Friday, January 31, 2014

Six months

Six months ago today I retired from Mayo Clinic.  Retired is perhaps not the most accurate word, because I didn't retire in the traditional sense.  I had enough years in at  Mayo that, combined with my age, I could end my employment there as retired, although the real reason I left was because of another opportunity.

I left Mayo one month short of 27 years service because I had been called to a different vocation.  Two years after finishing a seminary program, going to school part-time while working full-time, I had received a call to serve as the pastor of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church in Dulce, New Mexico. 

The details of our move were still being worked out when I left Mayo but less than four weeks later we were unloading all of our possessions into the church's parsonage and I preached on that first Sunday. 

I have preached every Sunday in the past five months.  And I've done a lot of other things too.  I knew that a wide variety of tasks were included in being the pastor here beside preaching.  Tonight they included shoveling snow before opening the gym for roller skating.  On the day of my official installation they included repairing the plumbing in the parsonage kitchen.  I could mention many other things but I don't want to sound like I'm complaining about them.  There has been value of some sort in nearly everything we have done in this ministry.  I say 'we' because my wife has generously shared many of her gifts as a part of our service here.

It's Friday night and I think I have this Sunday's sermon ready.  My preferred pattern has been to have it basically finished on Friday and then work on it just a little on Saturday, and then again on Sunday morning before worship.

Right now, five months in, preaching is the hardest thing I do.  And among many tasks of great worth, it is the one that I want to do the best at.  Each week.

I came here with very little experience in preaching and, through necessity, I am learning a lot.  Each week.  And I have a long ways to go.  I don't even know how far, but it is somewhere over a distant horizon.  Of that I am sure.  I have a suspicion that I'll never "get there" and that is okay.  None of the preachers I am learning from feel they have fully arrived.  And they are pretty good preachers, so that is one lesson fairly easily learned.

The six month point after leaving Mayo just seems like a good time to pause and think about all that has happened since then.  To consider briefly the remarkable changes of leaving a place where I was well-established and fairly comfortable for something so completely different. 

A very different kind of work.  A very different place to live.  A very different way of life.
Very different, and very good.  It is good because we have no doubts that this is the place that God was preparing us for and brought us to. 

In the months of prayer and discussion leading up to our move to Dulce we thought this was where God wanted us.  And on that basis we came.  And we are glad to be here, for we can't imagine a place where we are more suited to serve than here on the reservation of the Jicarilla Apache Nation. 

Interesting? Always.  Fun? Often.  Frustrating? Sometimes, and I am glad that patience is one of my strong suits.  Worthwhile?  Time and again, in ways large and small. 

There is a saying, "God is good all the time.  All the time, God is good."  It has been our joy to see His goodness here time, and time, and time again.

We give God thanks and praise for bringing us here.  We look forward to continuing to serve here for a long time.  We know it won't always be easy but we know it is the right place.  Soon enough we'll know what the next six months will bring!  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The wave

We have been in Dulce for five months and I would imagine that by now just about everyone in the congregation knows I run.  I would imagine that most people in town know I run, either from seeing me running on the side of the road or hearing about it from someone who saw me and told them.  I haven't seen very many runners since moving to Dulce and only once did I see a person who was clearly an Anglo, like me. 

I run every day.  Sometimes a few miles.  Sometimes quite a few miles.  I have run marathons and I found one in Shiprock in May that I'm training for.  But even if there wasn't the marathon on my schedule I would be running, outdoors, year-round.  It is just one of those things I do.

If you have seen me out running, did you notice that I wave?  I wave at nearly every car that goes by.  I toss in a "Hi!" at every cyclist or person walking along the road.  On occasion I also greet the dogs.  Waving at cars is something I started to do 5 or 6 years ago.

When we lived in Minnesota I ran along a particular section of road 5 to 7 days a week.  One lane in each direction, with a decent shoulder.  The speed limit was 45 and there was 'no passing' allowed.  I know, from driving that road myself, that the speed limit was easily exceeded.  'No passing' was for a good reason, although I saw people do that too. 

Because of my work schedule I ran that section of road in the dark roughly nine months of the year.  I started waving at drivers during the daytime as a protective mechanism.  I figured if I waved during the daytime those drivers might be more mindful of my presence on the road if they were out during the dark.  Before long I was waving at everyone, day and night.

Now waving at drivers is a habit, but the purpose has changed a bit.  Waving has become a way of people noticing me.  Sometimes they wave back.  I don't often make eye contact, partly because at my age my eyes take a bit longer to focus on a face in a vehicle, and by then I am drifting, usually towards traffic.  Waving while mostly looking ahead is safer. 

Being noticed is not for the purpose of fueling my ego, but just for the purpose of opening a conversation later.  I am an outsider, an Anglo pastor, serving a church in a Native American community.  It is likely that there are some people in the community I have waved at many times over the past five months.  I don't know who they are but they know who I am.  And if I run into them at the grocery store, or gas station, or wherever, it is my hope that my wave opens a conversation, one which, in time, may lead to our talking about things of greater importance than running or basketball, or whatever. 

I want God to use my wave to serve His purposes.  I want that wave to open a door and point another person to the joy and peace that is only known in Christ.  In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul writes,

            "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, to all to the glory of God." 

"Whatever"…running, waving, witnessing….may all that I do, and all that you do, serve God, to His eternal glory.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Darkness and Light

"Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer."

The picture on the right side of this post is a picture of our youngest daughter.  My wife took it yesterday while we walked to the post office.  She is the youngest of our five children and the only one still living at home.  In this picture she is just being herself. 

We delight in her exuberance, which is frequently on display.  There is rich story of how she came to be our daughter and we thank God daily for bringing her into our home.  Parenting her is hard work but every day we experience joy as her mom and dad.  She is a very bright light in our life.

Last night we received some hard news about a member of our congregation.  This member's daughter had tragically died during the afternoon.  At perhaps the same time we were walking to the post office and enjoying our daughter there was another person, someone we know, losing her daughter.  As her pastor, I went to visit this member in her home yesterday after hearing the news. There was much sorrow in that place.  It was the darkest, most painful space I have been in since coming to this ministry last summer.

Since last night I have spent some time thinking about the brightness of light and the emptiness of darkness, and how thinly separated they can be at times.  Being a pastor, and also being in the midst of preparing a sermon, I thought primarily about spiritual light and spiritual darkness.

We live as fallen people in a fallen world.  There is no shortage of evidence of the pervasiveness of sin throughout the world, and as a Christian I know that the evidence is as close as my own heart.  In the opening verses of his Gospel John reminds us that in Christ "Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  

The verse at the top of this post is from Paul, writing to the church at Rome.  As I continue to serve God among my congregation during this difficult time I do so knowing that I have no answer to the question of why God allowed this person to die at this time.

But what I do know is that no circumstance in life, no matter how joyous or painful, takes away the hope that we have as people of faith in Christ.  As we grieve we may not be in a place of rejoicing, but we are in a place of prayer, praying to the one who is, and always will be, the truest Light. 

The darkness has not overcome the Light of Christ, and it never will.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My streakaversary

Today is my streakaversary.

"Your what?" you ask.

My streakaversary.  Streakaversary is a word that in my former vocation would be known as a neologism; that is, a made-up word.  And it certainly is a made-up word.  To the best of my knowledge it is used by that small subset of runners known as "streak runners."  They are runners who run every day, or at least they try to.  And in our day there is, of course, an organization, of such runners, with a list of people arranged according to the length of their current streak.  And there is another list of streaks that have ended. 

To be on the list a person needs to have run a minimum of one mile per day, for one year.  As of today I have run a minimum of one mile a day for the last three years, hence my streakaversary.  I have had several streaks of one year, one of two years and this is the second time I have made it to three years.  If I keep it going another three months I will have tied my record, so to speak. 

But if the purpose of this blog is to give praise to God, then why am I dwelling on perhaps my primary avocational pursuit, one that in all honesty was at one time a form of idolatry in my life?  (I sense a future blog post lurking within that question!) 

It is because as I was out running this morning I found myself pondering the connections between being a streak runner and being a disciple of Jesus. 

My streak has a definite starting point, and so does my life as a disciple.  Not everyone has, or can recall, a specific time when they became a disciple of Jesus.  I can't recall the date but do remember the month and year, and more importantly I remember that I clearly knew the next day that something very different had happened in my life.  I didn't know how it would unfold but I knew that there was no going back.

The connection that was most strongly on my mind this morning was that in both running and discipleship there is a conscious act that takes place every day.  Each day I put on my shoes and head out the door.  This particular running streak has persisted through several Minnesota winters, heavy rain, strong winds, mountains, moonlight, injuries and, once, an airport.  Each day requires a conscious exercise of my will to make the streak continue.

There is a daily act of will to living as a disciple.  More truthfully, there are multiple daily acts.  Sometimes I am a better disciple than others.  Sometimes it is easier for me to open my Bible and rest in God's presence.  Sometimes it is easier to hear what God is saying to me at that moment and respond in faith. 

One day my streak will end.  Others have before and this one will too.  It won't be the end of the world when it happens, and I thank God for that sense of perspective.  When it happens I will likely start another one.

But being a disciple of Jesus will be an ongoing journey, ending only when God, in His grace, His mercy, His love, calls me from this world to eternal life. 

I have accomplished a lot in the running I have done over the years, and I know that I will never again come close to the achievements of the "good old days."  Running has given me lots of good friends and cherished memories. Time on the road itself is a good friend, so each day I head out again.

Discipleship is also a daily journey.  The essence of being a disciple is to be a learner and I know that God, who has called me to be a disciple of Jesus, will always have things to teach me.  And one thing that I believe about being a disciple of Jesus is that with the ups and downs of life, the strong and the weak moments of my faith, that the best is yet to come.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Facebook theology, part 1

I was on Facebook the other day and saw something shared by someone that I have seen before.  The message was this:

"God has seen you struggling with something.  God says it's over!  A blessing is coming your way.  If you believe in God, send/post this message on and please don't ignore it, you are being tested.  God is going to fix two big things tonight in your favor.  If you believe in God, drop everything and pass this on."

Wow!  What a message!  God not only knows I am struggling with one thing but He is going to fix two things…for me…tonight!

I'll confess that there is much I love about Facebook.  I love staying in touch with people near and far, friends from years ago and people I have only come to know recently.  I enjoy the somewhat random things people post that tickle my funny bone.  I enjoy sharing little bits about myself and my family.  And I enjoy the encouragement I find in unexpected places. 

The message above could be considered one of that type, as a message of encouragement, but unfortunately it is one of many messages floating around Facebook that may sound good but which is really empty and meaningless.

This kind of message is basically self-centered, and mostly about the person who wrote it and not really about God at all.  I am working on a sermon based on Ephesians 1:11-14, where Paul writes this in verses 13-14:

" In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."

The writer of the Facebook message may mean well but God says something much more powerful in his word. 

He knows I struggle, because I am a sinner living in a fallen world.  He has sent the word of truth in his Son.  In his mercy he has sent a Savior, one in whom my salvation is guaranteed.  He has sealed me with his very Spirit. 

If I believe in God then message of salvation is the one I should drop everything for and share with others.   

And, as Paul notes, I should share it to the praise of his glory.  Amen!

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.