October 27, 2007

high gear

It has been such a hectic time. By nature I am such a frenetic person – a true workaholic who enjoys a fast paced environment – that I usually feel as though I am moving faster than the world around me and trying to pull my life along behind me. These days, just the opposite is true. I feel like my world is moving faster than I am and I am being drug along into the future.

A lot of this added pressure comes directly from the impending opening of our new facility. There is so much work to be done – so many decisions to be made. They arrive in interconnected waves. Even the ones that on the surface appear simple have a way of compounding through time.

On top of that, I have my ordination examinations looming and have one final push of work to complete for that process.

In the end, I feel as though I am probably short-changing everything just a little in order to keep pace with all my spinning plates. Worst of all, I know that I am doing a poor job of keeping up with friends and family (somehow they get the shortest end of the stick).

So, I did the best thing I know to do when I find myself in this place. Yesterday, I took the day off. All the way off. I didn’t even check email and refused to answer the phone for anything business related. It was really great to put everything in neutral and take a deep breath. I feel like I can now put it back into high gear and run the next leg of the race.

October 11, 2007

white knuckled

The following was originally written and published in the October edition of our uzine: The Encourager. To view the entire magazine in PDF form go to: http://news.uchurch.tv/Encourager/The%20Encourager%20October%202007.pdf

When I ride a roller coaster it is with both arms up in the air – I don’t hold onto the rail in front of me. That’s because I trust the machine. I’ve ridden a lot of roller coasters – the faster and more insane the ride, the better. I’ve taken enough rides to trust that I’m not going to fall out. That’s why I can raise my hands and let the adrenaline flow. I noticed that when I went with our sixth grade students to Astroworld in Houston that many of them clung on for dear life. Their little knuckles turned white from the pressure exerted from their grip. They obviously haven’t had enough experience on the rides to just let go and enjoy the ride – trusting in the experience.

When it comes to generosity, I have to confess that I am a “white knuckle” giver. This is a marked improvement from where I once was. It used to be that I didn’t give anything to anyone. As I grew in my faith, I started putting a little something in the plate at church (just whatever was in my pocket at the time). Finally, I tried making a pledge to the church. I wanted to be accountable for the spiritual discipline of giving that is necessary to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Full of good intentions, I made my pledge and wrote a few checks. Unfortunately, I would get behind in my giving and before I knew it, I wasn’t giving anything at all because I was so far behind in my pledge that I thought I could never catch up – so I gave up.

One year the option to make an EFT (electronic fund transfer) became available. Now this is where the rubber hit the road. There was no waiting to the end of the month to see if I could honor my commitment with leftovers. My faith was at stake. Did I trust God or didn’t I? Had I had enough experience with God to begin to release my death grip on my possessions? I am not over-exaggerating when I call it a death grip. My need to control my possessions was killing my spiritual growth. So, I took the plunge: I pledged 10% (the tithe that God requires) to the church and signed up for the EFT. The money rolled out of my account every month and I had to adjust the rest of my spending habits. I bought fewer new clothes, ate out less, and found cheaper ways to entertain myself. Instead of giving God the leftovers, I gave him the first fruit of my labor and I lived on what was left.

It has been an exciting ride with calls too close for comfort, but you may have noticed that I have not only survived, I have thrived. These days, God is doing an even deeper work in this white knuckle giver. I have been discovering the joy of sharing my financial resources beyond just my tithe and my building project pledge. In trusting the one who holds me, I find that I don’t have to hang on quite so firmly. I am slowly discovering that generosity lies at the heart of the Christian faith.

Any understanding of faith that ignores generosity is theologically bankrupt (pun intended). All life was born from the overflow of God’s creative generosity. Consider the heavens, the complexity of life, the earth’s broad biodiversity – ours is not a stingy deity. Our relationship with God was cultivated from his generous love. He invited us into relationship with him. He invited us into his presence. Even when we rebelled against his love, he maintained his steadfast generosity, making final payment to ransom mankind away from sin and death to life and life eternal. Jesus gave everything for us – pouring out his blood, his life, and his Spirit in the ultimate act of generosity.

Like everything else in our spiritual life, being faithful in our giving requires trusting in God. We have to start by climbing onto the roller coaster. We have to ride it a few times. At some point though, we have to choose to let go and trust. Let go of control. Let go of the safety bar. In the end, it isn’t the tightness of your grip that keeps you safe.

October 4, 2007

catholic mass

Last Saturday night, I decided to check out the Catholic mass at St. Joseph’s in Salida. It was a great experience and I learned a few things as well. The priest was German, I think – though I could be wrong about the accent. He did a nice job on a very brief homily about the rich man and Lazarus.

There were a couple of things about the service I really liked. I liked how the people bowed to the Lord’s table before they went up on the chancel to read or speak. I liked how the women kind of curtseyed when they left the pew and headed out. I really enjoyed when the congregation knelt down together. We protestants are missing out. I know God has called us friend, but you still kneel before your friend when he is the king.

The thing I learned is how uncomfortable it feels to be a visitor who doesn’t really know what is going on. The songs were unfamiliar. I know the creeds and Lord’s Prayer, but not the ones they knew! They used 3 different resources to guide the service and I rarely knew which book to look in – much less which page once I figured out which book! They all knew when and how to respond to key liturgical exchanges. I did not. They sat, stood, and knelt in unison. They knew when to hold hands and when to raise their arms. I did not.

Truly, I felt like a fish out of water – and I am a pastor. My lesson learned is this: No matter how hospitable we think we are; no matter how self-explanatory we think something is; no matter how visitor friendly we think we are – we can always to better. People who visit our church don’t know our rituals. They don’t know what to read or say or when to respond. We are moving into a time when people have no Christian memory – no past experience with the church to guide them.

Our hospitality must be ridiculous. It must consider ever moment of a guest’s experience with us – from the time they pull into the parking lot to the time they leave. I am very thankful for Pastor Adam, Luanne Mire, and their team of people who are even now working to continually improve our welcoming ministries at the U.

Oh, and thanks to the faithful saints of St. Joe’s. The authenticity of your worshiping body was refreshing to my soul. I give you my highest praise: I experienced the power and presence of God while I was among you.

PS: I did go to Sunday services at the Methodist church Sunday morning!

October 3, 2007

times are a'changin

So, I made it over to Garden of the gods today and as inspiring as it was, I left a little disappointed. I remembered going there as a child and crawling all over the huge formations. Last time I was here, you could hike all over the park – getting up close and personal with the giant formations.

Things are very different today. They have paved the sidewalks and placed signs every 50 yards reminding you to stay on the path. Apparently back in 1994, they began a process of reclamation of the natural grasses and protecting the park. I understand the need and applaud their effort, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed. I was all geared up for a long hike punctuated by scrambling up exquisite red rock formations. Oh, well.

It was a great drive back over to Salida. I stopped at Walmart on my way out of town (I couldn’t find any other place!) and bought a bandana to hold my hair out of my face and 3 cds (coldplay, the fray, and passion worship). The sun was shining and it truly was a perfect day. I rolled all the windows down, opened the sunroof, turned the stereo all the way up, and enjoyed the 2.5 hour drive. It was truly spectacular.

October 1, 2007

a couple of days off

I decided to take a few days off from the grind and enjoy Colorado a little bit. So, I left Salida and headed over to Colorado Springs. I haven't been here since I was a kid, but I vividly remember a few places -- 7 Falls, Garden of the gods, and Pikes Peak. I decided to revisit these treasured places. I spent today at 7 Falls. I climbed all the steps and took all the trails. Because of that, the other two attractions will have to wait until tommorrow. For now, my poor legs need a break. I am not sure if I will have time to visit the north pole (on Pike's Peak), but the Garden will certainly be visited! Enjoy this picture of 7 Falls -- oh, and the other ones along the side panel of the blog -- I used my auto-timer to take all of those myself. Luckily, the park was really empty today so no one was there to witness my scrambling into position as the 10 seconds ticked off!