Thursday, March 27, 2008

Making the Most of What Matters Most

“How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and, keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to know what really matters most.” — Stephen Covey, author and speaker

Seems like almost every business or organization has spent some time determining their core values. It makes sense for any individual or group to focus on their main purpose, their reason for being, their non-negotiables.

I've been thinking about and speaking lately on the core values of Christ. I've been pondering and probing the character and teachings of Jesus as we meet him in the Gospels and asking the same basic questions: What mattered most to him? What did he consider his main purpose and mission to be? What values was he never willing to compromise?

And don't you suppose that whatever really mattered to Jesus ought to be of supreme importance to the Church that bears his name? Is there a significant gap between his values and ours?

Our church's website does not list our core values for two reasons. First, I don't know what they are, since we have yet to really clarify them. And second, I refuse to publicly list any core values unless they truly represent the way we actually live and minister and serve. God forbid that we be guilty of false advertising.

Maybe you can help me out here. What do you think really mattered to Jesus? What would you put on a list of Christ's core values?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Just Another Day in Deep Space

"The heavens declare the glory of God." Psalm 19:1

"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" Psalm 8:3-4

I am fascinated by the Hubble images from deep space. When first published these pictures stunned the scientific community and unveiled for us a universe beyond our wildest imaginings.

I guess feeling small is not such a bad thing sometimes. It helps to keep life in perspective. Standing speechless before the grandeur of God. What moves you to pause and ponder His majesty?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Easter Miracle

Let Frederick Buechner remind us again of the power, glory, and truth of that great Easter event:

"We can say that the story of the Resurrection means simply that the teachings of Jesus are immortal like the plays of Shakespeare or the music of Beethoven and that their wisdom and truth will live on forever. Or we can say that the resurrection means that the spirit of Jesus is undying, that he himself lives on among us, the way that Socrates does, for instance in the good that he left behind, in the lives of all who follow his great example. Or we can say that the language in which the Gospels described the Resurrection of Jesus is the language of poetry and that as such, it is not to be taken literally . . . the coming of spring with the return of life to the dead earth, the rebirth of hope in the despairing soul. . . . If I believed that this or something like this was all that the Resurrection meant, than I would turn in my certificate of ordination and take up some other profession. Or at least I hope that I would have the courage to.

In their way they are all miracles, but they are not this miracle, this central one to which the whole Christian faith points.

The proclamation of Easter Day is that all is well. And as a Christian, I say this not with the easy optimism of one who has never known a time when all was not well but as one who has faced the Cross in all its obscenity as well as in all its glory, who has known one way or another what it is like to live separated from God. In the end, his will, not ours, is done. Love is the victor. Death is not the end. The end is life. His life and our lives through him, in him. Existence has greater depths of beauty, mystery, and benediction than the wildest visionary has ever dared to dream. Christ our Lord has risen."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Other Side of Easter

"Humanity is fickle. They may dress for a morning coronation and never feel the need to change clothes to attend an execution in the afternoon. So Triumphal Sundays and Good Fridays always fit comfortably in the same April week." - Calvin Miller, "The Singer"

Too many of us suffer from what might be called spiritual malaria, alternating bouts with fever and chills, one minute ready to follow Christ to the ends of the earth and in the next moment turning our back on the whole thing. We are hot and cold, both caring and apathetic, sometimes passionate and other times totally indifferent. Faithful one day and a failure the next, this is too often our story, our pattern of following Christ. Our words like Simon Peter's come easily, but under pressure we buckle and betray. We cling to our silver and turn loose of our Savior. We cringe and hide in our upper room lest we be noticed or challenged.

And sadly, such will be our lot and lifestyle until we learn to live on the other side of Easter.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bursting My Balloon

I remember a cartoon where a man is seeking counsel from his pastor and the pastor responds like this: "You have raised an interesting theological question. Is it a sin to covet your neighbor's humility?"

In previous posts I have written about pride and self-centeredness being like a gradually expanding balloon that from time to time needs to be popped. It seems to me that God has a variety of ways to deflate an ego run amok. Regrettably, He has had to use several on me. I came across one pastor's confession that really strikes home with me and maybe says something to all of us.

"I believe that humility is the great omission and failure in my eleven years of preaching. I believe that this is my greatest oversight both in my example and in my instruction.

I therefore do not claim to be humble. I do not claim to have been humble. I am convicted of my pride, and I am a man who is by God’s grace pursuing humility." (Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill Church)

What does it mean to pursue humility? Is that not a task and a journey for all of us?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Donut Shop Wedding, Part 4: The Epilogue

No one said a word about the wedding at the donut shop. Nobody at church. Nobody in the neighborhood. Not a word. I couldn't believe my luck. After three or four months went by, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Just maybe I would never have to explain about having a wedding in the donut shop. And I wouldn't have to be reminded of the whole crazy thing every time I got a haircut or bought groceries or went to the post office. What a relief!

It was time for our monthly church business meeting. We gathered on a cold Wednesday night at the church, about fifty of us. As was our custom, we began with the minutes from last month and the treasurer's report. Not much old business that evening, but we did have some new business, including a recommendation from our trustees who looked after the upkeep of our facilities.

"Brother Drew, the trustees recommend that we hang a long curtain rod downstairs in the fellowship hall, so that the ladies can cover up that basement wall with a nice curtain when we have wedding receptions down there. We have two weddings coming up pretty soon and the ladies would like us to get this done."

The motion was made and seconded. I asked if there were any questions or discussion, and no one responded. We were all ready to vote when Fred raised his hand. "Yes, Fred. Do you have a question?"

"Brother Drew, I was just thinking, as long as we are hanging a curtain rod downstairs, do you suppose we ought to go ahead and hang one of those rods over at the donut shop?" A hushed pause as his words hung in the air - then, a roar of laughter, waves of laughter from every person in the room, everyone except me - I was speechless, totally chagrined. Everybody knew, of course, they all knew the whole story of my donut shop wedding. And now finally, with a little grace and a little humble pie, we could all have a good laugh together.

Small towns have no secrets and God has no finer, more gracious people than those who first called me "pastor." So, what about you? Got any "how did I get myself into this" stories to share? Confession is good for the soul.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Donut Shop Wedding, Part 3: The Ceremony

A few minutes before 5:00 I got up off the couch, picked up my wedding manual, and headed to the donut shop, still hoping against hope to get in and out of there as quickly and anonymously as possible. As I pulled up I noticed that Curtis had turned around the open/closed sign to allow a little privacy for the ceremony. When I came in I quickly scanned the room, about 15 people, most I had never seen before and none were from our church. Praise God. If I don't know them, maybe they don't know me.

How can I describe the happy couple? They were dressed in matching western wear, black jeans and boots with fancy white western shirts with pearl covered snaps, three on each cuff and two on each pocket. They also had matching black cowboy hats with white silk bands, but they were stowed on the hat rack. They were all smiles and - you guessed it - she was smiling a big toothless grin. (Just once it would be nice for the man to win an argument.) The groom didn't seem too put off by this as he showed me the marriage license and thanked me for coming.

It was time to begin. Where do you stand in a donut shop to perform a wedding ceremony? We all shuffled around until I was directly under the big menu board mounted on the wall. I noticed that bear claws and apple fritters were only $.99. I love those apple fritters. Everybody soon settled down and we began the ceremony.

Not many pastors have had the experience of hearing a bride repeat her vows without any teeth. It went something like ". . . to hab and to hode fwom dis day fowwood . . . dil deab do us pawd." I could scarcely stifle my own laughter enough to repeat the words for them. Snickering all around. It was a moment - comic and cute and kind of touching all at once. (I wonder if God holds us responsible for promises we make without any teeth. It'd be hard for him to take us seriously, wouldn't it? Not sure on that one.)

We finished with what had to be a pretty mushy kiss. Congratulations all around. I moved quickly to a table to fill out and sign the marriage license, anxious to make my exit as politely as possible. As I gave the groom their copy of the license he shook my hand leaving a wadded up $20 bill in my palm. "That's for you, preacher. And I wanna tell ya, I wasn't exactly straight with you this morning when we talked."

"Really?" I thought nothing he could say would surprise me now. I was wrong. He left me completely speechless with his final words to me.

"Yeah, ya see, to tell ya the truth, I been married five times before, but I want ya to know, preacher, this was the nicest wedding I ever had."

As I drove home it hit me. What if he was telling the truth? Could there really be five weddings in the history of the world tackier than this one? Couldn't be. No way.

Having made my escape, I breathed a big sigh of relief. It was over and with a little luck, I could put the whole crazy episode behind me. I had no idea that there was one more unavoidable act in this play. Stay tuned for the final installment.

Crazy as a Coot

If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully - the life you save may be your own - and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Law and order, and Jesus says, Love. The world says, Get and Jesus says, Give.

In terms of the world's sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.
- Frederick Buechner

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Donut Shop Wedding, Part 2: The Appointment

Saturday morning the soon to be bride and groom showed up at my office right on time. He looked pretty rough, about 55, an over the road trucker who looked like he had lost more fights than he had won. She was around 40, tall and thin, her hair mostly blond with brown roots, and she had no teeth. No kidding. When they came in, apparently they had been arguing about her false teeth. He really wanted her to wear her dentures for the wedding. That seemed like a reasonable request to me. She said her dentures hurt her mouth and she didn't want to be in pain during her own wedding. A good point for her. This was no small matter. I encouraged them to work out the teeth issue for themselves.

Then we talked for awhile. They said they had both been married before, but they were real serious about their new life together. It was going to be a brand new start. They nodded and smiled all the way through my wise counsel. The groom told me the ceremony was going to be casual, which I kind of expected since we would be standing in the donut shop. He said to just wear what I had on, jeans and a golf shirt.

As we wrapped up I had to ask, "Why don't you guys just wait until six when your friends get off work and we can have the wedding in our sanctuary?" She shook her head. "After the wedding we're going to the tractor pull over in Windsor, and the tractor pull starts at 6:30. So, it's gotta be 5:00." "Oh," I nodded. That was all I could think to say.

I went home and mowed the yard and then watched a little football, all the while thinking how did I get myself into this? I just wanted to get in there, get it done, and get out, again with the fond wish that maybe this whole event would go largely unnoticed. Like I said before, I was young at the time, and didn't yet understand God's warped sense of humor.

The Donut Shop Wedding, Part 1: The Phone Call

First off, please remember that this happened a long time ago, when I was fresh out of seminary and serving my first full-time church. Suz and I had moved to a rural community, population 814, in the lake area of Missouri. The church folks quickly took us to their hearts and made us feel like family. They were gracious and loving to me as I tried to learn how to be a pastor. So, with that bit of background, here's the story.

It was on a Tuesday, a warm September evening when the phone rang at the parsonage. A man called me to ask if I would conduct a wedding for him and his fiance. They were wanting to get married on Saturday, just four days away. Well, I didn't know much, but I knew that as a pastor I was supposed to provide some kind of premarital counseling based on my thorough knowledge and expertise after 3 1/2 years of marriage. The man said that was fine with him as long as we could get together before Saturday. As it turned out, Saturday morning was the only time we could meet, so we set the appointment for 9:00 a.m. They wanted the ceremony at 5:00 p.m. that same day. The last thing he said took me completely by surprise. "Preacher, we're gonna have the wedding at the donut shop." I couldn't hide my shock. "The donut shop?" He replied, "Yeah, yeah, we need to do it at the donut shop cause we want Curtis and Nadine (who ran the donut shop) to stand up with us, and they don't get off til six." Caught off guard and not knowing what else to say, I reluctantly agreed.

After I hung up I got to thinking about the whole conversation. Already I had the sneaking feeling that this was something I would soon regret doing. Why couldn't they just wait until 6:00 and then come over to the church with Curtis and Nadine for the ceremony? I didn't know this couple and Curtis and Nadine were good Lutheran folks, so I took some solace in the hope that maybe I could get through this strange scenario without anyone else noticing my participation. Was I a little naive about small town living or just plain stupid? Stay tuned, then you decide.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Butt Prints in the Sand

I came across these lines, a revision of the old "Footprints" poem, while cleaning out some old files. I don't know who wrote it, but I think I like it even better than the original.

One night I had a wondrous dream,
One set of footprints there was seen,
The footprints of my precious Lord,
But mine were not along the shore.

But then some stranger prints appeared,
And I asked the Lord, "What have we here?"
Those prints are large and round and neat.
"But Lord, they are too big for feet."

"My child," He said in somber tones,
"For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
But you refused and made me wait."

"You disobeyed, you would not grow,
The walk of faith, you would not know,
So I got tired, I got fed up.
And there I dropped you on your butt."

"Because in life, there comes a time,
When one must fight, and one must climb,
When one must rise and take a stand,
Or leave their butt prints in the sand."

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hang On to the Original

The other evening my friend Allan and I drove over to the university to hear a remarkable man speak on the subject, "Constitutional Interpretation." Sounds riveting, doesn't it? The speaker was Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. I have never seen so many lawyers and judges in one place at the same time. (My brother Jerry is a lawyer and I call him whenever I hear a new lawyer joke. My favorite? Do you know why they bury lawyers 21 feet down? Because, deep down, they are really nice guys.)

Anyway, I must say that Justice Scalia is an impressive intellect and a wonderful communicator. He talked about his approach to interpreting the constitution calling himself an originalist. Scalia believes that the original context and meaning of the document is what matters most and must be the beginning point for interpreting the constitution for today.

I guess I'm an originalist when it comes to interpreting the Bible, too. Seems like lots of people today want to read the Bible backwards, starting with the views and values of contemporary culture until the scripture ends up sounding like we wrote it ourselves. I can't buy that approach.

I have to believe that we will all be better off if we let the wisdom of the scripture help to shape our values and beliefs, and resist the temptation to rewrite the Bible to suit our society's misguided priorities and perspectives. The Bible is a true original if there ever was one.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the News . . .

I went to my new doctor last week and filled out all the paper work, my medical history, etc. My doctor scanned his clipboard and noticed two or three items of interest. First, it appears I have not had a thorough physical exam since about 1987. (Apparently that's going to change.) Second, I weigh more than I did in 1987. (Apparently, that's going to change, too.) Third, I have never had a prostate examination. (That changed immediately! Not recommended for entertainment purposes.) And last of all, I have never had a colonoscopy even though my father died of colon cancer at age 60. So, this has been scheduled for me. (I guess I should be grateful to live in a time when we have the medical technology to boldly go where no man has gone before, but I'm just a little queasy about it.)

Don't get me wrong. I want to be fit and healthy and active for as long as I can. I still love to run, to play basketball, and throw a football around in the backyard. But I guess I'm coming in to those years when we quit thinking about our bodies in terms of appearance and think more about maintenance. I'm just not showroom quality anymore. I've got dings and dents and more miles than you might expect. All in all, I know I have been blessed with good health and a body with no major breakdowns or accidents. Knock on wood. I feel like I've got many more good miles still in me.

Am I the only one noticing this unwelcomed transition from youthful vigor to middle age maintenance? I'll bet not. Any thoughts or wisdom to share?