It’s another warm morning as I sit on the front porch and write my daily blog posts. School is back in session, Wendy and attended our final I-Cubs game of the summer last night, and we’re preparing to head to the Playhouse with friends today for what will be summer’s final hurrah at the lake.
It was a wonderful summer full of activity:
We are excited to have Wendy’s youngest sibling, Suzanna, move in with us a few weeks ago to attend her final year of high school at Pella High.
The large home project this year was pouring a new front patio to replace the crumbling and settling old stoop and stairs.
We got to spend a long 4th of July weekend at the lake with a bunch of family including Madison who made what has become a rare trip back to Iowa.
We had spectacular weekends at the lake with friends.
There were the requisite business trips here and there.
We produced and acted in a Tulip Time show for the Pella Opera House which was reprised on the campus of Central College for a convention of folks celebrating Dutch American heritage.
Wendy and I lent administrative assistance to the summer production for the local community theatre.
We were voted back onto the Board of Union Street Players (USP) for the ninth straight year.
We enjoyed a visit to the church where I was a youth pastor a quarter century ago to help the church celebrate their sesquicentennial.
Wendy and I faithfully followed and watched our Chicago Cubs in another disappointing season.
With a teenager back in the house the fall looks a little different than what we had planned earlier in the summer, but that’s okay. Next week I will take the helm as Director of USP’s holiday show with Wendy acting as my Producer. I’m teaching a Wednesday night class at our church. Work looks to get a little busier with new projects in the queue that will likely be kicking off in the coming month or two. Things definitely don’t slow down.
So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NLT)
Many years ago I used an illustration while sharing the morning message in my home church. I stretched a piece of plain masking tape from the front of the church to the back of the church using a few chairs in the aisle to prop up the 75 feet or so of tape. I then spread out some pens on the floor and asked everyone to get up from their chairs, make a small dot on the tape with a pen, and write their name next to it.
I asked everyone that morning to imagine that the tape was a time line that continued on through the floor at the front of the stage as far as our eyes could see and out the back of the room to as far as our eyes could see. The tape was eternity, and our little dot on that time line was the 70, 80, or even 100 years that we will spend on this earth. The question I asked that morning was very simple: Are you living for the dot? Or, are you living for the line?
It is so easy to get wrapped up in momentary desires, circumstances, situations, troubles, and issues. But, those things are typically just insignificant blips on the radar when you consider them in light of eternity. We all need a little perspective adjustment from time to time, allowing our heart and mind to consider our immediate troubles in light of God’s Grand Scheme.
Today I’m reminding myself that my immediate troubles are a minute speck on a fleck of ink on a small dot on the masking tape timeline of eternity.
I’m a history geek. Forgive me. You might need another cup of coffee for this one.
In a few years we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of one of the most important events in western civilization. In 1517 a young Roman Catholic priest named Martin Luther stopped by the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. The door served as a sort of medieval community bulletin board in those days. He nailed to the door a theological challenge that he was presenting for public debate. There were 95 things that he felt needed to change in the Roman Catholic church and his 95 “theses” started a chain reaction of events that led to what we know today as the Protestant Reformation. Europe was split asunder between Roman Catholics and these new Protest-ants.
There were many reasons the Protestant Reformation happened when it did, and many of them had nothing to do with Marty’s 95 bullet points. One of the reasons for the Reformation had to do with one of Luther’s other pet projects. Until that time the Bible existed only in painstakingly hand written copies which were penned (generally by monks) in Latin which was the official language of the Roman Catholic church. Because of this, the only people who could read the Bible for themselves were priests, the educated, and the wealthy (a very small minority) which meant that priests and the church had tremendous power over the uneducated masses: “We will tell you what God says because we can read the Bible and you can’t. You’ll just have to trust us on this.”
Marty Luther believed that everyone should have access to reading God’s Message for themselves, and so he began translating the scriptures into the common German language of his people. His successful translation coincided with a relatively recent German invention by a guy named Johannes Gutenberg: the moveable type printing press. This allowed for relatively quick and cheap mass production of books. It was a perfect storm. Gutenberg’s printing press mass produced Luther’s German translation of the Bible and common everyday people began reading the Bible for themselves. They soon discovered for themselves that the Roman Catholic church had taught them some things that they couldn’t actually find anywhere in the Bible.
One of the most important theological concepts to come out of the Reformation was “the priesthood of all believers.” The Roman Catholic church had maintained a rather tight reign on the Western World for over a thousand years because only the priests could read the Bible and Roman Catholic doctrine developed the concept that you could only receive God’s forgiveness by going to a priest, confessing and receiving absolution from God through the priest. No priest, no absolution, no forgiveness. God’s Message, however, says that Jesus is the only High Priest of all believers and that everyone who believes is part of the “royal priesthood.” In other words, the local priest in all his regalia standing at the cathedral altar has no more spiritual standing before God than the everyday sinner sitting in the pew.
So what’s my point with this wordy history lesson?
The “priesthood of all believers” was a radical concept in the 1500s, but my experience with the 21st century protestant church is that it remains just as radical today.
We still like to make our pastors into priests by putting them up on the platform in the spotlight and bestowing upon on them a spiritual standing that they do not have.
We still like to sit in the pew and believe that we are held to a lower standard as if God grades us on a curve. “I never claimed to be a pastor or a priest, so God can’t possibly hold me to that kind of spiritual standard as my pastor.“
Protestant churches eventually replaced the elite Roman Catholic priesthood with their own educational elitist system of seminaries, refusing to acknowledge that all believers are ministers of the new covenant (see the verse above, I knew I get to it eventually). Protestants replaced the remote and out-of-touch leadership of the papacy with their own remote and out-of-touch denominational offices.
Protestant churches regularly put educated but spiritually un-gifted people into positions to which they will ultimately fail, while refusing to encourage or allow spiritually gifted every day believers to use their gifts because they have not met some human educational standard.
We refuse to embrace the truth of “the priesthood of all believers” which means that EVERY person (man, woman, child) who believes and receives Jesus as Lord becomesa minister and receives a spiritual gift(s) intended for the carrying out of that ministry in their everyday lives and vocations so that others might come to believe and for the building up of fellow believers. EVERY believer of Jesus is a minister regardless of that believers education, I.Q., E.Q., age, race, background, social status, heritage, sinfulness, record, or history.
What amazing things would happen in our lives, communities, and the world itself if we zealously embraced the truth of the priesthood of all believers and started a 21st century reformation.
But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. 2 Corinthians 2:14 (NLT)
Cap-ti-vate (verb) from the Latin captivus 1. To attract and hold the attention of.
My friend John Homan recently sent me a self-published book of his essays and poems entitled Honest Haircuts (see link at bottom of this post). It’s been wonderful front-porch reading for these late summer evenings. One of my favorites (so far) has been this short entry:
What a Sucker
After 23 years, I am still helpless when I see the shape of her cheekbones, the softness of her eyes as she smiles at me, asking me to do something I don’t want to do.
I read that to Wendy the other night and we had a good laugh together. I totally identify with John’s powerlessness. He is captivated by his wife, just as I am by Wendy. Attracted to her constantly, my attention persistently held, I am compelled to love her even when she’s asking me to do something I don’t want to do.
Throughout God’s Message marriage is used as a metaphor for the relationship between Jesus and those who choose into a relationship with him. In fact, God goes so far as to call those who follow Jesus “the bride of Christ” which, even though it appalls my masculinity, I begin to understand more and more as I progress in my journey. What John describes in his essay is exactly the reason why God uses the metaphor. As is constantly the case with what God has created (artist’s work expresses the artist’s spirit), there is a parallel between the physical universe God created and spiritual truth which is at the core of who God is.
I have chosen into a committed relationship with Jesus for much the same reasons as I have chosen into my relationship with Wendy. I am captivated. I am captivated by this one who loved me so much that He willingly gave up His own life to pay the penalty for all of my stupid and foolish mistakes, and chose to forgive me. I am compelled to follow, to ask, to seek, and to be continually knocked over and knocked out by my daily relationship with him.
You may be asking why I changed my plan. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? Do you think I am like people of the world who say “Yes” when they really mean “No”? 2 Corinthians 1:17 (NLT)
I recently had a conversation with a client who spent two weeks doing business in China. When I asked him how the trip went, he gave me a look of utter frustration. “I spent the entire time thinking things were going great,” he reported. “Then after I returned home and began following up I discovered that when a person in China nods their head ‘yes,’ and smiles what they really mean is ‘no.'”
I thought of my client and his frustration this morning when I read the opening to Paul’s letter to the Jesus followers in the city of Corinth. I guess Paul and the gang had their own frustrations with people who say “yes” but really mean “no.” And, I get it. Having organized and led countless volunteer projects over the years there is nothing more annoying than to have someone commit to something only to find out they never truly intended to follow through.
The further I get in life’s journey, the more I’ve come to appreciate being honest and straightforward in my answers. I am a people pleaser, so it’s easy for me to hedge and give a “maybe” or “I might” so as not to disappoint someone in the moment. But, I’ve come to learn that putting off a simple answer such as, “Thank you for asking, but I’m going to say ‘no,'” only serves to leave the “maybe” or the “kinda said ‘yes'” hanging over me for days or weeks or months like this cloud of unfinished business. In the end I will likely create even more disappointment (because they thought I might do it all along) and I will also create frustration and annoyance (because they expected or chose to hear a ‘yes‘ only to be told ‘no‘ at the last minute).
Today, I’m pondering Jesus’ instruction to make simple honesty part of daily life: “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no,'” He taught. As I begin the journey through another week, I’m reminded that in business, in relationships, in community, and in life I need to make my answers to others simple, honest, and straightforward.
But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith…. Jude 1:20a (NLT)
For over a year, Wendy and I have been dreaming and scheming to make some major renovations here at Vander Well Manor. Our little brick tudor is a cute old house and we love it. However, the garage is rotting, the wiring and plumbing are ancient, and the boiler appears to have been installed sometime during the Roosevelt Administration. We realize that it is going to take a fair amount of work to bring our house into the 21st century and make some desired improvements. Over the months we’ve been working with an architect to plan the changes we want. Now we’re in the stages of figuring out just how much it’s going to take and cost. To be honest, at times it seems overwhelming.
Building something, and doing it right, is not an easy task nor is it a simple one. It requires planning, thought, investment, and a lot of hard work. In the end there is a cost, and when you’re doing renovation work there is always the question as to whether the resulting outcomes will be worth all of the cost in the end.
So it is with building people. God’s Message tells us that we are to “build one another up.” This, too, does not happen without planning, thought, investment, and a lot of hard work. There is always the question whether your hard work will have been a worthwhile investment. Yet, we are not told to consider the outcome nor is it in our control. Building up other people is simply part of the job description for those who follow Jesus. To be honest, at times it seems overwhelming.
This morning I am reminded that building up a home and building up people have many similarities. There is, however, one major difference. If we succeed in building up our home it will result in some nice and needed improvements, but the house will simply need more renovation in another forty or fifty years. If we succeed in building up people it can have eternal results.
I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children are following the truth. 3 John 1:4 (NLT)
Twenty-five years ago I had just graduated from Judson College and was beginning two years of service as Youth Pastor of First Baptist Church in Marshalltown, Iowa. I can still remember my time there. I was young and head strong and, hindsight being 20/20, full of myself. But, it was a wonderful two years of working with an amazing group of young people. While my path quickly led elsewhere, I often regret not spending more time in Marshalltown. I am still in contact with many of the kids from my youth group through Facebook and am privileged to still be regularly sharing life with a few of them.
This Sunday “First B” is celebrating its 150th Anniversary and having a special gathering and celebration. All of the former pastors and staff have been invited back. Wendy is joining me as I head back up there to join in the festivities.
I thought of all my “kids” this morning as I read John’s letter to Gaius and the above verse. A quarter century has gone by, but I still think of every one of them as one of my spiritual children. On occasion I have received a note or an e-mail from one of them sharing how God is working in their lives today and of the things they learned while they were in youth group with me. Talk about a deep sense of joy. There are precious few things in life that compare. I know exactly what John was feeling. How awesome to know that my kids are walking in the truth twenty five years later.
Along with thinking about my youth group kids this morning, I’m also reminded of George Bailey and the way that every life touches every other life. You don’t have to be a youth pastor or serve as a minister to do the work of a minister. We do it every day in our homes, in our places of business, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, and when we’re in the grocery store. Ministry is not a job, it’s a smile, a kind word of encouragement, and a random act of kindness. What a joy we could provide to someone to simply share with them a word of thanks for the difference they’ve made in our lives.
But they soon forgot what [God] had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold. Psalm 106:13 (NIV)
Years ago I enjoyed the adventure of sailing across Lake Superior at night in a storm. By the time my partner and I took our shift at the helm we were far from the sight of land. With the storm pouring rain and wind over us, even the stars and moon were cloaked from view. I could not see the direction of the next wave that would buffet our boat. I could see nothing but the light of compass that sat just in front of the wheel as I held the ship’s course. Having been given the correct compass heading by our captain, I constantly fought to keep the ship headed in the right direction. We sailed through the blackness and I had to trust that if I maintained the proper course we would reach our destination safely.
Over time I have come to learn that there is an unveiling of the path as you progress in life’s journey. God’s message is spoken of as a foot lamp. It give us enough light for the next step on our current path, but we cannot see where the path is leading nor what is coming on the horizon. Like the compass on our night crossing of Superior, we often find ourselves making our way through darkness with nothing more than a compass heading.
There is no comprehensive map for life, though we may try to divine what will happen tomorrow or next year in all sorts of ways that range from the silly, to the spiritually unhealthy and delusional. Those who follow Jesus are on a faith journey and the point is not knowing but believing. The captain has given us a compass heading and our job is to hold course through the dark of night and through the wind and waves which constantly threaten to push us off course.
Sometimes we, like the people of Israel referenced in today’s psalm, get impatient for the plan to unfold and start setting our own course. My experience is that when we do this we tend to find ourselves lost at sea. Today, I’m acknowledging the reality that I have no idea what lies ahead. I can’t see beyond the bow of the boat most days let alone what’s coming up on the horizon. God’s message is my compass heading, and my Captain has assured me that if I hold course I will ultimately find myself safely in harbor.
Most often we look at and contemplate photos one by one. One of the things I’ve come to realize over time, however, is that when I import a large batch of photos and rifle through them, I often catch a theme from the event that one single photo doesn’t quite convey.
Last night three generations of my family gathered at my folks’ house for an evening of pizza. We did nothing more than have some pizza together and sit around the table and talk for a couple of hours. As I looked through the photos this morning I realized how many of the photos were of my family members smiling and laughing.
I know plenty of people who have never experienced this kind of love and laughter at a family gathering. The theme that arose from all of my photos last night was a reminder to be grateful and to enjoy these moments.