Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wasted Time?

"Time is a gift, given to you, given to give you the time you need, the time you need to have the time of your life." - Norton Juster

As one year segues into another, we can't help but pause to ponder the passing of time, our time, this time, the only time we have. And for many of us, there is more to this new year than just remembering to write "2013" on our checks and papers. We sense the passing of time, the acceleration of the years, the sand falling far too quickly through the hourglass of our lives. Nothing is more sobering or more true. Tomorrows rapidly become our todays and slip so quickly into yesterdays, sometimes with hardly any notice. Time is stuck in high gear and there are no brakes to slow it down. Full speed ahead. Hang on for the ride, the ride of your life.

It reminds me of standing in line for an hour and a half to get on a roller coaster ride that lasts a minute and fifteen seconds. Long, tiresome anticipation, a few frantic, exciting seconds, and then we talk about how much fun it was that day at the park. See how fast the future can become the past? It happens every day, every single day.

And here's the worst of it and the subject that's been on my mind - wasted time. Time squandered and lost. Time invested but forfeited. Time given with no return.

I think about my friends who have gone through the trauma of divorce, ending marriages that began with such high hopes. Were those years wasted? "What's left of my life?"

Or what about those who have given so many years to a business or a company, only to be called in and cashed out. "We don't need you anymore."

What about a friendship that you valued, maybe someone you mentored and encouraged in times of crisis, but when you find yourself in need, that friend disappears, just walks away. Was it a waste to care in the first place?

If there is one lesson I have learned about God on my faith journey it is this: God is extremely environmentally friendly. When it comes to our lives, He is really into recycling. Our God will waste nothing, absolutely nothing. He will use and reuse everything about our lives, even the bad stuff, especially the bad stuff.

God takes all the painful pieces of our lost hopes and broken dreams, our useless efforts and rejected love, even our unjust attacks and personal betrayals, and throws them all on His divine compost pile. Unpleasant as that image might seem, it really is good news for us, because God's compost pile is alive with renewing, redeeming, reclaiming power. Somehow God takes the refuse of our wasted time and makes a healing balm and a rich fertilizer that can heal the broken and bring the dead to life again.

And when by His grace we stand again on our own two feet, we will stand wiser and stronger, no longer bitter or vengeful, but tenderhearted, forgiven and forgiving, ready to live and love again. In God's gracious, healing hands, our time is never wasted. It becomes the stuff of life.

Monday, December 17, 2012

"Can This Be Christmas?"

Silent night, strangely dark and quiet
The babes of Bethlehem are no more.
Only weeping in the streets
Mothers holding little boys
Lifeless and cold
Slaughtered in their sleepy beds
Victims of soldier and sword.
No solace on this silent night,
Comfortless tears and broken hearts
Can this be Christmas
In Bethlehem?

Silent night at Sandy Hook School
A cheerful, colorful classroom
A bloody crime scene
Innocence gunned down
Brave teachers left for dead
Bright-eyed boys and ponytailed girls
Somberly laid to rest,  
Tears splash on little caskets
Hopes and dreams buried in the earth
Can this be Christmas
In Newtown?

Silent night, but now we cry out
We can keep silent no longer
Grief turns to firm resolve
Politicians become parents
Power gives way to change
Compassion for the disturbed
Wisdom over weapons
Peace and protection
For our little ones
Can this be Christmas
In America?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bless the Beasts and the Children

Hearing the heart-breaking reports today of the senseless killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there are no words to speak, only tears to weep. This old Carpenters song expresses my prayer for the little ones who are so tragically at risk in our day and time.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Meeting Memorial

One year ago this week I flew to Washington DC to meet our son, Sam, who was finishing his semester internship. Just a few days before I left home I received an email from the pastor search committee of Memorial Baptist Church in Arlington, Virginia. I was asked if I might be available for an interview with their committee via the internet. Several available dates were listed.

I responded in the affirmative and added a footnote about my plans to be in the DC area the very next week. So, instead of an online interview, I was treated to coffee and conversation with the committee around Charlotte's dining room table. I sensed even in that first conversation that something was happening, the Spirit was stirring. This was a new beginning that was going to impact my life, my family, and my ministry for years to come.

As we began to get acquainted, the format soon shifted from a job interview to an extended conversation, even a testimony service. All around the table, Michelle, Claude, Gary (What's up with that guy?), Holly, Sonny, Charlotte, and Randy was listening in on the phone. I was impressed with each person's insights and moved by their obvious love and devotion to Christ and to their church. Sam was there also, being my taxi service and getting a firsthand perspective of how this pastor-people process works. 

Finally, I asked the one question that had been on my mind from their first phone call. "Why me?" And when Gary answered on everyone's behalf, I felt that deep down soul shiver that only comes when you suddenly are aware that God is in the room and up to something. And sure enough, He was.

Looking back now, one year later - a year filled with praying and listening, deliberating and deciding, uprooting and moving on, settling in and starting up - it seems so obvious to me that our wise and loving God was superintending the entire process. How can we ever doubt His faithful love?

And reflecting on that first evening gathered around Charlotte's dining room table, I must say a word about truth in advertising. No big scary surprises for this new pastor in his first year at Memorial Baptist Church. This is a fellowship of good and gracious people who love God and one another and genuinely desire to make a difference for Christ. And I get to be their pastor. Go figure.