684

684 Sundays.

That’s roughly how many Sundays there are until the beginning of the year in which I turn 65, and probably retire.

I know, that’s a long ways off.

But it’s not that far off.

And I won’t get to preach every one of those Sundays. I will be on vacation for some of those Sundays; I will have staff members who will want to speak for some of those Sundays; and I will have special speakers for some of those Sundays for things like Missions Conference or other special events. Over the course of those 13+ years, a conservative estimate would be that I would not preach 8 Sundays per year. That’s at least 104 Sundays I won’t be preaching, and that doesn’t account for emergencies or unexpected opportunities to have special speakers. So that cuts me down to 579 Sundays.

579 Sundays. That’s about 100 more sermon series, with a length of 5 – 6 messages. To those of you who have to sit and listen to me preach, it sounds like a lot of sermons.

But to me? That number is the number of grains of sand left in an hourglass, and they’re slipping through steadily.

Every week, that number decreases.

So for the time I have left, I want to be sure that every message counts,

The truth is that I’ve lived a significant part of my life in fear and anxiety. I’ve thought and worried too much about what other people think. I’ve tried too hard to please people, and tried to hard to avoid offending people so they wouldn’t leave the church.

But that kind of living is foolishness.

The truth is that no matter how hard I try, or how careful I am, I will always offend someone, somehow. I will always let people down and I will always disappoint some people.

So I’ve got to live my life according to what I think God wants from me.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a license to offend, to alienate, to be inconsiderate, or to just be a jerk.

But I can’t let my leadership of others be governed by fear or by their expectations.

Leadership can be selfish and controlling – manipulative. But it can also be motivational – unselfishly leading people to a difficult place, on a difficult journey, that will ultimately be for their benefit.

684 Sundays. That’s my number. I’ve got to make the most of it. I’ve got to lead differently, invest myself more in young leaders, take more risks, take bigger risks, push other leaders to go where they may not want to go but desperately need to go.

My challenge, my mission, is to fundamentally change the culture and direction of our church so that we are fulfilling Christ’s call. Because right now, while we’re doing some very good things, the hard and honest truth is that we’re failing. And if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep getting what we’re getting.

We have to change. I have to lead change. And I know what it will cost, because I’ve gone there before.

684 Sundays.

That’s my number.

What’s your number?

What are you going to do about it?

When Does It End?

In the last couple of weeks…

  • Two family members have undergone surgery.
  • A couple of close friends have learned that they are facing medical tests which could lead to life-changing or life-threatening diagnoses.
  • A family member has been harassed to the point of requiring police involvement.
  • Another family member has been defrauded by someone close to them and is facing difficult decisions about how to handle it.
  • Another family member is dealing with physical pain that cannot be helped medically.
  • A couple of close friends are dealing with adult children who are making unhealthy and unsafe relationship choices.
  • A couple of friends are dealing with the possibility of imploding marriages.

And those are just the tip of the iceberg.  Those are just some of the issues in my immediate circles of family and friends.  There are a ton more.  And that doesn’t even touch on things like the deepening divisions in our nation, the threat of war with North Korea, and a hundred other disturbing news items that I could highlight.

Where does it all end?  When does it end?  It feels like one one thing right after another, like one thing gets dealt with and before it’s even completely dealt with, another thing is popping up.  It’s like life has become a giant, losing game of Whack-A-Mole.

How do you deal with all of that without becoming cynical, fearful, anxious, depressed – without just throwing up your hands and giving up?

Hope.  We have to have hope, despite all that is happening around us.

And what reason could there be for hope?

Jesus.  And…Jesus’ promise:

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”  Matthew 19:28-29 (NIV)

Did you catch that?  At the renewal of all things.

Plant

The way things are now is NOT the way that they will always be.

The way your life is now is NOT the way that it will always be.

One day, all things will be renewed.  Re-made.  Re-created, as some Bible translations put it.

All things restored, put back as they were originally created and intended.

I know, it sounds too good to be true.

And there’s so much more there – so much deeper that we could dig into this.  But that’s beyond the scope of one short blog entry.

For today, it is enough to remember that there is hope.  That a day is coming – a day that Jesus called the “renewal of all things.”  On that day, He will fulfill what God promised in Revelation 21:3-5 (NIV):  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

“People Are Idiots!”

I used to say and think that all the time.

(I am slowly re-programming my mind.  I want to see people the way my Father sees them.  I don’t want to judge people.  That’s a subject for another blog.)

The reality is that people (me included) sometimes do dumb things.  Really dumb things.

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the Annual Pennsylvania State Police Chaplains’ Conference for the first time.  It was a great experience.  I had the opportunity to meet a number of other chaplains and some State Troopers.  I also learned a lot about police procedures, investigations, and even forensics.  And, I learned that people who commit crimes are often caught because they make dumb mistakes.

I will never forget a statement that one of the instructors made as he taught:  “Don’t expect irrational thinking to produce rational results.”  He was talking about how people who are committing crimes tend to think irrationally and make unwise choices, which often result in their being caught.

Thinking Man

That same statement applies to life in a lot of different situations.

It applies to our lives when we give in to temptation.  We think irrationally about the outcome of giving in.

It applies to our lives when we believe lies – lies about ourselves, about others, even lies about God.  We think irrationally about what is actually true.

It applies to our lives when we live in the shadow of wounds that we have received.  We think irrationally about our identity.

It applies to our lives when we live in fear.  We think irrationally about God’s love (which casts out fear) and about possible outcomes.

Don’t expect irrational thinking to produce rational results.

Don’t expect an addict, in the grip of addiction, to do what is rational.

Don’t expect someone whose soul is wounded and whose perspective is therefore distorted to respond rationally.

Don’t expect the person you’re trying to help to respond rationally to your advice, your aid, your comfort -whatever you have to offer – if they are not really in place to receive what you are able to offer.

That may sound like jaded thinking, but it’s honesty.  When you deal with people, you have be wise in how you deal with them.  You have to take the time to listen, to observe, to understand.  And you can’t let your expectations of how they should respond or what you think is rational keep you from loving them, despite their irrational choices.

The good news?  I can’t expect irrational thinking to produce rational results.  However, I can always expect that God is at work.  And I can always expect that Jesus can redeem even the worst of messes, the worst of choices, the most irrational decisions.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences.  And it doesn’t mean that those who make irrational choices won’t suffer because of their choices.

But God loves us, even when we make irrational choices.

In fact, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

We live in a world in which we are surrounded by people making unwise and irrational choices.

But each one of them is a person for whom Jesus died, a person God loves.

So when you’re dealing with that frustrating person today – remember, if he or she is in a place where they are thinking irrationally, don’t expect that they will make rational choices or respond to your help rationally.

But don’t give up them.  Jesus hasn’t.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.