Posts Tagged ‘last

18
Mar
21

Going First

Going first comes naturally to me.

Going first doesn’t always mean finishing first, just FYI.

It all started when I volunteered to be the first of five children born to Lyn and George Brown, some [mumble, mumble] years ago.

That meant I got to be the first guinea pig for them to test all of their new parenting theories on. I was the first to walk… the first to ride a bike… the first to fall down and skin my elbow… the first to go to school… first to get my driver’s license… and the first to see exactly what the consequences were for violating the family rulebook.

Each time the stork delivered a new bundle of joy to the Brown house, mom and dad were able to tweak their parenting skills a little more, so that by the time #5 came along, they were absolute paragons of parenting perfection. 

You’re welcome, siblings!

Going first soon became a way of life for me. Naturally when neighbor Marc Downer and I were standing on top of the flat-roofed garage behind our house on Norwich Street with bedsheets [excuse me… I mean PARACHUTES], tied to our waists, I was the first one to jump off and test our theory of aerodynamics. 

NEWS FLASH: It didn’t work.

Even though the resulting twisted ankle and bruised head would have taught most people a lesson, I nevertheless persisted. Well into early adulthood I continued to push myself to the head of the line at home, in the classroom, and on the playground. 

In fact, many, many years later when I was one of an army of associate pastors in the largest United Methodist Church in the country, I raised my hand and offered to lead their maiden attempt to develop a “satellite” campus in a suburban location.

Now some of you hearing this narrative might be quick to point me to Jesus’ words from Matthew 19:30 wherein he admonishes Peter and some of the other eager beaver disciples by saying, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30, NRSV). You might even double up your scripturally-based finger wagging with this gem from Proverbs: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18, NRSV). 

To which I would probably reply: “I’m rubber, you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to YOU!”

No… I’m sorry. As tempted as I might be, I would not say that. Yes, I would THINK it, but those exact words would probably stay bottled up inside me.

Mostly, though, I would have to agree with you.

One of the biggest things I discovered through my years of going first is that it is usually a very humbling experience. When you stick your toe into waters no one has ventured into before, you end up making a lot of mistakes. You are doing everything for the first time without the benefit of being able to look at the “teachable moments” from a predecessor. 

Just ask some of the people who had the misfortune of being members of my staff in that first satellite campus church. 

For me, a more relevant scripture passage than those above is this one from First Corinthians. In it we hear Paul explaining some of the fundamentals of church leadership to a skeptical audience: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7, NRSV). 

Perhaps this is “wishful hearing” on my part, but I think Paul is saying, “Look… somebody has to go first. Somebody has to get out there and whack down the weeds and underbrush to clear the trail. Somebody has to blunder out and make all the initial mistakes. But whether you are firstsecond, or somewhere toward the end of the line, the only thing that matters is getting God’s work done.”

And so, if I can make someone else’s road a little less bumpy by jumping to the front of the line and becoming a cautionary tale for God’s greater glory, I’m good with that…

… as long as I also get to go first in the cafeteria. 

Abundant blessings;

01
Aug
19

Ash-A-Palooza 2019

“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
Matthew 19:30, NRSV

Sibling hugI consider myself a committed, albeit deeply flawed, follower of Jesus Christ. I try to live my life by his example, in spite of failing and coming up short time after time after time.

Nevertheless, I keep trying.

I also take Jesus at his word, as captured in the canon of the New Testament… even when I don’t understand exactly what he is trying to say. Take for example the story in Matthew 17 where Jesus and Peter are talking about the folks who collect the so-called “Temple tax.” After asking Peter from whom the “kings of the earth” receive their tribute, Jesus says this to him: “…go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”(Matthew 17:27, NRSV).

Huh?

Whatever he meant there, I am going to assume that it is true, deep, and wise.

I just don’t happen to get it.

I also take him at his word in the Matthew 19 passage quoted at the top of this page about the “firsts” and the “lasts.” Even so, I have to admit that in my multiple years of life on this planet, I have rarely seen examples of the truth of this statement in action.

What I mean is; those who are “first” in life seem to remain stubbornly at the front of the line while the folks at the back – whether socially, economically, or politically – often seem to be permanently welded to those rearward positions.

And so I consider it nothing short of a praise-the-Lord-Hallelujah style miracle to be able to tell you that I saw the truth of this Matthew 19:30 passage acted out right in front of me this past week.

Allow me to explain: growing up, the very LAST people I wanted to be associated with were my siblings. I considered them to be the most annoying, troublesome, frustrating, clumsy, idiotic, and just plain UNCOOL human beings on the face of the earth.

EVERY ONE OF THEM!

You see, I am the oldest of the five offspring of George and Lyn Brown. We stair-step down from me, just about every 1 ½ to two years to Melinda, Douglas, Alan, all the way down to the baby, Eric.

(The baby, incidentally, celebrated his 60thbirthday earlier this year.)

My parents were continually admonishing me about my duty to “be an example to your younger brothers and sister,” throughout my life and I frankly resented them for it.  I could not wait to graduate from high school and finally get out of the oppressive, sibling-infested environment of our house.

But my… how several decades of time and multiple life-shaping experiences can change things.

Today those annoying pests who once occupied the lowest rungs on my Personal Preference Ladder have leap-frogged themselves all the way to the top… just a couple of rungs down from my Savior and my lovely wife.

We began growing closer when my mother died of lymphoma in 1970. Through marriages, divorces, illnesses, victories, defeats, children, and grandchildren, we have been steadily closing the gap every year.

But what really cemented them into their permanent, favored place in my heart was our recently-concluded sojourn, somewhat whimsically titled, “Ash-A-Palooza 2019: Brown People Go Back Where They Came From.”

This was a trip that covered seven days, 2,000 miles, 300 songs, hundreds of laughs, and lots of tears.

It was the fulfillment of a request from our father to have his cremated ashes spread to five different locations around the U.S. Each location he chose held special significance to him and to our family.

Last summer we sprinkled some of his ashes onto the flank of Mt. Rainer in Washington State and into the Pacific Ocean. This year’s leg of the trip took us to St. Louis (his birthplace), Columbus, Ohio (the birthplace of each of the kids), and the shores of Lake Michigan, at the summer camp where he and my mother met in the summer of 1947.

This trip generated too many stories to tell in one short blog post, so I won’t even try. Needless to say, it reconnected us to one another in special and spiritual ways. It reconnected us with people and places in our history.

But most of all, it reconnected me – and I am sure all of us – to the beauty and wonder that is this strange thing we call FAMILY.

The last have indeed become the first…

… even if they are still a bunch of knuckleheads.

05
Mar
18

S is for Serve

(This post is the fourth in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from the letters of my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

I hear it when we sit down to eat at a restaurant. “Hi, chauffeurthere! My name is Jean Luc and I’ll be your server tonight.”

I hear it when young men and women volunteer for a stint in their country’s armed forces. They talk about serving their country.

I hear it when someone is thrown in jail. “Joe will be serving a ten-year sentence for armed robbery.”

But honestly, outside of those three settings (and possibly on the tennis court), I can’t tell you that I hear many people using the word “serve” much at all anymore.

Why is that, do you suppose?

Is it because to serve can seem a little demeaning or subordinate? If I serve, I am, by definition, a servant. Aren’t servants the people the rich and famous employ to drive their cars, cook their food, clean their pools, and shine their shoes?

And hey…where is the glamour or power in THAT? You and I are movers and shakers and big fat DEALmakers! The whole idea of serving seems to mean putting the needs and priorities of another person AHEAD of my own.

We don’t want to BE servants. We want to HAVE servants!

But then we hear the persistent, intruding voice of Jesus breaking into our reverie, saying, “… whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.” (Matt. 20:26-27, NRSV) and we wonder if he might have known something we have missed.

This conversation about serving causes me to think of a woman I once knew long ago. Her name was Susan. Susan worked as a receptionist at a prominent economic development council downtown.

Every time I had a reason to call someone in that office, I got the impression from Susan that there was absolutely nothing in the WORLD that was more important to her than putting me in touch with the person I was calling. If they did not answer their extension, Susan came back on the line and offered to leave her post and try and go track them down in person.

When I told Susan I was fine leaving a message, she assured me that she would do everything in her power to make sure they received my message and returned my call… as soon as possible.

And I have no doubt she did exactly that.

Susan had a true servant’s heart.

Yes, you can say that Susan was just doing the job she was paid to do… and you would be right. But the spirit she brought to that job sent the message to everyone she met that nothing was more important to her than SERVING others.

Susan was no Jesus. But her servant’s heart endowed every phone call with a fresh sort of dignity and worth. Even if I was just calling my friend Jim to invite him to have lunch with me, I hung up the phone feeling revived and energized.

I think the bottom line in all of this is that there IS real power in serving. But it is that peculiar kind of “upside down” power Jesus so famously promoted.

It is the power that comes from giving instead of getting.

It is the power that comes from emptying rather than filling.

It is the power that comes from being all about YOU instead of being all about ME.

And sadly, it is exactly the power that the world seems to be desperately short of these days.

 

Hi. My name is Russell. How can I serve you today?




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