There Is No Time Like the Present

past-relationships

 

You may or may not be aware that the 80’s hit show “Full House” has recently been rebooted by a streaming service as “Fuller House” featuring most of the original cast. Many girls (and probably boys, too) of the 80’s generation are designating this “must see TV”. So much so that a second season has been purchased already and John Stamos has ordered extra hair gel. Even my daughter – born in 2002 – loves the show and often greets me with the familiar line from the show: “how rude!” I, however, am standing strong and refusing to invest my precious time into leftover lines and warmed up scenarios that appeal to my childhood years.  🙂

It seems that nostalgia always has a piece of our hearts. Another big piece of our hearts belongs to “tomorrowland”, “what’s next” or “one of these days.” We are a people who live in the middle. Our reality is somewhere between “what was” and “what will be.” But whatever happened to “what is?”

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34 – ESV)

“Also, do not live in the regrets, disappointments, defeats, devastation of your past. Today needs your attention more than yesterday or else tomorrow will be a repeat of your pitiful past.” (Matthew 6:34, part B, The GDB2 Version)

If yesterday is full of nostalgia (or regret) and tomorrow is full of possibility (or anxiety) for you, I encourage you to focus and face today with all of your faith. Live for today like tomorrow is not coming and as if yesterday never happened. Live for right now because later on will be drastically different if you are handcuffed with the past or future. Live for your current reality because the one you think you want or wish you had probably isn’t as shiny as you dream it will be. Live for the “right now you”, because the “old school you” wasn’t as good (or as bad) as you remember.

So how do we “do right now” the best we can?

Breathe – take long, deep breaths that remind you that you are in fact alive and you have a life worth living. Freezing up and closing off from the world brings rigor mortis to the soul.

Bathe – immerse your mind in thoughts and prayers that are good, acceptable, pure, and healthy for you. Leave the trash of this world outside of your heart and mind.

Bend – reach out to other souls in ways that you never have. Find true friends for the journey of life. You need them and they need you. Let their wisdom and experience help shape your view of the world, but choose those kind of friends wisely.

Bow – humble yourself before God. Don’t fit Him into your life. Fit your life into His kingdom. Be thankful that God creates us to live and walk through life with Him. He will do the heavy work. We need only to let him.

Become – make your greatest quest in life less about experience and more about encounters that shape us for the long term. Forget about what you have seen or heard and press into The One you know. Exchange your identity for the one he created you to have.

Bless – give your best work to making other people feel special and feel served. Be a blessing that people can’t explain but are deeply grateful for. Put away your need to save yourself for tomorrow so you can expend yourself on others today.

While we may think often about yesterday and tomorrow may distract us for a moment, today is the day that we have. So let’s get stuck in today together making the world a better place and sipping the full life that God offers us freely. Stuck right in the middle of “what we wish for” and “what we long for” gets us to “what we are really needed for.” Make today the best day that can possibly be by thinking, praying, acting, and trusting in what God is doing in and through you. Relish the gift that today is for you and for those in your circle of care.

Why Pastors Need Lent Too

lent pic

 

In a few days I will make my way towards the sanctuary to begin calling my congregation to focus their attention on a new angle of the story of Jesus. Very quickly we have transitioned from celebrating the birth of the King Child who changes the world to remembering the beautiful details of his early days of ministry to others. We have peered into the nativity with the Magi (Matthew 2). We have sipped the wine that was borne as water at a wedding we didn’t expect to be invited to (John 2). We have sat very still in the synagogue and heard him proclaim Isaiah’s prophecy that He would bring good news to the poor and set the captives free (Luke 4). We have heard his call to Peter after a long night of fishing to trust in Him for the catch (Luke 5).

This Jesus story is getting better every day, with every detail. It is a joy to join in on this journey. It is an honor to lean in and catch a glimpse of the Messiah on the move. It is unbelievable that we are included in this great God story that is full of so much promise, so much hope, so much meaning for life on earth.

Then comes the cross. The bloody, brutal cross carved for the final story of Jesus’s life with us. The cross that Rome designed to humiliate, humble, and horrify the populous into submission and surrender. The cross that will forever stand for victory in Jesus, for all the world, throughout eternity, forever and ever. Amen.

This is the new view for my congregation (and yours too, pastor.) It is a view that is less about simply believing in Jesus and more about trusting and believing in him even into death. It is a part of the story that calls us to to lower ourselves, confess our sins, let God draw us near. A call for us to embrace our brokenness, trust in Christ alone by denying the lordship of self, and repent…of everything. Repent of everything that is not rooted in and breathed through the life of Christ. Repent of everything that does not reveal his character and compassion through us. Repent of everything that is not connected to that cross – that bloody, brutal cross.

While I will invite congregants to journey towards the cross and repent, I recognize that I must not only join them on this journey, but I must lead it. I can not just point them in the general direction and bid them to go. I must lead. I must go first. The pastor must lead, not only in the liturgy, but in the lamenting of sin and separation from God.

But what does a pastor really have that needs to be confessed? What on earth does a pastor repent from? Plenty. Believe you me.

Pastors may or may not need to repent of the social sins that are most commonly thought of when preaching/teaching on confession. I am thinking specifically about addictions, attitudes, and anti social behavior that are both clearly defined in scripture and often spelled out in common language in the Special rules or Book of Order. Thanks to the working of God’s grace, most of those sins have been confronted and cast out personally or with the help of ministerial fellowship and accountability. But there are other sins that need to be – must be – dealt with on the way to Easter and on the way to a full life in Christ.

I am finding that there are realities in the pastoral life and call that must be confessed or they will bog down our spiritual life and derail our ministry. While we might not call these social sins they serve as spiritual barriers or bumpers to congregational leaders from the supernatural movement of God in our midst. Truthfully, we should never be ok with anything that we do intentionally or out of ignorance that distracts or detracts from the work of God in us and through us. While sin is often thought of and preached as violating a known law of God, perhaps we should consider it to be a pastoral sin when we put ourselves or our ministry in a place of competition, consternation or conflict with kingdom of God even in the smallest of ways.

“So what on earth are you saying padre?”

I/we need to repent of a cynical spirit, for God is still working in ways that my skeptical eyes can not see. I/we need to repent from a professional busyness/business that prohibits me from being present when others need me to speak into their life and situation. I/we need to repent of living in discouragement due to a perceived lack of success, fame, fortune, and following. I/we need to repent from a personal focus that distracts us from seeing the bigger picture of people/communities in need around us. I/we need to repent from the spirit of self righteousness that keeps us convinced that everyone is a sinner and we can save them through our preaching or programs. I/we need to repent of a ministry that is without hope in a God who saves and sanctifies. I/we need to weep and wail at all of the ways that we minister in our strength rather than in the glorious, graceful strength of Christ our Lord. Then and only then will our ministry be worthy of the call that God has given us as ambassadors of reconciliation in a separated world.

So, I am going to not only repent today (Ash Wednesday) but live repentantly of those (and other) burdens that weakens the ministry of Jesus in and through me. I am thankful that as I confess and pray for forgiveness that the grace of God will both cover and cleanse my sin and shame as a flawed leader. I am thankful that today (and everyday) is the day of salvation for me and those who abandon their own strength and cling to the power of God in Christ. I am eager to know what it means to have nothing but possess everything. I am longing to weep and wail over the sins of the world as a worker in the kingdom of the crucified. I am longing to live with the faith that I can tell God everything and believe that He is already aware and at work in working all things out for the good. I am joyful in the reality that in my weeping and wailing at my need, Christ has set me/us free to live, to love, to lead, and to long for the kingdom that has come.

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So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10)

Followship

Get ready. Something profound is coming. You don’t want to miss it. You are going to want to hear this little nugget of news that might actually change your life. Ready? Here goes.

Leaders have good followers.  (Read that again for emphasis)

follow the leader

That does not mean that the leader has necessarily made the followers good or even competent in following. It means that when a leader enjoys success it is in part due to the quality of the people they are leading. A large portion of that quality follower was likely installed over the years and under the leadership of someone else. Leader Jane or Leader John is lucky enough to have inherited some followers who have been well formed and likely well led by others along the way.

So let me say something to followers (and everyone is a follower of someone and/or in some way.)

How you follow matters to the one who is leading you. Good following traits are loyalty, honesty, commitment, courage, faith, and trusting. Bad traits of a follower are being selfish, guarded, individualistic, arrogant, bitter, nervous, and short sighted. Your actions, attitudes and aspirations can be a blessing or a curse to the one who leads you. Your feelings, fears and fraternizing will impact the leader at the top of your chain as well as every other link along the way. Don’t downplay your impact as a follower at home, at work, at church, or in society. Your ability to follow effectively matters to many people.

So follow well my friend and take this test on your following skills:

TEST- Follower Questions:

  • When you look at the picture above can you even see the followers in the photo or do you only see red?
  • Do you follow because you aren’t allowed to lead or because following is really how you are gifted and most capable?
  • Do you follow because you love who is leading or because you don’t have a choice?
  • Is following a stepping stone or sweet spot for your life?
  • What are you expecting in return for going along as a follower?
  • Do you follow as a servant-leader or as servant-seeking-a-leaders-role?
  • When will you outgrow being just an ordinary, indifferent follower and become the world’s best follower for the world’s best leader on the world’s greatest team?
  • Have you ever read a book or watched a video about following well or is your knowledge base solely on maximizing your leadership opportunities?

There is a right and a wrong way to answer those questions. (Admittedly, there might also be a middle way to answer them.) However they are answered we should get immediate self-feedback on how we feel about being a follower. Those feelings likely impact how we follow and consequently impact the leader who is leading us. When we loathe our position in a movement (family, church, work, etc..) we usually aren’t giving our best for the overall success of everybody. We are not fully buying in to what is going on. Our need to be passive aggressive might be trumping our call to be actively invested and all in.

Being a follower is not a punishment or problem. Following is a privilege and a protected class because leading is hard work and carries great responsibility. Following is equally difficult because it requires us to give up some authority and control of what we are doing and where we are personally headed. But yielding authority/control to others may very well save us from our own undoing. Leading and following is both an art and a science, but both lean heavily towards the artsy side. Theory cannot be too far ahead of practice when it comes to leading and/or following. It may be more popular to write a book about leadership, but points and poems about leading have to dove tail with best practices of actually leading or they are wasted words.

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you… But many who are first will be last, and the last shall be first.” (Mark 10:28)

Mark 10 is not an equation to help followers see the long term benefit or the payoff of not being first. It is a story that tells how Jesus spoke to those who followed him. His advice to followers was/is not to fret over their place in line or their piece of the pie. His encouragement to followers was/is to focus on the task at hand and give yourself fully to the day’s work without reservation, retort or regret over who is leading or how they lead. If you are following, be the best follower in the group of “followship.” In the end, followers will not lose because they followed well. They will gain because they followed faithfully.

It seems to me that if we had more quality followers available then we would likely see a better pipe line of leaders emerging, but in a very healthy natural way. And the world would be much better off. There should be zero shame or embarrassment for displaying a consistent gift to be the most dependable, stable follower in the crowd. Just make sure that who or what you are following is on the right path and headed in the right direction.

Inside every leader is a former follower who hopefully remembers life in the second chair (or third, or fourth.) Inside every follower is the temptation to lead the pack their way even if they aren’t ready and the fit isn’t good. In an ideal world both leader and follower would see the success of their effort as their common cause so that personal pleasure, gain or control can be sacrificed for the greater good. Leadership is not about machismo and followship is not about being a doormat for big personalities or bullies. They are both intimately connected and focused on doing something together that can’t be done apart.

Look around your life. Think about those who are leading you. Think about how they lead and what success they have had as a leader. What does their leadership success say about your following ability?

For Sunday – October 11, 2015 /  Proper 23B 

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”  ( Mark 10)