Tag Archives: perseverance

We Ain’t Edward VIII — The Great Boomer Abdication

Caricature Blog HWCMAbdications acquired a kind of romantic glow when Edward VIII of England abdicated to marry his American fiancé, Wallis Simpson. Many Americans gushed with the prospect of a King of England giving it all up for his “colonial” sweetheart. Simultaneously, many in the British Empire were aghast at the prospect of a royal not doing his duty.

Whatever we feel about abdications, we must, as a baseline, acknowledge the essence of the word: they are, well, abdications–a willful surrender of inherent responsibility.

Christianity in the West faces a crushing abdication–it is, in fact, a generational abdication as Baby Boomers decide (and the culture tweets in celebration) that it is time to abdicate–to step aside–to surrender responsibility–to retire.

Fueled more by cultural preference for the young and Social Security retirement income thresholds than by biblical mandate, Boomers have (in large part) decided to “move on and take it easy” (thanks, Eagles) rather than stay the course.

I am reminded of an interim pastorate experience I had in a small church in the coves of Massachusetts’s North Shore. The founding pastor had passed away, but I was entranced by stories congregants told of him sitting in worship (when he could no longer stand) and sharing the truths of God’s Word with the people he loved and who loved him dearly–right up to near the very end.

Most ministries will not end that way. Our youth-obsessed culture won’t let it. And there is genuine wisdom in the older pouring their lives into younger ministry leaders; finding the appropriate time to let go of the back of the bike and watch younger ministry leaders head off in their initial wobbly ways. But that is not, I believe, supposed to take place on a time table established by the Social Security Administration nor should it be triggered by the maturation date of Individual Retirement Accounts.

When God wants us to “retire,” He has specific and obvious ways of letting us know. The ultimate way He lets us know is by calling us to the retirement home whose threshold is the mortuary door.

This retirement phenomenon was highlighted in what I thought was a panicky sort of way when the Barna organization released its recent reports on the State of the Church and the State of Pastors. There was angst over the fact that the average age of pastors has increased and an implied wonder about what will happen next. As I read the report and heard the presentations, there seemed to be palpable distress over the rising average age of pastors.

All of this, I believe, runs counter to the consistent biblical teaching: respect the elders, listen to their counsel, watch them lead, watch them “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [them] heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Boomers, let’s “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). It is certainly a relay race, destined to be continued by those who come after, but let’s not drop the baton before God Himself calls, “Time!”

Winston Churchill, speaking in the early days of the World War Two horrors, said these oft-quoted words: Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” Of course, Churchill was not speaking from within a Christian world view, but his point remains: stay until the job (your job) is done. This was likely made more poignant by him giving his speech a slight five years after the abdication of Edward VIII.

But, here’s the question: do we honestly think that God will not raise up leaders for His Church? Do we think God doesn’t have a “succession plan?”

This cuts many ways, as I know some Boomers who have been shunted to the side who would joyfully engage in ministry, were the opportunity restored to them. And I know many Millennials who are hungry for ongoing investment in their lives by ministry leaders who have an abundance of notches in their belts.

Ben Sasse, in his book, The Vanishing American Adult, calls ours “an age that gives short shrift to the transmission of wisdom from old to young.” No kidding–and the Boomer abdication is not only a result of that but, in my view, likely a primary cause of that.

Perhaps we should look more to the sovereignty of God and rest in the reality that His plan for His Kingdom is not undone by “aging” pastors. And, perhaps Boomers should get back on the job.

© 2017, All Rights Reserved. Scripture quotations from the NIV.


Sisyphus Days

I am not much of a Greek mythology aficionado. You can keep your Zeus and Hercules and Aphrodite. I prefer my fictional super heroes as caped or web wielding crusaders (with the occasional starred and striped shield thrown in for hometown fun).

But the Greek myths do sometimes captivate–woven as they are with threads of moral substance and ethical expectations. And there are the times when the myths clang in the head like an out of tune but much rung gong…echoing over and over, “This is your life; this is you.”

And so I have my Sisyphus Days. Sisyphus? He was (according to the myths) the rascal king of what would be later called Corinth. He lied and he killed in order to maintain his grip on power. He tricked and beguiled and even managed to get the better of Hades and Thanatos (the personification of Death) for a while.

Eventually he became just too much trouble and was sentenced to roll a huge boulder (not the city in Colorado; a large, you know, rock) up a mountain side. Within sight of the mountain’s summit, the boulder would tumble back down hill and Sisyphus would have to start all over again. Sisyphus thought he was smarter than Zeus; he wasn’t. You have to admit, the Greek gods were judicially clever.

So Sisyphus becomes the rascal condemned to never finish anything. He will roll that rock over and over and over and over and over again up that hill. But Sisyphus will never be done. The rock will always falter just short of the peak and will begin again its smash and trash, high speed plunge to the bottom of the mountain.

I have days like that; sometimes weeks; sometimes entire enterprises that seem like they will never be done. Just when I get the “rock of the day” close to what I think is the summit, it slips away and careens down the hillside; lurches to a stop, and beckons me to come once more to begin the push.

There are vocational days like that; there are relational days like that; there are a whole lot of Christian days like that. Sisyphus days…days that frustrate with the ends not tied up or the things concluded. Days that mock with their sense of pseudo-finish only to then point to the boulder just beginning its return trip…back to the beginning…back to the place of “again.”

Character issues, maturity issues, church issues, are all fodder for Sisyphus Days. So many times of dealing with so much of the same faltering near finishes.

I know, perseverance is key. But perseverance wears one out…particularly on the Sisyphus Days.

Holding onto the hope of ultimate completion in Christ, I open the calendar to see that it portends yet another Sisyphus Day.

“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

(c) All rights reserved. Scripture from the New International Version.

30 Days to Spring Training or What’s Wrong with Christian Free Agency?

Coming off last year’s World Series win for the Boston Red Sox, it’s a sure thing that Red Sox Nation is eagerly anticipating (nay…salivating for) the annual signals that America’s Pastime will resume.  Thirty days from today, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

Plus…it’s been (already) enough of a miserable winter that any sign of spring approaching is most welcome.

Of course, given the vagaries and complexities of modern baseball, the 2014 team will not be identical to the 2013 team.  Some of the names that we got used to during last year’s playoff run will, sigh, be playing for other teams [Jacobi is off to the Bronx…though he did leave with class].

One of the highlights of last season’s really fun run was Boston Designated Hitter, David Ortiz (Big Papi).  He had an incredible .959 On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) and led the team in his inimitable style.  That style included the tide-turning pep talk to his posse during game four of the World Series.  Baseball writer Kevin Paul Dupont called it Ortiz’s “Fall Classic carpe diem” and the “series’ seminal moment.”  That’s our Big Papi, wading in unscripted to engage Fenway’s baseball boys with his own brand of insight and determination.

National audiences had previously seen this when, post the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings at the very beginning of the baseball season, Ortiz dared anyone else to mess with “our f_____ng city.”  Did I wince (well, simultaneously wince and smirk) at the choice expletive?  Yes.  Did I resonate with the voice of determination?  Absolutely.  That same determination led Ortiz to challenge his teammates to be the team they had been all season long and bring the World Series title home to Boston.  They did.

David Ortiz is apparently, at this writing, in talks to extend his contract with the Red Sox.  I don’t have any special insight; I just know what I’ve read.  He wants to stay another year and I think the team wants him to stay another year.

After the 2014 season, Big Papi will become a baseball Free Agent.  He will have more room to maneuver with respect to his contract negotiations, but he will also be on the edge of player viability.  He doesn’t seem to be slowing down but you never know.

Besides the fact that I love to watch the Red Sox boys play (hence the Big Papi preamble), I am fascinated by this notion of Free Agency…the movement of talented (and sometimes not so talented) players between teams.  In baseball’s yesteryear, players were often married to the same team (for better or for worse) for their entire career.  Now team rosters are much more fluid from year to year–that fluidity a byproduct of Free Agency. 

As a Christian I am also fascinated by the Church’s own version of Free Agency.  Players (a.k.a. church members) who regularly migrate from place to place (church to church) in search of that perfect place that dispenses perfect ministry that perfectly matches their needs (desires, whims, preferences…insert your own noun).  

While recognizing that there is no such thing as a perfect church, I am puzzled by the seeming fragility of contemporary church connections–a fragility that rests on this notion of Free Agency.  Of course, I suppose it is largely a blessing that there are so many “options” for believers for worship and service.  But, there it is, the tendency to think more in consumerist North American terms than biblical terms: options. 

I pastored a church in Colorado for several years.  By “steeple envy” standards we did alright.  We may even have done well by God’s standards.  All that to say, we weren’t the “coolest” place in town but we were in the “top tier” [I know…worldly standards misapplied to Kingdom endeavors] of places to be “checked out” by the town’s new arrivals and by those who were somehow disenchanted with the place in which they worshipped. 

In that resort community, during my eleven or twelve years there, I was regularly amazed at the number of people who had been “called” to plant churches amongst the sun and winter frolicking destinarians (yes, I made up a word).  At the time, by my count, there were about 25 evangelically minded churches in a town of (then) 6,500 in a county of (then) 14,000.  If you spent a year at each church, you could move from place to place to place for a quarter of a century before having to start over.  By then, presumably, the church(es) fostering the disenchantment would have been able to get their act(s) together…or not.

Then came the archetypal Christian Free Agent.  She was in her 60s; she was grumpy; she had a mild-mannered (rarely heard) husband and she (one sunny winter’s day) alighted in our worship center.  She engaged pretty well and was initially upbeat, but after five or six months came a litany of “concerns.”  Upon further exploration with her it seemed that the church had failed to meet her expectations on several fronts. 

I was younger and dumber and less full of the kind of grace, tact, and diplomacy (and warmth and fuzziness) for which I am known today (sarcasm is hard to render blogwise).  I finally said, “Junia [that’s not her real name and perhaps me using that name is one of the reasons she huffed so…not really…I actually used her real name when I spoke with her, but I have changed the name to protect the guilty…and dodge litigation]…Junia,” I said, “You’ve been to eight churches in the last ten years [I am not making that up].  Is it at all possible that perhaps there might be an issue with you that has nothing to do with any of those churches?” 

Her husband slunk out of the room like a dog who had messed the carpet.  If I had been smarter, I would have left with him.  What followed was an explosive airburst not seen since the first hydrogen bomb (“Mike”) was tested at the Enewetak Atol in 1952.  Well…it probably wasn’t that bad…it just seemed that way.  Leaving her house that evening, shaking the fallout from my brain, I again pondered the fragility of church connections and the multiplicity of options available to those in the Body of Christ who largely think of themselves in “Free Agent” terms.

This is not to say that some churches sometimes aren’t egregious in their wounding of the gathered saints.  This is not to say that some solid saints haven’t gone the extra mile (or hundred miles) to try and redeem church circumstances such that they can remain and thrive.  Sadly, the church sometimes grossly disappoints, dissatisfies, and disheartens, thwarting even the most committed Christ follower’s attempts to make a go of it. 

It is to say that, in my view, the threshold for moving on to “another team” in our Christian Free Agency system is much too low.  It is to say that a distorted view of “freedom in Christ” tends to minimize the biblical call for perseverance, restoration, forgiveness, and plain old “hanging in there.”  The Bible commends persistence through difficulties and the beauty of brethren and sisteren dwelling in a unity based, not on preference satisfaction, but on commitment to Christ and each other, even when we disappoint.

“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature,” the Apostle Paul said, “Instead, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). 

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.







Out of Step (Parenting) & Other Cadence Challenges

​There is genuine beauty in the mobile symmetry of a marching unit.  Be it a band or a brigade, the simultaneously duplicated movements are captivating.  When I was in the military, I had the great fortune to command an Air Force Basic Military Training Squadron.  Twice weekly the unit, along with all the other Basic Training squadrons, would march in parade for family, friends, and distinguished visitors.  The Military Training Instructors, in their uniquely soft spoken and encouraging way, would work with the Basic Trainees to perfect the art of marching in step.  The best training instructors will tell you that, for optimal marching results, getting the entire group together (as a unit) at the beginning, is the best way to build the habits required for marching in step.  Later additions to the group, folks who were not part of the original unit, can throw things off completely.  The later additions can eventually catch the rhythm of the original group but it is decidedly harder.  Staying “in step” is a tough gig for the newbies.

Which is why I wonder why they call it “Step Parenting.”  Because this step parent is very, very rarely in step.  Step parents are from the outside–grafted into an existing family system that already has its distinctive movements and patterns and speeds.  Depending upon the ages of the “step children” and the whereabouts of other biological parents, step parenting can be a seriocomic marching disaster.  Zigging when needing to zag; zagging when needing to zig.  Marking time when everyone else is at double time; double timing to catch up to everyone else marking time.  It’s enough to make a seasoned marching veteran run for the hills–if only one knew where the hills have been hidden in the land of step parenting.

There is, in my step parenting experience and observation, rarely such thing as a “unit”–what usually exists is a series of momentarily coterminous “family-like” entities that bang into each other for relatively short periods of time.  Those collisions can be innocuous or they can be toxic.  As the outsider–the step parent–knowing which result will attain is tough to predict.  And, more importantly, knowing the cadence to try to help ensure a better outcome (to try to get in step) is nigh on impossible to predetermine.  More often it’s like playing Russian Roulette–only this revolver has a round in nearly every chamber instead of just one.  With each pull of the trigger, the step parent realizes, again, how out of step he or she really is.

Boundaries, other parent complications, schedules, tentacles of other step family connections, and financial issues all combine with some eerie atmospheric to make staying “in step” a challenge.

I know that there are step parents who have meshed really well with their step children and their other step relatives.  I marvel at the seeming miracle of it and applaud the sense of relational cadence those “in step” parents have achieved.  And yes…I have read the books (well, ok, I have looked at all the book titles on Amazon.com, skimmed some of the material, and read bits of it); I know that step parenting is much more art than science.  This particular artist is just desperately hoping for the “paint by number” version of the picture so that he has at least a fighting chance of getting one or two colors in the right places before it doesn’t matter any more. 

I look to the Scriptures to see Mordecai becoming an effective step (and later adoptive) parent to Esther and, of course, Joseph becoming the earthly father to Jesus; I am genuinely awestruck by the devotion to someone else’s children–a level of devotion that seems out of reach when one is so hopelessly out of step.

Here’s praying for the grace, the perseverance, the fortitude, and the devotion it takes to keep trying to get in step for this particular step parent.  

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.

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