Just Answer the Phone…

Perhaps you’ve heard of the book Diffusion of Innovations that describes how new ideas and technologies spread in different cultures. The model describes the adoption or acceptance of a new product or innovation by grouping how different people come to accept the innovation or technology. The first persons to use a new product or technology are called “innovators,” followed by those who are referred to as “early adopters.” Next come the early and late majority, and the last group to eventually adopt a product are called “laggards.” I must admit, when text messaging first came onto the scene, I was a laggard. When it comes to technology, I generally considered myself an early adopter or at least an early majority kind of person, but texting was different. Seriously! Just pick up the phone and call me.

txtSomething changed my mind, though. Want to know what it was? It was my desire to communicate with my daughters. My daughter’s preferred method of communication…their preferred method of staying connected is via text messaging. I would call them and they wouldn’t answer their phones. That was quite irritating, especially when I was paying the bill. Yet, they were constantly on their phones. I soon learned that if I texted them, they’d respond almost immediately. I could call…no answer. Text…boom! Answer right away. It’s how they communicated. Really, though…you’ve got the phone in your hand. Why can’t you just answer the silly thing? That was my reasoning. The only problem is my reasoning didn’t work with them. If I wanted to communicate with my daughters, I was going to have to communicate by their chosen means. I had to become part of the majority, even though I wanted desperately to be a laggard.

Sometimes the church can be a laggard when it comes to the diffusion of innovations. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be an innovation. It may have nothing to do with technology. It may simply be the method in which we communicate the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Jesus gave the church a fairly specific command to connect with people. He called us to connect with people so that they would become his disciples. It’s called the Great Commission, and we find it in Matthew 28: 18 – 20:

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

You’re aware of the seismic shifts that are occurring in culture. Certainly with technology and our attempts at staying connected. The entire Christian faith is about being connected. To be disciples of Jesus Christ we must be connected—first, to Jesus Christ, but then, to his body, the church. We need the fellowship of believers, yet in this culture where connection seems to be so easy, the church lags behind in making disciples.

It might first be helpful to understand discipleship a little better. The word Jesus uses in issuing the Great Commission means “a follower.” It doesn’t simply mean being a student. Someone said a student learns what the teacher knows, but a disciple (a follower) becomes what the teacher is. I wonder (and it’s only wondering) if we’re having such a hard time making disciples because we haven’t become disciples ourselves? We’ve spent a lot of time learning what the Bible has to say, but how much time do we actually spend becoming what Jesus is? I’m preaching to myself, people. Jesus give us a directive to follow. It’s what he did while he was here. It’s pretty simple: go, baptize, teach. There’s an appropriate order, too. It begins with going.

I believe going is the most significant part of the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples…” “Going” to tell others the Good News is not simply shouting “turn or burn” to one outside a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is living life in such a way that others see something different in us. It is to live a life of grace…a life of compassion…a life of hope…a life of forgiveness…a life of reconciliation.

The old cliché is never truer than in matters of faith: People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. When we show concern and compassion for others it opens the door for a relationship. Relationship is where transformation takes place. We can never underestimate the power of relationship in the making of disciples. The relationships begin “out there” in the world…in the work place…in the marketplace…on the golf course…in the places where we encounter the people we know.

Each of us has a story to share of what God has done, and is doing in our lives. We must be ready to tell our story…even when we feel our story is insignificant. There is no insignificant story in the Kingdom of God. Not one.

I think I’ve shared with you before why I call Starbucks my satellite office. It’s because I can encounter more unchurched people in an hour at Starbucks than I can by spending forty hours a week in the office. I don’t have many unchurched people stopping by the office to chit-chat. We must go where the people are, and believe you me, there are people at Starbucks. I can’t believe so many people pay so much for coffee! I have my own Starbucks Gold Card, by the way!

If we would connect with people, we must connect with them where they are. We’ve spent far too long expecting people to come to church. Come check us out. Come see what we have going on. Come to worship. The first part of the Great Commission was “go.” Go where they are! This is one place the church plays the part of the laggard. We still want people to come, when all the Lord ever asked us to do was go. I might add that in the future there will be more church happening “out there” where people are than “in here” where we gather each week.

One other place the church plays the laggard, if I may? We lag behind the world in the way we communicate the message. Hear me clearly: the message never changes. The method in which the message is delivered is constantly changing, and unless we change our delivery method, we’ll fail to be effective and fruitful in connecting to others.

Remember, the message I wanted to communicate with my daughters didn’t change. I still told them the same things I was always telling them. I simply had to adopt the method of communication to which they became accustomed. Message the same. Method different.

One of the ways I’ve had to adapt in the church? Shorter sermons. I know! There are some Sundays it doesn’t feel that way, but truly, attention spans have decreased with the innovation of technology. People need a shorter sermon. That means for me to be effective, I have to preach shorter messages.

The message Christ has entrusted to us is a message of forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ. It is a message of hope and life. It is a message of repentance and reconciliation. It is a message of encouragement and grace. That hasn’t changed in over 2,000 years. With technology rising, and church attendance sagging, the method of communicating that message must change, too.

Let us commit to connect with God, with each other, and with others who are searching for meaning and purpose. Let us commit to be open to connecting with them whenever and wherever they are. Let us commit to connect with them in whatever means is necessary, even if it means sending them a text.

Until next time, keep looking up…

Questions with No Answers (Four Lessons on Trials)…

Dr. James Dobson wrote a book in 1997 entitled When God Doesn’t Make Sense. The book was written for anyone struggling with trials and heartaches—the death of a loved one, disease, divorce, rejection—in the hopes of understanding the meaning of suffering in the world. He takes the reader through eleven chapters until he reaches his conclusion. It’s the conclusion we’re all looking for when it comes to hardships, trials and heartaches in this life. You know his conclusion? “I don’t know.” Eleven chapters, and he finally gets to point—I don’t know.questions and answers

It’s the same answer I give when I’m asked any of the following questions:

  • Why do we go through trials?
  • Why do we face hardships?
  • Why is there suffering in the world?
  • Why does God allow evil?

With all my theological training, the best answer I can give is, “I don’t know.” There is a verse of scripture that is often quoted when trials come. It’s Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV). Too often, we do with that verse what we do with so many other verses. We take a single verse and form a deep theological answer to a complex issue. Oh, that it were so easy. It leads us to a shaky theology that fails us in times of hardships and difficulties. Scripture is like real estate. In real estate, three things are important: location, location and location. Well, in scripture, three things are important: context, context and context. If we want to understand “all things work together for good,” we have to understand all of what Paul was saying.

If we want to know what Paul meant when he wrote “all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purposes,” we have to understand the verses around it, and we have to understand where it fits in the entirety of the letter he wrote to the Romans. I just would like to know, “Is God working in all this mess of a life of mine?”

The answer, for Paul and for us, is, “Yes.” Paul was no stranger to suffering; his several near-death experiences, beatings, imprisonments, and persecutions were enough to eradicate any “pie-in-the-sky” attitude that might have lurked in his heart. In the immediate context, Paul lists some qualifiers for the good to take place: “we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28, NET Bible). Paul is not giving this promise to all people, but only to those “who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

But what does this mean? Those who love God are, in this context, Christians, because they are called according to God’s purpose. We have to be careful to not say, “As long as you love God, things work out; but whenever you are not loving God, things do not work out for your good.” That’s bad theology. No, if we have faith in Christ, then all means all. Immediately after, Paul speaks of our conformity to Christ, our glorification, as the inevitable outcome of those who love God. And that is not dependent on how much we love God but on the finished work of Christ on the cross. Paul concludes this chapter by making explicit that nothing can separate us from the love of God (vv. 38-39), and by implication, that would include even our temporary lapses in our love for the Savior.

What, then, is the good? The good is conformity to Christ! Ultimately, Paul says, all things work together to bring each of us into conformity to Christ, to bring each of us to glory. Not only is Paul talking about all circumstances, but he’s also talking about all those who believe in Christ. Paul does not say “some of those” or even “most of those” when describing each stage of the salvation journey. From calling to glorification, no one who loves God misses the boat.

Great theology, preacher, but I need practicality. How do these trials and hardships work for good? Okay, here are four lessons to remember about trials.

  1. Trials are a short term reality. I love the theology of the unlettered maid who was great in the kitchen and an immaculate housekeeper, but her main strength was that she was never ruffled by anything. She was always calm and in control. When asked about her secret, she quoted a verse in the Bible: “It came to pass.” When told that this was not the complete verse she replied, “It is for me. It means that whatever comes, comes to pass. It doesn’t come to stay.” We may have short-term pain, but it’s working out a long-term gain. It’s like when we’re sick. We go to the doctor because we trust the doctor knows what he/she is doing. The doctor prescribes the treatment, and it’s painful or unpleasant, but it’s necessary for our ultimate healing. We have to endure a little more pain before we’re better. As followers of Jesus Christ, the better for us is God’s glory, and this short-term pain is working toward a long-term gain.
  1. Trials give us proper perspective. If we never had bad experiences, how would we know to appreciate the good experiences? Our problem is we interpret everything from our human, materialistic perspective. The good is not our comfort or wealth, or even our good health. The good is God’s glory. Part of my daily routine is a short devotional called Our Daily Bread. It recently had a neat prayer that read, “Lord, it is easy to let my circumstances change how I understand You. Help me to remember that You are good and faithful, even though I can’t see everything and may not understand how You are working.
  2. Trials keep us forward-focused. We may see nothing good come of misery and disaster in this world, but this world is not all of reality. There is an ‘until’; there is a place beyond the horizon of what our senses can apprehend, and it is more real and more lasting than what we experience in this life. God is using the present, even the miserable present, to conform us to the image of his Son. If we define the good as only what we can see in this life, then we have missed the whole point of this text. For, as Paul said earlier in this same chapter, “For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18, NET). For Western Christians (especially American Christians), we are prone to think if our lives are comfortable, if we have wealth, good health, that is fine and well. But that is not the good that Paul had in mind, and it is not the goal of the Christian life. The famous preacher D.L. Moody told about a Christian woman who was always bright, cheerful, and optimistic, even though she was confined to her room because of illness. She lived in an attic apartment on the fifth floor of an old, rundown building. A friend decided to visit her one day and brought along another woman—a person of great wealth. Since there was no elevator, the two ladies began the long climb upward. When they reached the second floor, the well-to-do woman commented, “What a dark and filthy place!” Her friend replied, “It’s better higher up.” When they arrived at the third landing, the remark was made, “Things look even worse here.” Again the reply, “It’s better higher up.” The two women finally reached the attic level, where they found the bedridden saint of God. A smile on her face radiated the joy that filled her heart. Although the room was clean and flowers were on the window sill, the wealthy visitor could not get over the stark surroundings in which this woman lived. She blurted out, “It must be very difficult for you to be here like this!” Without a moment’s hesitation the shut-in responded, “It’s better higher up.” She was not looking at temporal things. With the eye of faith fixed on the eternal, she had found the secret of true satisfaction and contentment.
  1. Trials help us experience God’s presence. Again, Paul gives us the practical over the theological when he reminds us in 8:26: “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” As long as we trust, there are times we go through circumstances we don’t know how we got through them. We might say a person had a strong will or a strong character, but it was really the Holy Spirit interceding for them when they couldn’t pray, or didn’t know what to pray. And, God’s grace was provided in just the right measure at just the right time to meet the need. The Psalmist proclaimed, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…” (Psalm 23).

“Well, pastor, you haven’t given me my spiritual ‘happy pill’ this morning.” No, sorry, I haven’t, but Romans 8:28 was never meant to be that—although it has been used as such. “So, give me a little hope, please. After all, I don’t want to be like the young man who went to the fortune-teller. She looked at his palm and said, ‘You’ll be poor and very unhappy until you’re 37 years old’.”

“What’ll happen then,” the young man asked? “Will I be rich and happy?”

“No,” the fortune-teller replied, “you’ll still be poor, but you’ll be used to it by then.”

Where do we find hope in the midst of the pain? Paul answers that, too. Paul closes this most beautiful passage of scripture with these words:

37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

All our hope is in Jesus Christ. All our life is in Jesus Christ. All our glory is found in trusting Jesus Christ. For Paul, all means all. Theologically, I can’t explain it, but practically, I can face all things because of the One who gave it all for me.

Until next time, keep looking up…

Reflecting on Rest (Three Reasons to take a Vacation)…

vanessas beach picIt seems a bit self-serving to reflect on reasons to take a vacation (especially while one is on vacation), and it also seems a bit counter-productive to write a blog while on vacation (isn’t writing a blog considered work?). So, you see the bind people find themselves in when they take vacation? Especially in the “helping” professions, the line between work and rest become incredibly blurred.

My lines have not been quite so blurry this week. I’ve managed a decent week on disconnecting. I’ve only checked work emails a couple of times (one way to avoid doing so is un-sync your phone from your work email), and I’ve only responded to a couple of work related emails. I’ve managed to spend some very relaxing days with my toes in the sand. It’s been a pretty good week…if I do say so myself.

Pastors are notorious for not taking enough vacation. That shouldn’t be surprising. It simply means pastors are a lot like other Americans. The Huffington Post reported that 40% of Americans don’t take all their vacation. 40%! That’s a large number. There are probably a lot of reasons that number is so high, not the least of which is that not many people can afford to “go” on vacation. I know I can’t afford (monetarily speaking) to be away from home four weeks a year. I rather think it has more to do with our need to be needed…which is all the more reason to take the vacation.

“All the more reason to take the vacation…” Because I’m on vacation, let me be brief and offer three reasons it’s important to take the vacation time each of us is given.beach view

HUMILITY

As paradoxical as this may be to say, vacation is not ultimately about you. Resting is ultimately about our dependence on our creator. It is an acknowledgement on our part that we are weak and limited. It’s a confession, especially for us pastors, that we’re not the answer to all our church’s issues. Additionally, rest is a great way to break the “works righteousness” mentality. Rest allows us to better understand the theology of grace.

Moreover, rest is as much for those around us. Rest is a gift to our families, especially our spouses. Sure, we might not need a vacation, but our spouse and our children do! Don’t our families deserve as much of us as the world does? Yes, ministry is a calling, but so is being a good spouse and parent.

Taking a vacation is an excellent reminder of our ultimate expendability. That’s really not a fun think to think about, but the reality is that when we’re away, the world keeps right on turning. Tasks get completed without you. Yes, I know. There will be a pile waiting on my desk when I get back…but…they are “waiting.” Nothing earth-shattering happened because you weren’t there to take care of a task.

HEALTH

Vacations lower stress and reduce anxiety (unless you’re one of those rare persons who stresses out because of all the work they’re missing). We need to take a lesson from professional athletes who routinely “recover” between training sessions. We can only push our minds and our bodies so far without them breaking. The tighter the rubber band is wound, the more likely it is to snap. Time off and vacations are some of the healthiest things we can do. And, it’s biblical, too. God built rest into the rhythm of life. There’s a reason He did. (Read more about rest here).

work-vacation-policy-pop_3122Vacations also promote health within the organizations we lead. Vacation by the leader of the organization provides a positive example to staff of the importance of maintaining a proper work/life balance. Additionally, it frees up staff to creatively manage in the leaders absence. In churches, it also empowers the laity to embrace their own gifts for ministry as laity step up to fill roles usually reserved for their clergy leaders. Who knows? A pastor’s vacation may be the very vehicle God uses to allow someone to discern God’s call to ministry in their own life. I’d say that was a pretty healthy thing.

CREATIVITY

Routine tasks stifle creativity. That’s why it’s called “getting in a rut.” When the mind relaxes, it begins to function in a more creative way. Imagine…getting away from work may be the very thing that frees up the creative juices so you can solve that pesky problem that’s been hindering you at work (see…another paradox). I’ve always had a hard time writing sermons or preparing bible studies when in the office. It’s when I’m away from the “routine” of work that creativity is spawned.

Yeah, I know…it’s not a deep reflection…but, hey…I’m on vacation. You can’t really expect me to think too deeply, can you? Maybe you’ll find these three reasons helpful in encouraging you to take your own vacation.

Until next time, keep looking up…

2,500 Miles in the Wrong Direction…

If I might use the superlative “great” in reference to the AMC series Breaking Bad, I don’t think it would be out of place. Breaking Bad was a great series with great characters, a great storyline, great actors, great dialogue, great drama and a great and tragic ending. That’s a lot of “greats,” isn’t it? One great scene that sticks in my mind is the last episode of the series. Walt and Jesse, his former partner in crime, stand face to face, and Walt is just ready for his life to end, and he taunts Jesse to do the deed. It’s a great ending to a great story.
jonah3The ending to the series Breaking Bad is so incredibly similar to the scene in which the Old Testament prophet, Jonah, finds himself at the end of the book (Read Jonah 4 here). I think I can use the same superlative “great” to describe Jonah’s story. As a matter of fact, the author of the book of Jonah uses the word “great” no less than fifteen times in the fifty-eight verses of the book. There is a “great” city. There is a “great” wind and a “great” storm. There are sailors with “great” fear. There are “great” people. God is “greatly” displeased, and there is “great” calamity. There is also “great” joy, and we must never forget there was a “great” fish that was part of Jonah’s story. We find Jonah sitting outside the city of Nineveh wishing for his life to end. Jonah is angry, and he challenges God to just kill him, already! If anyone ever needed an “attitude adjustment,” it was Jonah. So, how did Jonah get there?

Jonah was one of the “minor” prophets of the Old Testament. He’s best known for being swallowed up by a great fish, but there’s more to the story than that. Jonah’s journey begins when God calls him to “go down to Nineveh and preach.” But, Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, and he certainly didn’t want to preach to them.

What does Jonah do? He hops a ship and goes 2,500 miles in the opposite direction. He wants to get as much water between he and the city of Nineveh as he can. God calls, and Jonah doesn’t answer, “Here I am, Lord, send me.” He put it in high gear and hightailed it to a place called Tarshish.

It is Jonah’s hightailing response you are most familiar with. You may remember that when he hopped that ship that God went with him, and the story goes there was a great wind and a great storm so that everyone on the ship thought they would perish. Jonah slept through the storm until finally the captain woke him up and challenged him to pray to his god for deliverance as all the other sailors were doing. Jonah eventually admits that he’s the cause of the storm and implores the sailors to throw him overboard to save themselves. Very noble wouldn’t you say? See, it’s not that Jonah is unconcerned for people in general. It’s just the Ninevites that he has a problem with. He was thrown overboard by the sailors and was swallowed by a “great” fish. Three days and three nights of severe indigestion caused the fish to vomit Jonah out onto dry land, and wouldn’t you know, it was on the same seashore from which he left. Right back where he started from, and still confronted by God’s call to “go to Nineveh and preach.” So, what’s a guy to do standing on the seashore smelling of fish? “Alright,” Jonah says, “I’ll do it, but I won’t like it.”

Jonah goes to Nineveh, which is so large that it takes three days to cross it (that’s about sixty miles for those of us with pick-up trucks). Jonah arrives on the edge of the city and begins to deliver the shortest sermon in history—one sentence—five words in the Hebrew and eight in the English translation: “Forty days from now, Nineveh will be destroyed.” There are no flowery speeches, no illustrations, no three points and a poem. Short, sweet and to the point.

Someone said, “There’s no such thing as a bad short sermon.” That’s not true! I’ve heard some bad, short sermons. Jonah’s, however, was a great short sermon. It was great, not because it was short, but because it was effective. Jonah didn’t get a third of the way across the city before the people of Nineveh started repenting. They started putting on sackcloth and ashes, and what’s more, even the animals felt the power of Jonah’s message. Even the King, who heard the message second-hand, was touched and commanded the whole kingdom repent and turn to God. WOW! Billy Graham had nothing on Jonah! The problem was that such rousing success only served to make Jonah angry.

Jonah was reluctant to go to Nineveh because the Ninevites were the mortal enemies of Israel at this time in their history. The Assyrians were known for their extreme cruelty to the captors, and Israel had experienced that cruelty often during the years of the minor prophets (circa the 5 – 8th centuries B.C.). Assyrian records brag of live dismemberment wherein the victims were often left with only one hand so the Assyrian attacker could shake it before the person died. Another practice was making parades of heads, requiring friends of the deceased to carry them elevated on poles. Jonah really had no desire to go to Nineveh for obvious reasons. He might well have expected to be arrested, tortured, or become training fodder for the Assyrian army until they got tired of him, and led him through the city streets to hang as an act of national pride and unity.

Not only were the Assyrians enemies, but they were Gentile enemies. Do you know how much the Hebrews hated Gentiles? The daily prayer of the Hebrew man was to thank God they were not born slave, female or Gentile. The Gentiles were not God’s chosen people. They were not special like the Israelites. Surely, Jonah didn’t expect that God really wanted him to go to Nineveh?

Actually, Jonah knew that’s exactly what God wanted him to do. Jonah refused to go to Nineveh, literally went 2,500 miles in the wrong direction, was swallowed and vomited out by a great fish before he finally consented to go because, in his own words, “I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God.” Imagine! Jonah’s bad attitude is because of God’s grace and mercy, and it’s so bad that it throws him into such a deep depression that he despairs his own life.

“I knew you’d relent, Lord.” “I knew you’d save them, Lord, and I just didn’t really want you to do that!” “They deserve to die for their wickedness and evil ways!” Imagine Jonah saying that, and never stopping for one moment to consider the same gracious and compassionate God had saved him from the belly of a fish not many days before.

In his anger, Jonah leaves the city and sets up camp on the off chance that the Ninevites show their true colors and revert to their evil ways, or God might wise up and destroy them anyway. Underneath his little brush arbor, God decides to give Jonah an attitude adjustment. A vine grows and provides shade for Jonah. “Ah, cool,” he thought, but the next day, a worm comes and destroys the vine while a scorching wind begins to blow. “Awe, man! Just let me die!” exclaims Jonah.

But, God said, “You’re angry because a vine died, and yet you didn’t make it grow or tend it?” The Lord continued, “Look Jonah, there’s a city down there with 120,000 people that I care about, not to mention the animals. You should care about them.” God lets him know that he misses the point totally.

Jonah’s attitude is laughable if it didn’t sound so familiar. A gracious and compassionate God—what a depressing thought! Until, of course, we are confronted with our own enemies and we come face to face with the realization that the same God who is gracious and compassionate to us seeks to be gracious and compassionate to them, too. As those called to follow Christ, we must put feet to our faith, and that is where the rub comes, especially when we realize the desire of God’s heart is to use us as vessels of His grace and compassion even to our enemies.

How do we do that? Listen to what Jesus told his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount:

43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.    Matthew 5: 43 – 45 (NLT)

Loving our enemies may never be easy, and our attempts to avoid doing so (though probably not met with encounters with great, stinky fish) will always be met by God’s persistent call to obedience. Giving up deeply held resentments will be the hardest part, but our failure to do so will likely result in heaping anguish and pain on ourselves—not the least of which might be depression not unlike that which Jonah faced. That’s the attitude we need to break. We need God’s attitude to be our attitude. We need to see God’s perspective. Otherwise, we’ll just keep running 2,500 miles in the wrong direction.

A gracious and compassionate God! What a depressing thought!

Until next time, keep looking up…

A Saints Fan’s Perspective…

I got a little perspective last night, which I think is ironic, since my oldest son, Adam, decided to start his own blog entitled “saintsfansperspective.” I’m also thinking it is a pretty good thing he’s in Brazil right now, and was unable to watch that thing they called a football game last night (the Saints lost–again!). He’d be terribly disappointed right now (actually, he’d probably be asleep right now–what does that say about me?), but, I suspect there are a lot of other Saints fans who are terribly disappointed right now, too.

350px-Fleur-de-lis-fill.svgI admit, I’m a little disappointed this season hasn’t gone better for the Saints. The New Orleans Saints are my team. Like my son, I’ve pulled for the Saints as long as I can remember, and I remember all the way back to 1967 (the first season they suffered a three-game home losing streak–also, their first season). I can remember wanting a Saints football uniform for Christmas when I was a kid, but what I got was a Green Bay Packers uniform. The Packers? Yes, the Packers. I guess my mom (I mean Santa) couldn’t find a Saints uniform that year, so she (I mean “he”) got the best one that could be found. Not that that gift has scarred me for life or anything, but I still don’t like the Packers (Aaron Rodgers notwithstanding) unless they’re playing any team in the NFC South. I remember rushing home from church so I could watch the Saints play (that still happens today, too, by the way), and I remember not wanting to go back for youth group because the game was still on (I had to go anyway–parents were different in those days).

My love affair with the Saints goes way back, and I suppose that DNA was seeded into my oldest son. My youngest son likes the San Francisco 49ers. I’m not sure how that happened, seeing as how they were one of the primary division rivals of the Saints for the first 30 years of their existence. I know he never heard me say a good word about the 49ers (and he never will–those rivalry waters run deep, my friends), so I’m uncertain how he latched onto that team favorite. Maybe he did it just to spite me, or maybe he likes the colors of the uniform (seriously, what could look better than black and gold?), but in this case “that apple fell far from the tree.”

I developed the unfortunate habit of posting running commentary of Saints and LSU football games on Facebook a couple of years ago. I call Facebook the “new way to watch football with friends.” My commentary usually tends toward the sarcastic and negative (especially this year–for both teams) because I tend to be a glass-half-empty kind of guy (I’m working on that, please cut me some slack). Posting cutting remarks and asking sarcastic questions helps me vent my frustration a little better, and I end up not (as my son put it in his first blog when he sold me down the river) finding creative ways to curse, without cursing. I took a couple of games hiatus from posting this year, and let’s just say, it was not a pretty picture. Yeah, I know! I hear you saying, “But, you’re a preacher. You can’t get frustrated. You shouldn’t be so negative. You’re supposed to be a person of faith.” And, I would say, “There’s a reason I titled my blog Not the Perfect Pastor.” There’s also a reason I’m a good Wesleyan–I’m going ON to perfection. I haven’t attained it yet! Actually, I have friends who’ve told me they look forward to my running in-game commentary. Tell me? Dare I disappoint them?

So? About this perspective thing…

I watched last night’s Saints game with a good deal of frustration, but even while it was being played, I was praying for the people of Ferguson, MO as the decision of the grand jury was announced. This is not a commentary on the decision of the grand jury. You can form your own commentary (and I’m sure you have). This IS a reminder that what was happening in New Orleans was just a game. When it was over, the players, the coaches and the owners collected their paychecks and went home. They packed the ball and the equipment up, shook hands, showered and went home. There was nothing earth shattering that happened as a result of that game. NOTHING! A few years from now, the only reminder will be in a record book somewhere. That same thing happens every week, every year. When the game is over, it’s over. Championships are played and winners are crowned, and there’s nothing earth-shattering, or life-changing about it. They’ll crown another one next year. Sure, go ahead and crow about being a world champion. All it means (in most cases) is an extra zero or two on the end of your paycheck, and you’re not taking that with you when life is over.

In Ferguson, MO, lives were changing, and perhaps even life in these United States. In Ferguson, MO, fires were burning, property was being destroyed, people were protesting, and the police were trying to maintain order. What happened in Ferguson, MO, is real life. Those events have the potential to change the face of our nation, and to destroy a lot of lives. These are the things we should be frustrated over. These are the things we should be praying about. These are the situations we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, should be working to redeem and reconcile. We should be praying for peace and working for peace. We should be praying for God’s grace, and we should be vessels of God’s grace, not only in Ferguson, but wherever we see brokenness in people, and in our world. That’s our calling. At least, that’s the way I read 2 Corinthians 5:18-21:

18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

So, I’ve gained a little perspective from my son, from a game and from Ferguson, MO. I ask the Lord to help me keep that perspective, especially next Sunday when the Saints travel to play the Pittsburgh Steelers. For three hours, I’ll likely get a little frustrated, but I pray I remember it doesn’t really matter. I pray I remember there are weightier matters that demand my attention, that in the grand sweep of eternity makes all the difference in the world. I should probably focus a whole lot more on those things. That’s what would make me a better disciple. That’s what would likely make me a better pastor. And, that’s what will make a real, life-changing difference in the world.

Until next time, keep looking up…