I’m Special

I took my then nine-year-old grandson to a minor league baseball game two consecutive nights last season. I had told him that I thought we might be able to get seats right behind home plate which I thought would be great. His response to the news, “That’s no good. You can’t catch a ball behind home plate. There’s a net!”

As it turned out the tickets behind home plate were not available and we ended in the second row behind first base – right at the end of the dugout. He was thrilled with the seats and even more thrilled as several balls came our way. He eventually got a ball. His first time in this stadium and he got a ball. He was excited.

The second night we had seats that were just to the third base side of the net that protects people behind home plate. We were several rows back – not nearly as close as the first night. Inning after inning passed and no balls even came our way. I really didn’t think much about it except that I felt a bit safer not having to dodge errant balls.

As we were leaving the ball park my grandson said to me, “the only bad thing about tonight is that I didn’t get a ball.” I asked if he realized how many people come to the ball park night after night and year after year and never get a ball. His response, “Yeh, I know, but I’m special.”

I couldn’t disagree. He is special. He’s my grandson. Whether he gets a ball or not, he is special. I hope he always knows that he is special.

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I am currently undergoing some medical treatments – daily. Today is number 32 of a total of 39. I have been looking forward to the end of the treatments since day 1.  As I left the treatment facility yesterday (Tuesday) I realized people seldom look forward to Tuesdays. It is just one of the days of the week. It gets little notice at all. I began to feel sorry for Tuesdays. It isn’t like Monday – the day everyone dreads. It seems it would be better to be dreaded than to go totally unnoticed. People celebrate Wednesdays because it is “hump” meaning the week is half done and we have made it this far. Thursdays are almost in the same category as Tuesdays; perhaps Thursdays are to be pitied even more than Tuesdays because when Thursday arrives everyone is wishing it was Friday. They tolerate Thursday. It is the transition between “hump” day and the last day of the work week. Friday even has a restaurant named for it – T.G.I.F. Why does everyone celebrate Friday? It is a work day just like Tuesday and Thursday. Then of course every on lives for the week-end. We hardly separate the two days. They are simply lumped together as the “week-end.”

Back to Tuesdays – the day that goes unnoticed unless, of course, it was missing. It would never be possible just to skip from Monday to Wednesday. We have to pass through Tuesday. It is a time of importance – not just to separate two other days but because significant things can happen on Tuesdays just as they can on any other day.

I’m not sure why any of this matters. Days of the week have no feelings and I guess I shouldn’t care that some days receive more attention and are celebrated more than others.

Perhaps it is because there have been times when all of us have felt a little like Tuesdays. No one notices and yet God has given every one of us a place – not just to occupy space but He has created us for a purpose and we may feel insignificant but we play a unique role in God’s eternal plans.

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Solitude and Silence

Ruth Haley Barton wrote a book titled, “Invitation to Solitude and Silence;” an invitation to a deeper intimacy with our heavenly Father. I read the book a couple of years ago and appreciated the focus. Recently I have been reflecting on that idea of “Solitude and Silence.” We live in a busy, noisy world and it seems that most of the people I meet have difficulty with both solitude and silence. I have sometimes found myself a bit critical of those who needed to fill their days with noise.

I find that I do not mind solitude – I enjoy my early morning runs – alone. I can work with no one around. I really don’t mind silence. I don’t run with an I-Pod and I rarely have music playing in my office. I enjoy the quiet. However, solitude and silence do not guarantee intimacy or even a connection with God.

Connection and intimacy with our heavenly Father requires intentionality. It doesn’t just happen. Even though we are in a place of solitude and there is no noise, the noise in our minds can be so loud it is impossible to hear the voice of God. Noise from things left undone; noise from unresolved strained relationships – the “silent” conversations can be incredibly loud; the noise of hurtful remarks or an unjust decision. It requires effort to push those sounds – those voices – aside in order to hear the whispers of God.

I leave Friday morning for a personal prayer retreat – to spend time over the week-end in some solitude and silence. I am looking for rest from the regular noises; time alone to pray; time away from questions about ministry or marriages, strategies and problems; a time to simply connect and draw close to my Father.

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Learning to pray

A friend of mine is completing a project for a degree in spiritual formation. She asked her many friends to respond to a series of questions about how they learned to pray. One of those questions was, “who taught you to pray?” That question stirred a lot of memories and took me back to my childhood. I really don’t remember a time when prayer was not a part of our lives. At a minimum we always prayed and gave thanks at meal time. Sometimes meal time prayers were expanded to include reading a passage of Scripture or thoughts from a devotional book.

We were taught prayers that we memorized – “God is great; God is good; and we thank Him for this food.” “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” I don’t remember being “taught” these prayers but I remember praying them at meal time and bed time.

I wasn’t very old when I first decided I wanted Jesus in my life. It was just after that decision that my mother began to talk with me about forming my own prayers rather than simply repeating those I had memorized. She quizzed me about things I was concerned about and told me to simply tell Jesus about them. She reminded me to thank Him and praise him but also told me I could bring anything to Him I wanted.

Her instructions began a journey of discovery about prayer and about God that has continued through the years. I’m thankful for a mother who thought it was important that her children learn to pray. I am also thankful for a mother who prayed – who prayed for her children all through their childhood, college, and marriage – who prayed until cancer took her life and the Lord received her into His presence.

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Creating a movement

I was made aware of the following YouTube video clip through an e-letter I receive each week. The title is “Leadership lessons from dancing guy.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW8amMCVAJQ. Check it out. Think about it in terms of making disciples of Jesus. Who are the key figures? If the dancing guy is Jesus, for example, who are the first followers? Did Jesus accept them as equals as suggested in the video? It appears that Jesus “selected” those first followers. However, did He select them from among those who had already shown an interest in following?

Switch gears a bit. As you think about creating a movement of multiplying disciples of Jesus, what is your role? Are you the leader or are you one of the first followers? If you are the leader, can you see the first followers – who are they? How will you encourage them? If you are not the leader, who are you following and who are those most likely to be influenced by your actions as an early follower?

In attempting to create a movement, do we place too much emphasis on being leaders? As leaders, are we willing to fade in prominence as followers come along?

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Webster defines perseverance as “steady persistance in a course of action or purpose.” The New Testament writers affirm it, encourage it and view it as desirable.

The Apostle Paul boasted of the perseverance of the Thessalonians. He held up the perseverance of Christ as a model. He said that the signs and wonders done by the apostles were done with great perseverance. He told the Romans that suffering produces perseverance. Peter wrote that we are to add perseverance to our faith. James said that the testing of our faith develops perseverance and that the finished work of perseverance is maturity.

James and the author to the Hebrews said that we need to persevere in order to receive what God has promise and we are urged to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

There is something difficult implied in the word – it suggests effort, determination, resolve. It reminds me of the athlete who must push through pain and fatigue to run the race or play the game. It is not a welcoming concept.

My nephew was urging/encouraging his daughter in some task that she did not want to do. He told her that sometimes we must simply persevere. Her response, “I only like to persevere every other day.” I laughed out loud when my sister told me the story.

However, I wonder if her comment is a reflection of many of us. I can persevere today but I’m not sure about tomorrow. Perhaps that’s O.K. When tomorrow comes, I can choose to persevere through it as well. I’m not sure skipping a day really counts as perseverance. But I can persevere for the next hour and then the next or today and then tomorrow. I may only “like” to persevere every other day but I must persevere today. Tomorrow, I’ll start anew.

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A Matter of Trust

When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He trusted them with the care of the garden. That care included not eating fruit from the tree in the midst of the garden. They were not trustworthy, ate of the fruit of the tree and were invited to live outside the garden.

Noah was entrusted with preserving man and beast during a universal flood. Abraham was entrusted with the promise of a son. God trusted Moses with the responsibility of leading the Jews out of Egypt. Both Saul and David were trusted to lead the nation of Israel. Prophets were entrusted with the message of hope of the Messiah.

The disciples were entrusted to create a movement of multiplying disciples. Paul was given the message of Christ to be taken to the Gentiles.

All of them faced adversity. For Adam and Eve it was a direct affront from Satan; challenging what they understood about God. For others the obstacles ranged from ridicule to violence and temptation to discouragement and apparent failure.

And yet most of them overcame the obstacles, endure the ridicule and violence, overcame the temptation and discouragement and succeeded in carrying out the plans of God.

In II Corinthians 1:18ff Paul described a time when he even despaired of life itself. He says he felt the sentence of death. Paul looked at his experiences – terrible as they were and said, “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.” He never wavered. God had entrusted a mission to him and he would rely on God to see the mission to completion.

I have preached numerous messages encouraging people to put their trust in God. Perhaps there is an alternative message. It begins with the question: “Can God trust me?” Can He trust me to persevere regardless of how tough the going gets – not just to remain a “believer” but to remain on task – to stay on mission. We have an assignment to make disciples. Will we do it, no matter what?

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