Monday, October 20, 2014

We Don't Know Squat

I like to think I know a lot about baseball. I've been an avid fan my entire life. I've played it and coached it. I won my fantasy league this year. I've watched untold amounts of it in person and on TV. My kids get annoyed with me when we watch a game together because I will boldly tell them what's going to happen next. I'm often right.

There were 10 teams in the Major League playoffs this year. Of those 10, there were a few I thought were the favorites. There was only one whom I thought had zero chance of winning it all--the Kansas City Royals.

The World Series starts tomorrow in Kansas City.

I don't know squat.

It isn't just sports, either. There are other areas of life I like to think I know something about. I've been to seminary. I have a degree in communications. I do a lot of public speaking. I've read a lot of books. I've raised three sons. I've been married to the same woman for 26 years. I've never been in a car accident that was my fault. I've watched every episode of The Walking Dead.

I'd like to think I know something about these things. Perhaps I'd even dare to say I was an expert in some of them. That would give me the right to tell you all the great things I know.

I don't know squat.

I've been thinking about this lately because I've been reading the Bible. The Bible takes us into a world beyond ourselves, where we meet God and his character. The Bible has a way of putting us in our place. I've been reading the Sermon on the Mount and the Psalms.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is the teacher. He teaches us about everyday life--relationships, anger management, money, prayer, religious activity. He says to forgive freely, give generously, pray discreetly, and serve humbly. In a nutshell, says Jesus, life is humility through and through because we are not God.

In Psalm 89, we meet God in his home:

The heavens praise your wonders, Lord,
your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.
For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord?
Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?

The question is rhetorical, of course. No one compares to the Lord. He set the distance between the earth and the sun, between the sun and Betelguese, between the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, between the center of our planet and the farthest reaches of the universe. He formed the black holes and red giants, the quasars and pulsars. He staked down the core of the earth and set us in motion. He made jellyfish and the elephant. He crafted your pinky finger and the brain which allows you to read this and comprehend it. He exists before and after all things.

"Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." (John 1:3)

I like to think of these things whenever I'm tempted to think I'm somebody who knows a lot. I am reminded how small I am, how briefly I'll be here, and how little I actually know.

I have some bad news for you, my friend. You don't know much either. You might have experience, education, skill, research--even superior intelligence. You might be the best read person you know. You might know seven languages. You might think you have the answers to the Ebola crisis, the Isis threat, immigration reform, and global warming. You might have advice for marriage, money, child-rearing, and the best way to cook a chicken. You might have graduated from Harvard and Yale on the same day. Heck, you might even be able to convince me that you've figured out the answer to the debate between predestination and free will. Yes, you might be really smart, and have a track record of knowledge and accomplishments so deep that they are carved into that stone bust of yourself that sits on your impressive mantle of success. You might really be something.

Have you ever been here?

No, I didn't think so. I haven't either.

We don't know squat, you and I. Pondering God brings humility, and humility brings us closer to him. I think I got that right.

Good luck to the Kansas City Royals tomorrow night.

Monday, October 13, 2014

No Longer The Man

Once upon a time, I was THE MAN.

I was the 17-year-old lead trumpet tooting my horn front and center at the 50-yard line.

I was the 27-year-old shortstop stealing basehits and pummeling line drives into the gaps on the softball field.

I was the 35-year-old cool guy hired to be the pied piper of teens and build a youth ministry for the ages.

I was the 39-year-old excitable and creative preacher everyone wanted to hear.

I'm not any of those any more.

Instead, I'm now the "age of which we do not speak" guy who hasn't played the trumpet in 20 years, can no longer throw a lick, and whose role at church has changed from the cool youth pastor to the bald guy whom new kids mistake for the church custodian. Over the years my role has changed from being The One who does everything (and gets most of the attention) to being a guy who stands in the back and cheers others on, unnoticed when present and un-missed when absent.

And I'm okay with it. In fact, I'm better for it.

Here's a more concrete description of what I'm talking about. My role as a pastor is now primarily one of development instead of being hands-on, front and center. Instead of hanging out with kids and leading every meeting, I create structures and equip staff and volunteers so that we can have the maximum effect and reach as many kids as possible. I do things that few would notice so that many others will be noticed.

Yesterday, I saw this play out before my eyes. Instead of me: Our former youth leaders got the hugs from kids coming back from college. Our middle school director absolutely nailed the morning sermon. Our Girls Director made a fabulous first impression welcoming the new family. Our student leaders joyously rocked the worship, flawlessly handled sound and tech, and warmly welcomed our guests. Our current youth leaders deftly led our Family Groups.

There was a time when I did all these things in the same day. And while I might have complained a little too loudly in order to make sure everyone knew how amazing I was, the truth is that my ego enjoyed being The Man who could pull it off.

Not any more. I'm no longer The Man. I'm becoming something more.

Now, if I'm honest with you (and this is my blog, so I can be honest here), the mere fact that I'm writing this is evidence that I'm still wresting with it all. As the youngest of three brothers--the baby of my family--I've always been perfectly happy as the center of attention. I don't think I was obnoxious about it (my brothers might disagree), I just think I was spoiled enough--and good enough at enough things--to enjoy the limelight a little too much. I was happy to allow people to feed my ego with words of awe over my very mild achievements. Even as adults, we remain the children we've always been.

That's why change doesn't come easily. But it's also why change is inevitable. We grow, we mature, we move into seasons of life that force us to reinvent ourselves. As we do so, we draw upon our experiences and lean into opportunities we were not ready for in younger days. They might be less glamorous, but more meaningful. John Eldredge lists six stages of Manhood--Boyhood, Cowboy, Warrior, Lover, King and Sage. Cowboys and Warriors get most of the glory, but it's the Kings and Sages who are the most fulfilled. So now, as I near "the age of which we do not speak," I am beginning to let go of my need to the The Man. I'm helping others win the applause, get the glory, succeed in the spotlight. I'm moving to the back of the room, with a smile on my face and a cup of coffee in my hand, cheering them on. I kind of like it back here. Not always, but mostly. I'm still working on it.

I'm no longer The Man. And by God's grace, I'm becoming a better one.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Plowing for New Wedding Ideas

In a few weeks, I am performing the wedding ceremony for my niece, Melinda, and her fiance, Michael. It's going to be a traditional wedding, taking place in an old church in Lancaster County, complete with wooden pews and stained glass windows. This "old" thing is going to feel like a new thing, because lately all the weddings I've attended have been barn weddings.

"Were you born in a barn?"
"No, but I was married in one."

In the past three years I've been to seven weddings that were either in a barn, near a barn, or celebrated afterwards in a barn or barn-like atmosphere. It's the latest trend in weddings. Pinterest is going ham with a silo full of barn wedding ideas. I hear there are 700 pages dedicated to the mason jar alone! Martha Stewart must have had a cell mate from Iowa when the Feds sent her up the (Mississippi) river. Young people today are milking this theme for all it's worth, and as a pasture, I mean, pastor, I think it's pretty cool.

I love barn weddings. In fact, I think weddings today are way more fun than they were back when Karen and I got married. Our reception was in a country club. I wore tails. There was china on the tables. The photographer took boring, posed pictures. My favorite is of Karen's grandparents--in their wheelchairs--with the nursing home attendant standing behind them. How did this stranger make it into our album? It's like American Gothic: The Later Years. Anyway, the wedding was very nice, and I was young and in love and didn't care too much about the atmosphere. But I was sweating the whole time and worried about getting chicken cordon bleu on my tux. It was too formal for the kind of people we are now. I much prefer a laid-back, casual hoedown where a guy can take off his boots, throw some corn-hole, and unhook his suspenders before he does a little line dancing with a mason jar of Angry Orchard in his hand--yeehaa!

But the number of barn weddings has me thinking: How long will this trend last? What will the next big trend be? I have a few suggestions:

Baseball Park Weddings: Marriage on the mound, reception in the bullpen.
Chipotle Weddings: A much greater variety of meats than most receptions, and with sour cream.
Moon Weddings: The bride could take one giant leap down the aisle. The kiss might be tricky, though.
High School Cafeteria Weddings: A slap in the face to that teen crush who dumped you there.
Zoo Weddings: Nobody would even notice your weird Uncle Frank among the chimps.
Roller Coaster Weddings: For the groom with cold feet; once that bar is down, there's no turning back. "I now pronounce you husband and wiiiiiiffffffffffffeeeee!"
Lego Weddings: Finally, a wedding kids can enjoy!

These are just a few of my thoughts. I'd like to hear yours.