The First Time Again

It’s not a new experience. But it was.

Last night I went to a concert in which two of my sons were performing. I’ve been to every concert this organization has performed for the last eight years and several in the prior schools where we lived before coming to this community. Before that I was directing concerts for several years. Prior to that I was performing in them all through college, high school, and middle school. I’ve been to band concerts quite regularly, with about a 3-4 year break, for the past 35 years.

I know the drill. I’ve walked that road. I’ve heard it all. I even leaned over and sang the first few bars of one of the beginning band’s songs in my wife’s ear right before they started…and was spot on.

But this one was different. We had found a seat and I really had not noticed the nice folks sitting in front of us. But, once our attention moved to the stage, the cowboy hat right in front of us certainly caught my eye.

I must confess that this did not strike me in the most honorable manner. But that gentleman in the cowboy hat taught me something powerful last night.

As the concert began, two things became pretty clear to me about this gentleman. First, I’m guessing he hasn’t been to a great number of band concerts. That’s not a big deal.

More significantly to me, this man was more engaged with the concert than I can remember being in a very, very long time. As his big cowboy hat nodded in time with the music…as he commented about the student he had particularly come to support and their practicing…as he was the first to applaud at the end of each song…I couldn’t help but smile.

I’ve been going to concerts like this for 35 years. But this gentleman taught me something about it that I had not really recognized. He taught me not to sit back and watch it go by, but to lean into the music and the people making it. He reminded me that music is much more an experience than it is something to observe.

I read recently that exposure to something can erode awareness of it. I suppose 35 years is pretty significant exposure to band concerts. But last night I went to a band concert for the first time again.

And it was tremendous.

Thank you, sir. I’ll be looking for that hat at the next concert.

It’s Just Not That Simple

There are times when the railings on the various sides of the political square are all claiming the moral and ethical high ground. Once again the shouting matches between differing perspectives find me standing somewhere in the middle wanting simply to remind us all…it’s just not that simple.

I have been a pastor for more than 16 years now. As such, I am called to be an example to the people I serve and lead in all aspects of life and faith. Because I am the one whose office is in the church building, I am faced most often with people coming along looking for help.

I want to help them all – even the ones who I’m pretty sure are just making their living by manipulating the compassion of folks like me that take seriously the commands of Scripture to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless and so on. But the reality is that I can’t help them all. I simply have no means to do so.

At the same time, the means that I do have that are not actually mine require, upon my own honor, that I be a wise and faithful steward of those means. That is a tension that I struggle to manage between the responsibility to give and serve and the responsibility to use well what has been placed in my care.

But I am also a husband and father. And in that role I also find a tension to manage. It’s easy to sit in my study and pray with and serve and teach a man who is trying to break free from the slavery to his sexual appetites. But it’s another thing to invite him to live in my home and share a room with my sons.

I have a responsibility to serve that man in whatever way I am able. But I also have my first responsibility to provide for the safety of my family. They are both biblical mandates. You see, it’s just not that simple.

I believe in the power of God’s grace lived out in the lives of God’s people. I believe in love and forgiveness. I also believe that, as a leader, as a pastor, as a husband and father, I have a duty to care for those for whom I am absolutely responsible.

There is grace in welcoming with open arms the man just released from prison after stealing from his employer. There is wisdom in not making him the church treasurer.

There is grace in loving and receiving the man who has molested children. There is wisdom in not allowing him to serve in the children’s ministry.

The Scriptures teach me, “But if anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17)

The Scriptures also teach me, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)

You see…it’s just not that simple.

In all of the moralizing absolutes that are bouncing around today, I nod in partial agreement with most. But I don’t know how to find the right way. In my life and ministry I have learned how utterly crucial it is to prayerfully seek the direction from the Holy Spirit. And that, my friends, is the only way I see to find our way.

To those who say we have a moral and even biblical responsibility to take in those displaced by the ravages of war…you’re right.

And to those who say we have a moral and biblical responsibility to provide for the safety of our families…you’re right.

It’s just not that simple.

All I know to do is follow the mandate of the passage I have found myself coming back to time and time and time again for simple wisdom:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Love Does Not…

Rulings and responses and rants and such aside…

I find myself frustrated with the swirl of conversations going on around me as social media is ablaze with so many perspectives. I am blessed to be friends with people who see the world very differently than I. I am blessed to be friends with people who see the world much as I tend to see it. I am blessed with friends with the wisdom to keep their thoughts to themselves and friends with the passion to say what they believe and how they see things.

I love all of them. And I want them all to be free. I want them all to have the same freedom to live according to their convictions that I want to have for my family. So, whatever side or angle of the issues you may stand, please know that I love you and I want nothing but the best for you.

But I find myself wondering…as the debates of what love is or is not go swirling on…as the accusations fly in every possible direction…as I struggle with what to say and how to say it…

What does love do? If I love people – no matter their lifestyle or creed or whether their flaws are the same as or different than mine – what must I do?

Continue reading Love Does Not…