Archive for the ‘Different Moments’ Category

“Uber” Exciting

This past week, ride-sharing app “Uber” opened up in our city, only to be followed the next day by “Lyft” as well.  Decatur, IL was finally getting “on the map” in a way that seemed to echo finally being included in “Craigslist” a few years before.  Certainly we’re no Chicago, but we are a greater-area population of about 85,000 – and potential for growth as we were also recently identified as #3 most affordable housing market in the WORLD.

uber-redesign-russellwarwickI’m a confessed extrovert, and love meeting new people.  So it wasn’t surprising to my wife when I joked about signing up as an Uber driver, not as a money-making venture, but for fun.  Even after quickly moving through the process, snapping pictures of my documents like insurance and registration, and getting notified I was approved – I didn’t think I’d find myself driving anytime soon.  Although as a pastor there was another layer of appeal.

Fridays are my “day off”, and the rest of my family was occupied at our homeschool co-op.  My wife told me to take the morning to enjoy.  As I sat at Panera, reading the latest edition of Harpers, I flicked the “Online” toggle on my Uber-Driver App, and officially became available.  I figured, it would be fun to give a ride or two, in the midst of my morning coffee.  Ten minutes later, it was obvious Decatur didn’t need many Uber drivers around 9am on a Friday.  Almost an hour in, I realized it wouldn’t be so bad to just spend the morning reading with coffee.

Then it happened.  I don’t even remember much about what the alert looked like. All I could think of was “There might be several Uber drivers getting this same notification, I’d better accept it quickly!”  Boom.  I accepted.  Then I looked at the address.  It wasn’t far, so I loaded up, made sure the radio wasn’t blaring princess music, and began to follow the built-in navigation system within the Uber app.

As I eased my family mini-van into the driveway of a nice quiet neighborhood, a smiling middle-aged man and his wife emerged with two suit-cases.  I quickly asked his name to confirm, though it seemed pretty obvious he was definitely my fare.  I helped load his luggage into my trunk, and opened the door for both he and his wife.  As I started the van, I slid the “Start” button on the Uber app, and asked him where they were headed this morning.  He smiled and said the airport, which I’d kinda anticipated from the luggage.  There was only one issue:

The airport he was talking about was 1.5 hours away in Peoria, IL.

For a brief second, I thought he was joking.  I think he caught my surprise, because he clarified, “You saw that when you agreed, right?”  I looked at my clock, and saw I had just enough time to get there and back before the family came home for lunch.  Why not?  I was honest, however.  Laughing, I confessed I’d not seen it, but it was no problem – let’s go!

He and his wife were very kind, and were in good spirits as they were heading out of town on vacation.  Their flights had been changed last minute, and they decided to try Uber since it had proved useful in previous times of transportation need when they’d visited larger cities.  They even tipped well, although Uber does not require this habit.

Altogether, I enjoyed my coffee and met some new people whom I was able to offer God’s blessings to for their journey ahead, as I dropped them off for their flights.  They’d paid Uber about $75, and I received about $55 of that (plus their gracious tip!).  Probably the most I’ll ever cash in with Uber, since I was just doing it for fun.  I was thankful that their few hours of need happened during my few hours of availability.

I also learned an important lesson: Before you agree to help someone get somewhere, make sure you know where they want to go.  (That’s probably a deep profound truth, eh?)  Next time I’ll make sure I check the request fully, before accepting.  I suppose I could be glad they weren’t heading to an airport in Chicago, or Canada…? lol

Thanks, Uber.  That was fun.  Maybe we’ll do it again someday.

Oh, be quiet Larry…

I remember back in late high school or early college:  There was this short Christian classic on sale or clearance or something and I wanted to get it.  A small part actually wanting to be the kind of person to read such books, and a larger part wanting to seem to be the kind of person to read such books, I snagged it.  I read through it a bit.  I smiled.  I even understood a few sentences.

In college, it was mentioned here and there.  I knew the topic vaguely, and smiled and nodded whenever someone mentioned it in conversation.  Yes, that is quite a good book.  Yes, I do so enjoy practicing the presence of God, just like Brother Lawrence did in “Practicing the Presence of God”.  Whether doing the dishes (as he did) or other menial tasks that my day to day existence brings me, I love the fact that Christ always offers to be very near.  God truly is with us, closer than we often realize.

I was a bit surprised then, when reading the book more closely for my current course on Spiritual Formation, to find so larrymuch in the book I didn’t like.  When the author writes Brother Lawrence (let’s call him Larry) to tell him of a friend who loses a close friend to death, Larry tells him to advise his friend to use these moments to his advantage.  “What a great opportunity to give the part of your heart previously given to your friend back to God where it belongs!”, he seems to say.  Or when the author himself is aging and enduring intense suffering of some sort, Larry refuses to pray his suffering would be taken away.  Instead, Larry insists on praying that God would strengthen the author to endure the suffering that is most likely God’s way of refining his heart and soul.  No, I do not like this guy much at all.  I don’t think I would have written him as much as the author seemed to.  A man who neurotically spent at least 10 years of his life anxious that he shouldn’t be distracted in thought or feeling by anything that might take God’s place, finally ending up with peace (albeit alone, and without much pleasure it would seem beyond the “presence of God”).  No, I do not like this guy much at all.

Yet…I can appreciate his heart.  A heart that yearns for the presence of God so much that everything else – even the extremely important things in life – melt away.  An experience of God’s presence, even in suffering alone, that gives him a sense of complete and udder wholeness that so many empty people in our world are hungry for.

I’ll admit, wrestling with his message comes at a poignant time.  Last week was the final week of Lent.  The season of preparing for Easter.  It was also a week of waiting for an important update in terms of our adoption.  This journey that has taken over 3 years, it finally feels like our boat has spotted land.  So it takes a bit of humility to confess that I, a pastor who was allowed to even baptize several people this morning, was distracted most of my week by checking my e-mail for an update that never came.  That dotting my week of anticipating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I was experiencing the brokenness of a human whose heart is not at complete peace in this broken world.

Part of me realizes that’s probably okay.   Jesus was certainly not often “at peace” in this world.  Another part of me realizes, there’s something to all this stuff Larry was talking about.

But before you or I go out and leave our family, secluding ourselves in monasteries away from our spouses and children, aiming to live like Larry and push away anything that threatens to occupy a place in our hearts – I don’t think that is required.   But we can be reminded in powerful ways, the truths found in Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 15.  That Jesus died and was resurrected.  The truth of this powerful statement impacts us as individuals, and puts every anxious thought, every deep-seated need/emotion, and every well-intentioned prayer in a wonderfully redemptive context.

The Truth of a resurrected Jesus Christ releases us from serving the state of our situations.  Even though there are times (like this past week, and probably again in the future) we don’t want to hear it, the words of Brother Lawrence come as important reminders: Even really important and good things are not “foundational” the way Christ and His resurrection are.  We can have Peace, even in the midst of needing peace.  That is something the world considers foolish.   That is something scripture considers faith.

That is something my daughters need from their father.  Something my wife needs from her husband.  And so, not as an individual but as a family – we work to shape our heart to seek pleasure only in the things that please God.  We seek to walk with Him as the center of our being.  We confess that this is not an easy road, and we sometimes lose focus.  But we return to this walk and practice – together.

(and really really pray that our boat would draw a big step closer to “land” this week) 🙂

Gratefulness…

Another year’s Christmas-ing has come and gone. All of the Adventing, Jesse-Tree-ing,decorating, and anticipation culminating in a giant smattering of presents to open, meals to enjoy, and time with family/friends. Christ has arrived, and therefore things are incredibly different in God-filled ways.

This year, our girls each received one “large item” from Saint Nick (though I’m pretty sure our oldest is beginning to understand all may not be as it appears). They LOVE their gifts, and proudly announced to the entire church as they walked through the halls that next Sunday morning: “I got a violin!!!” “I got a Kindle!” “I got an iPad!!” I’m sure no one paid any attention, but in my head it was “Oh really? You’re family in the midst of raising funds for an adoption was able to stack up quite a Christmas, eh?”

Not that it’s on me to defend, I will explain because I find it humorous…

Yes, we got a child’s violin for $50 off Craigslist. Yes, we got a “reading only” economy version of a Kindle on E-bay. Yes, we got a VTech play-learning device that Ruby refers to as her “iPad”.  I realize compared to most of the world, we are ridiculously wealthy.

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Nevertheless, I’m really excited how joyful my girls get over “little things”. You should’ve seen how long they spent pouring over the cheap candy in their stockings, even as giant wrapped packages waited under the tree.  I hope and pray we can retain this sense of gratitude even (and especially) as they grow older. Our world certainly is quick to point out things you don’t have, or upgrades you need to make. I’ve been reading Gordie Howe’s autobiography recently, “Mr.Hockey”, and it’s pretty incredible to read how he grew up in a very limited home and time – yet was incredibly thankful for all the things he had.

“Comparison Living” is something that increases more and more with every new social media app that’s invented. Even if we’re aware of it, and try not to be impacted by it, we cannot help but subconsciously be aware of things that exist, that we desire. Things/events other people enjoy, that we’d like to enjoy.

There are enough blogs and books already out there to help you combat this illness, I don’t intend to write long on it today. But as a parent, I want to protect my children from being carried away by this for sure. Which means having “The Talk” about it, even at the ages they currently are. It means helping point out the great things we have to be thankful for, even in the midst of not having something we’ve been praying a couple years for already. It means pointing out what God is doing in and through your family, even when miracles don’t seem to be happening this week.

This flows out and impacts so many areas of life, but begins right here – by developing parental hearts of gratitude. Becoming an adult who recognizes and practices how to be thankful today. My children will learn it best when they see mommy and daddy practicing it regularly. That’s something my wife constantly reminds us of, and seems to have understood long before I did.

So how does thankfulness impact the life you’re living this week? Will you allow a heart made grateful by God to set you free from “comparison living”, at least somewhat? 🙂 The next generation depends on us passing on the rich inheritance of contentedness…

Ministry ramblings…

I’m reminded lately of an important aspect of what it means to offer a life toward service in ministry.  Certainly, ALL are called to participate in the ministry of Christ.  The “Great Commission” found in Matthew 28:16-20 is spoken to all.  We are each invited to participate in the redemptive work and world-transforming love of God, possible through Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

So why be ordained?  Why offer oneself in this way?  Ordination over-simplified refers to a “setting apart for Gods’ use”, and a “endorsing/empowering/covenanting for ministry” by the Church.  It’s something that involves both the empowering of God, and the affirmation and covenant of the Church.   Years ago, and even in moments today, I would probably stumble through something having to do with feeling a call.  That even from a young age, I felt the tug toward serving the church as a pastor.  But something about that call always rubbed me wrong.  That “rubbing wrong” element has to do with power/prestige attributed to the American pastor in many places.  The “pastor” always seemed to me someone who held a position of authority and power.  He wore a suit and tie, and shook hands firmly, because he ran things on behalf of God.  But in Jesus, we don’t see any desire to move toward power or prestige.  We don’t see him worrying about his image, or chastising his followers if they don’t tie their sandals a certain way.

Over the years, I’ve come to reconcile these things a bit.  Certainly some pastors wear the “power tie”, and suit to match, and carry themselves a bit more proudly than they ought.  But I’ve met so many pastors who have such love for God’s people (not just church members….but ALL people) and desire to serve them in any way possible.  I’ve had opportunity both in college, and more recently at our present church home, to serve under lead pastors who happened to somehow love people sacrificially, AND wear a dapper-looking outfit at the same time.  I joke about the “dapper-ness”, but seriously – it used to bug me with some pastors.  However, as William Willimon writes,

“Those whom we designate as “ministers” are, in the New Testament, “diakonoi”, Paul’s favorite title for Christian leaders, derived from the Greek word for “service”.  Significantly, it is the same word that is the root for “butler” and “waiter,” terms that have greater edge to them than “ministry.”  How odd of the church to designate its leaders by so mundane and lowly a term.  No pastor rises much higher than being a butler. Yet, in the topsy-turvy ethics of the Kingdom, this is as high as anyone rises – a servant of the servants at the Lord’s Table.”  (Pastor: The Theology & Practice of Ordained Ministry)

From this perspective, shoot….give me a coat with tails if needed.  I’ll even have my shoes buffed.  Or I’ll break a jar of expensive perfume and wash the feet of those who come to dine.  Whatever would help.

Pretend there was a large dinner hosted by the United Nations.  All of the important people came to feast, and you were invited to help serve.  What an honor!  What an opportunity!  Now multiply that by as grand a scale as possible, and understand that God has invited ALL His children to come and dine at the Table of the Lord on a regular basis.  To have the privilege to serve at this table…to see the delight as those who’ve pulled up a chair smell the aroma of Christ, as they feast on the goodness of God’s Love and mercy…even if it means you’ve gotta sweep up the crumbs, or help someone with their napkin on occasion….whew.

It’s an odd oxymoron.  Because even as you offer yourself as servant, you are filled with humble honor moving about the dining room (whether empty before the meal, or stained from spilled wine).  Participating in serving a meal provided by God that enables and empowers those who partake, so that they can go out into the world and serve others in the same way.

At this point, I’m probably rambling.  So what are you the reader to take away from all of this?  Your pastor loves you, and wants to serve you more than you might realize.  Come to the table, and enjoy all that God has to offer.  Feel free to burp, even, in compliments to the chef (God….not your pastor.).  If you naturally feel esteem and attribute status to your pastor….stop it. 🙂 He’s honored enough to be in God’s service to the table you dine at.   If you naturally feel pastors are aiming for a prestige not Christ-like, at least offer them the chance to wash your feet.  You may be surprised at how the Love of God is revealed in such moments…

 

Suffering Joy

This morning, it doesn’t take long for the difficult words from this past Sunday to come whispering back into my mind… “Rejoice always.  Pray continually.  Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18a)

The world is broken, and mourning the loss of so many young lives.  Attackers stormed a school, with automatic weapons and the indifference of knowing they too were going to die, and killed over 126 people – mostly young children.  Largely between the ages of 12 and 16, the victims were just beginning to have grand thoughts about what to do with their lives.  Daydreaming, passing notes, and looking forward to the weekend….many of their lives ended without being able to express what was really on their hearts and minds.

My prayers are with them this morning.  The community that weeps.  The parents whose homes have been torn apart. The friends who’ve lost their classmates.  The young loves who’ve lost the one they were inspired by.  The students who’ve lost a teacher.  May God bring comfort, even to those who may not be able to give name to the source.

Certainly God didn’t have any of these scenes in mind when He gave us the words of Paul to the church in Thessalonica.  Surely if God would have known we’d have things like this happening, he would have given a different command.  Something closer to, “Rejoice when you can.  Pray if you can spare the time.  Give thanks before you lose it.”  But we know better than that.  Even as Paul gave those words, God’s people had known immense suffering.  God looked across the suffering that would come to His people, and painted a picture of who we are to be…even in the midst of the brokenness of our world.

Not those who avoid it.  Not those who seek it.  But those who seek God’s presence in the midst of whatever may come.  Those who are able to suffer with those who suffer, have “compassion”, and simultaneously be comforted by a God who has promised He is with us.  Those who are able to celebrate blessings in life with the humility that sees the reality much larger than the moment.  Those who recognize that the only way we become people with hearts grounded in God’s reality is to be those who “pray continually”.  Not starry-eyed false hope that someday this suffering will all make sense.  But a solid foundation of hope that today, right now, even in the midst of brokenness and ugly humanity – there is the presence of a God who says through His tears….”I love you.  I am with you.  Listen to my voice, and receive life that transforms.”

We cannot throw extra God-presence in a box, wrap it, and ship it to those suffering from this tragedy.  But we can allow these moments to call forth transformation in our own lives.  Give yourself time to pray today.  Rejoice, as one Beloved by the Son.  Spend time both speaking AND listening to the voice of our Father who loves you.  Give thanks for the movement of the Spirit that brings New Life.

Allow yourself to feel the story, even in the midst of a day/news-hour that moves right on to the next thing.  Allow the pain in your heart to enable you to cry out to God with them….”Lord, come.  Lord….come.”  And know that He has.  Know that He is.   Know that He will…

Garage Sales & Loaves & Fishes

“Who donates a lot of garage sale items to someone as Fall turns to Winter?”

I’ll confess, this is one of the thoughts that briefly crossed my mind.  But as our friends have giant hearts, we love them, and knew this was probably a great opportunity, I accepted.  Which is to say, I passed the information to my wife.

The semi-commitment was made to come and look through some of the things they’d found as they were organizing their home.  They have a couple pretty awesome daughters, so who knows?  Maybe there’d be cool stuff for our girls in the midst of it.  There was no rush, as we didn’t have any plans to have a fundraiser anytime soon.  Little did we know what would happen.

Within the week, a call was received from our Adoption Agency.  Unexpected expenses, with a total that didn’t drain us, but definitely set us back a bit.  We stood briefly on the precipice of indecision.  As much as I despise “sales”, I can’t shake the fact that it usually ends up a worthwhile endeavor.  Okay, let’s go see what they’ve got.  I expected a few tubs.

“It’s not much, but you can have it all.” Words that sounded Biblically familiar. Only there was no boy with loaves and fishes.  Here was a family simply offering us a few things they thought might make a small sale, perhaps online, or when the weather warms up a bit.  They’d even help us take it all home.  But what if…what if we did a sale…now?  Schedules were checked.  Prayers were whispered.  A sale was put on the calendar.  Less than two weeks away.

Let’s see what we can get?  This is a pretty good start, right?  We made a flyer, we passed the word.

Friends responded.  Family responded.  Even from far away.  The loaves and fishes multiplied.  All of a sudden, we were drowning in a sea of donations.  The date of the sale approached.  We sent the flyer anywhere we could think.  Internet, radio, newspaper, public boards, etc.  It was all still theoretical, beyond the tubs sitting in our dining room.  That much we knew we could sell.  What else was coming?  We would find out the day before the sale, when donations would be arriving.

And arrive they did.  What began as a few tables, unleashed to cover an entire gymnasium filled with over 30 tablesIMG_5270 and more.  Friends showed up with boxes, and donated time.  Kids played.  A Friday filled to the brim with anticipation and sorting.  We and our friends hit the pillows, exhausted.  Before overtaken by sleep I prayed, “Jesus, please help someone come and buy something.”  Our goal was well over any garage sale I’d ever been a part of.  We also knew, if no one came to the sale, we were stuck with a whole lot of….stuff. 🙂

Saturday morning came, and so did they.  Lots of them.  Even someone switching price tags around on Christian artwork to get a better deal couldn’t put a damper on our spirits.  The kids helped sell baked goods.  Our friends from out of town worked as if it were their own sale.  Little by little, the tables were thinned.   Money was coming in.  It slowed around lunchtime, and never quite picked up again.  The dust began to settle.  Thankfully, a local thrift store agreed to come and collect what was left.  They were so excited, these leftovers were worth thousands!  We were so excited, we wouldn’t have to load it all up and take it somewhere ourselves!

As the dust settled, and the profits were counted, the total came in.  We had surpassed our already ridiculously high goal.  Once again, God had taken someone willing to say, “It’s not much, but it’s yours.”, and used it to do something miraculous, and at the perfect time.

Maybe you’re holding loaves and fishes of your own this week.  Maybe you’re wondering if it’s even worth offering.  It doesn’t make sense.  It seems bad timing.  It doesn’t seem like much compared to the need.

But in the hands of God – anything can happen…will you offer it to Him?

We are thankful someone did, for us. 🙂

Because I was forced to spend time in quiet…

There is quiet.FullSizeRender

It’s not far, but it’s often a world away.
Today, I’ll say there’s no way it could be near. It couldn’t be here.
Because here is noise, busy, and hurry. Here’s worry. The scene is blurry,
And clarity? The lens hasn’t been cleaned for a while. You smile,
Holding tight the commitment you’ve made for tonight.
“I’m doing alright.”

And so are we all, but as Fall turns to Winter you realize,
There might be lies in the Truth. The Truth lies bare when given a moment to spare.
And there, in slow breathing and heart beating, you find it.

There is quiet.

Leaves have turned, and are falling. The silence is calling
For those willing to press pause on the pace, and face a world less moving.
Less proving, and more being. More seeing. Freeing you from shackles unfelt.
Moments melt into Sabbath. You catch your breath. There is life. There is death.

There is quiet.

Breathing deep, drenched in nothing.
Absence that feels like more substance than you’ve had in a while.
You smile, remembering what it’s like to wander.
In body and thought, you’re caught up in wonder, staring at the clouds
As if they contain a story you’re anxious to hear.
You stumble, lost in your surroundings,
A leaf-covered path, the aftermath of Autumn.
Emerging to a lake, you take it all in with a grin
And begin to lose yourself in the wealth found in the surface
Of water undisturbed.

There is quiet.

Heavens reflected in smooth glass
Trees stretching deep down into the sky
Fooling the eye, you sigh.
This is why

There is quiet.

You can’t stay in this place
But you scoop up the pace, and put some in your pocket.
Commit to remember, as you head into November

That there. Is. Quiet.

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