Thanks for the Lift!

I want to show you a picture of myself.

Turtle on a Fence Post

I know, I’m not a turtle. But many of you know that, if a spirit animal was really a thing, for me it would be a toss up between sloth and a turtle. I’m not particularly quick about stuff… generally speaking.

This picture is really more about how I feel at this point in my life. Several days ago I was able to participate in the graduation exercises of Dallas Theological Seminary. In a couple of months, when a bit more paper work is done and a few more hoops have been jumped through, I will hang my diploma in my study next to this picture.

This picture is in itself a testimony of how I find myself passing such a milestone. It was taken by my dear brother after hearing me speak of the old observation of the turtle on a fence post. It’s a simple observation really.

If you see a turtle on a fence post, there is one thing you can know most surely: he did not get there by himself.

That’s my story. I find myself in a place in my life to which I could never have arrived on my own strength or ability or effort. My amazing wife and this crazy kids of mine (born and otherwise) have endured and supported and allowed me to invest the time and energy needed. Our pals (a.k.a. the Coffee Club) have endured so many groaning sessions and crying spells.

So many of my brothers at arms—my pastor brothers who encouraged and supported and prayed for me along the way—helped me through more than they know. My family—brothers and sisters and parents–did the same.

There were several professors that invested more than just a transmission of information by helping me, encouraging me, and challenging me to genuinely, “Teach truth. Love well.” My mentor for this final year has invested so many hours in listening, encouraging, praying, and teaching.

And then there is the family of faith that motivated this degree in the first place. My CalvaryDuncan family has patiently allowed, endured, and encouraged this process. Their prayers and patience have been so crucial to this journey, but the truth is that I began this journey out of a longing to be the kind of pastor that I believe they deserve.

Along this mountain-climb, several folks have come along at crucial moments and made enormous investments in my life and ministry. Some of those have been in financial ways (including the entirety of my last two semesters’ tuition), some with a particular conversation or prayer, and some with a kindness or gift or gesture. All of these moments and helps have helped me carry on.

This photo is a cross-section of the much larger group of folks that have given me such a lift.

All of these folks have figuratively lent a hand to lift a middle-aged turtle to a place that he could never have managed to reach on his own. So I guess the question is obvious: why?

I can only believe that all of these amazing people were a part of a extraordinarily beautiful example of what Paul taught us so plainly:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all time, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

They were and are, each and every one, vehicles of the amazing grace of God through which He has provided for me everything I need to follow His plan for my life and ministry.

As I pause here atop this utterly unlikely fence post, I can only say to them all, “Thanks for the lift!”

In Common – 2

common: 2 a : belonging to or shared by two or more individuals or things or by all members of a group

The word common has its roots in the latin word, communis. It is the source of several words that we use often – community, communicate, common, and so on. It is, in its simplest sense, “with” or “together.”

A commune, then, is when people come together as one (“com-” = together, “une” = one). When we live in community, we are together in one area. If we communicate, we share ideas together. If we have common interests, we share interest in the same things. To have things in common would mean, then, that we share life.

Despite the enormous advances in technology and the wonders of modern science, there are simply no short-cuts or substitutions for just being together. We can share some time and conversation through any number of means – even face to face with FaceTime or Skype or Google Hangouts – but it’s still no substitute for being together.

Our traditions in church world put us, at least most of the time, sitting in rows – all looking the same direction – as some person or persons speak, sing, pray, etc. to us. And somehow we wonder why people approach worship services more like a concert than a time to engage with one another in giving attention and praise to our Father.

If we’re honest with one another, we recognize that there is not much sharing of life when we’re sitting in rows. But when we gather around a table, especially for a meal, and spend time enjoying God’s blessings together, it changes us. It reminds us on a level much deeper than we recognize that we are not alone.

Last weekend we celebrated my parents’ 50th anniversary in marriage and in ministry. It was a great day. As we wrapped up the clean-up, all six of my kids were there and we found ourselves just sitting around talking with my parents. We had things to do and started to move toward the car when our kids asked if we could all go have dinner together.

Nothing on my to-do list mattered more to me in that moment than spending a little time with my kids who wanted to be together.

When I reflect on this key verse from Acts 2 that describe those first empowered days of the Jerusalem church,

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. (Acts 2.44)

I think I know why the Spirit caused those words to be recorded in the Scriptures. Because I know what it does in our hearts when our kids want to be together with us, I think I have a glimpse of what it means to God when his children gather in his presence and enjoy him and each other.

Those believers in Jerusalem so long ago “had all things in common.” That is, they shared life. They shared the sorrows of losing loved ones. They shared the joys of precious children being born. They shared the hurt of the tragedies and they shared the celebrations of victories. They were more concerned about others having enough than about losing what they had.

They were together. They were sharing life and all that was a part of it.

So what if…

What if we looked after one another in the church like family? What if we, like a big, noisy family, had frequent joy-filled gatherings with the doors propped open? What if the lonely and abandoned and hopeless were drawn to those open doors by the joy that resonated within?

Could it happen today as then, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2.47)?