Tag Archives: mist

Vanishing Mists

mist

I was in the hunt for a particular author of a particular book. It was a book about preaching, written by a prof who had taught me preaching in seminary. I know, you’re thinking, “Somebody taught you preaching?” Yes…tis true…but don’t blame the prof for my homiletic stumbles. After all, he didn’t have much to work with.

As I started my Googling for the book, I was startled to learn that the prof had died. In fact, he had died thirteen years ago. My heart thumped. He was 45 when he died…he passed away after trying to fight off brain tumors.

It was one of those internet shock moments for me. I would have had no reason to check on him before; we weren’t friends; he was an influential prof who had gone on to lead the Doctor of Ministry Program at an influential evangelical seminary. But we weren’t close.

He was good and he was kind and he spoke words into my life about the task of preaching that I have never forgotten (not always used effectively, but never forgotten). Now he is gone from this life (and has been for a while).

It made me sad to learn of the prof’s passing–it probably made me sadder because my first Father’s Day without my Dad is looming and I am, well…sad.

Mortality is on my mind these days. It’s probably there in a morbid kind of way. It’s settled in, I think, because I am (ahem) older than I used to be. Let’s just say that the tweens, teens, and millennials operating the registers at local fast fooderies and drinkeries don’t even bother asking if I want the senior discount, they just automatically apply it to my bill. Not that I mind saving the twelve cents…but still.

I never told that prof how much I appreciated his classroom wisdom. He was only in my life for two or three terms of the last year of my seminary program. He brought his wisdom to bear; I copied down his words in my notebook (I know…who writes down notes in a notebook anymore?); he modeled that wisdom; and I tried to weave his wisdom into my own preaching and teaching.

[An aside in this week following Muhammad Ali’s death: I picked up one of my favorite illustrations during this prof’s class. Perhaps the story is urban legend but…Muhammad Ali was on an airplane and had ignored several requests from the flight attendant to buckle his seat belt. After the last request, Ali said, “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.” The flight attendant replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane.” Ali buckled his belt. Classic exchange with the Champ–may he rest in peace.]

That last seminary year we worked our way through the Book of James in a joint exegetical and homiletical study/preaching exercise. My assigned passage was James 4:13-16, which contains these words in verse 14, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” 

So many of my influential “mists” have vanished and it strikes me that my own and others’ “vanishing” is certainly closer than it used to be. This particular prof; other profs who modeled Christian scholarship and Christian integrity; Air Force commanding officers and peers; pastors; tucked-deep-in-my-heart kind of friends; and, most of all, my Dad…they are all…we are all…I am…a “mist that appears for a little while.”

I want to do better at cherishing my “vanishing mists” before they actually vanish from this life. I want them to know now that they are loved and appreciated and still occupy key coronary territory–feeding my heart in ongoing ways.

Maybe you have some “vanishing mists” to whom you should speak before they feature in their own vanishing act? Don’t wait for a surprise Google search result like I did.

© 2016, All rights reserved. Scriptures from the New International Version (Zondervan).


Penciled In

pencil

I was a young Air Force officer, likely insufferable and most certainly highly enamored with my own early success.  I was moving on up; on the “fast track” (though early promotions were not yet possible at my career stage).  I had been moved into a job reserved for more senior officers and had hit the ground running–inflicting upon all my “innovative” ideas for brazen success in that new job. 

My new boss (last name: Sullivan; we called him “Sully” long before the advent of the big, blue monster), would sit at his desk with an increasingly bemused look on his face as he observed the undeniable evidence of my embrace of the Myth of Indispensability.  I was fully and firmly convinced that the Air Force, nay the entire Military Establishment, could not move forward without my genius.  Mystifying it was and puzzling too, how the Air Force had survived lo those many, many years without me. 

Sully took me to lunch one day; he even bought the meal.  After we consumed our burgers, he looked me in the eye and said words so profound in their impact that I repeat them to myself each and every day.  Sully stared straight on at me, his words cutting right to my mind and heart and said, “You know, Howard, we’re all just penciled in.” 

Of course that was in the days when pencils had not been replaced by the ubiquitous keyboards and people actually wrote things out by hand, in pencil, with the option of erasing their efforts if they ran afoul of wisdom or common sense or just plain accuracy.  “Penciled in,” Sully had said, meaning I could be erased and replaced at any moment. 

I was taken aback as Sully succeeded in his mission: to debunk the Myth of Indispensability I had created about myself and replace it with an eye toward excellence tempered by humility.  We’re all just penciled in. 

These days, of course, the metaphor might be lost on the “What’s a pencil?” generation.  So maybe we should instead say that we’re all Snapchat fodder; visible for mere moments and then gone in a screen wipe. 

The Bible gets at this in the Book of James.  James calls us “mist(s) that appear for a little while and then vanish” (4:14).  Is James denigrating the species?  Kicking dirt in the face of God’s greatest creative efforts?  No, James is just reminding us that we are all penciled in.  Our own endeavors, as impressive as they might seem, and even our very earthly existence, all have expiration dates.  We will be, in this life, surpassed and replaced–likely when we least expect it.  The energy that we expend will be caught up with us when we “vanish.” 

James (in context) intends this as encouragement to do our best with an eye ever towards God’s good pleasure.  It doesn’t make us lazy (or ought not); it helps squash our personal Myth of Indispensability and move forward, in Christ, in the pursuit of excellence, tempered by humility. 

Sully was so very right; even now, when I ponder how exceptional I am (just ask me), his words clang and bang loudly in my mind. 

We’re all just penciled in.  Jesus is the only Indispensable One; He is the Alpha and the Omega; He is the One to whom we look as we pursue excellence on His behalf, tempered by humility. 

We’re all just penciled in. 

© All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV. 


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