Posts Tagged ‘teacher

05
Jan
23

The Gift of Candles

They say… you know, the all-knowing, all-seeing THEY… that timing is everything. 

As is usually the case, they have indulged in a wee bit of literary hyperbole to make a point. The point that TIMING is a really, really important thing.

Comedians, trapeze artists, and base stealers in baseball will each readily endorse the truth of their words. 

But as I have found out on more than one occasion, KNOWING a thing and ACTING on that knowledge are vastly different things.  I am that guy who, just the other day, ran out to our curb with a big armload of cardboard, only to find out that I had JUST MISSED the recycling truck. I am also the guy who remembers to text his spouse that we are out of eggs immediately AFTER she has left the grocery store. 

For a long time, I also clung to the story that God’s timing of my call to the ministry was WAAAY off target. It seemed to me that the Almighty really blew a chance to catch me at the peak of my powers. I wondered… why didn’t God tap me on the shoulder back when I was super-charged with health and vitality? Back when I would have eagerly worked like a draft horse to help spread the Good News?

And so today, in addition to these musings about TIMING, I am also thinking about my dad. Today would have been his 96th birthday. He died six years ago, just two days past his 90th birthday. I relate these two subjects in my mind because I have often wondered if I inherited my “timing challenges” from dad.  

With a birth year of 1928, dad wasn’t quite old enough to actively fight in World War II. So, while all my buddies were sitting around swapping stories about how their dads fought at this battle in France, or that skirmish in the Pacific, I had to just sit quietly and listen. Dad did serve in the Army in Okinawa in ’46 and ’47, but strictly as part of the post-war occupying American force.

I also thought his timing of hearing his own call to the ministry was pretty off-target, too. You see, he graduated from seminary one year prior to my graduation from high school. And because of that timing, our family ended up moving from Columbus, Ohio to his first church in the suburbs of Seattle the summer before my senior year. 

Oh, the TRAUMA! Oh, the INJUSTICE! Oh, the HEARTBREAK!

[Then again, as the father of five children, I have to admit that dad’s timing in some things wasn’t too bad!]

Today, however, I find I am able to sit here and thank God for the gift of perspective that comes with my multiple fistfuls of birthday candles. Because of those candles, I am able to see and give thanks that my father did NOT have to face live bullets in the war. 

Those candles also help me now be grateful for the new friends, new experiences, and new outlooks that came as a result of my family’s cross-country relocation.  

And as far as the timing of my own call to the ministry, I can now say that God’s timing turned out to be absolutely PERFECT! I realize now that God allowed me to simmer and percolate and accumulate a whole quiver full of life experience that – I hope – enriched my ministry in ways that wouldn’t have been possible with the younger Russell.  

Like 100% of the rest of us, dad was flawed. He struggled with his temper. He could be a little heavy-handed with his discipline sometimes. He was a bit sartorially challenged. In his later years, he was drawn in by far too many of those, “As Seen on TV” miracle products. 

But the gift of perspective has finally helped me see past all of that to the kind, generous, compassionate, wise, and God-fearing man dad truly was. After I entered the ministry, he became a priceless mentor to me during some of the low points and aggravations that often come with the job.  

I hope my timing is not TOO far off here, but please forgive me, dad, for failing to appreciate all the different ways you blessed and encouraged me while you were here. My grandest aspiration is to become even HALF the blessing to my family and to the world that you were to us.

I love you.

Abundant blessings;

19
Apr
22

Blessed Reassurance

“OOO! Teacher! I know! Call on ME!”

Oh, how I loved it. How it used to stir my soul. 

There we were, sitting in our neat rows in Mrs. Olds’ fifth grade classroom. She had just posed a question to the entire class… on which topic I am not sure… and I KNEW THE ANSWER!!

My hand shot up. And from my vantage point toward the back in the row by the door I could see that NO ONE ELSE was raising their hand.

Gazing around, her eyes finally landed on me. “Yes, Rusty?” she ventured. [You see back then, someone had the brainwave that the best way to shorten the name “Russell” was to make it “Rusty”. But please don’t tell anyone.]

I took a deep breath, confidently spoke the answer, and – wonder of wonders – I was RIGHT! The reward for my perspicacity was the prize I most coveted in the world; the smiling approval of my teacher.

Yes, I was pleased by the release of pheromones as the Right Answer materialized in my brain. I also loved that I had the confidence to vocalize that answer in front of a room full of my peers. But the form of compensation that mattered the most to me back in the fifth grade was APPROVAL. And ideally, approval from a person with AUTHORITY. 

I wish I could tell you I have changed dramatically in the 60 or so ensuing years.

But I can’t truthfully say that. Sadly, approval is still a tremendously salient “coin of the realm” for me even as an old guy. 

  • I seek Joan’s approval.
  • I seek my sons’ approval.
  • I seek approval from the members of our Wednesday night Community Group.
  • I seek approval from my server at the restaurant, the Target cashier, my cul-de-sac neighbors, and complete strangers I meet on the street.  
  • Back in the day, I sought approval from my bosses.
  • I sought approval from every congregation I ever served and the District Superintendents I answered to.
  • Heck, I am sure I am seeking YOUR approval even now as I choose the words I write.

And frankly, all this approval seeking is exhausting. It is exhausting because I require every word, every thought, and every action to pass through two distinct and different assembly line/inspection processes before they can manifest themselves in the world.

PROCESS #1: 
What is RIGHT in this moment?

PROCESS #2:

What will gain APPROVAL? From… whoever.

At first, this “disease to please” doesn’t sound like a terrible affliction, does it? A person bent on gaining approval will usually be careful, conscientious, and compassionate in their relationships with others. 

 That much is true. But here is the real pathology that lies behind perpetual people pleasing: it leaves the pleaser with no agenda of his/her own. No vision. No ideal other than the ideals of whomever the pleaser is plotting to please.

And as long as the pleaser’s eyes are fixed on hitting targets in THIS world, success will be a hit or miss kind of thing. But if we turn our eyes to Jesus for a moment, we will learn two things.

First, we will hear him remind us that this dogged pursuit of approval probably falls under the heading of “laying up treasures on earth,” which Jesus once said was a really bad idea. (See Matthew 6:19, NRSV). The problem, he says, is spoilage. A little later in that same sermon, he tries to help us set our sights on a higher, nobler target when he says, “But seek first [God’s] kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NRSV). 

The second piece of sound guidance we receive from my man JC is the guidance that reminds us that we already have all the approval we will ever need. In fact, we had it AT OUR BIRTH! And we received it from the Highest Authority possible! 

Once again, we listen to the words from the Sermon on the Mount, where we hear, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. [Or – apropos of this blog post; “… or who will approve of you.”] 

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? [Ed. – “Or your worth as a person more than your co-workers’ approval?”]

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27, NRSV). 

I sure hope someone out there today is helped by this reminder. But if not, it was still worthwhile because those were all assurances I needed to hear again myself.

Abundant blessings;




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