Wednesday, June 25, 2014

God is Good - Reflections on This Past Weekend

Visible, experiential grace.  That is how I would describe this past week.  Visible, experiential grace.  This morning as I drove to the office it was raining.  As I drove, I reflected on the beauty of God’s grace that though I deserve nothing but His judgment, wrath and condemnation, God instead gives me His grace.  I am allowed to live another day.  I am allowed to enjoy food.  I am allowed to breathe.  I am allowed to sing and dance and celebrate.  I am allowed to be called His kid (and am allowed to know that I matter) because He has claimed me through the waters of baptism.  That is what I reflected on this morning as the water fell on my windshield.  I am a child of God because of water…and because of God’s powerful Word!

But I am getting ahead of myself.  So let me rewind the tape a week or so…

The week before my ordination weekend, I was struggling.  In fact, that is an understatement.  For whatever reason, I was spent.  Worn out.  Dry.  I was exhausted physically, mentally tired, and spiritually malnourished.  It was not pretty.  It was terribly ironic since I would, just a few days from then, be ordained and installed into a position of joy and responsibility (one that involves carrying a lot of emotional weight and requiring a reasonably healthy life).  But the fact still remained, I was tired and I didn’t know what to do about it.  And worse yet, I knew that I had a weekend of shaking hands and kissing babies ahead and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it (nor did I think I had the energy to get through it all).  But God is good!

As people started arriving on Thursday/Friday, something happened.  I began to see our out of-town guests differently.  These weren’t people who were demanding from me.  Instead, they were giving.  They didn’t expect me to entertain them.  They were content to simply be here and to go with the flow.  In fact, they were content to hang out with each other.  They began to share life with people from around the country that they had never even met before.  They talked.  They laughed.  They told stories.  They celebrated the Jesus who united them as brothers and sisters.  Like I said, God is good!

And then it happened.  One of those rare moments of clarity when God allows you to see things differently.  One of our members calls these moments “God winks”.  I just call them “thin moments”.  On Saturday night I experienced one of these thin moments.

I was standing on my deck grilling A LOT of hamburgers for the 60 or so people who had come to our home to help celebrate the weekend.  It was hot.  It was loud.  My timing was off (I was using a borrowed grill that I hadn’t yet bonded with.  Fellas, you understand…right?).  People were waiting for food.  They were hungry.  And yet, no one seemed upset.  They weren’t irritated.  They seemed to understand.  Maybe that isn’t stated strongly enough.  They actually seemed to enjoy just being together.  Before I continue, you should know that we had people from nine states.  People from all five “primary” chapters of our life.  Some knew each other before the weekend…others didn’t.  And yet, they shared life on my deck this past Saturday night as though they had known each other all of their lives.  It was pretty cool.

One of the guys from the seminary who was celebrating with us came out to the grill and offered to take over for me so that I could eat.  And honestly, I didn’t want to.  I was feasting on something else.  It was God’s Spirit at work in and through His people.  It was a glimpse of heaven right there on my deck.  It was satisfying.  It was good.  God is good.

And then, shortly after, I was called inside and given a few gifts.  Plaques.  A painting.  A few bottles of wine.  A cross and communion kit.  And…a book.  In the book were letters from people who wanted to join us for the event but couldn’t.  Later that evening I sat and read their letters.  Later that evening I cried.  Later that evening I remembered that God is good.  Are you catching the theme of this post yet?  God is good.  God is good.  God is good.

Throughout this entire weekend, I have seen evidence of the goodness of God.  The fact that He took a 25 year old loud-mouthed punk and helped extend His kingdom in Tracy, CA, and touched people’s lives.  The fact that He was at work in Indiana to encourage struggling kingdom workers.  The fact that He has scattered people who know what it means to love in His name across the country who are now helping others grow in that capacity to love.  God is good. 

And I haven’t even touched on the fact that this past Sunday was INCREDIBLE!  I got to hear my friend, Rev. Micah Miller, bring God’s Word to the people of St. Andrew.  Very cool.  And then I got to worship in a packed room as we celebrated God work in my ordination and installation.  I got to hear my old friend, Rev. Jeff Dorth, bring God’s Word and challenge us to run the race.  I got to hear incredible music…including a collection of dear friends who sang a special song.  I got to be “vested” by my father-in-law.  I got to celebrate with our St. Andrew family.  I got to see people who came in from all over the country just for the ordination service that I haven’t seen (some of them, at least) in decades.  God is good!

So.  It is now Wednesday morning (it has taken me longer to sit and write some of this down than I originally intended).  I am still tired…but I am no longer dry.  This weekend I was reminded that God is good.  I was reminded that none of this is about me.  It is about Him.  He is faithful.  He is at work through His Church.  He will not fail.  He is good! 

As I look ahead, I am extremely thankful for my friends who traveled great distances to be here this past weekend.  I am thankful for the members of St. Andrew who prepared and shared meals, who offered words of encouragement, who shared stories.  I am thankful to have shared this moment with them all.  And I am thankful for God’s grace in the midst of it all. 

Thank you, Father.  You have loved me and have called me your son.  That you have again reminded me that You lead, You speak, You use us for your purposes.  This isn’t about me.  This isn’t about any of us.  Not our capabilities (or lack thereof).  Not our joy.  Not our energy.  Not our anything.  This is about You, and you are…good.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Failing Forward...

June is finally here.  It is hard to believe, but June is finally here!  For me, it has been a long road of trying to live out my identity in Christ, trying to be responsive to His plans for how my life is to be spent.  It has been a long, four-year, intense period of selling our home, leaving good neighbors and a good job, and trudging to the Seminary to begin formal studies there.  It has been a long road of again getting acclimated to academic life, trying to find a natural rhythm in a small apartment, and spending a lot of time reading.  It has been a long road getting to this point…and now it is almost over.  June is finally here!

My guess is that you have experienced a long road as well.  Different.  Yes.  Just as long.  Just as twisting and turning.  Just as uncertain, challenging, and simultaneously rewarding.  Probably.  You may not have sold everything to go crowd into a small St. Louis apartment to study theology, but our goals have been the same:  To try to live out our common identity in Christ (which, by His grace, we have been freely given) by trying to live well.  To say it a bit differently, we have (I hope) all tried to live out our identity in Christ by trying to grow in our love of God, our love of others (in His name), and trying to make disciples (fellow followers) of Jesus along the way.  That is my hope…summed up in six simple letters: LGLOMD.

I wish that I could tell you how awesome I am at it.  I wish I could tell you that I have a disciplined appreciation for who God is and fully comprehend what He has done (and continues to do) for me.  I wish I could tell you that I have perfect vision for those around me and that I sacrificially love them every time an opportunity presents itself.  I wish I could tell you that I am always focused on God’s Kingdom and not my own desires, plans, and goals.  I wish I could tell you these things…but I can’t.  Life sometimes gets compartmentalized.  I forget that everything, every situation, every relationship is about Him and His kingdom.  I forget that my life is not my own.  That I died and my life is now hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:3).  And my guess is that I am just like you.

And yet…

We DO have a new identity.    I have been bought with the precious blood of the Son of God.  I did die and my life is now hidden with Christ.  Because of Him, I can life a focused, purposeful life.  Perfectly?  No.  But one that is wrapped in, bathed in, covered over by the grace of God.  Through faith, I can attack tomorrow knowing that God has plans for my life…and for yours!

As we make the turn into summer, and into a new chapter together as God’s people in Cape (as part of the St. Andrew family), my prayer is that we will remember who we are.  That we are His.  And that we will remember life in Christ, life spent focused on His Kingdom, life spent LGLOMD-ing, is a good life indeed!

So, thanks for this past year as your vicar.  Thanks for the encouragement, trust, and willingness to be stretched.  Thanks for the year of learning, and making mistakes, and forgiveness.  Thanks for sharing life with the Dehne clan.  And now…we turn to the future.  We turn to a new role for me and a new reality for you.  We turn to the future.  And the future is bright!  So let’s get after the pursuit of His Kingdom.  Let’s get busy failing forward together…