Viney

When I first came to Saint Thomas some people were disappointed with me. They expected that, if they stopped by the church office anytime during the day, I would be there to chat with them. What they discovered is that I spent a good deal of my time out of the building, visiting people where they were. My explanation was simply, although probably not in these exact words, "Stagnant pastor, stagnant church."

Ten or fifteen years ago, as we participated in our synod's ABLAZE movement, this "away from the building" concept was expanded to having many meetings out of our building as well. "Man on the run" is what many may have been thinking ... which I just discovered is NOT the title of Paul McCartney's song from 1990! By now, most people know what to expect of me. This week, a short one that concludes with a memorial service on Saturday, nine of my thirteen scheduled appointments are offsite.

My goal of reading through the New Testament in six months (Have you joined our New T: 1-K initiative?) currently has me in the gospel of John. The last words Jesus speaks in chapter 14 are, "Rise, let us go from here." (John 14.31). Chapter fifteen then starts with Jesus saying, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15.5) A little later Jesus goes on to say, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide." (John 15.16) If you know anything about vines and viney plants, they are anything but stagnant. They spread anywhere and everywhere ... and often show up in the places you least expect them.

So it is with Jesus ... and the Kingdom of God ... and the people of God ... and, thus, so it is with us. Jesus says, "Rise, let us go from here," and we go ... to visit the sick and the suffering ... to help those in need ... to reach out to all who have wandered from the path, and to the least and the lost. When Jesus says, "I appointed you that you should go and bear fruit," do we ask ourselves, "What exactly does he mean by 'GO'?" (When the traffic light turns green, what do you expect the car in front of you to do? How long do you wait to blow your horn if they do not move?) Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches," and we know full well that healthy vines are green, and that green means GO ... and that healthy vines spread anywhere and everywhere, and often show up in places we least expect them.

These days I am working on taking someone with me on many of the visits, in order to share the joy and expand the blessings. And, though we as a society have moved away from front porches to family rooms, rear decks and fenced in yards (and lives on the run), I find that most people welcome the visit (when they can find the time). Yet, through these visits, the Word (which is really what it is all about) get IN people ... and, as Jesus says, "Whoever abides in me and I in him ... "

Much earlier in his ministry Jesus commented, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3.8) Christ comes to us in his word, and we are encouraged ... and invigorated. Christ grows in us and, like a vine, the spreading begins. Christ goes with us, and others are encouraged, and invigorated ... and the Kingdom of God starts showing up in the places we least expect it to be found ... our lives are changed ... so are the lives of others ... and all because of those simple words of Jesus, "Rise, let us go."

Viney people, are you with me? Let's go ... together ... and make a difference in ways and places that will surprise the world.

Almost

I came very close to not sending anything out this morning. I am sure the dominant push behind the thought was my extreme 'vacation mode' mindset. But I also know that someday I will stop writing this short weekly article offering you spiritual encouragement. The reasons for cessation could be many. I will leave that thought there for the moment.

My mind instead is hearing Jesus say,"Who the is the faithful and sensible manager? Blessed is that servant whom the master finds doing his job when he comes. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be expected." (Luke 12.42-43, 48) And I think about how much I have been given!

My "given much" mindset starts with time. I am already in the 66th year of my life on earth. This summer I heard a speaker suggest we prepare to shift from 78 to 120 ... because people are living longer. I know people in very good health who are planning 90th and 100th birthday gatherings for themselves. Each year has how many days, and how many hours? And what did Jesus say?

And time is just one, little commodity. What about experiences, education, and employmemt? What about family, friends, and finances? What about spiritual gifts and talents? The list goes on and on and on ... We all have been given much, in many different ways.

"Who the is the faithful and sensible manager? Blessed is that servant whom the master finds doing his job when he comes." (Luke 12.42) As I re-read these words of Jesus, I start to think of how many times I fall on the other side of "almost." Where I "almost" did the right thing, but didn't ... where the opportunity was there, but I walked away ... or ignored it ... or did not even notice it! While it is a myth to say that we only use 10% of our brain, it is no myth that, rather than being faithful and sensible, my life's record is filled with failures, falling, and faithlessness. And that every "almost" in my life illustrates a lack of love within me.

However, what is not lacking, is the grace and mercy that God has for me, and for us all. There is no such thing as "almost" from him in this regard. "In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding." (Ephesians 1.7-8) While we have all been 'given much' in time, talents, treasures, and opportunities, we have been 'given much more' in grace, mercy, and forgiveness in Christ.

So today, instead of dwelling on the "almosts" of my past, I will say "Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ." (Ephesians 1.3) ... and with that I will enjoy the day ... pray that I do more than just see the opportunities before me ... and believe that this will bring at least a little encouragement to someone.

Life Rolls On

Six or eight clean towels appeared in the linen closet this morning (I'm not so good at details), just like they appear every six to eight days (I am a 'kept man'). The dishwasher was full again last evening, so it was run overnight and emptied this morning. Life rolls on.

Before our Business Manager goes on vacation she lines up volunteers to cover the office for every day that she is gone. Between things being done ahead of time and the presence of the volunteers, it would be easy for the outside world to never notice her absence. My work load does not change while she is gone (even here I am a 'kept man'). Life rolls on.

Every Friday the work crew arrives and walks down into our basement. Drywall is hung. Outlets and lights are installed. Floor coverings soon will be in place. For the sake of quality control, my roll is minimal. Life rolls on.

Rolling over progresses to crawling, and one knows that soon the hands will be in the air while the feet are covering ground. Spoons supplement the nipples. Sounds become words, and before one can blink (or so it seems) the distant horizon of school will dawn. Life rolls on.

The pace of life never seems to slow down, even though we claim that we wish it would. When (or if?) we finally take the time to pause and look back we exclaim, "Where did the time go?" as we lament the many things we have missed. And, while we may be paused for that moment, life continues to roll on.

HERE COMES MY WORD OF WARNING: Without a little discipline applied on a daily basis, the rolling action of life can suddenly become a freight train steaming downhill and out of control. And, before we know it, dreams can be shattered, opportunities missed, and our life become a wreck! Yet the discipline is so simple: a little time in God's Word each day, some daily moments in prayer, multiple expressions of appreciation and encouragement to those we encounter throughout each day.

With these simple actions added to our daily routine, the freight train slows down and peace is restored. We are empowered to say with David of old, "Blessed be the Lord! Day after day he bears our burdens; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation, and escape from death belongs to the Lord, my lord. ... Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth; sing praise to the Lord. ... God, you are awe-inspiring in your sanctuaries. The God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!" (Psalm 68.19-20, 32, 35) Life rolls on, and it is good.

Our Savior's word of encouragement is clear (and simple). “Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth ... 'Be still, and know that I am God,' (he says), 'I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.' Yes, the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress" (Psalm 46.8-11). Life with God in Christ Jesus is good ... for it rolls on, day after day, with the promise that his "goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever." (Psalm 23.6)

Generally it takes more than just a sip of life-giving water every Thursday. Add a chapter or two read each day ... and an hour or two with other people of God each week ... and suddenly our next reflective pause reveals that not only is life rolling on, but peace like a river is flowing through ... and we somehow, no matter what the pace or intensity level may be, we hear ourselves softly singing "it is well, it is well with my soul" ... as life rolls on with Jesus leading the way.

V A C A'

They moved the net this year, and they had more than enough players for three teams. We are blessed with a much better view of the games, and their invitations for us to join them - thankfully - have just been playful. The weather, from our perspective, has been perfect

"I will exalt you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. I will bless you every day; I will praise your name forever and ever." (Psalm 145.1-2)

Can you tell that we are on vacation? For over 40 years we have been coming to this same street, recharging at the same address, watching families grow and generations change. During that time we have gone from being 'the new kids on the block' back in 1975, to seasoned, and sometimes I think respected, standbys.

"The Lord is great and is highly praised; his greatness is unsearchable. One generation will declare his works to the next and will proclaim his mighty acts." (Psalm 145.3-4)

The dock is always super busy over the Independence Day holiday, and the weather this year has multiplied the crowds. This is great, except that it slows down the pace of my reading. One quarter of the way through our vaca' I am only one third of the way through my second book! But it's a good one, "12 Rules for Life - an antidote to chaos" by Jordan B. Peterson.

"I will speak of his splendor and the glorious majesty and his wondrous works. They will proclaim the power of his awe-inspiring acts, and I will declare his greatness." (Psalm 145.5-6)

We are working on Rule 2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping. Peterson writes, we all "have some vital role to play in the unfolding destiny of the world. You are, therefore, morally obligated to take care of yourself. You should take care of, help and be good to yourself the same way you would take care of, help and be good to someone you loved and valued. You may therefore have to conduct yourself habitually in a manner that allows you some respect for your own Being." (p. 62) My own paraphrase of his words goes something like this: "If God in Christ has made and redeemed me to be who I am, and prepared things for me to do (Ephesians 2.8-10), then I had better take care of myself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually so that I can do those things!"

"The Lord is faithful in all his words and gracious in all his actions. The Lord helps all who fall; he raises up all who are oppressed. All eyes look to him, and he gives them their food at the proper time. He opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing." (Psalm 145.13-16)

We all are different in our callings ... our situations ... our surroundings ... but we all have the same need to be recharged, refreshed and renewed ... in our bodies, minds and souls. Daily routines, weekly routines, and special times all contribute, and are particularly effective as they all are watered with the Word of the Lord.

"The Lord is near to all who call out to him, all who call out to him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry for help ad saves them." (Psalm 145.18-19)

G@W Again

A bunch of short stories, all from the same week, recorded for the longest day of the year. Illustrations that God is at work in our midst every day. The names are withheld so each character is free to handle their story as they wish. All the way through I am thinking of how "Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, 'If you continue in my word, you really are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" (John 8.31-32). My favorite story is the seventh one.

The day started with a stomach ache, which led to a trip to the emergency room. After a night in the hospital there was a stress test, a stint to open an artery that had been 100% blocked, and a couple that could not stop talking about how good their God was. Two days later they were watching their high school child compete. God at work - again.

Though I had not been around in at least 5 years and I brought with me someone much younger that they had never met before, the welcome was more than warm. Everyone participated in the conversation. Everything was very exciting as connection after connection was made. God @ work - again.

100 years is a long time to live on this earth. That’s how old she is today. I saw her yesterday. Life on this earth has not always been overly kind to her, but I have never seen either her positive attitude or her faith in Jesus wane. God @W - again.

A friend of his sister reported the story to me. He has gone through too many very rough times. Most were of his own making. But now he seemed to be closer to Jesus than anyone in the family ever had been. He was even leading the family in prayer! G@W - again.

There are currently 134 names associated with this story. That is the number of people who have officially signed up to read the New Testament in our New T: 1-K initiative. There are another 40 or so New Testaments that are ‘out there.’ The only no’s I have heard have been from people who are already in a different daily Bible reading discipline. Everyone else has said to me - especially when they learn of the many options available - “This is something that interests me.” G@W - again and again and again.

This story has gone on way too long for anyone’s liking or understanding. It started as November turned into December, and continues today. But the victim has remained strong and firm ... doing right thing after right thing, filling his time with multiple activities that are healthy and helpful. And his name is counted among the +130. G@W - again.

In Luke 10, as Jesus sends out the 72, he says, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest" (Luke 10.2). The seventh story is yet to be written. Rather than being the story of Jesus sending out 72 some 2,000 years ago, it is the story of Jesus sending out the 628 who are receiving this email ... and the many others who read it on Face Book and elsewhere. (Did I mention that I am praying to the Lord of the harvest for you?) It is the story of you joining the New T: 1-K initiative ... and then inviting others to join in with you. It is the story of you asking perfect strangers, “How can I pray for you?” or blessing them in some other way. It is the story that you will share with me of how you have seen G@W - AGAIN.

I think I can hear our Heavenly Father singing, “Go my children, with my blessing, never alone. Go my children ... for I have chosen you to tell the world of my love.“. G@W - again ... in and through YOU! I pray that you can hear him singing to you, too.