m not even sure what that means.

He offered as an example a story about a time when he was appointed to serve a church that had been literally decimated by the former pastor who had decided to leave the denomination and take most of the church with him to seed his new nondenominational church, and Don was given the instructions to either save the “old” church or close it. He had 60 days to decide which one. Of course when he arrived, the limping remnant of the congregation immediately wanted to know if he had been sent to shut them down. He responded, “My job here is to do one good thing every day before 10:00.” (I know that’s a dangling participle or something. I didn’t write it; I’m just quoting it. I remember because he repeated this statement several times.) “And then if I have time, to do one more good thing.”

He enumerated some of the good things he did at that church: Went to the bank to negotiate a lower interest rate on existing debt; Convinced seven families to co-sign a loan to pay the bills; and…

Oh, wait…

I guess that was it.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was the extent of his examples of the good things he did “for the kingdom of God” at that church.

Really??

I kept my mouth shut, but it was only because I couldn’t think of a way to kindly question him. Also I was little dumbfounded.

See, I do a lot of stuff every day. Stuff that I consider to be part of “my job.” Stuff that isn’t really all that much fun and that I don’t think matters all that much in the big scheme of things, especially if we’re talking kingdom language. Some of it I would rather not do, but if I want to keep my job, make advances in my career, please the people who give money to the church that pays my salary, and make the church hierarchy smile, I do them. I attend endless meetings, negotiate rivers of paperwork, and instruct the insurance adjuster in the safest ways to climb up the roof to the steeple. I even buy and sell commercial real estate. I go to city council luncheons, write newsletter articles, and proofread the bulletin. I manage church staff, hire and fire people, and I am the place where the buck stops. Lots of my time is spent herding cats and putting out fires. Once in a while I take the time to consult a book on leadership or attend a conference to learn how to be better at all the things that are a part of “my job.”

In between all of that, or sometimes in the wee hours of the morning before anyone else stirs, or late into the night after everyone else has gone to bed, I do the things I consider to be a part of “my vocation,” or my “call.” Things like plan worship and write sermons and try to think theologically (although sometimes, I admit, I’m just too tired for that last part). And when I have time, or when I don’t have time but situations demand it, I actually pray with people, listen to their hearts, their hopes and dreams and hurts, build relationships, visit hospitals and homes, and do the things that might actually, in some miraculous, graced-by-God way, matter in God’s kingdom. And on those days, when I know for sure that God has been in the middle of the mess we call life, I go to bed without my jaw clinched tight and wondering if a glass of wine wouldn’t help me sleep a little better.

I try to spend time in prayer and spiritual disciplines regularly, to keep my own soul from withering, and so that I have some depth from which to draw the water that so many people ask of me. And I pray for those I love and for those who have been entrusted to my care. And I pray for wisdom and for guidance and for vision for God’s people.

I spend my life trying to do “one more good thing.” All too often I spend 10 or 12 or 14 hours at it. Partly because I wear pietist underwear, I’m never really sure how much is enough. And I’m not always sure what the good things are. And sometimes I get so caught up in the other things that the good things slip right by.

But…

Is what I’m doing ever really good? I’m still not sure what that means. I’m not sure that anything I do matters or is making a difference. How am I supposed to measure that? Am I supposed to measure that? Maybe I’m just being way too uptight about it.

What do you think?

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