Living On Purpose

Are you someone who lets life to you or are you someone who plans ahead?

When do you step back to evaluate and look forward?  Or do you just “go with the flow,” hoping things will work out along the way?

Do you live intentionally or reactionary?  

 

These questions and more have been rattling around my head for the past year or so, and I didn’t like my answers to them.  You see, we have two young children and our story isn’t much different from most others’: often – too often, in fact – it feels as though we are just responding to life, treading water just to keep from sinking.  The budget and financial discipline we worked so hard with to help us pay our loans went by the wayside once we became debt free.  Busy days led to busy nights which led to us eating out more…and gaining weight from our unhealthy habits.  Regular dates with my wife became fewer and further between.  The lists go on and on – spiritually, physically, “fun” time and hobbies.

Life has been happening to us.  And we haven’t liked that.

So we are doing something about it.

In the coming weeks, I will be tackling topics and areas of our lives in hopes of providing some practical ways YOU can live life on purpose.  Feedback is welcomed along the way as these posts will hopefully give space for you to step out of your everyday routines and reevaluate how you are choosing to live your life.  It’s the only one you’ve got, so let’s make it count.

See you next week as we look at an area I’ve worked hard to be good at: personal and family finances.  

 

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Something Old, Something New

Early this week the Box Office results came in: Disney’s The Jungle Book opened with one of the biggest April debuts ever.  The story isn’t new, but the movie’s live-action presentation makes it completely different than its beloved 1967(!) cartoon predecessor.  It’s the most recent in a string of remakes that Disney has released as they retell their “old, old” stories in different ways that resonate with new generations.

“To have this incredible vault of content that they can go back to and reimagine, retool and recreate for today‘s audiences just gives them a depth and breadth of films that is almost unparalleled,”Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore, said. “Disney has this knack for taking something that’s very old and making it new again.”

Church leaders would do well to pay close attention to what Disney is doing as it revives not only its children’s classics, but the Star Wars and Marvel franchises as well.  They are, in essence, practicing what Greg Jones of Duke Divinity School calls Traditioned Innovation – a way that holds the past and future in creative tension, not opposition, with one another.  Greg Jones and Disney don’t see “today” as a problem to be overcome, but an opportunity to share their respective stories with modern audiences.

That’s the challenge for many churches today: to not see “today” as a problem to overcome, but as an opportunity to re-narrate the “old, old story.”

As wonderful as Disney’s stories are, people of faith have a better one.  As deep as their narrative wells go, the Church has a deeper one.  As fantastic and imaginative as Mickey Mouse is, Jesus offers a fuller reality that touches those places in our lives we attempt to escape from through film and story.

If only we did better at telling that story, “taking something that’s very old and making it new again.”  Not with some missing-the-point defensive film like the God’s Not Dead franchise, but in more Jesus-like ways.  People don’t agree with you or aren’t in to Jesus?  Ok, shake your shoes off and move on (Matt 10:14).  Don’t like the way politics is being discussed on your Facebook feeds?  Turn the computer off, and pray for “all those in authority” (1 Tim 2:2) lest you fall into the same sin (Gal 6:1).  Ever complain about “the church” and how others have failed, mistreated, or disappointed you?  Maybe you should practice patience and long-suffering (Galatians 5:22-23).  Because “quiting” or “walking away” and “taking a break” are the same old ways that need to be re-narrated and told differently.

How wonderful it would be if “our” story was one of deep commitment, generosity, and personal responsibility to “make God’s Kingdom come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  That’s the old, old story, and that’s the one we need to tell anew to today’s generations.  That’s the tension.  And that’s the opportunity: to reimagine, retool, and recreate for today’s audiences the story of Jesus and his love.

“I Remained, Lost in Oblivion”

“On a dark night…I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.”

  •  St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul

 

May you, in your seasons of darkness, rest your weary head on the One who loves you and will not forsake you.  And there, may you abandon yourself and cast all your cares upon Him.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

“What’s Communion?” they asked.

“You have people in your congregation who are at A,” the pastor explained as he drew a line graph littered with letters.  “Others are at B.  Others are at K.  The beautiful thing…is when everybody is met where they are and are invited to the next place.”

I was reminded of his words this past Sunday when two little girls walked into the sanctuary and asked if we were having youth group.  I’ve gotten to know them in the past two years through some of our church events (like our annual VBS and when we rented out the local water park for a free community event) and because one of them lives just down the street from me.  They are sweet, sweet girls who are helpful, kind, and entrepreneurial (One of them walked down to the Dollar General with another friend to purchase lemonade mix, then they set up a lemonade stand in our church parking lot and made enough money to buy a slip-n-slide…all by themselves!  They are 8 years old!  Amazing.)

They don’t have any church background, however.  They don’t know the difference between VBS and Sunday morning worship.  They don’t know the norms and taboos, like how we’re not supposed to run around the balcony during worship services or talk and laugh during quiet prayer time.  But still they came, all by themselves, and stayed even though youth group wasn’t in the morning.

As I watched them, I thought they were at A.  They don’t really know anything about “church” or God or what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  Thankfully, they do seem to know that this congregation of Jesus followers is a safe place for them, a place and people where they are welcomed and loved.  I hope they are experiencing the fuller meaning of sanctuary in this place.  (And, through their lives, I hope we learn that we aren’t as far along as we like to think; that maybe we are the ones at A and maybe we are being invited – through the girls’ examples – to another level of understanding who God is and the lives God calls us to live…but that’s another post.)

Graciously, one of our loving women made her way up the stairs during the service to help teach them about “church.”  She met them where they were and invited them to know more.  At one point she asked them, “Do you want to have communion?”

“What’s communion?” they asked.

What is communion?  Now there’s a great question.

At its best, I hope communion is more than just a “meal” of broken bread paired with teeny-tiny plastic cups of grape juice.  At its best, I hope communion is the very embodiment of Jesus the Christ – where all persons, A-Z, are invited to confess that they don’t have it all together, that they are in need, and that they need help.  Where all are invited to a table with the open arms of forgiveness and friendship.  Where anger gives way to forgiveness, where sorrow is pointed toward hope, where guilt gives way to grace.  At its best, I hope communion is the meal that feeds our needs with Jesus, in whom our restless souls find the rest they so deeply long for.  And then, at its best, I hope communion sends us forth as witnesses to the Love we experience in the meal.  That those who partook of the bread and juice are, for the world, the Body of Christ redeemed by His blood.  A people who extend to others the forgiveness, friendship, hope, and grace they first received themselves.

I hope that’s the kind of communion the girls were offered on Sunday. Because that’s the kind of communion they reminded me that I need.

Unlearning and Learning

A man who I consider to be a mentor once talked about how he and his wife were trying to raise their “kids in such a way that they have as little as possible to unlearn later on in life.”  His comment really resonated with me, especially as my wife and I are now discussing how we hope to raise our young children and the values we want to impart.

These are wise words that extend far beyond child-rearing, however.  More frequently, I’ve been thinking about what he said with respect to Christians in America – particularly United Methodist Christians, of which I am one.  My sermon research the past several weeks has revealed to me ways in which our culture is shaping us in ways we don’t even realize.  According to one statistical resource, the average American sees over 5,000 advertisements every day.  At first glance this number seems hyperbolic, but then I get to thinking more about how many ads I see on TV, while driving across town, and – especially – how many I see on the internet.  It’s no wonder that, when surveyed, over 54% of Americans list “shopping” as one of their favorite pastimes.  In our consumer-centric culture, these same Americans carry an average balance on their credit cards of over$7,500.

We are being taught to want and to need and to find our identity in our possessions.

Talk about needing to unlearn some things.

These same Americans then give less than $1,000 a year to churches.  Breaking that down a bit further equates to the average american given less than $20 a week to a local church.  The average Starbucks drink costs around $4.

Talk about needing to learn some new things.  That’s at least one reason why be an active participant in a local church is so important.  If we aren’t involved, if we don’t show up, if we don’t make weekly worship a priority, then we are letting culture shape us without the alternative narrative Jesus Christ offers.  But that’s another sermon and post in itself.

For today, I am thinking more about what United Methodists need to unlearn and learn.  The trends speak for themselves: the United Methodist denomination is “in crisis.” Attendance in America has declined steadily for the past 50 years and, from 2009-2014, baptisms dropped nearly 19%.  In my Indiana Conference alone, only 24% of UMC churches have seen numerical growth the past five years.  These trends should speak loud and clear to life-long UMCers: we need to unlearn some things.  The way we’ve been “doing church” has not been faithful to our mission – to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Poke any United Methodist with a pulse and they’ll give you a fist-full of reasons for why we’ve been declining and what needs to change.  I’d encourage you to reflect and share your thoughts in the comments, but for now I’ll just offer this:

Christians need to unlearn thinking that “the church” is somewhere to go, and they need to learn that “the church” is who they are.  

Christians need to unlearn that the church’s mission is to make us happy, and we need to learn how to, once again, be forces for good in our communities.  

What do these mean?  Firstly, it means that we need a more mature Christian imagination that allows for us to see how God might use us in our current locations and with our current passions and interests.  How can you leverage your career, your hobbies, and your neighborhood to bless your world?  What does a Christian scientist look like?  What does a Christian accountant look like?  What does a Christian entrepreneur look like?  Learning a grandeur Christian imagination is one big step in helping us be the church where we live, work, and play.  Secondly, it means that Christians need to recapture the heart of who God calls us to be: God’s blessing for the world.  The past century of our American context has taught us how to forget this, it’s time that we relearn it.  What is your local church doing for its neighborhood and community?  Where is it’s budget being spent?  And how about you?  What are you doing for your community?  Where are you volunteering and serving?  What needs are you helping to alleviate all because you are a follower of Jesus?  And how about your budget?  Do you tithe to your local church or are you an “average American” who gives less than $20 a week to your local church?   #GutCheckTime  C’mon now; you can’t complain about “the church” if you are part of the problem.  

Life teaches us a lot – some good, some not so.  For Christians, especially United Methodist ones, it’s time to look in the mirror and see what we need to unlearn and what we need to learn to become more faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

Something To Say: Get Over Yourself

When I was in college, Xanga became a thing.  It was a beautiful season in the history of the world, a time when Facebook was reserved only for people with .edu email accounts, when the only way to have a gmail account was to be “invited” by someone who already had one, and IM was all the rage.  Online Poker had not yet been outlawed, and any teen or early twenty-something could project their existential angst through the blogospheric megaphone of Xanga.

sighhhh…#memories

On my Xanga page, that eventually transitioned over to Blogspot before finally resting here, I had atop its heading one of my favorite quotes: “People don’t write because they want to say something, they write because they have something to say” – F. Scott Fitzgerald.  

I’ve always cherished this quote, because it has persisted to ring true throughout my numerous seasons of blogging.  I write for awhile and then I stop.  After taking the past few weeks off, it seems as though I have something to say again.  So here I am.

And here’s what I have to say: Get over yourself.  

That, at least, seems to be part of what God says to Job in the closing chapters of the biblical narrative.  The lectionary followed the story of Job through the month of October, highlighting texts that talked about Job’s suffering and others describing how his friends only made things worse.  Job then demands an answer from God for why such atrocities had fallen upon him, but God refuses to play along.  God’s response is unsettling and, if we’re being honest, feels quite crass.  Get over yourself, Job.  The world is bigger than you and your problems.

A good reminder for us all, though perhaps not the most tactful response.

But sometimes a tough, honest word is exactly what we need to hear.  Sometimes we need to be drawn out and away from our thoughts, concerns, sufferings, and comfort.  Often, we need to be reminded that everything isn’t about us.  We more frequently need to be told to get over ourselves.

There is a time and place, of course, to lament and confess our struggles.  That is healthy and needed as well.  It’s not good to suffer alone, that’s another lesson from Job’s story.  But it’s not good to sit and stay in our suffering, either.  So get over yourself, step out and away from whatever it is that’s been bugging you, give yourself a break and get involved in someone else’s life – your kid’s, your spouse’s, your church’s, go volunteer, go outside, and give yourself permission to take a break from everything being about you.  

Get out of your life and get in to someone else’s; it may be just the thing you need.

Things I’ve Been Thinking About

Life’s been happening, so the blogs been slipping.  This is my attempt to get back to writing regularly again, so here are some things I’ve been thinking about lately:

  •  I’m not going to continue with the “Because I’m a Christian” series (which lasted all of one post).  I’m afraid it can sound pretentious, plus my creative energies are in a new place right now.  That series started feeling like work and a burden, which is the last thing I want this blog to be, so I’m going to move on to something new.
  • I’ve been hearing a lot about “God’s will” lately and it’s been bugging me.  I don’t believe it is “God’s will” for someone to get cancer (re:The Fall).  I also don’t believe everything happens in this world and in our lives can be attributed to “God’s will.”  We have choice in most matters and all of our choices have consequences (re:Free Will).  Moreover, “God’s will” seems like a luxury only a very few can afford.  If God cares so much about finding you that parking spot or blessing your bank account, I wish God would care a bit more about acts of genocide, floods and wildfires, infant mortality rates, malnutrition…the list goes on, you get the idea.  I wish people would think one step further about the implications of their beliefs. I think if they keep digging deeper, they will find a far more substantive faith.
  • I think there is a unique set of pressures and guilt put on pastors in particular that is disguised under “God’s call.”  I think this can be manipulative and damaging. #PastorsArePeopleToo
  • I agree with whoever said it first, that it is easier to give birth to something new than resurrect something from the dead.
  • I’m amazed at the gap between how small and/or shrinking churches and large and/or growing churches think.  One is full of possibility; the other….man, I don’t even want to go further down that road…
  • I think the Church needs to be in triage mode with respect to conversations about human sexuality.  The urgency can no longer be whether or not certain manifestations of our sexuality is sinful; the urgency is now how to tend to those who are being hurt because of their sexuality.  Questions of what is sinful are important in their own ways, but I don’t think that’s where we should be placing our current priorities.  People are killing themselves.  Parents are forcing their children to the streets.  Families are being torn apart.  Faith is being jettisoned.  The ox has fallen into the pit, to use Jesus’ words.  Though it’s unlawful to save it on the sabbath, the “right” thing to do is to get in the ditch and pull the suffering one out of the pit.  This story is starting to become the predominate way I’m thinking about how the Church ought to be responding right now to issues surrounding sexuality.  Go and learn what this means, Jesus says, I desire mercy not sacrifice…What’s more important: being right and letting the ox die, or being merciful, breaking “the law,” and saving the dying?
  • I think Christianity can be both evangelical and inclusive.  I think it’s all about Jesus, and that all are invited to His table.
  • I think there is tremendous hope and opportunity and beauty in this world, and I want to be part of it.
  • I think the side table I just made is too short.  I got the design from Urban Outfitters and my engineer brother-in-law created the plans for me.  I love it.  It’s beautiful.  It’s made from mahogany, and it cost me way less than $159.  But it is so short.  It does look pretty good next to the chair we placed it by, however.  *Toot Toot*  (toots own horn, get it? :P)

That’s it for now.  See you next week?