Thursday, June 28, 2012


It seems that much of life can become a tug of war between ourselves and the reality of our surroundings.  We constantly attempt to gain control of our circumstances, especially when they seem to be spiraling out of control.  We want to exercise our strength and at least live under the delusion that we actually have the power, strength, and wit to be able to control our circumstances.  But the reality is that we can no more gain control of these uncontrollable circumstances than can a rock pick itself up and fly the length of a football field.

It might sound defeatist, but I think that the sooner we embrace the reality of our own lack of control, the sooner we can embrace the freedom of rolling with our circumstances.  In some ways, it reminds me of a car accident and the resulting whiplash that might occur.  I have heard people say that if you are ever in a car accident, you should just relax and wait for the impact.  That's so much easier said than done.  Every inch of our bodies wants to brace ourselves for that impact as a means and measure of self-protection.  It's the tightening and tensing of our muscles that causes the whiplash though.

Uncontrollable circumstances in life can be very similar.  In an effort to protect ourselves from the results of the "crash," we brace ourselves, thinking that we will be so much better off.  We grab on to whatever we can put our hands on and hold on for dear life, hoping that whatever it is we are standing on or holding on will be strong enough to weather the impact.  How many times have you braced yourself for the impact only to find that what you were holding onto was not nearly as strong as you thought that it might be?

I have thought a lot about the Serenity Prayer in recent days.  "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."  How often do we attempt to change things that are completely out of our control?  It's that "control" thing again, we desperately want to have it and when we realize that we can't have it, we fight and flail, kicking and screaming to try to gain control that we never had nor can we ever gain.

But, like I said, the sooner that we realize that control is not ours to be had, the more freedom we will gain.  To be honest, a lot of my faith really comes from this place, the place where I begin to realize that I have no control over certain circumstances in my life.  In fact, I have no control over many things in my life.  I hit traffic on the highway and I have no control over it.  A major storm interrupts my plans and I have no control over it.  Disease withers and weakens those who I love and I have no control over it.

Here's where my faith comes in: I may not have control, but I know the One who does.  It is not a sign of weakness, but a realization and acceptance of reality.  I think about the disciples, riding their boat across the lake when a storm came upon them.  They did their best to control the boat and keep it from sinking and finally, they gave up and woke Jesus who somehow managed to sleep through the whole thing at the back of the boat.  He wakes up and treats that storm as if it's just an annoying little gnat, an inconvenience to his circumstances.

I'm certainly not saying that God is going to come in and take control every time our life seems as if it's spinning out of control, but if nothing else, when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is there.  When we climb up on the mountain, glimpsing all that we can, He is there.  And more importantly, there will be a day when nothing will spiral out of control any longer.

In the meantime, I remember that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Attempting to take control of uncontrollable circumstances is a surefire way to begin that journey towards insanity, and I'm not really crazy about going there just yet.  May I accept what I can't change, change what I can, discern the difference, and do my best to share the news with as many people as I can.  After all, oftentimes those collisions that we experience aren't necessarily caused by us, they may be caused by someone else, losing control...or just flailing around actually living under the delusion that they actually had control to begin with.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The "Don'ts" of Small Groups

Been a little bit since I posted as I've been pretty busy the last few weeks.  I wanted to get on and at least post a little something.

I'm taking a Discipleship in Community class and we're talking a lot about small groups.  One of our assignments for this week involved reading a book by Cloud and Townsend on small groups.  For those of you unfamiliar with Cloud and Townsend, they are the authors of the book "Boundaries."

In the midst of reading this book as well as another book, we have had to answer a number of questions on a worksheet.  Among the questions was this, "You are the writers for David Letterman. Come up with your top 10 ways to kill group discussion."

I read my Top 10 list to my wife and she thought that I should post it here.  Feel free to comment if you have others to add to this, it certainly isn't exhaustive, but I did my best to be true and funny.

10. Insult people and tell them that their answers are stupid.
9. Let people think that you, the leader,  have it all together.
8. Use examples of hurts that people might have and say, "But I'm sure none of you guys are that screwed up!"
7. Let every response to a question that you are asked end with the word, "Duh!"
6. Continually compare your small group members in an unfavorable way to people that you "used to know."
5. Every time someone begins to get into deep sharing, cut them off and tell them, "Sorry, we're running out of time."
4. Create an environment of judging by encouraging members to scold and rebuke each other.
3. Put people on the spot by asking them personal and embarrassing questions that no one would want to answer in public.
2. Break the confidence of the people within your group...over and over again.
1. Make every discussion all about you, after all, you are the leader.
Let me know what you think!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Father

All of us have a story, I am no different and neither is my father.  As I reflect on this Father's Day, I can't help but think about my own father.  In his nearly 70 years, he has been through an awful lot.  While he is human and has made his share of mistakes, I am so grateful for what he and my mom taught me and how they raised me.  I am the man that I am today because of the sacrifices that my parents made for me and on this Father's Day, I am grateful for my father, Tony Gibson.

My father grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950's and when he was a teenager, his father left due to alcoholism.  That event played such a significant event in his life that he eventually committed his life to ministry and focused on helping others who were impacted by addiction.  He used his own experience to help others.

When I was young, I would stand at the door of the church after the Sunday morning church service, right next to Dad, shaking people's hands as they walked out.  More than one person joked about me being the "little pastor."  Turns out that they were more right than they probably realized.  Although I fought hard against the call of God on my life, I eventually conceded to the fact that this was what I was made for, just like my father before me.

The church wasn't always a kind place to my dad.  He experienced more than a little bit of heartache through the years at the hands of well-meaning people within the church.  Yet he always continued to give and serve, seeing the best in people when nobody else was willing to do so.  He showed grace to those who many had given up on.  When he retired, he left a trail of lives that had been touched and changed because of the impact and influence that he had had on them.

That retirement came in November 2010 for him and my mom, and in a matter of months, they were handed more change than even change junkies might be able to handle.  Dad lost his church, his career, his home, and his health.  Mom had had health issues over the years but it was topped off in January 2011 with the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.  Eventually, Mom lost her battle with cancer and Dad lost her too.  All the plans that they had made of retiring and spending time with their grandchildren were but a mist, disappearing into the clouds of a new day.

Despite all that he went through, I still think Dad did the best that he could.  I know that he is far from perfect.  He didn't always excel as a father, a husband, and a pastor, but he did his best.  The problem with our culture and society is that people aren't judged for how they do with what they have been given, they're judged in comparison to everyone else.  A lot of people are going to fall pretty short when that kind of comparison happens.  Dad has done the best with what he's been given, which hasn't always been a lot along the way.

I have nothing but love for my father.  He has left a legacy that he can see in his grandchildren.  They love him and I love him.  There are plenty of people in this world who haven't been blessed with good fathers, I am thankful for the gift of a father that I have been given.

I don't know what kind of father you have or had.  Maybe you were as blessed as I have been, or maybe not.  I know that I have another Father who is perfect, who never fails.  He's the same Father that my dad has as well.  He's always there, always listening, and always forgiving.  Any time that I try to compare myself with someone, I remind myself that I will always fall short in comparison to the greatest Father of all time.

On this Father's Day, take time to remember your dad.  If he's still alive, give him a call and let him know how much you love him.  Thank him.  If things haven't been good between you, take the time to look for restitution and redemption.  I have learned a lot from my dad and I have done what I can to pass those things on to my kids.  I've done my best to learn from successes and failures, because when we don't learn from failures, we may be destined to repeat them.

I am a grateful son and an adequate father.  My hope and prayer is that my children know that I love them and would do anything for them.  I hope and pray that they might see beyond me and my failures to another Father who will not disappoint them the way that I inevitably will.  I hope and pray that they can pass on the good things that I've taught them and learn from my mistakes, so that they too can invest in and love their own kids.

Fatherhood is not for the easily wearied, it's not an easy road.  I am so thankful today for my father.  I love you, Dad.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What's Going On?

At the risk of sounding like an old man, I write this post.  It’s kind of funny what sparks ideas and thoughts in my head.  Monday morning, I was simply perusing the movie times to see if I would be able to work out going to see “The Avengers” with a friend this week.  As much of a movie fan that I am, with three kids and nearing the end of my seminary education, I just don’t get to the theater as often as I would like.  Of course, if you don’t have the money to go to the “big screen,” you can wait a few months and catch it on DVD or Blu-Ray.

I was pretty disappointed to see that the movie times were not really conducive to someone who has little kids or a job that they need to get to in the morning.  My ranting on Facebook turned into a dialogue that really got me thinking about who is being targeted by Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general.  It seems that I am not really the one being targeted by this industry.

There are obviously the emotional elements that come with the realization that  one has moved past the targeted age range of a specific industry, but I don’t really think that was what was bothering me.  A friend made a valid comment on Facebook that,

It really got me thinking about the progression of the entertainment industry and where it has come from since its inception so many years ago.  We've come a long way, possibly in the wrong direction since some of the great music and movies of yesteryear.  I always find it interesting and encouraging to see the next generation embrace the classic rock of the 1960's that was quality.  There was some good acoustic rock that came out in the 1970's to counteract the disco movement.  Of course, there were even groups like KISS that embraced the disco movement, but we won't go there.

I'm not sure when it happened, but somehow, shock value took the place of actual value.  Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Shawn Colvin were replaced by the likes of Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj.  While some of the latter may be talented, it seems like they've set aside their talent for the things that seem to sell.  Have you seen videos of Lady Gaga before she got big?  When you strip away some of the glitz, she's got some talent.

Somehow, we've got all of these tools and instead of using them to enhance our creativity and a gifting, we use them to replace or overshadow them.  Seriously, have we been "Auto Tuned" to death?  Have you seen the latest Mr. Rogers Auto Tune extravaganza?  How about Antoine Dodson?  Are we tired of music that says nothing, put together with simplistic lyrics?  Have we had enough of a lack of creativity?

Then there's movies.  I was remarking to someone today that there are some classic movies out there that didn't have tons of special effects but their stories were phenomenal, with the ability to grip the viewer from the first moment on.  Instead of using special effects as the main gist of the movie and the plot, we need to use them to enhance the story and plot, not replace it.

It seems like this is nothing new though.  What are the first programs that get cut in schools when there is a budget crisis?  The arts.  We take away music classes and art classes, stripping away the opportunity for the next generation to use and enhance their creativity.  We don't create free and creative thinkers, we create robots who will strive to do things that will make them money.  While it might seem like money might make the world go 'round, it certainly doesn't solve the problems of the world.  Creative thinkers are the ones who turn the dreams of today into the realities of tomorrow.

While many musicians have protested the ability of music to be shared and stolen via the internet, it may have been one of the greatest things to spark our creativity.  No longer do artists need big recording contracts to get ahead.  With a few thousand bucks, they can put together a recording to get their name out there via the internet.  Some of the best new artists are the ones who have stripped away a lot of the fancy tools in favor of a more organic sound.

Check out John Mayer's new album, inspired by the Laurel Canyon artists of the 60's and 70's.  Have you heard The Civil Wars?  Mumford and Sons?  Midlake?  There's some quality music coming down the pike, and it's not all coming from the big name companies.  Some of the best stuff actually started as independent releases.  Go find any college town and you will find some quality music.  R.E.M., the Indigo Girls, Dave Matthews Band, they all started out playing to college audiences.  How far they have come.

The other day, I loaded my CD player for dinner (yes, some people still use CD players).  I thought to myself, what do I need to expose my kids to?  What did I choose?  Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder.  If my kids reach middle school without being schooled in quality music, shame on me.

Sure, there are plenty of more important things that I need to instill in my children, but to me, creativity breeds creativity.  The opposite is probably true as well.  Some of the greatest musical moments that I have had in my own life have come after sitting through a concert that moved me and inspired me to write something that might inspire as well.

I refuse to build up the next generation in ignorance of what quality and creativity are all about.  I guess I've been pretty slack in this, but I have begun to see what happens when my kids hear music.  They've been going around singing a song from the latest Muppets movie, and if I'm around, I will generally join in.  It seems pretty cool to me that we've introduced a new generation to the Muppets.

There are plenty of things that our kids can learn from school, but there are certain things that they might only learn from us.  If arts and music gets cut in school, I want to be the one to teach those things to my kids.  They might not seem so important to you, but to me, they are what will breed the changes of tomorrow.  I think I need to go cue up some Marvin Gaye so I can tell my kids what's going on!

Monday, June 11, 2012

More Thoughts on Membership

After my last post on membership, a friend brought up some questions that really got me thinking more about the idea of membership.  So, I wanted to address some of her questions from my standpoint.  I know that I won't answer them exactly, so I won't necessarily list the questions out.  The questions dealt with where church membership requirements come from, were they created by man or by God?  The questions also addressed the participation in church activities for those who are not members of that specific body.

Becoming a member of a church with a simple piece of paper attesting to it is certainly man's requirement.  It's something that we have created to give a more clear sign and symbol of what we see in Scripture.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of covenants, He has made and makes promises with covenants.

I do not have space in this post to go into a long and detailed explanation of covenants, but an overview is essential.  If we look throughout the Old Testament, we see the covenants that God made with His people.  He promised them that He would watch over them and care for them, that He would set them apart from other nations.  To Abraham He promised that all peoples would be blessed through him.

Some of the covenants that God made with His people were one-sided, there was nothing required from them.  But there were other covenants that were made that were mutual, covenants that were conditional, under which the covenant would be voided should the terms not be followed.  Whenever covenants were entered into between people and God or people and each other, there was generally a blood requirement, blood needed to be shed in order that the covenant would be signed and sealed.

Covenants seem to be an antiquated idea in our society, we don't hear of them often.  We talk of contracts and agreements, but just the mere sound of those words makes it seem a bit formal with no relational aspect to them at all.  Covenants were things that were to be taken seriously and when we continue to enter into covenants, we should take them as seriously as they were in Old Testament times.

I say all this because, while the requirement of church membership is man-made, this requirement ties into the idea of the biblical covenant, entering into an agreement between us and God.  We join with Christ to be a part of his work on the earth, agreeing to be in partnership with Him, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  With this, there is an accountability required, which is why churches have established membership.  We enter into covenant with God and each other in order that we can keep each other accountable, to hold each other to what we are called to as members of the body of Christ.  Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians and Ephesians, the idea of a body with many members.

When we are baptized, whether as infants or as adults, we enter into a covenant with God.  Infant baptism is a sign and symbol of the fact that we are set apart, called by God, not in and of ourselves, but before we have done anything.  Adult baptism is a public profession of faith, acknowledging that we have been called by God to be a part of His family.  We enter into the family of God and just like our earthly families, we might not have contracts or membership forms, we know that there are still requirements of us to be a part of our family.

Herein lies the difficulty: how do we become members of an organization, a club, or a church without having some kind of membership requirements?  Like any relationship, we expect it to be two-sided.  If we were to join a club and feel that we were not getting the benefits of membership, we might either quit the club or simply stay a part of it for status sake.  But church should not be like this, we join not so that we can tell people that we are a part of it, but so that we can have a group of people who walk with us, holding us accountable to our covenant and commitment, encouraging us, praying for us, teaching us, and learning from us as we journey through life.

At the same time, if a church does not feel that members are holding to the requirements that they are called to uphold as members, what do they do?  Many churches differ.  Some remove members who no longer contribute or attend from their rolls.  Other churches allow members to stay on their rolls regardless of their status, giving an unclear picture of the make-up of a church.  While this may be a denominational thing, it is also fairly diverse on a church by church basis.  While I believe that each body needs to determine what works best for them, it seems fairly insincere to beef up membership rolls with people who don't positively contribute to the overall health and advancement of the body of Christ.

The idea of membership as it pertains to participation in certain church activities, most likely things such as the sacraments, is a different questions.  Are we united through Jesus Christ regardless of our denominational affiliation?  My general answer to that question is, "yes."  My non-general answer is, "it depends."  More and more, churches have begun to put statements of faith on their websites in order to explain the specific things that they believe.  Unfortunately, this practice can easily be transformed into legalistic lists, but I certainly don't think this is always the case.  It is essential to hold to convictions and to be able to specifically explain what you believe and why you believe it.  The danger is not falling into the trap of listing everything that you don't agree with rather than making specific statements of what you do believe.

Some denominations would get specific by listing the things that they would consider to be essentials and non-essentials.  The Evangelical Presbyterian Church has as its motto, "In essentials...unity, in non-essentials...liberty, in all"  This seems to be a fairly good motto to embrace as long as we distinguish the things that are essential and non-essential to us.  We need to lay those out, by ourselves, working out our salvation with fear and trembling.  If we are unsure, we must search the Scriptures rather than simply take someone else's word.  Belief may involve faith, but it certainly does not mean blind belief without struggling and wrestling to come up with answers.  Contrary to popular belief, faith can be cerebral.

Do denominations and membership within them pull us away from the specific mission and purpose of God's Church?  Sadly, I think this is becoming the case more and more.  Instead of seeking to reach a world who needs to understand and know the love of Jesus Christ, we bicker and argue and spend significant amounts of time debating things that should be essential beliefs and trying to convince others of things that are non-essentials.  These conversations are important, if they are indeed conversations, but we need not let them displace our true calling to make disciples of all people.  If we are to make disciples of all people, we need to be able to articulate our beliefs, so this gets kind of sticky.  It really becomes essential for us to know which things fall into essentials and which things fall into non-essentials and then be ready to move on from there, holding loosely to the things which should be held loosely and holding firmly to those which should be held with firmness.

I'm still wrestling through so much of this.  Membership to a church is something that is not specifically stated within Scripture, but it is certainly implied, at least the idea of being a part of God's Church as well as being held accountable to standards.  We cannot think that we will successfully journey through this life as individuals with no help or accountability.  If we think that we are capable of being islands, fulfilling all of our own needs, we are sadly mistaken.  Membership is a mad-made concept while covenant is a God-made concept.  Frankly, membership is a softer notion than a covenant, and we really should enter into our relationships with covenants, especially our relationships with the body of Christ on the earth.

I don't claim to hold the corner on the market with these ideas, but I have continually wrestled with them.  Feel free to question my thoughts, there may be some that I have not thought through as well as others.  I hope and pray that I can hold loosely to things that are non-essentials and yet be firmly convinced of my convictions.  May we all seek to grow more in wisdom and knowledge, but  may we never lose sight of the fact that wisdom and knowledge without practice is nothing more than good ideas without any implementation.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Last Time

In June of 2008, I began my seminary journey.  I was only six months into a new job, had one child with one on the way, and was pretty anxious.  I could do science and math, but a degree using the other side of my brain was fairly intimidating at first glance.  I started off slowly, only taking one class that summer, knowing that I would be behind just as I was getting started.  Ironically, I will actually finish 6 months ahead of some of the rest of my cohort.

I vividly recall being at my parents' house in Connecticut the night before I flew out to Minnesota for my week of intensive classes.  I stood in the room where my son was staying, holding him in my arms, crying because it was the first time that I would be away from him for more than a day or two since he had been born.  I knew God was calling me to the path that I was on, but it didn't stop some of my apprehension and uncertainty from rising up within me.

In order to keep from being away from my family for four weeks out of the year, I decided to sacrifice my Thursday and Friday nights to take classes up in D.C. at the Metro D.C. Center of Bethel Seminary of the East.  Not only would it prevent me from being gone across the country, but it would allow for me to have some classroom interaction for more of my classes.  So, in September 2008, I started my journeys up to Northern Virginia to take classes.

Four years later, my world looks very different.  Some might say that I have been proficient as my one child has turned to three.  My parents moved from Connecticut to Williamsburg and now I have one parent less than before.  Even my dad's health has been failing and my heart has been aching over all that he has been through as well as the inevitable future that I will have to face.

When I first began the classes in D.C., they went from 7PM until 10PM.  It was a two hour drive, so I would usually get home around midnight.  Over the course of these four years, the schedule changed a little bit and professors even made some adjustments so that classes started at 6PM and ended at 9PM.  It's only an hour, but it felt pretty good to get home at a more reasonable hour.

My parents were such good sports when I first started, I would call them after class and chat, mostly with my mom, for the first leg of my trip home.  We would catch up on the day, talk about my class, and just enjoy having the opportunity that was before us.  It certainly helped my travels to feel less burdensome and more enjoyable.

I clearly remember my last Hebrew class when I had a take-home final exam to be completed.  Having spent three hours in the language prior to my trip home, everything felt more fresh than it normally would.  I had gotten about 20 minutes into my trip when traffic stopped...dead.  It wasn't moving at all.  So, I decided to make the most of my time and began working on my final exam.  By the time that traffic let up, I had pretty much completed it.  Not the most opportune time or place to complete the exam, but at least I was done.

Today marks the last time that I will travel up to D.C. for class.  I am filled with bittersweet emotion.  I have made some incredible friends through the program in D.C., a program that is different from my program through St. Paul.  Although I am a minority in my classes, generally being the only white guy in there, I have never felt like anything but family to all of my brothers and sisters with whom I take class.  Not only has the coursework been formative for me, but the experience has been as well.

Tonight, when I walk out of those doors for the last time, I will get into my car and pick up my phone.  My dad and I will talk for a little while and I will be grateful, but there is still a hole in my heart that was left when I lost Mom.  I will drive away from the building and leave it behind, knowing full well that all that took place within those walls has changed me for the better.  I will drive away for the last time.

But the end of one chapter is generally the beginning of another.  I will drive home to my family who I love, one of the greatest gifts that God has given to me.  I will check in on my three kids and pray a prayer over them, thanking God for them and asking that He will continue to draw them close and to use them.  I will kiss my wife who has been a helpmate and support to me through everything that we have experienced over the last 11 years of marriage.

Sure, it's the last time that I'll travel for this class, but my learning doesn't end here, it's just the beginning in so many ways.  As much as I might think I know, I have a whole lot more to learn.  Life changes, we lose the ones we love, we gain new friends, and we are changed ourselves.  I always pray that I can leave a mark on the people that I meet in hopes that together, we can leave a mark on this world.  The end isn't really the end, is it?  Nope, it's just the beginning of something new.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Rethinking Membership

I have been thinking a lot about the idea of membership lately.  I’m reminded of American Express’ slogan, “Membership has its privileges.”  That really works well for a service organization and company like AMEX, but how does that translate to others areas?  In so many ways, our consumeristic society has caused us to view everything as ours for a price.  We come to the conclusion that everything can be bought, and if it can’t, it must not be worth our while.

When I think of membership, I think of country clubs or pool and racquet clubs where a monthly or yearly fee is paid and amenities are enjoyed.  There is very little that needs to be done outside of paying your dues.  Annual meetings may be held, but there may be no membership requirement to actually attend as there is a board of directors which makes decisions on behalf of the membership.  In fact, it’s possible that dues may be paid and one might never even enjoy the benefits and amenities of the club or organization short of simply being able to announce to friends and strangers at parties that, “I’m a member of that club.”

When we enter into a member relationship with the idea that the club or organization that we are joining simply exists to serve us and meet our needs, there is no real relationship, and if it is a relationships, it’s an unhealthy one at best.  Healthy relationships are two-sided, they involve both parties giving and taking alike.  The moment that they become one-sided is the moment that they have ventured into unhealthy waters.  Arguments ensue, feelings are hurt, relationships are dissolved.

In many ways, the idea of membership has connoted the benefits received through membership rather than what is being offered in exchange for the privilege of membership.  Not to be cliché or beat a dead horse, but JFK’s famous quote of, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” seems somewhat relevant in the face of any organization, club, or country.

The idea of membership seems to have been distorted in the church.  Having grown up within the church, the phrase, “I’ve been a member for (fill-in-the-blank) years…” is never followed by anything positive.  In fact, most of the times that I have heard that phrase, it is generally just an excuse to domineer one’s opinion over others and create some amount of credibility among people that your voice should be heard.  I hold to the same ideology with membership that I do with experience, just as one should never confuse 1 year of experience repeated 40 times for 40 years of experience, neither should one confuse 40 years of membership to being as meaningful as it might sound.

I met with another local pastor a few weeks back and we talked about the church plant that he has been leading over the last few years.  We stumbled upon the topic of membership and he mentioned that they don’t have membership classes but that they have partnership classes.  I stopped to think and realized that the term was much more agreeable to me than membership.  The idea of partnership means commitment, means unity, means joining together for a common goal.  Partnership means that decisions that are made take into account the others who are impacted by those decisions.  Partnership also conveys the idea of ownership, in a good way.

Not too long ago, I read a book by Joshua Harris entitled Stop Dating the church: Fall in Love with the Family of God.  It’s a fairly quick read that gives some good insight into the importance of being a part of a local church body.  While I don’t agree with everything that Harris says, any objections are insignificant compared to the beneficial wisdom that he imparts regarding communities of faith.

Whether you’re part of a club, a church, or any other organization, what’s your view of membership?  Do you look at these things as simply means to serve you and your family, or do you see yourself in partnership with others, seeking the well-being and furthering of the mission of the organization, club, or church that you are a part of? 

I have begun to appreciate more and more the importance of a partnership and ownership mentality towards my church, if you’re not at that place, ask yourself how much you’ve given and how it compares to how much you’ve received.  While I don’t think that relationships should be checked by balance sheets, I do think it’s important to consider that they be two-sided.  Two-sided relationships are the only healthy kinds of relationships that exist, what kinds of relationships are you looking for?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Growing Up By Water

I grew up by the water, always going to the beach.  It’s kind of funny that I wasn’t a better swimmer considering that fact, but as the baby, my mom always made excuses for me using anything from my allergies to my asthma to my often infected ears to explain away my inability to swim well.  She also blamed it on a former church member of my dad’s church who threw me into Long Island Sound from his boat without knowing that I didn’t swim well.  But that’s another story.

When summer hit, Mom was always making her way to the town hall to get her beach sticker.  We would spend many hours at the beach and our church would even have an annual picnic and baptism at the beach.  I have some very fond memories of growing up at the beach.

But it wasn’t just the beach that I frequented, I grew up with three ponds within walking distance of my house.  In fact, one of those ponds was literally in the backyard, right next to our house.  I grew up fishing, ice-skating, and throwing stones.  I remember floating toy boats down the stream that led from one pond to the other.  As we got older, we wouldn’t settle for something as calm as floating the boats down the stream, we instead chose to destroy them with rocks or, better yet, fireworks if we could get our hands on them.

I never knew my dad’s father, but while my dad was in college in South Carolina, he adopted a couple who became surrogate grandparents to my brother and me.  We took many a road trip from Connecticut during the summers growing up to visit our “grandparents.”  My grandpa was always an avid fisherman.  The big question every time we went for a visit was, “When are we going fishing?”  Everything I learned about outdoor sports like hunting and fishing was learned from my Grandpa Deese.

The added bonus of our trips to South Carolina was that fireworks were legal there.  That was fun for us for a while, until my brother nearly turned me into a girl with his bad aim, but that also is another story.

Last night, my father-in-law and I went fishing with my boys on the lake where he grew up.  It’s only a few miles from his house and some of the family still lives on or near the lake.  My boys were so excited to go fishing.  Casting was a bit of a problem, but they were okay letting us do the casting for them as they reeled in the lines.  Sadly, the only fish that was caught was by me and it was a Sunfish, hardly the trophy-winning kind of fish, but I think the boys had fun anyway.  They said that they did.

For those who don’t or haven’t fished, it’s not for those lacking patience or needing constant amusement.  It’s just a lot of waiting.  But that’s half the fun of it, fishing is an experience.  More often than not, stories are generated and told over and over again to friends and family, often with some amount of fabrication to make it more interesting than it really was.  At least that’s the way fishing has always been for me.  It’s never really about how many or how big the fish are, it’s about being together.

All the manly men out there are saying, “That’s the phrase of someone who’s not a good fisher.”  That may be so, but I still stand by the fact that there is something beautiful about sharing such an experience with your kids.  Unplugged from the internet (although I did have my smartphone), no Wii, no computers or televisions, it was just us and the outdoors.  It’s certainly enough to make a person think and appreciate all that he has.

As I went through this experience, so many memories came flooding back into my mind.  It felt like an awakening of sorts, being reminded of the fun and joy that I had when I was younger.  It made me want to run out and buy some fishing rods.  It made me appreciate just what I have in front of me that’s so much simpler than I try to make my life.  Too often, I overcomplicate things when an easy solution is staring me in the face.  Too often, the most fun things in life that make memories are not the ones that cost us a fortune.  Instead, they can be had by simply taking some time and pulling together something as simple as a fishing pole and some worms.

This is the first time in a while that I can say that I have relaxed while visiting family.  It’s not that my family wears me out, it’s just that we always try to do so many things.  This time, our schedule was pretty relaxed, no real agenda, and it’s been fantastic.  I realized how free and open it was when I got an email from someone trying to track me down to get a reference for a friend who is candidating for a new position and I realized that I really didn’t know what my days were going to hold.  Instead of freaking out, like I might normally do, I snickered to myself and enjoyed the ride.

Vacations aren’t really about how much I do, how much I see, how much I eat, or even where I go.  Vacations are really about “vacating,” finding a way to escape, a way to recharge and appreciate the little things in life that get forgotten.  True vacations help us to find that the things that we have been so caught up in are really things that are more insignificant than we let them be.

There is nothing that can compare to the joy in my children’s eyes as they experience some of these things for the first time.  That same wonder and joy are things that I need to remember and recapture myself.  Jesus’ words in Mark 10:15 ring true here, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.  The innocence view of a child is exactly what we need sometimes.  The question is, can we stop, unplug, rest, relax, and slow down long enough that we refocus our viewpoint again.  This week has helped me to do that, how about you?  If you’ve not had the chance, find it sooner than later.