Thursday, March 24, 2016

Wasted Opportunities

I've been getting ready for the Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Sunrise services.and Easter Sunday services.  I sometimes wonder in these busy days how I can be a better manager of my time.  Andy Stanley's series Time of Your Life (which I have been lifting up here these past few days) has some really good things to offer in response to this concern in his third of five installments.  He talks about compounding minutes.  

He suggests three things about time that we already know but we tend to ignore that you wish you hadn't ignored.  Here is his first point: there is cumulative value to investing small amounts of time in certain activities over a long period.  Just give certain things a little bit of time pays off a big dividend in the long run.  Whether it is taking time with family, spouse, physical fitness, practiving any sport of musical instrument matters.  It matters deeply when we invest small periods of time in worthwhile things.  I read somewhere that in order to change a behavior pattern someone has to do the thing that he or she wants to change over 21 days before it takes hold.  So little investments of time make a difference.

Stanley's second point is neglect is cumulative as well.  If you don't pay attention to some aspect of your life over the course of time, the effect from that neglect makes a negative impact on your life.  We cannot ignore the important things of our lives and expect those areas to flourish and be dynamic.  Not doing so can be hazardous to your health, well being, spiritual growth and 

His final point: there is no cumulative value to the random things we opt for over the important things.  When we add up the wasted efforts over the things that we could have been doing, they add up to zip as far as value is concerned.  The key is the random things.  It's fine to be spontaneous, but sometimes we need to be more intentional and plan to use our time much more wisely.

He stresses that we need to make the most of every opportunity with our time.  

Take a look at how Andy Stanley phrases this entire concern:

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Guitar Lessons Made Easy

I was just taking a few moments to practice my guitar lesson for today.  I have been working on the key of D.  The chart at my left shows where my fingers are supposed to go.  My problems begin when I try to strum the chord and make sure my fingers are covering all of the strings all of the time. 

From what I can tell so far, learning how to play the guitar is going to take a lot of practice, a lot of pain (my fingers are too soft - the guitar strings leave a deep imprint in my fingers - #isthatnormal?), and a lot of patience.  I think having some kind of background in music is helpful, but I  know that there is a lot of work yet to do.

Now of course I can make a comparison to learning how to play the guitar to how we walk in our faith (#youcouldseethatcoming).  Allow me to take some of the key things I've learned about what it takes to play the guitar and apply it to how I can grow in my faith.  First of all, there is the obvious: it takes practice.  Like learning anything, we need to find ways to become better at what we do and one way to do that is to practice.  Certainly in faith we can see that practicing faith helps us keep our focus and the more we do it, the better we become at it.

Secondly, we need to be able to listen to hear what we are playing.  Listening can be a lost art in this day and age.  If we desire to grow our faith, somewhere along the line we are going to have to learn to listen to someone or something to help us learn.

Thirdly, we need to pace ourselves.  In playing the guitar, learning a new key or a new song isn't going to happen very easily if we start off with the speed of the original song.  We may need to slow ourselves down and work toward getting faster.  In faith learning, we can sometimes get ahead of ourselves and things can only get messier for us.  Go at a pace that works for you and trust that God will keep us in the race.

Just a few things that I've learned while learning to play the guitar.  I've got a long way to go...

Sunday, March 20, 2016

To the Four

Today is Palm Sunday - a day in the life of the church to recall Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  It also kicks off the themes for Holy Week as Christians everywhere walk with Jesus to the cross of Calvary, ultimately celebrating his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

I love this time of year.  Always have.  As I've written before, I know there is a great deal of tradition and experience that I bring to that understanding.  The tradition is of course from my parents and the things we did to observe these high and holy days.  The experience is the direct result of those events and the meaning that they have given me.  But there are two other things which are pretty important here as well.  There is reason and Scripture.  John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, called this the Quadrilateral: Scripture, reason, tradition, experience.

What I really like about Wesley's thought here is how the four are connected.  Let me paint the picture of how I understand these to be working together.  Imagine you are a painter and you are getting ready to paint a picture.  You need the easel, canvas, brushes, paints, and other supplies.  You also bring to the picture a sense of how color and shapes go together.  Whether you are an novice or a professional doesn't matter all that much, but those who have done this a time or two seem more proficient at it.

With that image in mind, here is how I see the Quadrilateral working together.  Scripture is the primary source and standard for the Christian - it is the canvas upon which we paint our faith lives.  Tradition is the witness of development of the faith through the past centuries and in many nations and cultures.  Experience is the Christ follower's understanding and appropriating of the faith in the light of his or her own life. Through reason the individual Christian brings to bear on the Christian faith discernment.  The last three only make sense if they are within the context of Scripture.  Anything that is beyond that doesn't belong on the canvas of life.

That being said, I generally don't sit down and analyze if each of these are present in my decision making (although I could) - it happens more as a framework of who I hope to be.  Now, I don't always get it right.  Don't make the assumption that just because I think I have this way of being that I don't make mistakes.  I do - more than I care to admit.  But I really do try to filter everything through these four dynamics.

Perhaps this works for you as well.  Or maybe you haven't really given this any thought.  Let me encourage you to consider what it means to grow in Christ through these four points.

That would be my prayer for you as well.  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Wild Rice and Air Pudding

I'm sitting here in my office at the church following up on all of the last minute details before tomorrow's Palm Sunday worship service.  I've always has a special place in my heart for Palm Sunday and the entirety of Holy Week, including Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and of course, Easter Sunday.  Growing up in northern Minnesota, my family's activities during this time of year were always focused on church.  My mother, who was the church's volunteer choir director, was busy preparing for the special music the choir would sing.  Of course, she was always getting ready for the Easter Sunday dinner that we would have, usually with my grandmother Lempi, who lived in Deer River, Minnesota.  

My grandmother was a stout Finnish woman who didn't take any nonsense from anyone, including her grandchildren.  Her husband, whose first name "Ivy" is my middle name,passed away at a fairly young age (by today's standards) in 1965.  I remember him as a very quiet man - my guess is that he didn't know what to do with ten kids running around his house in Deer River.  

Anyway, my grandmother would make two dishes which I always looked forward to - one was a wild rice hotdish (we called it hotdish, not a casserole).  Deer River was a center for wild rice production and my grandmother was a cook in the local school district and a restaurant for most of her working life.  Made out of wild rice and some kind of meat, it was always good.  I think I recall we had this dish at Easter, but it might have been Christmas as well.

The second dish was more about her ethnic upbringing.  She made a Finnish dessert called "ilmapuuro", which translated is "air pudding" (at least that is what I've always believed).  It was made out of some kind of juice (cranberry or fruit or grape juice), sugar, and farina or Cream of Wheat.  As much as going to church during Holy Week was a tradition in those days, so was the wild rice hotdish and the famous ilmapuuro.  I'd also have to give a shout out to my mom for the hot cross buns she always made.

My grandmother Lempi passed away a decade before I went into the ministry.  I sometimes think I'd have liked to have heard her thoughts on my career choice.  I know she wouldn't have minced any words.  Her response would have been straightforward and true.  That's just who she was.

Sometimes, meaningful holidays are made even more meaningful when injected with simple family traditions like these.  I'd be willing to bet that you've got some traditions in your house that help you remember the holiday gatherings.  We don't ever forget the reason for those gatherings - remembering the Good Friday sacrifice that Jesus made for each of us along with the hope and promise of everlasting life on Resurrection Sunday.  We don't forget those precious gifts from God.

We treasure these gifts, along with the precious memories of days gone by.  I hope this year, your Holy Week willed be filled with God's loving grace and memorable family moments.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The First Rock from The Son

The seconds - the minutes - the days are all as full as they can be.  Isn't that true?  Have you ever had a moment when you realized that you cannot have one more thing piled on top of everything else you are doing?  I know that I have.  More than likely, all of us have had a moment like that.  

Andy Stanley hits home with this point in his second installment of time and what happens when the time we use is at a capacity, when we simply cannot find the time for anything else.  His basic premise is that "priority determines capacity".  You can watch that video by clicking on the video image below.  But don't go there yet!  Finish this first, then go there because I'm certain that after hearing what Andy has to say, you won't even think to come back to this article to read my final thoughts.  

I'm trying to suggest Andy's premise - priority determines capacity.  What is really most important to you?  Who is really most important to you?  I love his message and I don't want you to miss it.  But finish my few meager thoughts and then go ahead and enjoy his discussion on prioritizing time.  The video is about 33 minutes, give or take.

I certainly agree with his premise, especially when he begins to talk about putting God first.  God is the first rock we need to place in our life.  Everything else surrounds that rock.  Everything else will blend in around that rock.  All too often we allow other things to go first.  Our agendas.  Our families.  Our jobs.  Our cars.  Our sports teams.  They get top billing while God is there, but down the line in importance.  This is important - we need to place God first in our lives.   First.  Not second or a distant third, or even further down the line.  First.

Matthew 6:33 says is best - "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."  Everything folds in around placing God first.

I understand that we live in a busy world with important things to do.  But if we elect to place God in any other place but first, it's just going to be a rockier road than it needs to be.  Okay - I've said what I wanted to say in the time I've set aside to do this... watch Andy and learn from him.  He's a terrific speaker.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Time Keeps on Slippin... Slippin... Slippin...

Growing up I listened to a lot of bands playing 70's and 80's rock music.  One of them, The Steve Miller Band, had a nice modern sound and came up with "Fly Like an Eagle" in 1977.  This song was to number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the week of March 12, 1977.  

It wasn't until recently I came across the actual lyrics for the song.  I have to confess, I didn't know a lot of the lyrics for those songs - we didn't have the Internet to Google them and I never did purchase the cassettes, preferring to listen to them on the radio.  In fact, when I finally found out what some of the words were, it really changed the nature of what I thought the song was about.  Take, for example, the 1997 song from the album The Cranberries put out (which is a group from Ireland - nice to mention that on St. Patrick's Day) called "Kiss Me".  For some reason, I always thought that key phrase to the song was "Can't Sleep" - turns out they were singing "Kiss Me" - shows how much I know about music.

When I had the chance to read through the lyrics of the Steve Miller song, I was surprised to hear the humanitarian focus from the third verse - look at the lyrics, chorus one, chorus two and verse one:

Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
Into the future
Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
Into the future

I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
Till I'm free
Oh, Lord, through the revolution

Feed the babies
Who don't have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin' in the street
Oh, oh, there's a solution

How often (in time) have we actually taken the time to reach out to the less fortunate and help feed them, clothe them, house them?  I know, it's a big task.  But Jesus calls us to it.  From a conversation Jesus was having with his disciples, reported in Luke 3:11, Jesus says “If you have two coats, give one away.  Do the same with your food.” -  taken from The Message.  The imperative is there.  Our United Methodist Conference has these imperatives listed as "Grow in Love of God and Neighbor" (the Great Commandment found in Matthew 22:37-40), "Reach New People" (the Great Commission located in Matthew 28:19-20), and "Heal a Broken World" (discovered in the Great Proclamation from Luke 4:16-21).  

If you are involved with these three (especially the last one), praise God for it.  I know that in all of the churches I have served, missions and people have certainly been trying to accomplish these things.  But if not, somehow we just need to find the time to actually do these things.  

Because time keeps on slippin... slippin... slippin...

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Time After Time

For the past few weeks, I've been on vacation.  Nancy and I traveled to Gainesville, Virginia where we visited with our daughter and her family.  It was a great time to be together, but it also went by so fast.  Why does time seem to fly by so quickly, especially it seems, as one grows older?

I've heard it said that "time flies when you're having fun."  I used to work with a colleague who (whenever someone would say that phrase) would ask the question "do you know what the frogs say?"  Of course no one knows what frogs would say, so everyone says "No, what do the frogs say?" to which my colleague says "Time's fun when you're having flies".  I never realized that this saying came from that well known entertainer Kermit the Frog.  Hmmmm.  It's also never easy being green.

But time does seem to escape us, especially when we are least expecting it to.  For example, when we are waiting for something or someone, it seems like forever and a day until that moment happens or that person arrives.  The anticipation creates a sense of time slowing down.  We cannot wait and as a result, time seems to stand still.  But once that person arrives or the something happens, it's over in a flash.  Where did the time go? we wonder.  Well, the anticipation is over, so now we resume normal time and in the excitement of the moment and compared to the waiting, time seems to fly right by.  Ask yourself - isn't this true in my life?

So the relative question to address our human condition is this "What are we planning to do with the time that we have, no matter how quickly it goes by or how slowly it drags on?"  Andy Stanley has a terrific series on time - here is the intro to that series.  It's about 38 minutes and it is a fascinating look at time and what we are called to do with time. 

Watch it - if you can take the time to do so.  We'll continue the conversation - next time...