Wednesday, March 26, 2014

All you need is love

People basically want to be loved.  I'm starting to think it's really as simple as that.

It's a little like one of those hierarchy things, though, so you have to be careful.  By that I mean that at first, being loved just simply means being accepted for who you are.  Lots of us would settle for that, or we think we would settle for that.  We've built up so many walls between us and acceptance that the idea of someone accepting us for who we are, no strings, no conditions, sounds about like paradise.  So the word of Jesus' unconditional love is powerful to us.  We read Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus," and we think there must be a catch.  It's not possible that we are just accepted, free and clear.

For some of us, that's enough love, or at least we can't imagine needing more than that because it seems so far out of reach.

If you've ever tasted of acceptance, you realize that it's not quite enough.  There's more, but it's still love.  We want not only acceptance, we want relationship.  We want mutuality.  We want conversation.  We want a meaningful give and take that affirms not only that we are acceptable, but also in a sense that we are valuable because someone else is willing to interact with us.  This is what we call love, and we yearn for it.  Songs on the radio are full of this kind of yearning for love.

For some of us, that's enough, or at least we think that if the songs on the radio came true it would be enough for us.

If you've ever had mutuality, you realize it's not quite enough either.  There's more, but it's still love.  We yearn not only for conversation, but for growth.  We want challenge.  We want to be stretched, to see ourselves becoming more than we were before.  We want to expand our horizons and our abilities.  We long to grow.  And so love calls us beyond ourselves, calls us to go deeper, to reach wider, to care more, to extend.   The self-help section (especially all those self-help books about relationships) are full of this kind of love.

For some of us, this might be enough.  But -- you guessed it -- there's more.

If you've ever had acceptance, and relationship, and challenge, you know that you still long for something more.  You long for significance.  You long to make an impact.  You want to change the world around you in some meaningful way.  There's a whole genre of success literature, of books written for aspiring CEO's, that tells you how to move the world.  We look like Archimedes, carrying a long lever and looking for a place to rest it.  We want to be significant.

But in the long run, what we want is still love.  We want a God who not only accepts us for who we are, we want a God who calls us into mutual relationship.  We want a God who is always moving out beyond us, calling us to follow, to be challenged and changed.  We want a God who invites us into a world-transforming agenda where our input, our effort, matters.  This is what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 15 when he said we should be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for we know that in the Lord our labor is not in vain.

How deep is the Father's love for us, that layer after layer of our yearning should find its fulfillment in him!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Living into it

My younger daughter is home this weekend.  She is such  a delight.  In many ways she is a typical eighteen, almost nineteen year old -- but in others she is far more smart and self-aware than most of her peers.  We were sitting around last night talking about the process of individuation that she is working through -- that process by which a child becomes an adult, by which a dependent person becomes independent.  At one point she said, "I just want to push a button and be through this process."  It's hard having to live through transition!

I'm pondering this morning the truth of her words.  I just want to push a button and be ... what?  What is it in your life that you'd like to get through without enduring the difficulty?

Lately for me, I would just like to push a button and be adjusted to Calvary Lutheran Church.  I would like to know the names and the staff and the congregation and the routines that govern Calvary's life without having to go through these days of transition.  Many days I feel like a child in kindergarten, dependent on others for the most basic things.  I had to have someone help me mail a letter this week, because I had no idea how to do that at Calvary.  Each day there are dozens of things like that.

In my mind, it would be a great advantage to push a button and know all that.  If I knew all those things, I could focus more specifically on vision and long-range planning and sermon preparation.  This week it's been hard to get to any of those "greater" goals!  Seems to me it would be a huge advantage to push a button and be through the transition.

However, if I did that I would not be able to understand the first time visitor to Calvary and how intimidating this big church can be.  I would not understand the dilemma of someone who comes looking for a staff member for the first time, who enters into a labyrinth of offices and cubicles populated by a dizzying array of people and positions.  I would not understand the children who attend Calvary's childcare, who each day are so dependent on their teachers and leaders for every detail.  If I could push a button and have what I want, I would not understand frustration or dependence or yearning or weakness.

We wish for strength, but we desperately need the perspective of weakness, slow growth, and difficult processes.  If we are going to become all we are designed by God to be, we need the experience of living into it.

Part of the gift of living into it is that it takes us out of control.  We have to acknowledge along this 'toilsome way' that we are not masters of our own lives.  Jesus is Lord.  We are not.  Thank God!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Power, the Jesus-follower, and birth order

It's a strange dilemma for a middle child.  I was born third of six children, so my reflex -- my chosen method of dealing with the world -- is to go off on my own and take care of myself, thank you very much.  I learned early not to ask for help.  I learned to think less of those who (as I saw it) got other people to do their work for them.  It's a whole different kind of ego: instead of lording it over others, I am puffed up in my own eyes when I ask nothing from anyone.    Middle children learn not to have strong opinions, but rather to go with the flow -- to hid behind a casual comment like "Whatever."

So imagine my consternation when I find myself in a job where everyone seems to hang on my commands, sometimes even my whims.  It's a little weird.  I have people saying that their whole job is to make my job easier.  Wow.  What does a middle child do with that?

Jesus said that the way his followers should exercise power is to die to themselves, to serve one another in love, to give themselves away.  What does this mean?

In my current context, growing into the shoes (and the desk, and the office, and the role) of senior pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church, dying to myself means learning to take command.  It means setting aside my preference for long ponderous looks out the window (my office has an excellent pondering window -- actually several) and engaging with the tasks of leadership, the tasks of giving direction.  In a strange paradox, dying to myself means letting my sense of what should be (discerned through scripture and prayer and many, many conversations and pondering in the Spirit) become the direction for others.  Dying to myself means learning to give direction to others.  It means having an opinion and giving that opinion its full weight, rather than shrinking back behind a safety screen of "Whatever."

In a sense, Jesus calls us to die to whatever our flesh naturally gravitates toward.  If you gravitate toward bossiness, my guess is that the Spirit of Jesus will work on you to submit to others and let their preferences take over.  If you tend to be opinionated, the Spirit may drive you to listen to lots of options before sharing -- or even forming -- your own preferences.

It's not that we're wired wrong; all these tendencies are good if used in the appropriate time.  It's just that each of us is so full of ourselves that there's little room for Jesus in us.  That's the problem.  So he will wear down and grind away the flesh that so wants to rule us, so that we might submit to him.

It's quite a journey.  Tonight I am wiped out from a day of meetings and conversations -- a delightful day, I might add -- and still I am so wired that I can't sleep for thinking about this new job.  Fun stuff.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Empty next?

This is a weird stage of parenting.  My girls are 21 and 18, each teetering on a birthday next month.  They are moving out from under my roof by degrees; the older one by the simple strategy of getting an apartment and getting married, and the younger one by the slightly more complicated method of going away to college, which means she still gets to keep her bedroom and come home on breaks.

That makes it easier on the old man, who doesn't have to adjust to their complete absence all at once. It's a weird combination of, "Thank God they're grown up" and "What? Don't they need me anymore?"  The comfort in it all is that they're doing far, far better at this age than I ever did, so I can't really do the anxious parent thing and wonder how they're going to destroy their lives.  I do it anyway.

It's exciting to see them launching, like rockets headed for outer space, but it's hard to be the guy left on the launch pad, sweeping up debris and putting leftover rocket fuel back in storage.

I think one of the most important tasks in the world -- certainly one of the most important tasks for parents, and I believe one of the most important tasks for the church -- is to launch our very best people as high and as far as we can.  It's a complicated process and requires a lot of self-sacrifice, not for our own glory but for the gain of others.

Maybe what makes it so hard is that the launching seems to take forever.  It's a long-term emotional adjustment.  Tempting as it is, you can't just say "Bye! Love you!" and disengage emotionally.  The launched will keep on looping back to the ground for reassurance, retraining, and even repentance.  You have to stay available.  You have to remain engaged.

The upside is that you get to be a part of it.  As much fun (and terror) as it was to be launched yourself, this time you get to be a part of the next generation launching and you get to experience all over again a little bit of that stomach-tightening adrenaline of what it means to go boldly (boldly?) out into the world, much afraid, to conquer dragons.

Sorry to mix so many metaphors here.  Maybe they're outer space dragons or something.  Roll with it.

So this weekend, one gets her own apartment and the other goes back to school.  It will be quiet in the house.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


These I will take with me:

  • Countertops full of food, each brought by different hands, each prepared in different kitchens, all dishes filled to overflowing with love;
  • Entryway full of shoes, full to overflowing, full so that you laugh as you enter, wondering "Will I ever find my own again?" and not really caring;
  • Smiles and voices and glad hellos as you enter, faces that mirror your own affections, histories, inside jokes; faces that welcome you and really, really are glad to be together;
  • Conversation about what is going on in the lives of these friends, and what is going on in the lives of those who couldn't be there, not shared in gossip but in love;
  • Humor, humor that cuts almost to the bone (but not quite) and knows when to stop; or, failing that, knows to back off and ask forgiveness;
  • Children shared among families, children who through long association trust these parents more than aunts and uncles, but as one giant extended family.  They climb from lap to lap, run up and down the stairs, invade the adults' space to wrap the grown-ups into their games, and retreat back downstairs to play with the others who are so much part of their lives that they cannot stand not to be together;
  • Conversation, jokes, laughter that pauses without embarrassment to pray; acknowledges the presence of Jesus fully and returns to conversation, knowing He is present the whole time without compromise;
  • Laughter so full and raucous and down to the marrow that tomorrow my stomach will hurt and tonight my head is foggy and I wonder, "Did we really talk about that?!" -- I know we did, and I am amazed and delighted that we are so far into each other's lives we can have that conversation without embarrassment;
  • Sisters and brothers wound so far and so tightly into my life that I have no fear of losing them, only a vague unrest until the next get-together is on the calendar; 
  • Family that reflects Jesus into my life, reflects his love and his presence for me; he is the Friend of this sinner and in these friends he has befriended this sinner without reservation.  
I am truly blessed!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Recovery mode

Oh, my.

Sunday was one of the fullest, most incredible days I have experienced.  The send-off that Central gave me was phenomenal, and I am not even close to recuperated from it yet.  Lots of tears, lots and lots of laughter, tons of hugs and a whole slew of gifts and cards that Julie and I are planning to work through in the next couple days.  Many, many thanks to all those who had a part in that day.  Especially I am grateful to the staff at Central, not only for their Broadway-quality production of "Goin' on a Bear Hunt" complete with bear poo (it was delicious) and silly string and an "OSHA Approved Tree Stand" -- but also for all the many, many tiny and massive things they did to make that day happen.  I could go on and on naming individuals -- but I won't.  Know that you have made a huge impact in my heart.

So I'm still processing.

One of the questions that still rambles around in my mind is whether I could have taken the trike down the altar steps during the staff song.  Here's a pic of me debating the options: