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Saturday, March 13, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 2 Corinthians 13

As a long time sports fan, I like to stay on top of trends within the sports world. Several years ago, I heard of something sports psychologists were using with athletes to enhance their performances. That something involved using a method known as visualization.

This meant that the psychologists would invite athletes to close their eyes and visualize themselves successfully doing the thing they wanted to do. For instance, they would ask a basketball player to visualize him or herself making a free throw in hopes that this would improve the athlete’s free throw shooting.

When I first heard about the practice, I thought it was kind of silly. I didn’t see how such a process could enhance performance. After hearing several athletes talk about how the practice helped them, I grew less suspicious of the method over time. In fact, now it actually makes a good deal of sense to me - for life has taught me that those things we put our minds to more often than not seem to happen.

This is especially true when it comes to the attitude we bring to life. If we are always focused on the negative, for instance, more often than not the negative thing we expect will happen. The apostle Paul seemed to intuitively get that principle – for in today’s passage from 2 Corinthians he spells out to the Corinthians five things they should focus their attention on to create a satisfying life: (1) be cheerful; (2) keep things in good repair; (3) keep your spirits up; (4) think in harmony; and (5) be agreeable. Sounds like good advice.

Today, I would ask you to think about the ways in which you view the world. Do you focus primarily on the negative and expect the world around you to cause you constant pain and frustration; or do you focus on things that are generally more positive and expect the world to be a generally life-affirming place? The attitude with which you engage the world go a long way in determining the kind of world in which you live.

Til next time…

Friday, March 12, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 2 Corinthians 12

If you got to know me – I mean REALLY know me – you might be surprised that I was able to answer the call to parish ministry. That’s because there are so many aspects of my personality that don’t seem to fit with the traditional practice of ministry.

Left to my own devices, for instance, I am one of the most opinionated people you will ever meet. I almost instantly have a strong opinion about any topic you might raise. This isn’t exactly a trait most folks are looking for when they seek out a pastor who is a kind and compassionate listener.

I also am very thin skinned. I get my feelings hurt very easily. As most pastors are lightening rods for controversy, being thin skinned is about the last quality you would want in a pastor.

I’m also a person who was strongly shaped by his rural, working class background. On most days I would much rather watch a ball game with friends than sit in a study and explore abstract dimensions of a text.

And if there is one thing in life I would avoid like the plague if given a chance it would be meetings. Most meetings take the life out of me within their first few minutes. And guess what most pastors spend a significant amount of time in? That’s right – you guessed it. Meetings. Ugh!

You can see why on paper I would be one of the least qualified individuals to be a pastor. And yet here I am.

So how did I end up here – in the practice of ministry?

The short answer is, “Because I was called.” Everyday that I walk out the front door and into my ministry, I know that in order to be effective in answering my call I have to get out of the way as much as possible and let God’s grace take over. On my own, I would be an absolute failure.

I suppose that’s why Paul’s words from today’s passage from 2 Corinthians resonate so strongly with me – because they speak to my experience. “My grace is enough; it’s all you need…” Paul begins by quoting God. “My strength,” he continued, “comes into its own in your weakness.” If you ask me, truer words have never been spoken!

Perhaps there are areas in your life where you have been feeling called to step up to the plate. The only thing that’s been holding you back, however, is your fear that you don’t have what it might take to succeed.

If that’s the case, don’t spend time feeling inadequate. Instead, take the time you might have previously spent beating yourself up, and use it to take a bold step out in faith – trusting that whatever it is you might lack to see things through will undoubtedly be made up through God’s ridiculously generous grace.

Til next time…

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 2 Corinthians 11 (Click on the Scripture to read The Message paraphrase of the passage)

When I talk with folks about my call to ordained ministry, I can easily make it sound as if I’ve lived a charmed life. I suppose that’s because I draw a great deal of satisfaction from doing what I’ve been called to do. I’m also blessed in that I truly LOVE what I’m doing. As a result, I tend to emphasize the positive when I talk about my call.

If I were to strip away my positive outlook, I suppose I could easily describe my call in a very different way – in a way that parallels the way Paul talked about his call in today’s reading.

Here’s just a short list of what’s happened to me since I answered the call to ministry 11 years ago.

• I’ve walked away from a budding career in politics.
• I left all of my family and friends behind to move 1,100 miles away to attend seminary.
• While in seminary, I was tossed out of the denomination in which I was raised because of my sexual orientation.
• Once I found my way to a truly loving and inclusive denomination, I then answered the call to serve a church that was on the verge of closing.
• After I settled into a life I loved in a community in which I was comfortable, I was then called to uproot my life and move 1,000 miles away
• In the process of moving I accrued a tremendous amount of debt in order to move to a place I’d never been to in order to serve a church in major transition.

It’s not exactly the kind of story you’d put on a brochure if you wanted to draw other folks into ministry.

So why would anyone in their right mind put him or herself through such circumstances?

The answer is pretty simple: because those of us with a call to ministry can’t do anything else.

Now when I say that, I don’t mean that we pastors are a sorry lot who lack practical skills that would allow us to get any other job. No, I mean that we are a group of folks whose love for God and God’s people is so great that we literally have no choice but to serve. As one of my mentors on my path to ministry once said, “If you feel like there’s anything else you could possibly do, by all means do it. The only way you’ll survive in ministry is if you know you have no other choice!”

In many ways, I think that advice extends not just to ministers but to people of faith as well. Over the years I’ve noticed that a person’s faith is most vibrant when they reach the point when they realize their connection with God isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity. A person’s faith is most alive when they know that their relationship with God gives them something that nothing else in the world can give them – not money, not popularity, not drugs, not sex, not status, not anything! Once a person realizes this, their faith begins to take over their life (in a good way ).

My question for you to consider today is this: how do you view your faith? Is it something you hold on to simply out of habit or routine; or is it something you do out of necessity?

Til next time…

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 2 Corinthians 10

For those who would like the convenience of being able to read the scripture I'm in dialogue with online, you can now just click on the "What I'm Reading Today" scripture and it will call up that passage from The Message.

There have been many powerful learnings that I’ve made on my road to recovery from codependency. Because I’ve had so many learnings, some might think it would be difficult for me to identify what learning has been most important. Such folks would be wrong for there is one learning in particular that has been most important. That learning is this: I am not responsible for how another person feels.

Sure, I do things that impact the life of other people all the time. My behaviors or actions can make the lives of others easier or more difficult. Ultimately, however, it is up to the people around me to decide how they choose to respond to my behaviors. I cannot accept responsibility for their thoughts or feelings.

This might sound like common sense to you, but this was a HUGE learning for me! Whenever someone around me was upset, for instance, I use to think it was always my fault they were upset. “If I could just change my behavior,” I thought, “then I could change the other person’s attitude.”

It wasn’t until I began to emotionally grow up that I began to set healthy boundaries between myself and others. Those boundaries helped me understand two things. First, I learned that it was possible for me to have different emotions than the person I was with. The person I was with, for instance, could be sad; and I could be happy. What a concept! Second, I learned it was possible to let go of my desire to control others and let the other person accept responsibility for their emotional well being.

I was reminded of the importance of healthy boundaries as I read Paul’s words to the believers in Corinth in today’s passage. In addressing some of the drama that existed in the community, Paul noted: “We’re sticking to the limits of what God has set for us. But there can be no question that those limits reach to and include you.” He then went on to add, “We’re not moving into someone else’s ‘territory’”

These words tell me that Paul had very clear boundaries in both his life and ministry. He knew who he was, what he was called to do, and who his audience was – and he lived within those boundaries.

Today I would invite you to ask yourself a simple question: “How good are my boundaries?” Do you have a clear sense of self and know where you end and others begin; or do you blur those boundaries and try to assume responsibility for/take control of others?

Til next time….

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 2 Corinthians 8-9

About a year ago, one of the most special people I ever had the pleasure of knowing passed away. His death didn’t get much coverage outside of the small town in which I was raised. The man who passed away was named Ken Fisher.

Mr. Fisher (as his students called him) taught band and drill team at the local high school for nearly 30 years. During that time he had an amazing ability to bring out the best in his students. When my oldest brother was in high school, for instance, he took the band and drill team to the Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena where they marched. And when my sister and older brother were in high school, he got our band and drill team (from our little old town of 3,000) to represent the entire state of Washington at the Parade of States in Philadelphia on the occasion of the United States’ bicentennial celebration. Those were momentous achievements for our small town.

Individuals who joined the band were often unsure they would have the ability to memorize music or figure out how to march. Within a few months time, however, those individuals became part of a finely tuned machine. And many a girl joined the drill team thinking it would be impossible to master the jump splits for which the school was famous. Fast forward six months and those same girls were part of a drill line that would have made the Rockettes jealous.

So how did Mr. Fisher accomplish all of this?

Well, he had a special talent. He had a way of looking deep inside 14 and 15 year olds and seeing them not simply who they were – but for whom they could become. In other words, he saw the best in others. Many a student got a glimpse of their potential through Mr. Fisher’s eyes and ended up living up to that potential.

I was reminded of Mr. Fisher as I read Paul’s words to the Corinthians in today’s passage. In talking with the Corinthians about their neighbors in Macedonia, Paul explained that he was simply trying “to bring the best out of you.” And guess what? Paul’s words of love and encouragement did just that.

Today I would invite you to think about what sort of picture those around you have of themselves when seen through your eyes. Do your critical observations cause others to feel demeaned and demoralized and see themselves as less than; or does your loving and encouraging perspective help others see themselves as wonderfully talented individuals for whom the sky is the limit?

Til next time…

Monday, March 8, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: 2 Corinthians 7

If you were to ask me what the “best” thing that has ever happened to me was, you would be surprised at my answer. I would say, “It was when my candidacy for ordination was discontinued by the denomination in which I was raised because of my sexual orientation.”

“Why would you pick something negative or painful like that?” you might think to yourself.

I would choose that experience because it opened an entirely new world to me. You see if my life had unfolded exactly as I had planned, I would have simply taken my ordination for granted. I would have treated it as the next logical step in a life that was devoted to the church (and I probably would have said it just like that). My language would have been very telling.

Getting derailed from my quest for ordination, however, forced me to question everything. It made me question my motives for seeking ordination and made me explore my call in challenging ways. I came through this period of distress with a new understanding of my ministry: I was called to serve God (note the change in language). Through the painful experience I gained a sense of peace and purpose in my ministry for which I am extremely grateful. That’s why I would say that experience was the “best” thing that has happened to me.

Paul seems to be speaking to just this sort of experience when he wrote these words to the believers in Corinth: “And now, isn’t it wonderful all the ways in which this distress has goaded you closer to God? You’re more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible.”

Maybe you have had a painful experience in your own life: an experience that might have seemed as if it were the end of the world at the time. In many ways, that experience probably was the end of the world – at least the world as you knew it. As you look back on the experience, however, it might have opened you up to entirely new dimensions of existence and relationship with God. If that’s the case, take a moment and sit with the ways in which your pain became an impetus for transformation; then realize this Lenten season that if that’s the case – you’re in good company. The pain which Jesus experienced was transformative as well.

Til next time…