Saturday, March 14, 2009

Saturday Selection

It's Saturday and break time from writing. Instead, I want to recommend another blog to you.

When I first started writing this blog, I had no idea who would be reading it. Truthfully, discovering who my readers are continues to be a delight for me.

One of the first readers is a lady named Sandra. She has been at this blogging thing for a long time. She takes some beautiful pictures. And her blog title, Add Humor and Faith, tells you a lot about the regular content.

When you pay her a visit, know that you are discovering a person with a great encouragement gift. I know. She has given me some of the hope I need to keep writing. Thanks, Sandra!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Associate Pastor of Plate Spinning

It's almost 36 years since I took my first full-time church ministry job (I think I was about 3 at the time). Cathy and I became part of a church with some staffing needs. The pastor had been trying to hold it together on his own, but he needed some assistance.

The most obvious need was in the church music area. Since that was my area of training and limited experience AND since I was available, they hired me., two...uh, three...mmm, many problems! They couldn't afford a full-time music person. They also needed youth ministry help. They similarly needed help in adult education. I sang at a youth retreat one time so I guess that was youth ministry experience. Ditto for adult ed -- I used to go to Sunday School.

Oh, and they obviously needed help with committees. We had more committees, it seemed, than Sunday morning attenders. I was ex-officio on all of them. That means I was expected to attend their meetings. No wonder I wrote about committees recently!

I learned a dump-truck load during my three years on that staff. Some of the best ministry lessons of my life were taught to me by that pastor. I almost learned something else that could have changed my entire life direction.

You see, I had to scramble to get one night a week off. For someone who recharges his batteries during quiet hours at home, I left there fully drained. I almost learned that I never wanted to work in the local church again.

I'm glad my attitude about that one changed.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tumbling Down

We bought our first home in 1977. It was a perfect time for the market in our neighborhood. We paid the astronomical price of $24,500. When we sold it less than two years later, we had gained about $1,000 a month in equity. I thought I was a real estate tycoon!

We saved some back when we bought our next house and invested it on a real estate deal. Lost every penny of that investment!

Like now, our nation was in the throes of a tough economy back then. We had also just experienced Viet Nam and Watergate. Hope was in the air for the future and everywhere you turned, people were trying to find the road to riches. You wouldn't believe how many of our friends thought they were had found that highway when they turned at a sign marked Amway.

One of the largest financial solutions to really mushroom during that era was the availability of easy credit. For everyone. To buy anything. With payments that could go on forever. With another company always in the wings to rescue us from the last loan.

Look where that got us!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What I Learned...

...because she left me alone.

Isabella commented yesterday, "I'm sure your lessons went a little deeper..." Yes, Isabella, they did.

In fact, it amazes me how much this particular story seems to jump front-and-center from among my childhood memories. Here are a few lessons it has taught me. For you readers who are raising kids, perhaps this will help...

1. I learned that my mom said what she meant and meant what she said. I wish I could tell you that Cathy and I handled this one perfectly while our kids were growing up. Somehow I don't think we did. Our son told us just a few years after he went off to make his way in the world, "I grew up figuring it was your job to make the rules and mine to find the loopholes."

Take-away: if you expect your kids to respond the first time you tell them, don't keep repeating it. AND DON'T TEACH THEM THAT YOU'RE NOT SERIOUS UNTIL YOU YELL!!! Take action the first time and do so calmly.

2. I learned that my mom knew the best way to teach me. Making the bed by myself vs. having help? It was torture for me as a kid. I hated chores! I hated being left alone to do that one!

Take-away: every child is different. Learn the key to unlock your child's motivation.

3. I learned that my jovial mood doesn't necessarily lighten the load for those around me. In fact, it can work just the opposite! Mom was stressed that day. My playfulness probably stressed her even more.

Take-away: one of the best ways to help a hurting person is to meet emotion with emotion. The shortest verse of the Bible, John 11:35, simply says, "Jesus wept." When I was young, I had some profound theological reason for this. Now, here's what I believe... His friend Lazarus had died. Lazarus' family was devastated. They were some of His closest friends. He cried with them. In short, he met pain with heartfelt emotion and not frivolity.

It took me years to assimilate these basic lessons from that day in my bedroom. And I'm still learning.

So, tell me, what do you see?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Day She Left Me Alone

Full of fun and frolic -- that's what I was.

Full of pressure and work -- that's what she was.

So she walked out.

It's not what you think. "She" was my mom. The lady you may have read about on Sunday.

We were making the bed.

My bed.

As she shook a sheet to let it fall into place, I kept putting my arms in the way.

My bad.

She finally warned, "If you do that one more time, I'm walking out and you can do this by yourself!"

I did.

She did.

I never forgot the lesson.

I have some take-aways from the experience.

What do you think I should have learned?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Help Wanted!

I used to wonder why some of the highest capacity people in the church refused to serve on committees. That is, until I realized that most of the hours I was spending in committee meetings didn't actually accomplish anything.

I saw a cartoon one time that showed a salesman talking to potential customers about a used church bus. "This one was designed for a committee," he said. "It has five steering wheels and seven brake pedals."

The reason most of our committees didn't really function is that we spent hours developing grandiose plans which we expected someone else to carry out. I finally woke up to the fact that the people we expected to do the work we planned were --sometimes at that very moment -- sitting in a different committee meeting making plans for still someone else!

Anyone who has worked in a business or government field where things get done intuitively knows that meetings such as I just described are totally fruitless! Why spend their precious time talking about things that will never happen?

Fast-forward some years to a huge change in the way we do ministry. Today our church doesn't really have committees. We find gifted people who want to make a difference, give them the best resources we can, let them plan their work AND THEN TURN THEM LOOSE! I'm no longer surprised to see well-educated, high-ranking leaders pour their lives out in service.

This relates to the "Help Wanted" title above. Our office is looking for a new Office Manager. Josh, who has done a very good job for us, couldn't pass up a great opportunity in the defense industry. He has significant experience in the specialization of his new job and I'm certain it will be a "win-win."

Consequently, we are looking for a new OM. The most important skill we seek? The ability to recruit, train and manage volunteers. Volunteers, some of them retired from very senior occupations, do the lion's share of our work.

These are often high capacity people we could never afford if we had to pay them. Instead, we will pay an OM who may not know nearly as much as they do, but will encourage them and provide them the tools they need.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Longing Fulfilled

The wife was still young. But their nine years of marriage since she was sixteen hadn't produced a child. A few years earlier a pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Now, pregnant once more, she was apprehensive.

The day arrived when she again showed the symptoms that had signaled her previous loss. Full of longing and fear, she went to her physician. The only answer he could give was, "Try to relax. Worry is the worst thing for you."

Telling the woman not to worry was a bit like telling a horse not to whinny or telling a maple tree not to have sap. Nervousness and anxiety had been her battle since she was small. What could she do to settle the churning she felt inside?

Her focus landed on the Bible that had become part of her life. At times her heart was like parched earth literally drinking the words from its pages. She opened it to the story of a young wife named Hannah. Like her, Hannah had difficulty bearing children. Hannah's problem was heightened by living in a culture in which such circumstances were accompanied by suspicion of hidden faults in the life of the barren woman.

As the young wife read the Biblical account, she was touched by the promise Hannah made. Upon being blessed by God's high priest, she dedicated her as-yet-unborn son to the Lord. When the boy arrived, Hannah named him Samuel, which means, "Asked of God".

Could such a prayer be the answer to the worry pressing in upon the woman? She decided to risk it. "Lord," she prayed, "if you give me a son, I dedicate him to You." Relieved by the choice she made, her nerves settled and her symptoms went away. After that, she always believed she was carrying a boy, even though science at that time had provided them no way of finding out in advance.

When her son was born, she told her husband she wanted to name him Samuel, the middle name of the husband's father. It was agreed and the young couple set about the busy life of being parents.

Over the next several years three more children were born in the family. Their lives were full of challenges and joys mixed with occasional pain.

Samuel, the oldest, grew up not knowing anything about the origin of his name or his mother's prayer. He was a typical boy, making tree houses, playing in the fields and complaining about chores. By the time he reached adolescence, he was beginning a long season of rebellion which, no doubt, concerned his parents. He went out with young people whose lives were far different than those of his family. He did things his parents disapproved of. He distanced himself from anything to do with the faith he had learned growing up. When he did participate in church activities, it was usually so he could go out afterward with his friends. To put it simply, God was not on his radar screen.

Upon high school graduation, Samuel was busy making plans to attend a university near his home town.

Until something changed.

For a reason he couldn't begin to understand, Samuel changed his mind in the weeks after he received his diploma. He decided at the very last minute to apply for admission at a Christian college. He had never even been to the large city where the school was located. He previously even scoffed at the idea of such a place. But he leaped with excitement when he discovered he had been accepted.

Significant acts of his rebellion still continued as he began his studies. But, during his freshman spring semester, he was moved to get some things right with God as he attended a spiritual emphasis week. The well-know black pastor, Dr. E.V. Hill, was speaking and he challenged students who had doubts about their faith to get on their knees in the privacy of their rooms and draw an imaginary circle around them. Then pray until the doubt was out of the circle. Samuel was desperate enough to do just that. Everything didn't change overnight, but he at least settled the issue of his salvation.

That summer, Samuel went back to his small town with the beginnings of a genuine dedication to God. It was during the latter part of the summer that he attended the funeral of a friend's father. Mr. Price had been a humble man whose faith showed through as he endured the pain of severe, crippling arthritis. As Samuel sat in that small chapel, he listened to the taped music playing during the service. A beautiful tenor sang a comforting song of faith.

During that song, Samuel suddenly heard another voice speaking from somewhere deep within. "I am calling you to serve Me in the ministry," the Voice said. Samuel's reply was simple: "Yes."

Upon exiting the funeral service, the young man found his parents and told them what he had just experienced. With halting words, he described the deep inner sense of God's call to him.

"Son," my mother replied, "I have a story to tell you..."

And, for the first time, I heard the story of how I got my name.