Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Dog and the Saltdogs

There was a song by a guy named Darrell Evans that I remember singing quite a while back, don’t remember the title, but the crescendo line of the song said, “and freedom is now the song of my heart.” That line means something different to me now than it did then. Last year I saw a former ministry colleague at a baseball game for our local semi-pro team. As we chatted, he asked me if I would be interested in taking his place as team chaplain next year, as he and his wife were moving to another state to take on a new ministry position. Not thinking much of it, I said I’d be interested, but left it at that. In March of this year, he called me up and asked again if I was still serious about doing the chaplain gig. Now to be completely honest, I must say I had ulterior motives in saying yes. Our new restaurant we are opening is only about a 5 min walk from the ballpark, so if I had a foot in the door with the team office, I might be able to do a little good-guy marketing, plus I can get free tickets to any home game I’d like. I wrestled with feeling guilty or putting it in the “being shrewd” category. I chose the latter. This Sunday was my first home game to lead chapel. It’s the first time in at least two years since I’ve done anything of that nature. I felt surprisingly at ease leading up to it. Meeting the team for the first time was a lot of fun. It felt a little like my days at the university. There were five guys that showed up. We met in the dugout for about 15 min. I shared a thought about faith being the fundamental of our lives, that just like in baseball, without the fundamentals, you’ll miss the point of the game. Pretty short and simple. Players exit to their pre-game rituals. I take a stroll around the park before leaving for home. Reflecting on the experience on the way back, I couldn’t figure out why I was so nonchalant about the whole matter. When I was a professional and would do one of these kinds of engagements and only five guys showed up, I’d be in the tank, but not today. Why was I so free? The thing I concluded was that since ministry is no longer my identity, I am not tempted to attach some kind of personal meaning to the situation. Ministry as a vocation did a number on me, as I tried so often to justify my existence through my performance and the perceived outcome of my job. Ministry as employment may not be for me ever again. Freedom is now the song of my heart. I’d like to keep it that way.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Are you using Me?

As more layers of ministry veneer get peeled back, more and more new messages get revealed for me to decipher. In some ways its like pulling down old wallpaper sheets and finding a few lines penciled on the plaster beneath. They’ve been written for a long time, but now is when they get read. I found this one this morning. Are you using Me? I saw this as I was digging around the question of impact. Seems like we ministry types are always thinking about the next big thing, and where we can have the biggest impact. I would liken it to King David wanting to build the temple. God told him nice idea, but you’re not the one who gets to do it. Did the Father sense that this kind of accomplishment would not be good for David? Was David using the task to feed some ill motive? We’ll never know. And isn’t that the truth about motive? Will we ever know our heart’s true intentions? Will any of us ever have a pure incentive? I’m not trying to be cynical, because this makes grace all the more attractive. Regardless, the Father dishes out grace to all of us in unimaginable ways, all the while knowing our desires better than we know ourselves. The blessing of this uncovered message led me to think about why I want to do ministry in the first place. On the one hand, there is the simple joy of helping others. It’s a satisfying feeling to encourage, uplift, and console. In doing so, you sense you really are the hands and feet of God. You are cooperating with Him. But on the other, there is the side of ministry that gets really dark. It’s the side that feeds the ego. It gives me something to lean on, to talk about. It justifies my existence and makes me feel important. And with these eyes I saw the message this morning. I received the correction and relaxed in the freedom of not feeling like I have to strive to be somebody. Since I don’t work for Jesus anymore, I find my relationship with him on a different plain now. I’m just a volunteer. I don’t work for money or position or even recognition. This is the liberty I was intended to experience.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Changing Careers

We are getting so close to the opening of our restaurant. I can’t help but reflect on how I actually got to this point. Changing careers is not an easy venture, at least not from my vantage point, but I would imagine there are other fortysomethings out there who may be in the same boat as me; finding themselves bored, depressed, frustrated, and just plain stuck. I'm here to say, Change is possible. Some guys tell me they could never do what I have done. They say they aren’t able to turn rudder and chart a new course like me. I was always taught that where there is a will, there is a way, but to be fair, I have been fortunate and my situation in life has offered me a couple of advantages to taking this step. Living modestly. Being a professional minister for 18 years, I didn’t make very much money. Since all the CD’s I produced were given away and not sold, and my 15-book apocalyptic series deal never materialized, and my speaking engagements were always to poor college students, I was limited in what I made, and in turn, in what I could consume. I’d watch my friends move to the nicer end of town and buy new cars and take their kids on ski trips and buy them cell phones, while I stayed put. I spent my share of time grumbling about it, never knowing that what was happening was a development of a lifestyle that would actually help me change later on down the road rather than preventing me from doing so. Living within our means. From the beginning of our marriage, my wife and I learned to live on the modest salary we received. We made a decision to live on one income until our kids were old enough to be in school. We did incur debt from time to time, but it was due to unexpected expenses, not consumption. So when it came time to decide on changing careers, we were not saddled with such extensive debt that would force us to stay plowing the same old rut. My dad always had a saying; "Son, don’t just be thankful for what you’ve got. Be thankful for what you miss out on." Why does it take so long for wisdom to set in? How many years did I focus on what I did not have, only to find that what I did not possess would the very thing that would enable me to launch into this dream?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

No longer a professional

Sitting outside early this morning listening to the final drops of rain make their splattering noises on the leaves of the ash tree that guards my back yard, this thought knocked on the door, seeking entrance into my queue of musings: I am no longer a professional. This may not make sense to those of you who have never made your living doing church work, so I will try and explain. In vocational ministry, you have two sometimes conflicting needs; your faith and your salary. Both serve important purposes, but when one is dependent on the other, they can create a little cognitive dissonance. I raised my own finances through individual donors and interested churches for 18 years. We all were taught to say that we are trusting God for our needs, but it wasn’t always that easy, especially when you know that God is providing through people who may not be too happy with the directional risk you feel strongly about needing to take the ministry. If I decide we need to go that direction, and my salary donors don’t like the idea, what will I choose? Do I lean toward keeping people happy, or do I forge ahead with what seems to be the right thing? Such is the dilemma of the professional, one that I don’t experience right now. This is more of the freedom my soul clamors for. Faith and salary are much easier for me to maintain now that they are not dependent on each other. I still believe I am dependent on the Hand of God and His grace to provide my daily bread. I can gladly receive blessing and good fortune without having to hide what I really believe and am actually wrestling with concerning my faith. This is where I pity the pastor who has to stand in front of a congregation upon whom he is dependent for tithes and offerings. He can’t really be honest about his thoughts on prayer, especially when he is launching into a 5 week suppository preaching series on the Present Power of Purposeful People in Prayer.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Living Backward

My, how habits quickly form. I’ve had a laptop computer for a few months and when it went down last week, I then realized its impact on my routine. I usually log in first thing in the morning and do my writing then, but not having it available has left me silent on my blog. This has me asking if its a good thing or not, this dependence on machinery and technology. To live and work and interact in our culture today does require certain components like a phone or a car. I find myself daydreaming often about living a simpler life. Usually it starts out with "wouldn’t it be nice if..." I think this is a pretty common reaction for any generation. It seems to be human nature when we get to a certain point in life, it becomes more appealing to look backward than to look forward. Is there a reason why are we so inclined to reminisce? Could it be this is just another form of grief? And don't we grieve when we feel loss? Maybe it’s a loss of innocence or loss of time or energy. The old days may seem more pure or wholesome or honest, and we yearn for that. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but it can become one if we are not careful. I always come back to this advice in Ecclesiastes: "Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions." It’s not wise because we don’t live backwards. Hope always lies ahead, not behind us. We don’t hope for what we see or have seen. We hope for what is unseen. Without hope, we are dead. Dead men have no future. Better days lie ahead because there will be men and women like yourself who will hope for them. You will invite the next generation to go forward with you because you have a place to go. Don’t get stuck in the past. Remember it with fondness, but also remember that it is never to be our destination.